World Traveller December 2019








A long


in Vienna



Why Florence

is more magical

in the winter

Produced in Dubai Production City

India’s great eight

Take your pick of our memorable trip ideas that

showcase the very best of this vibrant country

Welcome note

Time flies when you're having fun, and that's certainly the

case for 2019 – where has the year gone? The World Traveller

Middle East team has been busy racking up the air miles and

ticking some of the most coveted destinations off our wish list.

Managing Director

Victoria Thatcher

Chief Creative Officer

John Thatcher

General Manager

David Wade

Managing Editor

Faye Bartle

Content Writers

Habiba Azab

From the glamorous shores of Sicily to the

spellbinding Seychelles and exotic allure of the

Maldives (read our experience of swimming with

manta rays on page 58), we've certainly expanded

our horizons, and we hope that you have too.

There's still a little time to squeeze in one last

trip, or at least a few staycations, before the

year-end. From glamming it up on the beaches

of Goa to embarking on a peak adventure in the

Himalayas, our cover story, which highlights eight

great trips to take in India, is sure to point you in

the right direction (turn to page 26).

If you're feeling festive, we say head to Vienna to

check out the famous markets and to soak up the

fairytale-like charm of this winter wonderland that

begs discovery (see page 52). If you've burned

through all your holiday allowance, however, don't

fret, as there are plenty of hotels and resorts on

the doorstep that are pulling out all the stops for

the end of year celebrations (page 62).

Happy travels – see you in 2020,





It's the peak season to

see the mesmerising

Northern Lights in Oslo,



In Copacabana, people

celebrate the New Year

by wading into the ocean

and jumping over seven

waves while making

seven wishes, p16


You can now go on an

African-style safari in

Saudi Arabia, p20

Editorial Assistant

Ronak Sagar

Art Director

Kerri Bennett

Senior Designer

Hiral Kapadia

Senior Advertising Manager

Mia Cachero

Production Manager

Muthu Kumar


Photography credits:

Getty Images and Phocal Media

Reproduction in whole or in part

without written permission from

HOT Media is strictly prohibited.

HOT Media does not accept

liability for omissions or errors in

World Traveller.

Tel: 00971 4 364 2876

Fax: 00971 4 369 7494

December 2019 // Issue 140 // Magnificent India / Florence / Cambodia / Vienna

Faye Bartle

Produced in Dubai Production City






A long


in Vienna


Getty Images


India’s great eight

Take your pick of our memorable trip ideas that

showcase the very best of this vibrant country

Find us at…



Why Florence

is more magical

in the winter


A two-night stay

at JW Marriott

Marquis Dubai,



FACEBOOK @WorldTravellerME

INSTAGRAM @worldtravellerme



India has some 50 tiger

reserves, which are

home to around 2,225

of the beasts – and

Bandhavgarh National

Park in Madhya Pradesh

is one of the best, p33


Hanifaru Bay in Maldives

is the largest manta

feeding region on the

planet – go between

June and November

when they gather in

groups of 150 or more,

p58 5

Suvretta House


December 2019




10 15 22 74 76



This month's goto

places include

adventure spot

Queenstown, and

snowy Oslo.


From Europe's top

skiing spots to a wild

safari in Saudi Arabia

and the best places to

ring in 2020 – it's time

to take a trip.


dnata Travel's resident

globetrotter, Emily

Williams, shines a

light on the most

popular destinations

to visit in 2020.


Head online for

exclusive travel content

and, better yet, the

chance to win a fivestar

stay at JW Marriott

Marquis Dubai.


Marvel at the sweeping

view of Central Park

from inside Park Hyatt

New York's impressive

new penthouse – the

Manhattan Sky Suite. 7



26 38



Florence has a rare

Those in the know magic when days grow

reveal eight memorable shorter and quieter,

trips to take in the says long-time devotee

vibrant country.

Adrian Mourby.



Travel writer Alex

Robinson rides a

comfy new train line

through the historic

heart of Cambodia.

Maldives Anantara

Kihavah Beach Pool Villas




52 58



Habiba Azab finds

Austria’s capital city is a serenity alongside the

winter wonderland that ocean's majestic gentle

begs discovery.

giants in the Maldives.



Feel in need of a break?

We have a few more

reasons to book a

weekend escape.



It's time we sent you

packing. Choose your

next adventure from

our exclusive offers.



Emily Williams, dnata Travel’s resident globetrotter,

reveals the best places to hop on a plane to this month

Playa del Carmen

With palm-fringed sandy beaches, turquoise waters brimming with reef wonders and a spicy foodie scene that

delights all palates, this beachside city ranks right up there with Mexico's upcoming spots. Add a prime location (it's

just a one-hour drive away from lively Cancun), as well as a treasure trove of diving sites and you've got yourself a

great coastal retreat. Plus, with Emirates launching direct flights to Mexico City, it's never been easier to go.

Highlights 1 Walk through century-old stalactites that open up to crystal clear natural pools, and enjoy a refreshing

dip at Cenote Chaak Tun. 2 Learn all the tips and tricks to mastering a traditional Mayan dish at El Pueblito Cooking School.

3 Tap your feet to the rhythm of a live mariachi band and take off on board colourful Mexican Gondolas at Xoximilco Park.




Sitting on the shores of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu, against a dramatic backdrop of the majestic Southern

Alps, this thrill-a-minute city is famously known as the birthplace of bungee jumping and all things exciting.

Whether it's hiking in the surrounding landscapes, jet-boating, white water rafting, canyon swinging or jumping

off the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, the list of adventures you can throw yourself into here is endless.

Highlights 1 Chill out with a drink in hand amid ice-carved interiors and check out the amazing showcase of sculptures at Below Zero

Ice Bar. 2 Join award-winning photographers as they show you around the best off-the-beaten-track destinations worth a click on a

photo safari. 3 Tiptoe quietly into the darkened kiwi houses at Kiwi Birdlife Park and marvel at these eccentric birds. 11


The largest of the Visayas archipelago, this natural hub draws water babies with its wide expanse of white-sand

beaches, azure waters, cascading waterfalls and colourful coral reefs that are perfect for diving and snorkelling,

with wild sightings such as whale sharks to watch out for. Back on dry land, the city is brimming with buzzing

eateries serving the freshest of seafood, and a burgeoning shopping scene for those in the mood to splurge.

Highlights 1 Discover the history and legacies of the Spanish government, and view well-preserved Spanish artefacts at Fort San Pedro.

2 Embark on a cultural journey at Cebu Taoist Temple, which aims to preserve the teachings of Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher.

3 Get a bird's-eye view of Cebu’s panoramic skyline at Tops Lookout and watch the sun set over the Mactan Bridge and neighbouring islands.




Watch as Norway's capital city transforms into a winter wonderland this month. Get out on the snow and speed

down the slopes at Oslo Winter Park, shop at the bustling festive markets, visit Oslo Opera House, unwind in

a floating sauna, or take a dip in the cool waters of the Oslofjord. It's also the peak season to see the Northern

Lights, so book one of the many available tours and go on the hunt for the flickering marvels.

Highlights 1 Discover the world's best-preserved Viking ships and finds from Viking tombs around the Oslo Fjord – it's all on

display at the Viking Ship Museum. 2 Ponder nature's power and admire She Lies, a floating ice sculpture created by Italian

artist Monica Bonvicini to embody nature’s constant change. 3 Visit Vigeland Sculpture Park, an extraordinary open-air showcase

of 200 sculptures by Norway's best-loved sculptor Gustav Vigeland, including the park’s stand-out centrepiece, The Monolith. 13

Wellness Haven at Saray Spa.

Renew for the journey ahead.

A relaxing realm of quiet luxury, Saray Spa at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is an authentic wellness Spa,

where ancient healing techniques and locally sourced natural ingredients are combined to enhance the

well-being of each guest. The Spa features 17 treatment rooms, inclusive of two private Hammam rooms,

one Dead Sea treatment room boasting the UAE’s only Dead Sea Floatation Pool found within, and two

Private Luxury Spa Suites. Experience the wonders of the Middle East through Arabian Body Rituals

or Hammam Rituals, or benefit from the resultsoriented facials. An exclusive retail boutique offers luxurious

gifts and spa products for every occasion.

JW Marriott Marquis Dubai | Sheikh Zayed Road, Business Bay, PO Box 121000, Dubai, UAE

T +971 4 414 6754 | |

*Terms and conditions: Offer is subject to availability and advance reservations are required. This is a limited time offer.




Be informed, be inspired, be there


If sleepy sloths, grumbling volcanos

and lush tropical jungles sound like the

perfect adventure to you, then you're

in luck. Set to open this month (on

20 December), Nayara Tented Camp

promises all of the above, with a Costa

Rican flair. Wake up to spectacular

views of the Arenal Volcano in any of

the resort's private tents, each boasting

its own natural hot spring. To earn its

eco stripes, the retreat is leaving a

protected area of the hill as a sloth refuge

by planting 1,000 Guarumo trees, the

animal's favourite habitat. 15


Photo: New Year

celebrations at

Copacabana beach



Add a dash of Hollywood

glamour to your next

adventure with the new TUMI

x Chris Pratt Collection,

a nine-piece range

of travel bags and

accessories inspired

by the star's on-theroad

style. Available

exclusively in APAC

and the Middle East.

Refresh your winter

wardrobe and help care for

Elephants for Africa

by snapping up

some pieces from

the BOSS x Meissen

Holiday Capsule

Collection. Featuring

five different animal

motifs, the stylish

buys raise vital funds

for conserving the iconic

species in Botswana.


Ring in the New Year in these destinations that do it differently


With jaw-dropping firework displays,

musical extravaganzas and a zesty

foodie scene, it comes as no surprise

that Rio de Janeiro is on the wish list

for celebrating New Year's Eve. But

what makes this lively city a once-ina-lifetime

experience is its fun way to

mark the occasion. When the clock

strikes midnight, follow the throng

of people dashing into the ocean at

Copacabana beach and join in the

tradition of jumping seven waves,

making seven wishes as you rise and

fall. The ritual honours Brazil's Goddess

of the Sea, Lemanjá, and is believed

to bless your year ahead with luck,

happiness and prosperity.


If you've seen Edinburgh, head to

Stonehaven, which is illuminated by a

flowing sea of red and orange flames

burning bright for the age-old Scottish

New Year’s Eve tradition, Hogmanay.

Watch in awe as a parade of men in

kilts march through the city's main

streets, swinging great balls of fire

around their heads before tossing them

into the sea. Legend has it that the

ritual helps to ward off evil spirts for

the new year.


See a troupe of people dressed as

bears dance their way through the

streets of Moldova to the sound of pan

pipes. The locals don bear skins for this

spectacle, which takes place the day

before New Year's Eve. Symbolising

the death of the current year and the

rebirth of a new one, the dance of the

bears was born to ward off bad spirits,

and is now a grizzly Romanian custom.

For the holidays, Tiffany &

Co. has unveiled 12 amazing

gifts and experiences.

Top of our list is the

Tiffany x GLOBE-

TROTTER luggage

set, which shines

with its vintage

allure and luxurious

craftsmanship. Channel

your inner Audrey Hepburn

and arrive in style with this

coveted five-set collection.

Introducing a bold new

look, the two new RIMOWA

Original suitcase colours

will make your travel

gear pop. Marine

is inspired by the

dazzling blue of

the Mediterranean

while Scarlet is

sampled from the

vibrant plumage of

the scarlet ibis bird.



Connoisseur of Rare and Boutique Experiences

The St. Regis Abu Dhabi

The St. Regis Abu Dhabi merges authentic Arabian hospitality with more

than a hundred years of bespoke St. Regis tradition, located at the captivating

address of Nation Towers on the Abu Dhabi West Corniche. Situated between the

33rd and 49th floors, each of the hotel’s 228 guestrooms and 55 suites enchant

with the finest materials and magnificent views of the Arabian Gulf and the UAE

capital, while offering the signature St. Regis Butler service to all guests. The hotel

is home to the world’s highest suspended suite, located 220 metres above sea

level, a beach club with 200 metre sandy beach and a spacious swimming pool, a

children’s club, one of the UAE’s largest spas as well as six distinctive restaurants

and lounges catering to all tastes.

The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Nation Towers, Corniche, Abu Dhabi | 02 694 4444 |

New Year’s Beach Party

Tuesday, 31st December

8:00 pm – 02:00 am

Since 1904, St. Regis has been known for

its lavish grand gatherings and parties. This

year Nation Riviera at The St. Regis Abu

Dhabi welcomes the New Year beachside with

an exceptional buffet, bottomless bar, live

band and an unobstructed view of the most

amazing fireworks.

Special rates for groups of 10 or more, as well

as a complimentary bottle of bubbly.

Reservations must be made in advance.

Call +971 2 694 4553 or





With crisp pistes, mountaintop thrills

and classic alpine vistas, these luxury

resorts invite intrepid skiers

to a winter wonderland

If you've seen 007's stunt-tastic descent

in The World is Not Enough, you'll have a

pretty good idea what skiing here is like

Photography: Reuben Krabbe

Suvretta House, St. Moritz

A testimony to classic Swiss

hospitality, this century-old

winter palace draws elite

travellers with its romantic

beauty, old-school luxury

and vast ski terrains. Been a

while since you've been on

the snow? No worries. This

winter season, the resort is

launching a programme of

expert support for skiers so

they can continue to enjoy

winter sports even after an

injury or a prolonged break.

Chamonix Resort, France

If you've seen 007's stunttastic

descent in The

World Is Not Enough, you'll

have a pretty good idea

what skiing here is like.

Brave dramatically steep

mountainsides in any of the

four ski areas while admiring

majestic views of Mont

Blanc, the highest peak in

the Alps. There are plenty of

beginners’ slopes too, which

makes it a bucket-list tick for

all skill levels.

Bugaboos Lodge, Canada

With cascading powder

drops, soaring granite spires

and stunning wilderness, it's

no wonder this cosy retreat

is considered the birthplace

of heli-skiing. Whether you’re

new to the sport or a veteran

of all things steep and deep,

over three million acres of

terrain is sure to satisfy your

thirst for adrenaline. After a

day of thrills and spills, dip

into the outdoor hot tub and

soak up the panoramic view.



At one with nature

Nestled amid the iconic sand dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve,

this eco-luxury retreat beckons with its exquisite natural bounty

Stay in the luxurious Bedouin Suite

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert

Resort & Spa may only be 68km

southeast of Dubai, but it feels

like a world away from the constant buzz of

the city. Gone are the massive skyscrapers,

bottleneck traffic and go-go attitude. Here,

nights are starry and quiet, fascinating

wildlife roam freely on the grounds and

fuschia-pink sunsets spellbind with their

picture-perfect beauty.

With Bedouin-inspired architecture

that blends perfectly with the breathtaking

desert landscape, the resort’s 42 luxurious

suites are all canvas-roofed bungalows

adorned with Arabesque furniture,

Arabian antiques and artefacts. Wake up

to stunning vistas of the peach-coloured

dunes, soak up the winter sun on your

terrace or cool off in your private plunge

pool, with only the odd curious gazelle for

company. Should your creative instincts

take over, an easel with art materials and a

writing desk can be found in all the rooms,

as well as a pair of binoculars to easily spot

Enjoy the dreamy private

pool of the Bedouin Suite

the grazing white Arabian oryx. If lounging

around the lavish sun-drenched property

isn't enough for you, archery, desert drives,

wildlife safaris, falconry and horse riding

are just some of the thrilling ways to

explore. Take a guided walk to discover the

striking flora and fauna that call the desert

home, or enjoy an exhilarating 4x4 drive

over the big sand dunes with a professional

field guide. If a camel trek into the sunset

is more your pace, just grab a hump, and

head out.

An action-packed afternoon can work

up quite the appetite and Al Diwaan aims

to please every palate with its world-class

dining options that range from traditional

Arabic cuisine to delectable international

dishes. For a peaceful afternoon, Hajar

Terrace Bar boasts panoramic dune views

that are best appreciated with a chilled

drink in hand. Take relaxation a step

further and head to Timeless Spa for a wide

range of wellness, rejuvenation and beauty

therapies. Day guests can book the Pool &

Spa package or the Spa Indulgence package,

which includes a 60-minute spa treatment,

a full-day access to the infinity pool and a

delicious three-course lunch.

Book your accommodation in advance

and enjoy a special Prepay & Save rate.

To find out more, visit 19


Address Sky View, Dubai

Sleek splendour is the hallmark of this

new luxury city hotel, which graces the

bustling Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

Boulevard. With an exclusive address,

stylish rooms and top-notch restaurants,

it's sure to tick all your holiday boxes.

Step up your Instagram game and make

a beeline for the sweeping rooftop

infinity pool. Boasting panoramic views

of the glittering city skyline, the stunning

spot is sure to elevate your feed.



Wake up in the heart of the city, by the ocean or amid lush greenery. This month

offers up a world full of new choices when it comes to memorable stays

1 2 3

Aman Kyoto, Japan

Learn the principles of Zen meditation

from a local monk, practise the mindful

art of ikebana (flower arranging), and

onsen with the best of them (bathe in

the healing hot spring pools) at this

new luxury resort in Japan. Drawing

inspiration from the traditional Japanese

ryokan inn, rooms are strikingly

minimalist and showcase the spectacular

natural surroundings. Plus, it's within

easy reach of Kyoto's 17 UNESCO sites.

Anantara Iko Mauritius Resort & Villas

Nestled on the less explored southeastern

coast of Mauritius, this tropical

retreat will draw you in with its

untouched natural beauty. Whether you

want to wake up to views of the lush

gardens or the Indian Ocean, serene

vistas await. The showstopper, however,

is the impressive 30-metre ozonebased

swimming pool – it's one of

many sustainability initiatives that have

been incorporated in the property.

Seeking a stand out

supper in Dubai? We

rate Francky Semblat's

new fine-dining menu

at Al Muntaha, Burj

Al Arab – the confit

strawberry ensures

you'll end your meal

on a sweet note.

Embark on a wild safari... in Saudi Arabia

Move over South Africa. Saudi Arabia is emerging as a top spot for a safari

adventure and, thanks to the new tourst e-visa, it's a brilliant time to plan a trip to

the kingdom. Journey to Nofa Resort Riyadh, A Radisson Collection Hotel, which

overlooks Nofa Wildlife Park and is home to 700 wild animals, including giraffes,

zebras and cheetahs. The African-style lodge has 57 luxurious bungalows and villas,

an equestrian estate, and golf course surrounded by sand dunes and mountains.




Explosive starts, blazing speeds and hairpin turns, pack your

bags for a week of thrills and spills at Sharjah World Championship Week

Sharjah's Formula 1

Powerboat Racing team

Sharjah's powerboat

Powerboats begin the race

Freestyle round at the UIM-ABP

Aquabike Sharjah Grand Prix

You can feel the tension in the air.

An eerie silence takes hold of the

entire arena, all eyes are fixed

on the sleek and powerful powerboats

lining up at the start pontoon. In a flash,

10,000-horsepower engines blast across

the surface leaving nothing but a glorious

fountain of white spray in their wake.

Renowned as the flagship international

series of single-seater inshore circuit

Formula 1 Powerboat Racing, The U.I.M.

F1H2O World Championship lures

thousands of spectators every year

to Khalid Lagoon for an exhilarating

three-day race fiesta. With the crystalclear

waters of the Arabian Gulf as

a gorgeous backdrop, the highlyanticipated

event is taking place from

the 17-21 of December. Get set to see

up to 20 leading drivers jet off in their

superfast tunnel-hull catamarans and

clock up impressive speeds of up to

220km/h on the straights. Be sure to

arrive early so you can bag a good spot

with a clear view of all the action. After

all, Sharjah’s prized team is participating

this year and pulling out all the stops.

The excitement continues at the

UIM-ABP Aquabike Sharjah Grand Prix,

with its gripping display of jet-skiing

skills and bravado. Highly competitive,

fascinatingly risky and intensely

challenging, the spectacle will keep

you on the edge of your seat as riders

compete in various high-octane circuit

heats. The showstopper, however, is

the spectacular freestyle rounds. Hold

your breath as competitors pull off

risky moves and deliver gravity-defying

aerial acrobatics that demand extreme

strength and agility. You’ll also want to

keep an eye out for tricks performed with

no hands – it garners extra points and,

let’s face it, is a show in its own right.

Find out more at 21


The Knowledge


Write your travel wish list for 2020

From Finland’s winter snow adventures to vibrant Taiwan, we shine a light

on the five most popular destinations to tick off your go-to list next year

Wondering where to head to next?

We’ve got the skinny of the places

that are luring intrepid travellers from

the emirates. “People in the UAE are

becoming increasingly adventurous in

their travel choices, with social media a

key influencer," enthuses Emily Williams,

head of retail and product at dnata

Travel UAE. "There's a spike in interest

for places that are either off-thebeaten-track,

long-haul options, or that

have not previously recorded as much

traction." Here are the destinations

everyone should see at least once…

Camping in Leppävirta.

Photo: Petri Jauhiainen /

Vastavalo for Visit Finland


Bookings to Russia, which became

visa-free for UAE nationals in 2019,

have risen by a whopping 500% for

dnata Travel*, and Moscow is where

it’s at. “Russia's spike in popularity is

also partly down to its cooler summer

climate and affordability,” explains

Emily. “Most travellers are staying in

five-star hotels in the capital, with the

country’s rich history, famous art and

grand architecture driving its allure.”

What’s new: Join the Invisible Moscow

immersive walking tour of one of the

city’s oldest districts. Pop on your

headphones for a movie-like experience

that'll show you the destination

through an interactive performance.


Once again crowned the happiest

country on Earth, according to the

2019 World Happiness Report, Finland

is a chilled haven that begs discovery.

“Bookings are up significantly, with UAE

residents choosing to travel there in the

summer for a glimpse of the Midnight

Sun and to see the Northern Lights, with

one of the best vantage points being

northern Lapland from August to April,"

says Emily. "December to March is the

best time for winter snow adventures."

What’s new: Venture deep in the forest

to Octola Private Wilderness, a 10-suite

log cabin within 300 acres of private

land in the Finnish Arctic Circle.


“Following on from the popularity of

Japan and South Korea, the number

of people venturing to Taiwan is on

the rise,” says Emily. “Emirates flies

direct to Taipei daily, and travellers

go to sample the excellent food,

shopping, and hiking opportunities,

as well as to meet its friendly people

and take in the fantastic scenery.”

What’s new: The 2020 Taiwan

Lantern Festival in Taichung (from

8-23 February) has a fantasy forest

theme, with lots of arts and crafts

activities and entertainment to enjoy.


"Now visa-free for UAE nationals, South

Africa is enjoying a spike in visitors,”

says Emily. “Just an 8- to 10-hour flight

from Dubai, it has so much to offer,

with many people choosing to stay

in the Western Cape, which covers

the popular Cape Town, Table Bay

and the beautiful Garden Route.”

What’s new: Famous for its culinary

delights, there has been a flurry of new

restaurant openings, including Darren

Badenhorst’s coveted Le coin Francais

in Franschhoek, which serves Frenchstyle

dishes featuring regional produce.


"Looking further afield, bookings

to New Zealand are on the up, as

travellers grow more willing to make

the 17.5-hour-long trip with Emirates

to reach this beautiful destination, and

there’s also the option to fly to Auckland

via Bali for a multi-destination trip,” says

Emily. “Once in New Zealand, it’s easy

to rent a car and drive yourself around."

What’s new: Keen shoppers will want to

head to the newly-expanded Westfield

Newmarket, which is causing a stir on

the style scene with 200 boutiques

over five levels, including Auckland's

first David Jones department store.

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

800 DNATA or visit

*May to September 2019.




Steal the scene at

W Abu Dhabi - Yas Island.

Sip & Savour at the newest

dining destination in the Capital.

Fuel up or chill-out at our

rooftop WET Deck and meet

and mingle your way at any



For reservations

02 656 0000

’Tis the season

Anantara Eastern Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel is bringing a flurry of good

cheer to this season's festivities with its dazzling line-up of celebrations



As the temperature starts to

drop and the summer heat

fades, one thing is certain

– the holidays are right around

the corner and Anantara Eastern

Mangroves Abu Dhabi Hotel is here to

make it extra special. From decorative

lights to gingerbread houses, tree

lightings, and appearances from Santa

himself, this luxury retreat will give

you all the holiday feels. Here’s our pick

of festivities that’ll make your inner

child squeal...


Forget dusty chimneys. Here, Santa

floats like a dream on a boat from the

mangroves. Head over to The Pool

Deck and await his grand entrance

as you nibble on complimentary

seasonal goodies and sway to choral

performances. But that’s not the best

part, join your loved ones as you bring

the festive tree to life with sparkling

lights and ornaments galore.


There's a reason this tradition has

been around for centuries; gingerbread

houses are simply so fun to decorate.

Families and kids can channel their

inner Picasso and bedazzle their

dream gingerbread house using festive

treats including frosting, gumdrops

and sprinkles. It’ll make for a great

decorative piece to take back home.


Serving up authentic Thai fare,

Pachaylen offers immersive seasonal

flavours with a Thai twist that’s sure

to tantalise your taste buds. Tuck into

a four-course delectable Christmas

Eve dinner against the calming views

of the protected mangroves and

relish the zesty taste of the south. A

more traditional cuisine awaits at

Ingredients with its buffet of festive

favourites – think foie gras, roast

prime rib eye, oyster rockefeller and

sweet pudding.

The celebrations continue on the 25 th

at Papa Noël’s brunch where little ones

can sit on Santa’s lap while parents

unwind and rejoice in a seasonal feast

with live cooking stations, surf and turf

and homemade sweets.

Santa will make a grand appearance

Tuck into a scrumptious festive feast


At Anantara Spa, sparkle and

shine takes on a new meaning

with the rejuvenating 90-minute

treatment that promises to leave

you feeling bright and jolly.

Start with a 30-minute body scrub

with lime and ginger salt and revel in

the silky feeling of soft-smooth

skin, followed by a relaxing

30-minute back massage with

cinnamon infused oil, followed

by a 30-minute glowing facial to

start the celebrations refreshed.

In the spirit of paying it forward,

treat your loved ones to a customised

bespoke treatment that will pamper

them from head to toe. From soothing

massages and hammam rituals to

refreshing facials, the Santa spa gift

card will delight all the senses.


Put on your best suit and tie (a beautiful

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com/en/eastern-mangroves-abu-dhabi 25




eight epic journeys

You’ve pictured the palaces, the sunsets, the rickshaws and the

raucous markets. Maybe even the heaving cities or the rattling

trains, rolling past dense forest and barren desert. But which

trip brings what? And how do you connect the dots? Here, our

expert writers have selected eight memorable trips. Sit back,

take your pick and assemble your dream journey…

26 27


Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Winds) in Jaipur


Ultimate Golden



No matter how many times you’ve

watched The Best Exotic Marigold

Hotel, nothing will prepare you for

the intensity of heat, dust, smell

and teeming humanity of the

subcontinent, so take it easy on day

one. Stay in the elegant environs of

the Lutyens-designed New Delhi

district – try the colonial grandeur of

the Maidens, waiting until day two

to hit the streets of Old Delhi, ideally

at daybreak by rickshaw. Your first

stop is the Red Fort, the citadel of

the Mughal emperors. Next door is

the Chandni Chowk market, an ants’

nest of alleys selling everything from

refurbed typewriters to hand-built

laptops and designer fakes. The

street food is tempting – especially

the cheese parathas on ‘fried bread

street’, Paranthe Wali Gali, but

approach with caution: best if you

have a local to steer you, to lessen

the chance of an upset stomach.

Relax at your hotel that afternoon,

then at sunset, head to Humayun’s

Tomb, inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

No need to go in: the magic is in its

exotic gardens. On day three, visit

the magnificent Jama Masjid mosque,

built by emperor Shah Jahan in the

17th century – a wonderful place to sit

and watch India pour past. And don’t

miss an authentic North Indian dinner

at Moti Mahal Delux (Greater Kailash

1): Indian foodies say it’s as important

a stop as the Taj itself.


A four-hour drive southeast, Agra is

dirty, crowded and full of hustlers.

But it’s also home to the Taj Mahal,

the world’s most dazzling monument

to lost love. You’re only here for

one night, so splurge on the Oberoi

Amarvilas for the best rooms, service

and, above all, views of the Taj. Wait

until late afternoon before visiting

the complex. By then, the coach

parties, selfie-takers and backpackers

will have left, the light will be softer

and there’ll be no queues at either

gate. Don’t bother with a guide – the

flood of information detracts from

the beauty and you can always find

the history online – and remember

it’s closed on Fridays. Next day, rise

before dawn and get your driver

to take you over the Yamuna river,

past the Mehtab Bagh, the pleasure

gardens created by Jahan as the

perfect viewpoint for the Taj Mahal,

and out into the onion fields of

Kachhpura village. If you time your

trip right, for mid-March or mid-

October, the view from here will make

you weak at the knees. Green fields

dotted with white egrets run down

to a distant row of trees, and rising

behind, a mist-swathed hint of Taj that

turns from orange to apricot to lychee

as the sun rises. Get your snaps, then

get out of Agra.


It’s a five-hour drive west to the Pink

City of Jaipur: an exemplar of selfordering

chaos that’s part traffic jam,

part Bollywood extravaganza and

part Arabian Nights. You’ll see the

pink Palace of Winds (from where the

Maharajah’s harem could observe the

life of the city without being seen);

the exquisite City Palace (allow at

least half a day to explore its gardens,

galleries, courtyards and museums);

the extraordinary collection of giant

astronomical instruments at the

Jantar Mantar observatory; and, a

half-hour’s drive out of town, the

Disneyesque Amber Fort. Don’t forget

to try Jaipur’s incandescent speciality,

laal maas. It’s made from mutton,

ghee, yoghurt and an extraordinary

amount of chillies.


The Ganges river and

Varanasi at sunrise


Cruising the Ganges

Descending rapidly from the icy peaks

of the Himalayas before winding

across the fertile floodplain to the Bay

of Bengal, the Ganges is India’s most

sacred river. Here and there its banks

thrum with cities, which slowly fade to

long expanses of emptiness.

While tourists are rarely seen in these

remote parts, in recent years, several

cruises have launched, running mainly

from Kolkata to Varanasi (sometimes

on to Sundarbans National Park).

Each delivers a fascinating snapshot

of rural river life: women in sun-bright

saris bathing by the banks, men

vigorously scrubbing away their sins,

and fishermen hauling in their nets.

Villagers worship at terracotta temples

squeezed in beside other remnants of

the past: abandoned mosques, Mughal

mausoleums and crumbling British

palaces. (Find a cruise that stops at the

Hazarduari Palace in Murshidabad, and

you’ll get to see the world’s secondlargest


Days on board unspool over fiery

Bengali delicacies, such as catfish

curry, and swapping stories with fellow

passengers, a 30-strong crowd of

intelligent, adventurous Europeans

who have seen the Golden Triangle and

now want something earthier. From

its serene platform you can take in the

messy vitality on the riverbanks as far

as Varanasi. Here Hindus cremate the

deceased by the Ganges, an intimate

ritual, as corpses are cleansed, flames

licking flesh on funeral pyres – all in

plain sight. Feral pi-dogs, wild cows,

holy sadhus and street children

wander among the cinders. But peace

descends each evening as worshippers

float diyas – candle-holders made

of dried leaves, containing marigold

petals – towards the horizon, as

an offering. 29

Colourful shacks on

Vagator Beach


Beach retreat


Look in the wrong places and Goa is

going, going, gone: scarred by cheap

tourism, raves and flatpack hotels.

But north and south of the offending

bits (Calangute, Candolim), the boho

vibe that pinned it to the map in the

’60s is alive, and lazing over nicely

spiced prawns…


Northwards first: Vagator Beach

parties with panache at W Goa, a

good-looking big-brand resort on a

palmy headland. It’ll suit first-timers

who want exotic flair (ethnic-print

fabrics, searing curries, flamboyant

crowds from Mumbai and Delhi) with

international airbrushing (white décor,

gentle clubby sounds). Try its Rock

Pool bar, overlooking strawberry-pink

horizons. Take a rickshaw south to

neighbouring Anjuna for its sprawling

flea market, a crucial hippie-Goa stop.


Get into Goa’s boho-chic vibe on

the virgin sands of Ashwem Beach,

15km north along roads lined with tall

palms. It’s the tranquil antithesis of

Vagator and Anjuna, with rudimentary

loungers staked out by elegant

French, Russian and Italian bronzers.

There’s a Jade Jagger jewellery kiosk

and a sand-between-the-toes café, La

Plage, for lazy seafood lunches. It has

simple rooms, too.


Switch lodgings to Ahilya by the Sea,

further south: a nine-room retreat

with antiques, pools and lawns for

candlelit shellfish dinners. Across the

water, the Goan capital, Panaji, is a

must: see the Portuguese churches

of Old Goa behind warped ebony

doors, then drink coffee at a

tiled café in the European-feel

Fontainhas quarter.


Head inland, beyond the dewy hill

flanks of the Western Ghats. At

Ponda, snap the slurries of weird fish

in the Saturday market. Swim

in the cool Dudhsagar Falls, 60km

inland. Then wander around

Braganza House in Chandor: a

mansion museum (free entry,

tips welcome) full of Portuguese

porcelain and antiques amassed

by the ancestors of its now-moreimpecunious



Take a car-trawl of the beachy south,

almost desert-island-remote in parts.

If you find the parasols and lunch

shacks of Palolem and Agonda too

lively, hit the Cola Beach tented

resort for lunch (or a few nights) and

you could be back in the Goa of the

’60s: hammocks, yoga, whispering

shallows and solitude.




The Himalayas

In the country’s mountainous

northernmost reaches, you’ll

discover a whole different India

– high-altitude and spiritual,

stalked by snow leopards.


Punjab’s iconic city, Amritsar, is a

thrilling starting point, home to one

of India’s most spectacular sites: the

shimmering Golden Temple, Sikhism’s

holiest shrine. There’s also a bubbling

food scene (find freshly baked

kulcha, leavened flatbread cooked

in a tandoor oven) in the colourful

market, as well as the Partition

Museum, documenting the division

of this region between India and

Pakistan in 1947. Don’t miss the daily

Wagah border ceremony, involving a

Bollywood-style dance-off (4.15pm in

winter; 5.15pm summer).

wild Eden of magnificent mountains,

cobalt rivers and plunging ravines.

Trek through deep snow with local

trackers during the day, and bed down

at night in a traditional homestay.



A chunk of the ancient Silk Route

with the highest drivable pass in the

world, the astonishing Nubra Valley

will make you gasp and gasp again:

rolling patchwork fields, crystal-clear

streams, carpets of wild lavender and

desert sand dunes you can traverse by

camel. Camp nearby at Turtuk (the last

Indian outpost on the Pakistan border)

to immerse yourself in Balti culture, with

its distinct way of living, local language

and exuberant traditional dress.


Cross the pointed mountains to

Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

Framed by pristine alpine scenery,

beautiful Dal Lake is the star of

the show. Stay on evocative

houseboat Sukoon, moored on the

lake. And for transport? The multicoloured,

gondola-like shikaras will

take you past the floating flower

markets and into the city centre,

dotted with historic mosques.

However, it’s important to follow

official travel guidelines before

visiting the area.

A lush valley in Leh



Home to the Dalai Lama (normally in

residence in May – check at dalailama.

com), this quaint hill station is

surrounded by cedar forests in the

Himalayan foothills, and has a rich

Tibetan feel. Crimson-robed monks

meander to monasteries, plaintive

Buddhist chants fill the air and a

muddle of small streets overflow with

shops selling handicrafts.



With jagged peaks and blindingly

blue sky, Ladakh’s landscape feels

as mythical as Narnia. Strung with

prayer flags whipping in the wind,

the capital, Leh, is a laid-back

frontier town with an ancient palace,

whitewashed stupas and a thronging

bazaar that fans out into barley fields.

The Ultimate Travelling Camp at the

base of Thiksey Monastery is pricey,

but overwhelmingly peaceful.



You’re here to spy one of the world’s

biggest recluses – the powerful and

elegant snow leopard. Around 200

of them live in Hemis National Park, a 31




A Tamil

Nadu trail

Ratatouille laced with olive oil,

cheese as pungent as Napoleon’s

boot, and ochre-washed buildings

bursting with bougainvillea… It’s all

gloriously French Med. But, wait:

what’s with the rickshaws and the

sweet scent of something decidedly

un-French: tamarind? Coconut?

More to the point, why is that guy

with the henna-red beard intent on

cleaning your ears with a stick?

The tour guides will tell you that

former French colony Pondicherry is a

corner of India that is forever France,

but that’s doing this city pit stop, in the

state of Tamil Nadu, a disservice. Sure,

get your fix of the French Quarter’s

cobblestone streets and froufrou

architecture: stick around the quadrant

of Dumas, Romain Rolland, Suffren and

La Bourdonnais streets (try the flaky

pain au chocolat at Suffren’s Café de

Arts). But it’s the Tamil touches seen

everywhere in this sultry city that’ll whet

your appetite for the fun to come: the

temple-going hustle, the grey-painted

ashrams disgorging the faithful; the

glass and steel of go-getting young

India. It’s a leisurely intro to this rising

star southern state. To modern India,

Tamil Nadu is the keeper of the flame

for ancient culture. Indian classical

dance and music originated here and

lives on at Chennai’s atmospheric

Madras Musical Academy, while

religious rites are a living (and hollering)

thing. It’s the kind of place to head for,

once you’ve crossed crowd-pleasing

Rajasthan and easy Kerala off your

list. Don’t be fooled into thinking you

need to do the entire tour-operatortouted

‘temple trail’ – a two-week

slog around Thanjavur (Tanjore) and

boulder-dotted Tiruchirappalli (Trichy),

with an unsavoury ‘holy dip’ in the sea

at Dhanushkodi. But do make time

for Madurai, where deity-covered

gopurams (ornate temple towers) loom

over the potash-painted faces of tens

of thousands of Hindu pilgrims. They

cram into the temple of the ‘fish-eyed

goddess’, Meenakshi, but you’ll find

more breathing space at Alagar Kovil

temple, with its serene green gardens.

After Madurai, move along the coast

to Mahabalipuram. Backpackers

come here for the barefoot charm,

sightseers for the art. From the epic

open-air rock reliefs dating back to

the Middle Ages (the 29m Descent of

the Ganges is most impressive) to the

narrow alleyways tap-tapping with

craftsmen’s chisels on stone (Rajan at

Rolling Stones will ship your souvenir

home for a snip), stone sculpting has

been in this town’s DNA for centuries.

Now leave these hot, dusty plains for

the lush Western Ghats – formed of the

soaring Nilgiri Hills in the north and the

curvaceous Palanis, Cardamoms and

Anaimalia to the south. It’s along this

green stretch that the British located

some of their prettiest hill stations –

Ooty is the famous one, with its Gothic

red-brick piles and immaculate gardens;

but the forest hiking trails near laid-back

Kodaikanal hill station are a ravishing

way to explore the area. In this region,

all roads lead to Chennai. The city’s

heat and choc-abloc Grand Trunk Road

can overwhelm fresh-from-the-plane

newbies – but en route home, with

new ‘India eyes’, you’ll see the best in

this sleepless metropolis. Start with

a fiery thali – those famous all-in-one

curry feasts served on a banana leaf

– then nose around wood-panelled

Raj-era clubs such as the Madras,

where loafers and moustaches still rule.

Meanwhile, in the rising gastro-hub

simmering around Cathedral Road in

the Nungambakkam neighbourhood,

and in lively Besant Nagar, you’ll find

hip young Chennai sipping the local

social lubricant and dancing. You’ll leave

town with plenty of southern spirit.

The Cave Temples of




Tigers in the wild

It’s a few minutes after dawn

at Bandhavgarh National Park,

a sprawling wilderness 800km

southeast of Delhi, in Madhya

Pradesh. You’re sitting, shivering,

in a line of open-topped Jeeps at

the park gates. Officials are waving

bits of paper and pocketing cash

here and there as they decide which

of the Forest Department’s guides

will accompany which vehicle.

Each has an assigned route, and

if you get the wrong one, you’ll

probably see some deer – maybe

an owl. Get the right one, though,

and you might see a tiger.

Welcome to India’s big-cat

lottery. India has 50 tiger reserves

of this kind – between them, they’re

home to about 2,225 of the beasts.

Bandhavgarh is one of the best,

with an estimated 70 tigers, but

finding them isn’t easy. Vehicles are

allowed in twice a day: for five hours

at dawn and three in the afternoon.

Game drives involve following rutted

tracks through dense, dry sal forest,

over rocky hills, past lakes and

ancient ruins, eyes straining to spot

a predator designed to be invisible.

Radios are banned, but the

guides use their mobiles to keep

in contact and if one gets lucky,

he’ll share the intel with his mates.

But getting lucky is so rare that to

pin your hopes on actually seeing

a tiger is to set yourself up for

almost certain disappointment.

Guides will emphasise the

importance of focusing on the

birdlife, the wild dogs, the deer and

the incredible scenery. But deep

down, we’re all praying for tigers.

Sometimes, those prayers are

answered. You follow the vultures

and spot a tigress and her cubs

on a kill. You round a bend to find

a male the size of a small horse

standing in the road. Your first

instinct is to pull out a camera. Don’t

do it. Your hands will be shaking

and the shots will be rubbish;

burn the image into your memory

instead. Look at the whiskers, the

enormous paws, the rippling fur

and big teeth. Finally, look into

its amber eyes, meeting a deeply

indifferent gaze – one that says

you’re nothing but meat in too much

packaging. Study every detail of this

desperately endangered predator.

Your grandchildren may never

see one in the wild, and you need

to be able to describe it to them. 33

A houseboat floats on the

backwaters of Kerala


Kerala’s backwaters

This state’s name means ‘land of

the coconut’, and if that conjures

up images of palms on white-sand

beaches, you’re bang on. A serene

sliver on India’s southwest coast,

it has beaches, then backwaters.

The noise and crowds that

dominate India dissipate here,

making this the obvious spot

for post-tour decompression.


India’s oldest European settlement

is a crumbling mess of Portuguese,

Dutch, Chinese and British influences.

A spice port in its heyday, it’s now

simply a memento of an older India.

Take in the ornate Mattancherry

Palace; the spice warehouses on Jew

Town Road; and the cantilevered

Chinese fishing nets along River Road.

Most tour operators use Kochi as an

overnight base – the Old Courtyard

Hotel is the handsomest crashpad

– before the real joys of Kerala, so

enjoy a stroll and an early night.


Four hours’ drive east lies the hill

station of Munnar, heart of South

India’s tea trade. Top priority here is

to find a base somewhere suitably EM

Forster – perhaps the Windermere

Estate, a plantation house surrounded

by tea terraces – from which to hike the

Letchmi Hills, visiting the tea fields.


Settle in on a bamboo-raft cruise

along the shores of Periyar Lake,

watching out for elephants, deer,

otters and the great pied hornbill.

Stay at the Spice Villagein Thekkady,

in low, thatched cottages clustered

around an old plantation house.


Lazing on the bow of an Alappuzha

(formerly Alleppey) houseboat,

watching coconut palms reflected in

the still waters, and waving to locals

as you drift by, is one of the world’s

most satisfying travel experiences.

Kerala’s famed houseboats are

converted rice barges staffed by a

skipper, first mate and cook. Once

aboard, this is your private cruise ship

for 24 glorious hours. A good captain

will make sure you end up on a westfacing

lake in time to watch the sun

set it ablaze.


Kovalam is Kerala’s beachy side –

but don’t expect the party set-up

of Goa. Here you’ll find beaches

peppered with temples; beaches

frequented by cows; and beaches

where fishermen call you over to

help haul in their catch. It’s also the

best place to try Kerala’s seafoodcentric

cuisine – prawn masalas;

spiced-and-fried fish; and creamy

mappas (coconut-milk-based)

curries. Rooms cost from as little

as $9 a night, but if you’re looking

for luxury, Niraamaya is a collection

of polished-dark-wood cottages

beside two all-but-private beaches.

Credit: The Sunday Times Travel Magazine / News Licensing




Tranquil Tea Country

A carpet of cloud obscures the valley,

glowing peach at dawn. Bamboo and

pine trees huddle on the hillsides,

from where cuckoos call out through

the stillness. As the sun rises, the

Himalayas emerge through the haze:

jagged and glistening with snow.

Sipping from a steaming cup of clear

tea, made from the earliest buds and

fledgling leaves, you’ll experience few

calmer Indian mornings than this.

Once a summer retreat for the

officers of the British Raj, Darjeeling

is now a year-round favourite for

Indian families on weekend breaks.

They come to the green pastures of

this far-northeastern slice to taste tea,

shop for Tibetan trinkets, and ride the

famous Toy Train, though you’d likely

stop off only on a wider tour of this

northeast corner – perhaps taking in

Sikkim, or Kolkata. Colonial-era lodges

still serve you tea on your veranda as

you inhale the scent of magnolias. But

Darjeeling town is now a patchwork of

modern hotels, shops and cafés flung

across the slopes, with a distinctly

Indian slant. Here, you’re more likely to

find hot samosas than scones for sale

in the alleys strung with prayer flags.

Stay on a tea plantation and allow

two to three days to get a feel for the

town. For four-postered luxury, book

into genteel Glenburn Tea Estate.

Established in 1859, it still produces

150,000kg of tea per year – and

encourages you to pick the leaves

alongside working women, waistdeep

in the shrubs, baskets strapped

across heads. Follow the leaves as

they’re withered, rolled, dried, sorted

and graded, then learn how to taste

that delicate infusion properly – by

slurping it in through your teeth.

If you’d like to try some home

cooking, you can volunteer on

the Makaibari Tea Estate and stay

with a family in one of its seven

villages. Darjeeling’s high-altitude

hotels have no central heating, so

bring a hot-water bottle for bed,

and layer up on chillier nights.

On your second or third morning,

hire a shared 4WD from Chowk

Bazaar to Tiger Hill to watch the 4am

sunrise over Mounts Kanchenjunga

and Everest, where vendors mill

about serving tea as the sun tints

the peaks. Head to Darjeeling town’s

Bhutia Busty Gompa monastery,

run by Tibetan refugee monks; later,

trawl the town’s bazaars for Nepalese

jewellery and Kashmiri shawls,

before heading to Nathmulls on the

mall for a slab of lemon cake and a

glass of its ‘Champagne of teas’.

A Darjeeling village surrounded

by lush forest 35

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VIENNA p52 37

The city illuminated

at night


Rammed in summer, Florence has a rare magic when days grow shorter and quieter.

Long-time devotee Adrian Mourby welcomes winter with a shiver of pleasure…



fell in love with Florence a very

long time ago. It was my first

Italian city, all pantiled domes,

church bells at dawn, Puccini in

piazzas and swooning maidens.

I’d just seen A Room with a View;

and the fabled città of the Medicis,

Michelangelo and Merchant Ivory

really did deliver a mix of monumental

architecture and small-town Tuscan

bottegas. I’d arrived clutching my Interrail

card, and the whole place looked so

like the film. True, the piazzas weren’t

thronged with tight-waisted extras

twirling parasols, but it was definitely

the yearning, dark, deeply atmospheric

city of EM Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch.

I lost that Florence in subsequent years.

The home of Botticelli and Brunelleschi

has become too popular for its own good

– in summertime, at least, the streets

around the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio are

a seething gridlock. That, I eventually

realised, was precisely the problem: I

was only in Tuscany in July and August. I

was seeking out the whisper of nostalgia

at the noisiest time of year. So, of late,

I’ve begun visiting in November or

December, just as the festive decorations

are going up and the rain’s coming down.

My Florence is a damp, dark, misty

place, but boy, it’s a magical one, too.



At 6am, make the most of those empty

streets with a brisk walk. In Piazza della

Signoria, outside the Medicis’ 14thcentury

palace, the café chairs are still

stacked and chained, and there’s a pigeon

sleeping on the head of David – a replica

of Michelangelo’s bug-eyed 16th-century

masterpiece, relocated to the Galleria

dell’Accademia. Head on down to the Arno.

The open-sided Mercato del Porcellino

( stands empty.

Only the Porcellino itself shines in the

gloom – this bronze statue of a wild boar

gets its snout rubbed so often (for luck)

that its nostrils glow. By the river, the

street lamps that line the embankments

are balls of pale-orange light afloat in

the mist. The Ponte Vecchio is empty, its

gold and silversmith shops barricaded

behind shutters and bars that would deter

a besieging army. You’re alone, save for

maybe a one-man delivery van puttering

past. The Arno flows, black and silent.

Outside the shuttered Picteau Lounge,

over on the Oltrarno side of the river,

there’s a small terrace that wins handsdown

for the best view in Florence,

especially as the sky above the bridge

breaks into patches of deep-blue between

the dark retreating clouds. Wander

around Oltrarno and you’re in the part 39


of the city where Florentines live. Corner

shops are shutting up in the darkness,

as crates of produce are pulled inside.

Cafés are noisily taking out the empties.

For an atmospheric first day, walk

down the long Borgo Pinti street, past

sooty palazzi that rise, canyon-like,

either side. The 19th-century English

Cemetery is at the far end, amid a whirl

of traffic. Nicknamed The Isle of the

Dead, it inspired Swiss artist Arnold

Böcklin (whose baby daughter was buried

here) to paint his celebrated picture of

the same name. With its cypresses and

Neo-Gothic tombs, it’s a ghostly world.

The poet Walter Savage Landor, the

novelist Fanny Trollope and the American

abolitionist Theodore Parker were all

interred here, as was the pre-Raphaelite

model Fanny Waugh, who designed

her own tomb on her death-bed. Her

husband, William Holman Hunt, then

sculpted it. Have your camera to hand

for marble statues of desolate widows,

life-sized grim reapers and tearful angels

looming up at you out of the gloom.

You’ll need something life-enhancing

now, so break for lunch. Take the C3

bus back to Ponte Vecchio and walk

along the Arno to Il Borro (big brother

of the Dubai outpost). Under frescoed

ceilings, a sole waiter slices meat on one

of those circular machines, with all the

tenderness of a lover. Try lampredotto,

a Florentine street eat of slow-cooked

tripe served on a bun with spicy tomato

sauce and salsa verde. It’s a seasonal

treat: for me, another of the great joys

of Florence in autumn or early winter.

Sated, go and see the Museo Salvatore

Ferragamo nearby, resplendent in its

13th-century palazzo. It’s filled with

footwear created by the Florentine

shoemaker for Hollywood stars. You may

catch an American couple, ostensibly in

Florence for the Uffizi, gasp in delight to

see footwear ‘Creato per Joan Crawford’,

‘Creato per Rudolph Valentino’ and

‘Creato per Mary Pickford’. Perhaps you’ll

follow the pair, past engineers stringing

up the first Christmas lights against a

darkening sky, into Piazza di Santa Trinita.

They shiver and pull their coats closer.

California must seem a warm world away.

End up at Irene, the restaurant of the

flamboyant Savoy Hotel. Its afternoon tea

is modern – dainty waiters set individual

timers running for each brew – but the

view is timeless as Piazza della Repubblica

fills up with café society and children

in scarves begging to be allowed on the

gaudily restored, brightly lit Victorian

carousel. You may exit the Savoy to a

vicious little spatter of rain across the

piazza as carols break out from the

other side: a visiting choir from some

Canadian University, serenading the

city on their way to the Duomo. Tonight,

Christmas has come early to Florence.


Saturdays are always busy – after dark

there are drinks to be had and dinner to

be found. A big ’50s Martini sign glows red

above Via Roma as dusk settles. Take your

umbrella for a 6pm stroll, when the traffic

starts to ease. Along the Arno they’re

roasting chestnuts, brought down from

groves in the hills – on a damp autumn

day the whole city can smell of them. It’s

tradition to buy a bag for the Florentine

passeggiata, the late-pm walk downtown.

Crossing to the Oltrarno side, look

back over the river and you’ll see the

entire Renaissance city lit up. The tower

of Palazzo Vecchio stretches above it all,

and the huge picture-windows of the

The Ponte Vecchio in

Florence, Tuscany






Uffizi Gallery are reflected in the river as

the last visitors are shepherded out. The

stillness of the scene is broken by a lone

oarsman sculling in the slow-flowing

Arno, having left it very late to get home.

There is plenty of entertainment to

be had – now Florence has to try a bit

harder to entice people out of their homes

and cosy hotels. At the end of October,

the festival of Florence Creativity runs

daily in the sturdy Fortezza da Basso,

which once defended the city walls. Just

about every activity has a stand here:

stencilling, papier-mâché, bookbinding,

scrapbooking, quilting. Personally, I’m

a sucker for music – the kind found at

Teatro del Sale, a music hall near Piazza

Santa Croce. It’s open most nights for a

help-yourself supper – pans of risotto

with porcini mushrooms, dishes of

beetroot salad – served from trestle tables

along with good, basic Tuscan wine. The

act might be a Swiss yodeller, or Maria

Cassi, wife of the patron and a gloriously

full-throated cabaret artiste. It’s all huge

noisy fun and full of locals who never

take their coats off. Last time I was here,

next to me was a grande dame; tucked

under her cloak was the tiniest of dogs,


Clockwise from top left: Preparing

a perfect pizza; a bronze replica of

Michelangelo's David in Piazzale

Michelangelo; the beautiful city streets

by night; roasted chestnuts; festive

lights in Florence 41


This image: Santa Maria

del Fiore cathedral

Opposite: The Ponte

Vecchio bridge arches

over the Arno River

which she fed discreetly with titbits.

Amble back to the centre along

Via Giuseppe Verdi, the bohemian

quarter, home to cafés including Pino’s

Sandwiches and Viktoria Lounge Bar:

little late-night windows of luminescence.

Filistrucchi, opposite Pino’s, is a

small shop selling theatrical wigs and

cosmetic hairpieces. You’d never guess

it was founded in 1720 and is the oldest

continuously operating store in the city.

A plaque on its first floor marks where

the flood of 1966 reached. Filistrucchi

took a few days off that November.

This is what I love about Florence. You

needn’t stray far to encounter a much

quirkier city than the crowds find around

Piazza della Signoria. Once, coming back

from Teatro del Sale, near the Dante

Museum, I came across the tiny chapel of

San Martino Vescovo, doors open, lights

blazing. An offertory box on the outside

receives funds to help the poor, as it

has for centuries (St Martin hacked his

cloak in two to clothe a beggar). Wander

in, and you’ll probably have the utterly

beautiful medieval frescoes depicting

the life of the saint all to yourself.

Nearer the Duomo, Christmas

window displays start to go up around

Thanksgiving, poking fun at the city:

think Botticelli’s Venus in a cocktail

dress. Wet pavements mirror the white

lights looped across silent streets.

Shops, such as the department store

Rinascente, have great rivers of light

cascading down their exterior.

Last thing, circle Brunelleschi’s Duomo

and its Baptistry. Its white, green and

pink marble lit dramatically against

a pitch-black sky, it’s unforgettable,

possibly more beautiful than by day.


At last the sun comes out. Assuage that

mournful last-day feeling by rooting out

a good lunch and the best of Florence’s

museums. JK Place is my favourite: a

boutique hotel on peaceful Piazza di Santa

Maria Novella. Inside is dense with comfy

sofas, room perfumes and wealthy New

Yorkers. The food is international with a

Tuscan twist. One time I saw them stuff

a great turkey for their American guests

at Thanksgiving – that pumpkin and

cornmeal are common to both culinary

cultures certainly helped the fusion.

Or you might idle over this year’s

extra-virgin olive oil and bruschetta at

Trattoria 13 Gobbi, in a backstreet behind

the French Cultural Institute. Here you’ll

find more Florentines than tourists. It’s

a warm little space of exposed brick and

empty bottles stacked like trophies. Go

for classic Tuscan: maybe spaghetti with

sea urchin, or grilled beef with roasted

potatoes. The Florentines are in relaxed

mood before the great tourist onslaught

of Christmas. The women wear furs and

air-kiss as they arrive with shopping,

the men in dark coats discuss politics,

while drinking very, very slowly.

The Uffizi is one of the must-see

European art galleries, of course,

especially if you like the Renaissance.

In summer it’s packed, especially in

front of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus,

the serene goddess wafting to shore

on a giant scallop shell. But November

and December are two of the quietest

months, and Sundays are generally

not at all crowded. On the second floor

there are soffitti (ceiling) portraits of

European royalty, including Henry VIII,

Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda.

Perhaps you’d like a David hunt?

You’ve seen him reproduced outside

Palazzo Vecchio. You’ve spotted him

graffiti’d, Banksy-style, in shorts and ‘I

Love Florence’ T-shirt, mobile phone in

hand. Now find the real thing at Galleria

dell’Accademia. First, a lovely stroll

north, passing Palazzo Medici Ricordi

and Palazzo Bartolo Corbini, the vines

over them turning red and yellow as

incipient frosts nip at the roots. The

statue of David (1504) that once stood

in Piazza della Signoria has been in the

Accademia since 1873. Coming faceto-face

with his five-metre-tall bulk

never disappoints, even if it’s actually

face-to-big toe (he’s on a plinth). All

that detail in marble – down to the

veins in his hands and feet – is more

extraordinary when you realise that

Michelangelo thought it was bound

for the roofline of the Duomo. Only

God – and curious pigeons – would

have recognised the phenomenal

artistry. And at this time of year you

can go right up to him, all but alone.

Soon it will be time to get a taxi to

the airport, so step out into Piazza

della Santissima Annunziata, turning

back for a final view of the Duomo.

The last time I was at the Accademia I

came out to find the rain had stopped

and left the most complete rainbow

arching over the city. Such is the joy of

low-season Florence: all the light in the

darkness, and the sudden unexpected

surprises – simple moments of beauty

in a great, silent, tourist-free city.

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

800 DNATA or visit

Credit: The Sunday Times Travel Magazine/News Licensing

42 43


This page: A girl cradles a

vibrant parrot

Opposite: A traditional

wooden tongkang floats

in the waters at sunrise



From lost temples to serene villages and balmy beaches, Cambodia is

cheap and easy to explore, finds Alex Robinson, on a comfy new train

line through the historic heart of the country

fter a few minutes my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Behind

me, the cave entrance was a glowing mouth framed by

jagged rocks and gleaming tangles of green foliage. In front,

worn steps stretched down into the gloom and the cave floor

30 metres below. In the half-light I could just about make out

something set against the back wall: a hulking shape like a giant bear, and I

was alone. My mouth dried and I froze for a moment, before remembering

that there are no bears in Kampot. As I walked on, the shape became

clearer. I could see a brick arch and a gabled roof. It was a temple.

I traced its elegant lines upwards. And gasped. The building was

smothered by what looked like ectoplasm oozing from the ancient rocky

walls as if it were being eaten, amoeba-like, by the mountain. Then I

heard the drip-drip of water echoing through the cavern – through the

centuries, back to the time when the temple was abandoned. It wasn’t

ectoplasm. It was stalactites and flowstone – formed, as it sounds, by

water flowing down.

This was the Cambodia I loved – the Lara Croft lost tombs, the

crumbling temples. It’s the Cambodia everyone fantasises about: a

bucket-list destination of golden light, ethereal ruins, peaceful Buddhas,

tangled vines. Then there are the islands, fringed with flour-fine beaches;

serene villages, mango-filled markets and rolling rice paddies. Like

Thailand… but 20 years ago. 45


Frustratingly, though, getting

anywhere in Cambodia is a step-backin-time

experience, too. It’s a hassle.

The roads are terrible, the journeys a

crash and bump. So when I learnt of a

new railway line running through the

historic heart of the country, right down

to the balmy beaches of its south coast,

I leapt at the chance to visit again. This

would be my seventh trip to Cambodia,

but my first ever by train.

On the Cambodia railway website,

I plotted my fantasy route of about

250km. It began in bustling Phnom

Penh, then click-clacked past fields of

buffaloes to Takeo, where the ancient

temples are older than Angkor Wat. I’d

move on to sleepy French colonial town

Kampot, fragrant with pepper blossom

and lemongrass, and eat curried crab

on the coast at Kep. Journey’s end was

Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand,

gateway to beaches lined with palms.

The next morning I sat in airconditioned

comfort watching Phnom

Penh city slip by like a video on mute:

a cluster of shiny skyscrapers, the

sluggish brown of the Mekong River,

level crossings snarling with mopeds…

Then, out of the blue, a smartly dressed

conductor brought me a perfumed

towel, coffee and a breakfast menu.

Minutes later came paddy fields

and peace.

My first stop was Takeo, two hours

south – a sleepy provincial capital as big

as a village, among pretty canals and

lakes. I spent the morning wandering

through the market, where mangoes

were piled alongside clucking chickens

in wicker baskets, bags of Siamese

fighting fish and buckets of slippery

eels. I wondered why everyone was

staring at me until the receptionist

at my hotel told me I was the only

foreigner in town.

"The new train will bring more people:

Takeo is the cradle of Cambodian

civilisation," she assured me, proudly.

"The Khmer empire began here, with

Funan kingdom. Angkor Wat came later."

She arranged for a local taxi driver

and a boatman to show me the sights

of ancient Funan. Later that afternoon

I heaved my way up steep steps to the

summit of Chisor mountain, where

King Suryavarman I built a ceremonial

centre in the 11th century. Sweating







from the climb, I looked for shade and

found a gated courtyard strewn with

ruined masonry, dotted with temple

buildings. Their doors and lintels

were carved with floral swirls – before

Angkor, but unmistakably Khmer in

their intricacy and delicate beauty. And

there were no crowds. The only person

I saw was an elderly fortuneteller,

illuminated by a shaft of light and

snoozing inside one of the buildings,

next to a thousand-year-old statue.

I heard chanting and followed it to a

monastery, cresting the hill, and found

novice monks in saffron robes sitting at

old-fashioned school desks (complete

with inkwells) reciting sutras as if they

were saying their times tables. This was

an Angkor temple as it used to be – the

temple tranquillity and timeless beauty

as yet undisturbed – and reachable, not

by coach parties, but by train.

Next morning, I took a gentle

paddleboat ride through Takeo’s ancient

klongs – canals cut by the Funan

emperors – past huts where farmers in

conical hats herded thousand-strong

flocks of ducks. The canals became lakes,

with trees distant in the haze on their

far shores. Fishermen paddled in the

shallows, securing the bamboo poles of

barrier nets. Herons waded decorously

through the weeds. Then, after a late

lakeside lunch of fish curry, I caught the

afternoon train south. As the sun sank

red over the paddy fields, I was rocked

into sleep by the sway of the railway

carriages and the tick-tock tapping of

the track.

I was woken by the train shuddering

to a halt in Kampot. Even though it

was after 11pm, a man in his forties

with a wispy moustache and a collared

shirt was waiting for me with a placard

and a warm smile. "Welcome to south

Cambodia," he said with genuine

enthusiasm and excellent English,

grabbing my bag. "You must be tired."

"Not really," I thought. I’ve never had

so restful a Cambodian journey.

Mr Try’s Toyota was as comfortable

as a sofa. And the mattresses in the

Rikitikitavi hotel were draped in

Egyptian cotton. There was even a

DVD library. If Takeo was still a relative

unknown, Kampot was well-visited, a

fact confirmed at breakfast: poached

eggs and banana pancakes were on the

menu and tourists plentiful (though

they had come by bus on bumpy

roads, I reflected smugly, not tranquil

rail tracks). The view over French

townhouses and a gently winding river

was enchanting. This was Cambodia

in comfort.

Mr Try was waiting in reception.

"Lots to see," he said with boundless

enthusiasm. "Temples, beaches, fine

food. And of course you will be itching to

see the pepper plantations!" He looked

almost hurt when I clearly had no idea

what he was talking about. "Gourmet,"

he exclaimed. "Gourmet!" We floated

along narrow roads past fields where

women picked chillies, and buffaloes

lazily chewed grass, white egrets

perched on their backs. A narrow lane

lined with what looked like poplars

brought the car to a grand, terracottaroofed

French mansion with Gallic

gables decorated with Khmer swirling

dragons. I opened the car door and was

hit by a delicious, honeysuckle-sweet

fragrance that had me drinking in the

air. Mr Try was triumphant.

"Pepper blossom! Gourmet!"

And with the enthusiasm of a

Bordeaux vintner he walked me through

rows of pea-green pepper plants – some

laden with tiny, star-like white flowers,

others ripe with red pepper fruit, which

he said would become peppercorns.

Notices warned ‘Do not touch the

pepper!’ as if it were a museum relic.

"Isn’t pepper just pepper, Mr Try?"

I asked. Again he looked appalled.

Credit: The Sunday Times Travel Magazine / News Licensing



Clockwise from above left:

Phnom Chhnork cave temple

in Kampot; a tasting platter

of Cambodian food; a view

of Phnom Penh and its grand

Royal Palace; a monk pauses

for thought at Angkor Wat 47


Anthony Bourdain didn’t think so,

nor did the great French chef Olivier

Roellinger, both of whom he’d guided.

I needed culinary education. So that

evening Mr Try dropped me at Atelier

– an elegant restaurant on the riverside

with distressed brick walls and French

chill-out music on the stereo. It was

hip, and crisply dressed staff explained

the provenance of each dish with

hushed reverence. I ordered Cambodian

tiger prawns in Kampot green pepper

sauce. The prawns were tender and

fresh; the sauce fiery, but fragrant,

with a rich, almost fruity, vanilla-like

aftertaste. I’d chosen my stops well:

if Takeo was Angkor Wat without

the crowds, then Kampot was Hanoi,

without the hectic rush.

I thanked Mr Try, who recommended

that I take the fisherman’s boat the next

day to Kep village. "Like the train. Very

relaxing," he promised. "And don’t miss

the Kep crabs."

So, in the morning light, I sat

comfortably on the wooden deck of

a converted fishing boat – floating

languidly past Kampot’s bustling

fish market, where women dragged

baskets of silvery needlefish off

wooden launches. We reached Kep in

an easy-going two hours’ sail. It was a

tiny wooden hamlet – fringed with a

long beach and backed by steep slopes

swathed in rainforest, much of it

protected as a National Park. I took a

guided walk on paths winding through

parakeet-filled trees. Macaque monkeys

sat in the shade, meticulously grooming.

Then I searched out Mr Try’s freshly

caught crabs at a market stall – they cost

just pennies. I ate them. Once again he

was right. They were indeed delicious.

Then it was time for the final train leg

– to the coast at Sihanoukville. Getting

there was as beautiful as it was relaxing.

The train ambled past ponds of pink

lotus flowers and village wedding parties

tinkling with traditional Cambodian

music, clattering across a broad brown

river. It was all so much gentler than

the dusty bus ride I’d have had to take

before the railway ran. Then we climbed

into the mountains – at cycling pace –

before meandering through mangrove

swamps and slipping into Sihanoukville:

the end of the line. The town was straydog-scruffy

– half dusty building site,

half tawdry port. I was glad I was only

passing through on my way to some of

Southeast Asia’s finest beaches. A tuktuk

brought me to a backpacker-packed

boat for the first hint I’d had of the

crowds I remembered from Angkor. But

in less than an hour I was on Koh Rong

island, walking barefoot on talc-soft

white sand. The loudest sound on Sok

San Beach was the lapping of the sea.

My restful hotel was set in a

coconut grove on a silver strand,

where thatched-roof-meets-Mykonos

bungalows sit right on the beach, facing

the morning sun, which rose deep

red over the aquamarine ocean. For

three days I did nothing but laze in my

hammock, paperback or drink in hand,

pausing between chapters for a swim or

a stroll to the nearby fisherman’s shack

for spicy amok curry.

On my final day I determined to be

active and booked a snorkelling trip

with a local fisherman, Chay. The boat

chugged off in the early morning, the

wind billowing the bright banners tied

to the prow of Chay’s boat. A turquoise

Saracen Bay, the main tourist

beach on Koh Rong Samloem

sea deepened into dark green, then inky

blue. Chay pointed to a pod of dolphins a

few hundred metres ahead – their dorsal

fins cutting the ocean’s low swell.

After 30 minutes we reached another

islet, Koh Koun, slipped our masks on

and slid into the water. A stingray sped

from the sand, swam off and buried

itself next to a coral head. Then Chay

dived deeper, beckoned me to follow and

pointed to a little rocky inlet. We swam

closer. Entwined together were two tiny,

golden sea horses. Dozens of others

swam around. A turtle floated past,

paused and drifted into the blue.

When I pulled myself onto the boat

gasping, Chay was waiting, holding out

a cold drink. I put my feet up and sighed.

It was the perfect end to the perfect trip.

In a fortnight I’d seen what would have

normally taken a month in Cambodia.

On the next trip, there’d be no buses for

me, now that I’d discovered rail – the

real deal.

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

800 DNATA or visit










A treasure trove of ancient kingdoms, royal ruins and holy

temples, Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle unveils historical wonders

that are well worth a closer look, and now’s the best time to go




Thought to once be the epicentre of the

short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, this

UNESCO World Heritage Site awes with

its dramatic splendour and deep-seated

history. Weave through nooks and

crannies that unravel centuries of age-old

secrets and make your way to the western

wall, which is particularly striking with its

colourful frescoes and ancient paintings.

When you finally reach the top, get ready

for spellbinding views of the city.



Not only is this golden-roofed temple home

to Sri Lanka’s most prized Buddhist relic – a

tooth of the Buddha – but it's also home to

stunning sculptures and paintings depicting

Gautama Buddha. Time your visit during

pooja (the time for offerings or prayers). The

small ceremony of reverence is a must-see,

with drummers and dancers weaving their

way through the crowd. Considered a holy

sanctuary, the temple garners deep respect,

so modest dress is advised.




Built to mirror the once thriving citadel of

the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, this museum

offers a deep insight into the city’s

ancient history. Reimagine a lost world by

checking out the impressive scale models

that illustrate the historical buildings that

once existed in the kingdom. Alternatively,

make a beeline for the wonderful selection

of bronzes, including some outstanding

Shiva statues.

Photo: Sigiriya Rock Fortress 51





With glittering pine trees,

clip-clopping Fiaker carriages and

glowing street markets, Austria’s

capital city is a winter wonderland

that begs discovery

This page: Schönbrunn

Palace covered in snow

Opposite: Vienna's stunning

skyline with a peek of

the roof of St. Stephen's

Cathedral; 25hours Hotel

Vienna (photo by Stephan

Lemke for 25hours Hotels)



The imperial beauty of this enchanting city

dazzles at any time of the year, but during the

festive season it becomes almost cinematic with

echoes of carols wafting from open windows and

market stalls brimming with traditional fare.

Built high and mighty on the riches of the

powerful Habsburg monarchy, no city waltzes so

effortlessly between regal splendour and contemporary

flair as Vienna. The Austrian capital lures you with its

clutch of baroque palaces, burgeoning arts scene and

hallowed concert halls that uphold centuries of musical

tradition. Add a drool-worthy coffeehouse culture,

beautifully-landscaped parks sprawling along the

banks of the Danube, and a first-class public transport

system, and it's easy to understand why the city is an

enduringly popular spot, filled with travellers from all

corners of the Earth keen to discover its cultural charm.

A city on the move, you can’t help but fall for its

fairytale-like charm. And there’s no better time than

this merry season to treat yourself to a ho ho holiday…


Catch some blissful zzz’s at

these charming abodes

Stay grand at Hotel

Imperial: The fairest of

them all, this neoclassical

hotel drips with traditional

Austrian splendour.

Boasting Michelin-starred

dining venues, lavishly

decorated suites and

immaculate white-glove

service, it comes as no

surprise that the exclusive

hotel counts royalty among

its regular guests. Take a trip

back to the golden age and

enjoy a majestic stay just

a few minutes’ walk from

crowd-pulling sights like the

Albertina, the State Opera

and Hofburg palace.

Stay quirky at 25hours

Hotel Vienna at

MuseumsQuartier: A splash

of colour bombards you

the moment you set foot

inside this circus-themed

boutique hotel. Here, rooms

are adorned with vivid

murals, giant bench swings

hang from the ceiling and

signs shouting “We’re all

mad here” are lined up

along bustling hallways that

would make Salvador Dali

squeal with delight.

Stay sweet at Hotel

Sacher Wien: The heavenly

Sachertorte at this familyrun

luxury hotel is worth

the stay alone. Chocolate

lovers will find sweet

bliss with bathtubs full of

Sacher chocolate-scented

toiletries, complimentary

mini Sachertorte cubes and

the one-of-its-kind Time to

Chocolate collection of spa

treatments. Throw historic

ambience, elegantly-styled

rooms and prime central

location into the mix and

you've got yourself a treat.

Stay glamorous at Hotel

Lamée: With its 1930s

swagger, silver-screen flair

and sweeping city views, this

romantic hideaway adds a

dash of Hollywood glamour

to the heart of Vienna. An

ode to Austrian-American

starlet Hedy Lamarr, the

luxury hotel’s rooms are diva

delicious with gauzy fabrics,

golden-kissed mirrors and

marble-clad bathrooms.

Off the



No amount of glitter or

sequins is deemed too

much here. And with a

name that reflects its

address, this quirky gem

isn't hard to find. Pick

through stacks of fabulous

pieces that can only be

described as a wild mashup

of vintage chic and

mid-century mod accents.


Sometimes less is more,

and this artsy boutique

proves just that with its

avant-garde meets sleek

minimalism aesthetic.

Boasting bold and clean

cut designs, the intriguing

store draws those with an

affinity for striking design.


Tucked away in the buzzing

7 th district, this edgy store

blends South Korean styles

with Scandinavian designs

to create pieces that won’t

break the bank. You're

spoilt for choice with 59

different brands to pick

from. 53




As you stroll through

sumptuously frescoed

halls replete with the

iconic artworks of Klimt,

Schiele and Kokoschka,

it’s easy to understand

why Belvedere Palace is

considered the epitome of

Viennese extravagance.

Rising splendidly above


gardens, the baroque

masterpiece houses

the famous painting by

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss.

More of a hidden gem,

the Palace of Justice

serves as the seat of the

Austrian Supreme Court

and is an impressive

showcase of intricate

Viennese architecture

with its majestic

ensemble of spiralling

staircase, glass roof

and oversized statue of

Justitia. Right around the

corner, Liechtenstein

Garden Palace awes

with its imperial

elegance and splendour.

Once considered the

architectural muse of

Italian landscape painter

Canaletto, the grand

palace boasts marvellous

paintings and sculptures

dating from 1500 to 1700.


With bustling festive

markets lining its

squares, Vienna sets

the stage for a merry

shopping extravaganza

Rathausplatz The unique

backdrop of the ornate

and perfectly illuminated

City Hall gives this market

a charm of its own, but

what makes it extra jolly

are the delicious aromas

that will to lull you into

a festive bliss. Wander

past 150 wooden stalls

and pick from a myriad of

festive gifts, decorations,

handicrafts, tree lights and

culinary delights.

Schönbrunn Palace Set

against the glorious

backdrop of one of

Vienna’s iconic landmarks,

this market is quite

possibly the most stylish

in all the city. With live

music performances

taking place in front of

the huge Christmas tree,

bask in the festive spirit

and tuck into delicious

This page from top to bottom:

A dazzling festive market;

Belvedere Palace; Wiener


Opposite, from top: The

famous Vienna Opera Ball

© Wiener Staatsoper / Michael

Pöhn; pink flamingos at

Vienna Zoo

Austrian delicacies. We

rate the sugared pancake

with raisins and chestnuts.

Spittelberg Go beyond

the glitz and glamour and

make a beeline for this

local gem. Spread over the

charming cobbled streets

of the hip Spittelberg

Rise to a


quarter, this cosy market

brings a boutique flavour

to the festive scene with

its cheery ambience and

quirky stalls that sell

unique keepsakes such

as ceramics, rugs and

jewellery made of silver,

enamel and brass.

The City of Music serenades you

with its classical heritage

With Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert among

its historical repertoire, Vienna lures with its

soul-stirring history. If you can't lock down

tickets for the Vienna State Opera (tickets

sell out like wildfire), Volksoper is a great

alternative with a more intimate setting and

intriguing line-up of local performances.

Alternatively, the acoustically renowned Wiener

Musikverein offers visitors the coveted chance

to see the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic

Orchestra. Those who feel like going beyond the

glamorous shows and diving more into the life

of the geniuses behind it all should check out

Mozarthaus Vienna, Mozart's only apartment

that has survived to this day.





The Vienna Opera Ball. The ball of all balls, the

Vienna State Opera transforms into a Cinderella

wonderland as ladies in fabulous gowns and

gentlemen in elegant tailcoats waltz the night

away in what's considered the most beautiful

ballroom in the world.

The Hofburg Silvesterball. The fireworks above

the historic old town, the sounds of the Pummerin

bell at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the traditional

Blue Danube Waltz as the clock strikes midnight

makes this an unforgettable New Year affair.

Rudolfina Redoute. For a dash of mystery, ladies

are invited to don their most enticing masquerade

masks, only to take them off as they lure their

charming escorts to the dance floor for the ritual

demasking quadrille dance at midnight.

Words: Habiba Azab

Ask a local

Fashion designer

Jelena Fiala


unveils her

pick of artistic

treasures to take

back home

Viennese handicrafts exude a

vintage allure and boast luxurious

craftsmanship. Steeped in years of

tradition and rich history, Augarten

Porzellan is one of the oldest

Austrian porcelain brands, offering

a diverse collection of beautifully

hand-made pieces. The stunning

crafts are a great souvenir to take

home. If you feel like glamming up

with vintage jewels, the Girls Dreams

boutique near Stephansplatz at

Bräunerstraße 2 is a treasure trove of

everything shiny. From gorgeously

long pearl necklaces to the finest

golden chains, you'll leave in a

cloud of sparkle. Alternatively, the

Naschmarkt flea market has around

120 market stands selling practically

everything. There are also plenty

of food stalls dotted around so you

can munch on a falafel wrap or hot

dog as you browse. It also boasts

amazing views over the canal.




The Imperial Butterfly

Park Step into a whole

new world of swirling

colour and admire

the way hundreds of

exotic butterflies flutter

away amid stunning

tropical foliage at this

natural oasis. Part of

the Hofburg palace, the

Jugendstil greenhouse

is home to more than

400 butterflies from

different corners of

the world, including

vibrant Costa Rica and

the lush Philippines.

Vienna Zoo Founded

in 1752, the Vienna Zoo

boasts an impressive

history that proudly

deems it the world's

oldest zoo. Watch as

Siberian tigers doze off

on their platforms and

elephants wallow in

their mud baths. Better

yet, head off to watch

Fu Long, Fu Hu, and Fu

Bao, the zoo's popular

panda residents, as

they captivate visitors

with their charm.

(Let's face it, they're

pretty adorable).

Lainzer Tiergarten

Grab your binoculars

and take a walk on

the wild side at this

nature reserve in the

southwest of Vienna,

which is mostly

covered in woodland.

Adventurers can

enjoy a scenic hike as

they take in the city's

fascinating wildlife. 55



Lap of luxury

From the mega malls to the desert dunes, peel away the shiny

wrapper on the UAE capital and revel in a curated collection of

luxurious new events and attractions

1Featuring 350 extraordinary

objects, the 10,000 Years of

Luxury exhibition at Louvre Abu

Dhabi will take you on an historical tour

of the lavish. Running until 18 February

2020, it shines a light on the ways in

which luxury has been interpreted

by different cultures, from furniture

fit for royalty to couture from iconic

fashion houses and virtuous objects

from Christian Dior, Chanel, Cartier and

more. Plus, you can immerse yourself

in a sensory journey thanks to the

olfactory art installation, USO – The

Perfumed Cloud.


Those with a penchant for

designer labels should strut to

The Galleria Al Maryah Island,

which is hosting a shopping-inspired

leg of the Flânerie Colbert Abu Dhabi

luxury event series until 14 December.

Intended to explore 21st-century

French luxury, with a heavy focus

on craftsmanship, you can expect

showstopping window displays and

some absolutely fabulous happenings,

such as Louis Vuitton demonstrating

its iconic monogram painting

technique, and a masterclass in the

art of saddle making with Hermès.


Experience a slice of luxury

deep in the desert at the ultra

Instagrammable Qasr Al Sarab

Desert Resort by Anantara, which

has introduced an impressive line-up

of luxurious new adventures to mark

its 10 th anniversary. The Bedouin Night

Camping Experience invites you to

spend the night in a Bedouin-style

tent under a canopy of stars. Arrive

by camel and savour an authentic

Emirati dinner in the Hadheera. Plus,

there's a thrilling range of activities to

try, from archery to dune bashing.

Find out more at

Photo: The Bedouin Night Camping Experience

at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara








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Blue crush

In the deep blues of the Maldives, Habiba Azab finds enchantment

and serenity alongside the majestic gentle giants of the ocean

Above the surface, the sea

was dark and moody with

drops of rain beating down

upon its glassy exterior. Beneath the

surface, there was a stillness, vastness

and silence. I could feel my legs lose

their fiery momentum as I pushed

through wave after wave. Tick, tock.

tick, tock. Still no sighting. Eyes wide

open, I scanned the waters but all I

could see was an endless expanse

of lapping waves reverberating,

drowning out my last hope.

It was two days ago that I made my

first journey to the Maldives. Flying

east over the Indian Ocean, I peered

through the plane windows and

marvelled at how quickly the clouds

gave way to vast sparkling blues.

As the island loomed into view, my

mind reeled at the plethora of shades

underneath; aquamarine in parts,

azure in others, maybe even cerulean?

The ocean was a tapestry of peaks

and dips, dotted with white-sandy

patches and distinct outlines of vivid

coral reefs. A few hours in and I was

already scrapbooking this country.

Just as I re-hinged my dropped

jaw, the seaplane started its swift

descent with everyone "ooh-ing",

"ahh-ing" and snapping away until

we glided to a graceful stop at the

jetty. I could hear the faint sound of

drums in the distance and, a short

boat ride later, I arrived to beaming

smiles and charming Maldivian chants

at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas.

This was one time in life to embrace

clichés, because the resort was

everything I’d imagined the Maldives

to be; an endless sweep of blindingly

white sand, cotton-swirled blue

skies and rows of stilted bungalows

enveloped by water that is such a

perfect shade of turquoise. It looked

like an Instagram filter in real life. With

a swinging daybed, marble-clad infinity

pool and an outdoor bathroom that

puts all other bathrooms to shame, it

was easy to understand why people

spent entire holidays cocooned in this

cosy sanctuary. After a few lingering

moments, I managed to tear myself

away from its comforting claws and

made my way down to the beach as the

dipping sun set the sea ablaze with its

spectacular shades of orange, snapping

a mental postcard for years to come.

I’d been told earlier that the best

thing about the Maldives is its people.

Friendly, kind and naturally hospitable,

it was easy to be swayed by their

genuine charm. And when my new

friend Maldives (yes, his name was

actually Maldives) called out a cheery

“Haalu kihineh?” (how are you?) every

morning as I rode my bike to breakfast,

I couldn’t help but glow with glee.

Never have I ever encountered an entire

hotel staff so completely enamoured

with their jobs as that at Anantara

Kihavah. They lived in paradise and

they sure acted like it. Whistling while

they worked, and easily remembering

every guest's name, and even my

preference for an early morning orange

juice. So, as the waiter at Sea poured

me a freshly-squeezed glass, a cheesy

smile nearly broke my face. But, to be

honest, the rainbow-striped parrotfish

playfully bumping his nose against my

window may have been the reason why

I was in such lively spirits. Voted as the

World’s Best Underwater Restaurant

for four years running, the aquariumlike

restaurant offered a one-of-a-kind

dining experience where it was unclear

whether the fish swimming by were

on display for you or the other way

around. As I waited for my sumptuous

meal to arrive, I spotted an unlikely

alliance between a sea turtle and a

baby lemon shark following by its side.

We all watched in amazement as they

put on a show of teasing each other

behind the curved glass wall. “You’re

very lucky, it’s a rare occasion to spot

a sea turtle and a shark at the same






time,” enthused Annika Bjorka, director

of spa, wellness and recreation.

There’s something so meditative

about the Maldives: the awe of millions

of twinkling stars painting the midnight

sky, the joy of a fresh chilly breeze

or the sweet surprise of a gecko or a

crab scuttling to take shelter. But the

island’s true allure lies within its deep

blue waters and the idea of snorkelling

with reef manta rays had me buzzing

with nervous excitement since the first

day I arrived. I had watched enough

videos of these majestic creatures to

be prepared for this once-in-a-lifetime

sea escapade that, by the time our

trip rolled around, I couldn’t sit still.

Not even having recently watched

Jason Statham’s The Meg was enough

to deter me from ticking this one

off the bucket-list. With a sturdy

life jacket strapped-on, I hopped

onboard the boat and embarked

on the 45-minute journey towards

Hanifaru Bay, the world’s largest

natural manta feeding region in the

Baa Atoll where these mesmerising

beings gather in groups of 150 or more

between June and late November.

“Don’t chase them, let them find

their way to you. These giant rays are

playful and curious by nature so don’t

be surprised if they go out of their

way to interact, drawing incredibly

near and managing to avoid contact

at the last second,” said our guide

as the boat continued to rock back

and forth over the choppy waters.

“Having the largest brain-to-body

ratio of all rays and sharks, they're also

very intelligent beings. Many say they

could feel an emotional connection

whenever they’re in their presence.”

It had all come down to this moment.

A sudden uproar of whooping and

whistling signalled the arrival of

something exhilarating. I raced up

to the front of the boat and joined

the flurry of spectators watching

in awe as the outline of a manta

ray vanished into the depths with a

surging velocity. "Let’s go!” our guide

hollered. I scrambled down the deck

trying not to trip on my oversized

fins while frantically scouring the

floor for my misplaced snorkel. Mask

askew, I leapt from the boat into the

warm Indian Ocean and plunged

my face underwater, ready to begin

a speedy, front crawl pursuit.

Fifteen minutes passed, 25, 35…

and yet there I was, peering down

my snorkel mask into an empty dark

void. I knew that with the newly

introduced protection ban, the

Hanifaru Bay only allowed a limit of

five boats and 80 visitors with only

45-minutes to spare. And with this

information flashing in my brain, I

felt like I was racing against the clock

while trying to fight the impending

disappointment waiting to take over.

That's when everything changed.

Just when I was about to give up

and make a defeated retreat to the

boat, a snowflake-speckled giant

came swooping in behind a haze of

bubbles. For a few seconds, my body

froze, and time seemed to stand

still as I marvelled at its graceful

beauty. The all-encompassing silence

enveloping me only served to intensify

the experience and I could swear in

that moment, it was just the ray and

me, alone in an underwater world.

Four times my size and just inches

from my fingertips, the dazzling

creature began a dizzying dance

ritual; turning, swerving and gliding off

into the indigo haze unhampered by

gravity. Close on its tail, another manta

pursuing the nutritious black specks

of plankton appeared, and another

and another – that's when I discovered

you can squeal "oh, my God" into a

snorkel multiple times and not drown.

Inspired to travel? To book a trip, call

800 DNATA or visit



Clockwise from far left: The

scrumptious sea lobster dish at Sea;

an aerial view of Anantara Kihavah

Maldives Villas; dine underwater at

Sea; soak in a relaxing bubble bath;

lounge around in your private Beach

Pool Villa 61



Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa

Escape the city in favour of a luxurious desert break


Traditional Arabian design meets

modern luxury at this top spa resort,

creating an enchanting balance in each

of the 115 spacious yet cosy rooms and

suites. With desert, garden and pool

vistas to wake up to, being surrounded

by natural beauty is guaranteed. We

say book a Deluxe Suite for some

alfresco relaxation on the terrace with

accompanying dune views.


Foodies can embark on a culinary

journey around the world, starting at Al

Hadheerah to sample its authentic Middle

Eastern cuisine and entertainment. The

next evening, head to Masala for a true

taste of India complete with a traditional

live band. Lastly, stop by Le Dune for tasty

Italian fare – and don’t miss watching the

sun set over mezze and grills at Al Sarab

Rooftop Lounge.


It's high time to make the most of the

abundance of outdoor activities available

here, including horse and camel riding,

biking and falconry. Thrillseekers will

rush to take part in the Desert Drive,

an open-top 4x4 tour that traverses the

dunes, giving you the chance to spot

wildlife as you go. Those with a sensitive

disposition, however, can decamp to

Satori Spa for a back massage.

To find out more, call +971 4 809 6100 or visit



Nestled among the rolling dunes of Dubai, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is a haven of rustic charm,

luxurious Arabian hospitality, benchmark-setting facilities and a captivating desert environment.

This oasis of pure indulgence offers guests an array of sumptuous dining experiences

from Italy to India and the Middle East, desert activities including falconry,

camel riding and archery, rejuvenating therapies at the award-winning Satori Spa

as well as facilities designed to ensure that every moment is one to be cherished for years to come.

/babalshamshotel /babalshamshotel /babalshamshotel




Dukes The Palm, a Royal Hideaway Hotel

Quintessential British charm blends effortlessly with cosmopolitan luxury at this Dubai resort


Those in search of British pomp with a

contemporary twist can look no further

than this charming beachfront resort.

Reminders of a classical age include

portraits of aristocrats and baroque

furnishings while sleek bedding and

state-of-the-art technologies keep up

with the modern trends. Stay in style and

book the Sky Studio – you'll be awarded

with panoramic views of the city.


With pastries, waffles, pancakes and

eggs cooked to order, breakfast at Great

British Restaurant is a delectable feast

fit for dukes. Meat eaters are also in for

a treat at West 14 th Steakhouse where

sumptuous cuts of top quality steaks are

served against the stunning background

of the city's sparkling skyline. If you're

up for an evening drink, Duke's Bar

offers zesty blends, James Bond style.


Make the most of the city's glorious

winter weather and unwind by the

outsized infinity pool with its lush views

of Palm Jumeirah. Better yet, idle away

on the beach with a chilled drink in hand

and soak up the winter rays. Break a

sweat at the fitness centre, which boasts

a wide array of advanced facilities and

machines. Located on the 14 th floor, the

vistas promise sweet distraction.

To find out more, call +971 4 455 1111 or


استمتع بالفخامة

احجز إقامتك في جناحنا الملكي،‏ جناح الملكة إليزابيث



Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites

For a longer stay, make yourself at home in a stylish suite overlooking Dubai Marina


If you're planning on staying in Dubai

for a while, or simply appreciate the

convenience of having your own kitchen,

the stylish suites at this four-star

property in Dubai Marina are just the

ticket. There are one-, two- and threebedroom

suites available, each featuring

a modern kitchen and a sleek marble

bathroom with an oversized tub. Room

service is available around the clock.


Jump-start your day with a delectable

menu of international dishes at Counter

Culture Café, which also offers free Wi-Fi

so you can stay well connected to the

wider world. For hearty British fare with

a twist, The Croft is the place to go. On

the 52 nd floor, Observatory Bar & Grill is

where you should head for classic dishes

and crafted drinks, with panoramic views

of the waterfront.


Your fitness regime needn't suffer, as all

guests enjoy access to the fitness centre.

When you want to unwind, head to Saray

Spa, which offers a range of pampering

treatments, such as the signature Saray

Arabic Coffee Awakener, which includes

a body scrub, mask and massage. Get out

and explore Dubai, including Jumeirah

Beach Residence and Dubai Media City,

which are just a short stroll away.

To find out more, call +971 4 319 4000 or visit






Standing tall in the heart of

Dubai Marina, featuring

incomparable panoramic views

of the city, combine the best

of all worlds with luxurious

accommodation, three

contemporary dining

destinations and a blissful

caravanserai-inspired, Saray Spa.





Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites




JW Marriott Marquis Dubai

Reach for the sky at the world’s tallest five-star hotel


Wake up in the clouds and revel in

stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the

city's futuristic skyline or the turquoise

waters of the Arabian Gulf. Sleek suites

boast marshmallow soft beddings

and soundproof windows for a serene

slumber, while Executive rooms come

with perks including complimentary

drinks, a continental breakfast and

afternoon tea in the lounge.


Foodies are spoilt for choice with

more than 14 dining venues offering a

selection of delicacies from around the

world. Splurge on a unique sky-high

dinner at Prime68 steakhouse before

heading for a glitzy nightcap at Vault.

To spice it up, the recently opened

Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra serves

traditional recipes from ancient India

with a contemporary twist.


Discover the shiniest gems the city has

to offer with top attractions including

The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa and Dubai

Opera right around the corner. After a

day out and about, pamper yourself back

at the hotel with a mini refresh at Saray

Spa. Soothing body massages, bespoke

facials and holistic rituals draw upon

the spa's Arabian heritage for a top-totoe

rejuvenating experience.

To find out more, call +971 4 414 3000 or visit


Inspiration. Expertly crafted.

Comprising two iconic towers, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is centrally located beside the

Dubai Water Canal and offers a spectrum of facilities and services for a seamless experience.

The hotel features: 1,608 Luxurious Guest Rooms and Suites, Over 15 Award-Winning Restaurants

and Lounges, Saray Spa featuring Traditional Hammams, A Dead Sea Floatation Pool and

17 Treatment Rooms, State-of-the-Art Health Club and Fitness facilities, 8,000 sqm of spectacular

Meeting Spaces.

JW Marriott® Marquis® Hotel Dubai

Sheikh Zayed Road, Business Bay, PO Box 121000, Dubai, UAE | T +971.4.414.0000 |



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Table Mountain,

Cape Town

Cape Town is a city that constantly

has me chasing sunsets. On this

particular visit, clouds were

blanketing the whole town, so it

was a risky move to attempt this

hike. However, I still gathered a

few friends and we raced our way

up the Lion’s Head (the mountain

opposite Table Mountain, pictured

here) to chase what would turn

out to be an unforgettable sunset.

Fortunately, taking that risk

paid off and we were blessed

with a magnificent golden hour

experience. The vibe at the

summit was even more electric,

as dozens of sunset chasers took

in the panoramic views of Cape

Town’s towering mountains,

sparkling bays, and endless ocean.

Travel and photography fan

Elijah Soldium loves to travel

because: "You get to share

awe-inspiring moments

with strangers." Follow him

at @ThePartyingTraveler,



in high-res jpeg format, along

with the stories behind them to and you

may end up being featured

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The world’s tallest five-star hotel, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, is one of the

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the city skyline and Arabian Gulf, the rooms are sleek yet luxurious and there are

more than 14 dining venues to discover, including Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra,

which serves recipes from ancient India with a contemporary twist. Plus, you can

kick back and relax with a soothing treatment at Saray Spa. To find out more and

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Let our travel news and round-ups, available to read on our website,

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travel edits of some

of the most popular

holiday destinations

on our radar. 75

Suite dreams

Our monthly finish with a flourish, delving into a suite

that has a character and style all of its own


Park Hyatt New York

When in New York, views of Central Park don't get more epic than this. This sprawling threebedroom

abode – the penthouse, no less – stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of

Manhattan's highest suites overlooking this much-loved green space, enhanced by sweeping

views of the skyline. Arrive by helicopter (it's a complimentary add-on) and revel in the luxury of

your personal chef, butler service, daily breakfast and spa treatments for up to six guests. You'll

find the hotel in the heart of Midtown, just one block away from the park.


Festive Celebrations

at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.

Elevate your festivities to new heights at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai,

your ultimate dining destination. Make this festive season extra special for you

and your loved ones with impeccable dishes, fun entertainment and memorable







Indulge in award-winning cuisine this festive season, one dish at a time.

For more information, call +971 4 414 3000 or visit

JW Marriott® Marquis® Hotel Dubai

Sheikh Zayed Road, Business Bay, PO Box 121000, Dubai, UAE | T + 971 4 414 3000 I

jwmarriottmarquisdubai I jwdubaimarquis I jwmarriottmarquisdubai I #jwmmfestive

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