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Produced in Dubai Production City

A long weekend... in Vienna


Why Florence is more magical in the winter

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. 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).

Managing Director Victoria Thatcher Chief Creative Officer John Thatcher General Manager David Wade Managing Editor Faye Bartle Content Writers Habiba Azab

Senior Advertising Manager Mia Cachero

Faye Bartle

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


You can now go on an African-style safari in Saudi Arabia, p20


A two-night stay at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, p75



A long weekend... in Vienna


Why Florence is more magical in the winter


Produced in Dubai Production City

Production Manager Muthu Kumar



In Copacabana, people celebrate the New Year by wading into the ocean and jumping over seven waves while making seven wishes, p16


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

Senior Designer Hiral Kapadia


It's the peak season to see the mesmerising Northern Lights in Oslo, p13

Happy travels – see you in 2020,

Editorial Assistant Ronak Sagar Art Director Kerri Bennett


India’s great eight Take your pick of our memorable trip ideas that showcase the very best of this vibrant country

COVER IMAGE Getty Images

Find us at… ONLINE FACEBOOK @WorldTravellerME INSTAGRAM @worldtravellerme TWITTER @WTravellerME

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

Contents December 2019 Suvretta House



regulars 10





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.











Those in the know reveal eight memorable trips to take in the vibrant country.

Florence has a rare magic when days grow shorter and quieter, says long-time devotee Adrian Mourby.

Travel writer Alex Robinson rides a comfy new train line through the historic heart of Cambodia.




Maldives Anantara Kihavah Beach Pool Villas



weekends 52





Austria’s capital city is a winter wonderland that begs discovery.

Habiba Azab finds serenity alongside the ocean's majestic gentle 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.

Globetrotter DECEMBER


Be informed, be inspired, be there

MOUNTAIN HIGH 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

TRAVEL IN STYLE 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 JUMP WAVES IN COPACABANA 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, LemanjĂĄ, and is believed to bless your year ahead with luck, happiness and prosperity. BLAZE THROUGH SCOTLAND If you've seen Edinburgh, head to Stonehaven, which is illuminated by a 16

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. SHAKE IT BEAR-STYLE IN ROMANIA 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 GLOBETROTTER 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 email


DOWN THE SLOPES With crisp pistes, mountaintop thrills and classic alpine vistas, these luxury resorts invite intrepid skiers to a winter wonderland

“ ”

Photography: Reuben Krabbe

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

Suvretta House, St. Moritz

Chamonix Resort, France

Bugaboos Lodge, Canada

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.

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.

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

Stay in the luxurious Bedouin Suite

Nestled amid the iconic sand dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, this eco-luxury retreat beckons with its exquisite natural bounty


l 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




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 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.

2 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.

3 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. 20



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


ou 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 HOW TO...

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


FINLAND 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." 22

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.

TAIWAN “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.

THE WESTERN CAPE "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.

NEW ZEALAND "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.

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.

WE’VE ARRIVED 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 occasion. #RevUp

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 24



s 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...

Santa will make a grand appearance


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.

Tuck into a scrumptious festive feast


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 25th 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.


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 gown for you ladies) and ring in the New Year in style with an elegant gala dinner at Ingredients. A soirée can’t go wrong with zesty cocktails, lively performances and scrumptious spread of festive favourites.


New year, new you. Bid farewell to lazy excuses and usher in 2020 with a new healthy lifestyle. Offering an exclusive 50% discount on annual gym memberships, the resort invites you to shed old skin and start afresh with stateof-the-art facilities and equipment. Terms and conditions apply . To find out more, call +971 2 656 1000 or visit anantara. com/en/eastern-mangroves-abu-dhabi 25


India 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

DAYS 4-5: AGRA 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 midOctober, 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. FIRST-TIMER’S TICK LIST

Ultimate Golden Triangle DAYS 1-3: DELHI 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’ 28

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.

DAYS 6-7: JAIPUR 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 chandelier.) 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 GLAM GOA 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… DAY ONE 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. 30

DAY TWO 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. DAY THREE 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.

DAY FOUR 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 owners. DAY FIVE 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. DAYS 1-2: AMRITSAR, PUNJAB 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). DAYS 3-4: DHARAMSALA, HIMACHAL PRADESH 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.

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. DAYS 10-11: NUBRA VALLEY, LADAKH 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. DAYS 12-14: SRINAGAR, KASHMIR 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


DAYS 5-6: LEH, LADAKH 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. DAYS 7-9: HEMIS NATIONAL PARK, LADAKH 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 Mahabalipuram



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

DAY 1 KOCHI 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. 34

DAYS 2-3 HEAD FOR THE HILLS 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. DAY 4-5 PERIYAR 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. DAY 6: THE BACKWATERS 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. DAYS 7-10 BEACH LAZING 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

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.


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’.

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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 40

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Tuscany

‘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’ 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

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. 42

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


This page: A girl cradles a XXXXXXXXXXXXX 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




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

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


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, 48

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

TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH Kandy 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.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF POLONNARUWA Polonnaruwa 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

SIGIRIYA ROCK FORTRESS Sigiriya 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. 51

long weekend the


This page: SchĂśnbrunn 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)


With glittering pine trees, clip-clopping Fiaker carriages and glowing street markets, Austria’s capital city is a winter wonderland that begs discovery


The imperial beauty of this enchanting city dazzles at any time of the year, but during the festive season it becomes almost cinematic with


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

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…

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 rack BURGGASSE24 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. EIGENSINNIG WIEN 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. WE BANDITS Tucked away in the buzzing 7th 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

Baroque and beyond 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 perfectly-manicured 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. 54

SEASONAL JOY 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 Musikverein 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

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.

Rise to a crescendo 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.


YOU SHALL GO TO THE BALL 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.

Ask a local

Words: Habiba Azab

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.

NATURAL ATTRACTION Schmetterlinghaus: 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 1

Featuring 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. 56


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 10th 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

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




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With our 60 years of experience and global partnerships, you’ll be surprised at how far we can take you, for less. Go on an unmissable UAE staycation to a brand new property or a great located resort with plenty of added extras. Experience your dream international holiday, to an exciting, trending destination or on a package designed for all the family — with extras including discounts off of your stay, room upgrades and free kids stays. Whatever your travel style, you’ll find something incredible for you at an amazing price, right here in dnata Travel dealz.

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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


bove 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


I COULD SWEAR IN THAT MOMENT, IT WAS JUST THE RAY AND ME, ALONE IN AN UNDERWATER WORLD 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 60

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 THE ROOMS & SUITES 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.

THE FOOD 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.

THE ACTIVITIES 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 62

RARE IS REAL 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.




D E S E RT R E S O RT & S P A - D U B A I



Dukes The Palm, a Royal Hideaway Hotel Quintessential British charm blends effortlessly with cosmopolitan luxury at this Dubai resort THE ROOMS & SUITES 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.

THE FOOD 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 14th 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.

THE ACTIVITIES 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 14th floor, the vistas promise sweet distraction.

To find out more, call +971 4 455 1111 or 64



Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites For a longer stay, make yourself at home in a stylish suite overlooking Dubai Marina THE ROOMS & SUITES 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.

THE FOOD Jump-start your day with a delectable menu of international dishes at Counter Culture CafĂŠ, 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 52nd floor, Observatory Bar & Grill is where you should head for classic dishes and crafted drinks, with panoramic views of the waterfront.

THE ACTIVITIES 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 66



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.



JW Marriott Marquis Dubai Reach for the sky at the world’s tallest five-star hotel THE ROOMS & SUITES 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.

THE FOOD 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.

THE ACTIVITIES 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 68

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


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THROUGH THE LENS 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,

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Win a two-night stay at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai The world’s tallest five-star hotel, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, is one of the most coveted places to rest your head in the emirate. Offering stellar views of 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 to enter, visit (T&Cs apply).

TRAVEL INSPO AT YOUR FINGERTIPS Let our travel news and round-ups, available to read on our website, inspire your next trip…


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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. 76

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 experiences. FESTIVE MENUS AND DELICIOUS TREATS MERRY FAMILY CELEBRATIONS EXCEPTIONAL AFTERNOON TEA IN A FESTIVE ENVIRONMENT AWARD-WINNING TURKEY TAKEAWAY EPIC NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTIES 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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