Railway Journeys | Kyushu | Glamping | Taiwan | Hot Springs
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Venice : S K A E BR SHORT 3 0 E AR GUID E G 06 PS AVEL TI R aways T t e G d n 12 Isla PSHOT: A N S 16 NEWS TRAVEL
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Two to Tango It’s the beginning of a 2018, and if you’re already planning a trip during the long holiday next month, or simply trying to get away for that quiet weekend, we’ve got some plans to suggest for you. We kick off our very first issue of the year with adventures with a romance theme – these destinations (or activities) are tailored to set the mood with crowd-free destinations that feature breathtaking scenery, unique activities, and even interesting accommodation options. First up is Taiwan, well-known for its dramatic landscape made up of mountains and rugged coastlines – the latter is the inspiration for Xiao Liu Qiu, a tiny island offshore from Kaohsiung that’s famous for its coral caves, seashell beaches, and an abundance of green turtles. Further afield is Kyushu in Japan – known as the ‘land of fire’, its volcanoes are the main draw, whether you plan to go hiking amidst steamy trails around Mt. Aso and Kirishima, or soak in one of the many of hot spring towns dotted throughout the island. The most famous include Beppu, Yufuin, Kirishima, and Kurokawa. For a short weekend break, head to a couple of secluded, private islands that are mere hours away from Singapore – relax in barefoot luxury away from the crowds at a beachfront villa. We’ve also got theme-based travel, including rail sojourns, cycling itineraries, unique accommodation, and even hot spring jaunts around the world. You don’t have to be a rail enthusiast to appreciate some of the the journeys featured, from the Irish countryside to the steppes of Central Asia and the wilds of Africa. On top of the daily excursions, enjoy the total luxury on board. An active couple can consider a cycling journey – designed to test your relationship, or make you bond over a common interest. From easy jaunts past bucolic scenery to rugged landscapes, it’s definitely a great way to travel with your partner. Or if you prefer to soak in hot springs, there’s a number of options around the world where baths are a part of daily life – and great for soaking tired muscles after a day’s hiking, skiing or cycling. For couples who really care about where they spend the night, glamping is definitely one of the most unique accommodation options. From barren Antarctica to the wilds of Canada and mountainous Ladakh, we’ve got some opulent options laid out. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi General Manager Aaron Stewart
Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 19A Lorong 41 Geylang Singapore 387830 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 email@example.com
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Contributors Ken Berg, Lorna Del Rosario
Special Thanks Belmond Journey Beyond Kyushu Tourism Rovos Rail Tourism New Zealand and many, many others!
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Venice by Lorna Del Rosario
Venice (Venezia) is a major tourist destination in Italy. With its enchanting waterways, stunning architecture, singing gondoliers, and ancient history, it is no wonder it’s nicknamed La Serenissima - “The Serene”. Venice is a city built on water; it has no roads. There are nearly 200 canals, with Grand Canal being the largest, separating the city into over 100 islands. To navigate between the islands, there are 400 bridges. To cross the Grand Canal, there are 4 bridges, the oldest of which is the Rialto Bridge, the most photographed bridge in the city which is unsurprisingly laden with tourist shops. There is no motorised transport allowed in the city, so these canals serve as ‘roads’ in Venice.
RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 3-5 DAYS MUST SEE:
> ST. MARK’S BASILICA: Believed to house the body of St. Mark (the city’s patron
saint), brought from Egypt in 828AD. Just in front is St Mark’s Square, famous for its pigeons and many al fresco restaurants.
> DOGE’S PALACE (PALAZZO DUCALE): Once the home of the ruler of the
Venetian Republic; it’s now a museum.
> BRIDGE OF SIGHS: It con-
nects the Doge’s Palace and the New Prisons; so named because legend has it captives crossing the bridge exhaled sighs of desperation as they were led away.
> MUSEUMS: They’re dotted all over
Venice, including the Ca’ d’Oro which houses an art collection from Baron Giorgio Franchetti, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia (Academy of Fine Arts) which houses one of several classic Madonna-and-child paintings by Giovanni Bellini.
> THE GHETTO (‘GETTO’): Located in Cannaregio is an ancient Jewish quarter from the 16th to 19th centuries; it consists of Ghetto Vecchio and Ghetto Nuovo, which houses 2 of the most beautiful synagogues in northern Italy: the Schola Levantina (1541) and the Schola Spagnola (1580), both featuring magnificent details. > NORTHERN ISLANDS: Murano, Burano,
and Torcello are home to some of the oldest sites in Venice. Murano has been the home Venetian glass-making since the 13th century; Burano laces once graced European aristocracy (today it’s known for its pastel-coloured houses), and Torcello is the republic’s original island
PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: CULTURE settlement, now home to just 14 permanent residents. VENETIAN SPECIALTIES:
> VENETIAN MASKS: They are sold throughout Venice. These colourful, elaborate accessories are worn to parties during Carnival, one of the city’s biggest celebrations held during the 40 days leading up to Lent.
> MURANO GLASS: They’re an icon of
Venice. Artisans still employ centuries-old techniques, crafting everything from contemporary art glass to souvenirs, available at workshops along Fondamenta dei Vetrai. GETTING AROUND Venice is famous for its gondolas, but if a traditional gondola with a singing gondolier is too pricey, you can opt for a traghetto – it’s a form of public transport that looks like an undecorated gondola and is a shared ride. At €2, it is technically the fifth way to cross the Grand Canal, easily accessible from a traghetto pier. Another alternative is to get a 24-hour ACTV ticket (€20), which is a hop-on, hop-off type tour on a vaporetto (water bus) that plies the waterways and drops by the main sites. The best way to get around is on foot, exploring the labyrinthian streets and bridges; with the crowds thinning out further away from the Rialto Bridge. GETTING THERE There are two airports in Venice – Marco Polo Airport and Treviso Airport – from where shuttle buses take you to the island, the last stop being Piazzale Roma. A water taxi is also an option when arriving from Marco Polo airport, since this airport is just next to the Venetian lagoon. You can also arrive by train. Venice, the island, has only one train station, the Venezia Santa Lucia. Venezia Mestre station on the mainland is a 10-minute train ride to Venice.
CORAL PLAYGROUND Located just 14km off the southwest coast of Pingtung County, Xiao Liu Qiu (or Little Liuqiu) is a small coral island that’s known for its geological formations and pristine beaches. Visit during the quieter weekdays, and the island is a perfect couple’s getaway where you can swim with sea turtles, explore the coral reefs, visit various temples, stroll through coral caves, or simply relax on the beaches to enjoy a picturesque sunset. While you can visit this island on a day trip, you can also spend a night here at one of the few themed B&Bs or camp by the beach.
Xiao Liu Qiu
ABOUT THE ISLAND
The island’s total landmass is only 6.8sq.km., so you can effectively drive around the island within 20 minutes without stopping. Most visitors rent scooters to get around the 18km ring road, although e-bikes are also great ways to get around; the clockwise direction has more downhill slopes. From Baisha port, the ring road takes you along the coast, dropping by the island’s geological sites and beaches. Near the Tourist Information Center at Baisha port lies the symbol of Xiao Liu Qiu: Flower Vase Rock, a 9m-tall rock formation that resembles a flower vase. While many of the natural sites are free, an entry ticket is required for three: Beauty Cave, Wild Boar Trench, and Black Dwarf Cave (NT$120 for all three).
NATURAL SITES Mostly scattered along the northern coast, each natural site has its own romanticised legend. If travelling clockwise from Baisha, the first site is Lobster Cave, a sea trench dotted with natural potholes. The next site is Black Dwarf Cave, which is not for claustrophobics – you have to squeeze through a narrow opening with a flashlight. Legend has it that the cave was once a hiding place for some slaves who were abandoned by the Dutch, and were burned alive inside the cave when they were caught stealing. The trail is 400m long, and weaves between a few boulders and steep cliffs, ending at a stairway that leads to a sea-facing pavillion.
Along the coast is a coral cliff covered with roots of banyan trees. Further along the coast is Wild Boar Ditch. The name of the place was inspired by a local legend in which a wild boar managed to take on a human form, but was spurned by a celestial being, so he died in melancholy. The picturesque labyrinth of well-maintained wooden boardwalks criss-cross a forest of banyan trees and coral caves, with a few trails that lead off to hidden crevices. Composed of vertical cliffs, the ditch is carpeted with wild plants. The “Thread of Sky” portion is a narrow crack in the coral cliffs several hundred metres long.
The last paid-for site is Beauty Cave, which was so named because rumour has it that a beautiful woman was shipwrecked and drifted to this cave, where she eventually died of hunger. Stretching for 700m, narrow paths wind through this area that’s comprised of limestone walls, eroded cliffs, collapsed coral cliffs, sea terraces and sea caves where you can find fossilised corals and sea plants. There is also a pavillion where you can spot sea turtles that often swim close to the shore.
TAIWAN’S XIAO LIU QIU ISLAND
BEACHES & UNDERWATER The best part about the island is that in between visiting the cave sites, you can relax at one of the beaches – like the star-sand beach of Geban Bay, the largest on the island – for a spot of swimming or sunset-watching. The corals that surround the island are in great shape and are rich in aquatic life, especially with green turtles. These graceful creatures can be spotted on snorkelling and diving trips, as well as from various observation decks.
You can rent snorkel gear (NT$50-100), or opt for a tour. Several companies offer snorkelling tours (NT$300-500), providing goggles, wetsuit, aqua shoes, insurance, and a coach. Usually only venturing a short distance off the beach, there’s a high chance of spotting turtles at the beaches near Beauty Cave and Vase Rock.
On shore-dive trips, you can explore a wreck called “Venice” not far away. Green turtles can often be found accompanying divers. The Sanfu Ecological Path is a rich terrain of sea rocks, and the Intertidal Zone boasts a rich diversity of marine species. In the rock pools, you can find brittle stars, starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, vivid nudibranchs and transparent crystal shrimps.
There are numerous fishing villages dotted around the island, since most of the residents rely on fishing for a living. As life at sea can be unpredictable, locals turned to religion for peace of mind, building temples across the island. Today, these colourful temples are a unique characteristic of the island – the oldest is Biyun Temple, located in the middle of the island. Biyun Temple is popular for locals who come to ask for everything from weddings to a bountiful catch. The temple is connected to the Bamboo
Trail which passes through a bamboo grove before reaching a scenic pond; at night, the trail is lit for a romantic mood. Sanlung Temple and Lingshan Temple are also popular sites; the latter commands an impressive view from the cliff near Baisha port. Of the 2 lighthouses on Xiaoliuqiu, the most popular is the White Lighthouse, located atop Mt. Dongnanjian. Built in the Japanese colonial era, locals say that this is a place where strange occurrences take place.
Xiao Liu Qiu is located 14km off the coast of the port town of Donggang, itself located about a hour’s drive south of Kaohsiung. Private ferries (NT$410) get you to Baisha port in about 20 minutes, while public ferries (NT$380) dock at Dafu port further south. While Xiao Liu Qiu can be visited year-round, check on the weather if visiting during the typhoon season (July-September). Scooters (both fuel and electric) are available for rent on the island, as are e-bikes. Visit http://liuqiu.pthg.gov.tw for more.
Osprey’s latest backpack, Farpoint 40, is ideally sized to carry enough kit for both day-trips in the back country, or even a weekend getaway. Its internal LightWire suspension system helps transfer the load from harness to hip belt, while the mesh back panel and harnesses improve ventilation, reducing friction and keeping it comfortable even with heavier loads. The entire suspension package easily stows into a zippered panel, making it easy to transport or check-in for flights. Available in 2 colours (Jasper Red and Volcanic Grey) at all The Planet Traveller stores and Boarding Gate at S$229.
Canon’s latest EOS 6D, the Mark II is a well-rounded camera that boasts Canon’s latest DIGIC 7 processing engine, which is capable of processing information 14 x faster than the previous DIGIC 6, and handles image noise better at higher sensitivities. It features a full-frame 26.2MP CMOS sensor for an impressive resolution, and has a superior focusing speed in Live View, making it ideal for travellers constantly on the move. A bonus is its 3.0-inch vari-angle display which is now touch-sensitive, handy for focusing. The EF24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is ideal for a wide spectrum of photos, from portraits to landscape, so you’ll only need to pack one lens during your travels. The Canon EOS 6D Mark II Kit (EF24105mm f/4L IS II USM) retails at S$4,299.
CANON Canon EOS 6D Mark II
KEEPING IT HOT & COLD
STANLEY Adventure Series
Stanley’s new Adventure Series comes in three sizes of stainless steel drink bottles (473ml, 739ml, 1L), as well as two convenient sizes of food jars (414ml and 532ml) ideal for camping excursions or picnic trips. Equipped with doublewalled vacuum insulation and insulated lid, they keep contents hot or cold for up to 24 hours, while being leak-proof and 100% BPA-free. These solidlyconstructed vessels all bear a lifetime warranty. Available now at Gearaholic (gearaholic.com.sg) from S$48 - S$68.
The Mammut Cargon Duffel is built to be sturdy and stackable. Its distinctive rectangular shape means it’s easily stacked on other luggage and won’t come tumbling down. Large exterior pockets add to the already generous, internal storage space. There’s also a large, internal pocket underneath the lid that’s ideal for storing smaller items so they don’t get lost in the large, main compartment which is easily accessible along its entire length via its D-shaped opening. While the Cargon isn’t waterproof, it is water resistant and boasts a reinforced, waterproof bottom panel in case it’s placed on wet surfaces. The Cargon comes in 40L, 60L, 90L, 110L and 140L sizes, and is available at Adventure 21 starting from S$209.
From secluded trails deep in wine country, to picturesque towns and cities, there are plenty of romantic roads to explore. A cycling holiday is also a great way to build relationships, as it helps couples build trust, and know each other’s limits. Here are some of the most romantic roads to explore, whether you’re into easy rides through vineyards, or challenging rides with a deserving reward at the end.
This long-distance ride is not for the faint-hearted, as it can get challenging and very isolated. Situated in picturesque South Marlborough high country, the Molesworth Trail follows the Acheron Road (an old coaching road) through Molesworth Station, the largest (180,787ha) and most remote working farm in New Zealand. This cycle route is graded advanced, with steep gradients along a well-maintained gravel surface, therefore a reasonable level of fitness is required and knobbly tyres are a must. There might be some bike-pushing involved, but refreshing downhill runs overlooking the farm – home to 10,000 cattles – should be enough to cancel out the effort. While mobile reception and facilities en route are lacking, the trail provides an unforgettable journey through spectacular wide-open landscapes, with a rich history of Māori explorers and hardy settlers. The trail traverses a land of shifting screes, steep hillsides and wide grasslands, providing stark remind-
ers of the region’s ice age era with its moraines, glacial plains, cirque basins, and tarns.
are possible on a guided cycle tour, who will bus you up difficult portions. Stop along the way to go fishing, bird watching, or dip in one of the many swimming holes. At Molesworth Cob, there’s a stream with a plunge-pool. The final stage is a long descent from Jack’s Pass towards Hanmer Springs where you can soak your weary muscles at a luxurious resort here.
Stock up at Blenheim, as there is no shopping in between. There are basic campsites along the way, at the historic Molesworth Cob Cottage (1866) and Acheron Accommodation House (1862, but recently damaged by an earthquake) – both were part of a chain of accommodation which served early travellers using the stock routes. These are currently the only accommodation options for independent travellers; B&Bs and meals at farms en route
You can also start from Hanmer Springs and end at Awatere Valley’s vineyards overlooking the ocean. Practicalities: From Blenheim, head towards the Awatere Valley wine country, then turn right at the Awatere Valley intersection towards the snow-capped mountains along Acheron Road. The road is open to the public between Labour Weekend until Easter (December 28 and April 1), as it is prone to damage from weather (and earthquake).
The Classic Romance
ROMANTIC ROAD, GERMANY
Würzburg - Füssen (10 days, 440km)
The Romantic Road long distance cycle route (D9) leads through romantic river valleys, with a landscape that changes from woodland paths in Franconia to a series of lakes in the Allgäu, passing historic old towns, medieval cities with fortified walls, Baroque churches, medieval abbeys, and of course, fantastical Bavarian castles. The cycling route comprises a number of well-marked connected paths away from busy main roads; the route is relatively flat – there are no mountains to cross despite the fact it goes into the foothills of the Alps – except for the Pfaffenwinkel region. Start the journey from historic Würzburg, which centres around the Prince-Bishops and their two main homes: the Marienberg Fortress and the Residence Palace. Following the route, you’ll hit medieval towns like Creglingen (known for Lindleinturm, a house that’s perched atop a medieval watchtower) and Bad Mergentheim, a spa town with the impressive Castle of the Teutonic Knights. Not to be missed are the 3 charming towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dinkelsbühl, and Nördlingen – prime examples of walled medieval towns (the only ones left in Germany), with their beautiful, well-preserved architecture and alleys. Nördlingen is the least crowded and is located in the crater of a meteorite impact – its impressive tower was built from meteorite rock.
At the final portion of the route from Schongau, the road starts to ascend into the alpine foothills and through smaller villages (Rottenbuch, Wildsteig and Steingaden) until the towns of Schwangau and Füssen. This is the beginning of the Pfaffenwinkel region – a local dialect name meaning “priests’ corner” – which is famous for its gorgeous rural scenery, and its collection of historic pilgrimage churches and monasteries in the small villages and hilly countryside that make up the area. The highlight for many is Schwangau – smaller than its bustling neighbour Füssen, it boasts what’s considered the icon of Germany: King Ludwig II’s fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle. This unfinished castle still draws throngs of visitors daily. For a quieter experience, you can visit the villages of Schwangau and Hohenschwangau – the nearby surroundings boast some gorgeous scenery of lakes and mountains.
While you can start the journey from either direction, most people set off in a north-south direction (from Würzburg) due to the wind conditions: anyone travelling south to north will most likely be riding into the wind. In any case, Romantic Road buses also ply the route from April to October and will carry your bicycles as long as you book in advance, so you don’t have to cycle the entire journey. Practicalities: Würzburg and Füssen have no air connections, but are well-connected by rail from cities like Munich and Frankfurt.
The Adventurous Duo
Udaipur-Jodhpur (4-7 days, about 300km) In the Aravali foothills is Ranakpur, home to the famous 15th century Jain Temple; built in marble, it is an architectural wonder featuring intricately-patterned ceilings and over 1,400 exquisitely-carved pillars, each with its own unique design.
hunting lodges dating back to the 17th century. There will be options where you can take jeep or train safaris to local villages, go horseback riding, or simply soak in the history and landscape.
Rajasthan is a romantic region of India, dotted with magnificent fort cities with their intricately-carved havelis and sandstone walls. Between these forts, the desertscape is home to colourful historic villages which still practice an ancient way of life. With so many tour options, the best and quietest way to get around is on a cycling excursion. One of the most popular cycling itineraries is between Udaipur and Jodhpur, which takes anywhere from 4-7 days depending on the operator. As you cycle along this moderately-challenging undulating landscape, you’ll pedal past friendly herdsmen and their camels and goats, with views of ancient forts and majestic palaces along the way. Riding past fields of mustard and wheat, there will be opportunities for spotting wildlife like black buck, blue bulls and maybe the rare Indian Gazelle. At each overnight stop, you can spend the night in luxurious royal palaces and
Udaipur, nicknamed “Venice of the East” or “City of Lakes”, has a romantic setting unparalleled in all India, with its fantastical palaces, temples, ancient bazaars, and havelis overlooking a picturesque lake. It’s separated from the Thar Desert by the Aravali Range – cycling tours explore this challenging terrain, passing many ancient mountain villages of the Bhil tribe, one of the oldest inhabitants of the subcontinent. Perched on top of the hills is the imposing Kumbhalgarh, a Mewar fortress surrounded by a 35km-long wall, housing 365 temples within. The crown jewel is Badal Mahal, nicknamed “Palace of the Clouds” for its incredible views.
The fabled blue city of Jodhpur – so named because of its profusion of blue-tinted homes – is home to the magnificent Mehrangarh (Mehran Fort), one of the largest forts in India, built around 1460. Still run by the royal family, Mehrangarh is packed with history – the fort’s original entrance of Loha Pol still bears iron spikes to deter enemy elephants, while just inside the gate are 2 pairs of sati hand prints of royal widows who threw themselves on their maharajas’ funeral pyres. Depending on the operator, the journey can be done from Udaipur or Jodhpur. Expect to ride around 50-60km per day, with some operators providing transfers along busier roads. Practicalities: Udaipur and Jodhpur are linked by rail and air with major cities like Delhi and Mumbai. During peak winter season (Dec-Jan), many domestic flights get delayed or cancelled from or to Delhi due to heavy fog here.
The Wine Lover’s Route
ROUTE DE GRAND CRUS, FRANCE Dijon - Santenay (2 days, 60km)
The easy Route de Grand Crus (“Road of the Great Wines”) route explores over 60kms of rolling hills, wooded paths, and of course, the most prestigious part of Burgundy’s vineyards and 38 picturesque wine villages. Stretching out as a narrow strip of land from Dijon to Santenay, cycling the route is a great way to discover the “climats” of the Côte d’Or wine region. While the entire route can be explored on foot (via the 21km-long Grands Crus Long-Distance Footpath) or by car, cycling is the best way to combine slow travel and drinking en route. The “véloroute” from Beaune to Santenay consists of 22km of perfectly-tended bike trails surrounded by vineyards and picturesque villages.
Throughout the gentle hills, vineyards run in tight rows between the towns – you’ll find typical vineyard architecture of gorgeous limestone houses with tiled roofs, organised between courtyards and gardens. The centrepiece is often the winegrowers’ old cellars. Occasionally the landscape is dotted with traditional villages – some opulent with 18th century wine merchant houses – which are arranged around a Gothic church and fountains. A honey-hued glow descends on the villages just before dusk, creating that emblematic Burgundian scenery. The route runs through two regions of vineyards – the Côte de Nuits and the
Côte de Beaune. The Côte de Nuits – from Dijon through Nuits-St-Georges to the village of Corgoloin – is known for some of the most famous and expensive red wines, including 24 of Burgundy’s 33 grand crus like GevreyChambertin and Vosne-Romanée (which produces the world’s most expensive wine). At Gevrey-Chambertin, you can tour the medieval castle and schedule a wine tasting in the old cellar. The Côte de Beaune, from Corgoloin and Beaune to Santenay, is Chardonnay country, producing great dry white wines. While it’s a smaller area, it has more picturesque villages like Aloxe-Corton, Pernand Vergelesses, Beaune, Meursault, and Puligny-Montrachet. With a population of under 200, the quiet village of Aloxe-Corton is dominated by its photogenic château
that’s topped by a patterned tiled roof, while Pernand-Vergelesses is among the most picturesque villages thanks to its traditional houses, steep little streets and surrounding vineyards. Hundreds of wineries are open to the public along the route, where wine and cheese tasting can be had at any of the caveaux (bookings advisable). Beaune – the capital of wine in Burgundy – is a delightful medieval town with a beautiful 15th century almshouse capped by a patterned roof. Practicalities: Multiple highspeed trains connect from Paris, Lyon, Lille and Marseille to Dijon downtown, where bikes can be rented. There are plenty of charming B&Bs housed in traditional châteaus within villages.
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada’s premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it’s cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.
You wear underwear every day. It sits next to what might be the sensitive and prized parts of your body. It encapsulates areas with more nicknames that just about every other body part combined…. So why wear whatever boring hunk of briefs in the cheapest bulk pack? Don’t put your junk in junk! It is gear for your gear. A package for your package. Be ready for any kind of action headed your way because one size doesn’t fit all and it really is what you do with it. Let’s not worry about second place, let’s just deal with what’s best for number one.
MyPakage Trunks: This brand is one of a few that doesn’t just squish everything against your body. It has a separate compartment for … well... for your package, using their patented design called ‘Keyhole Comfort Technology’ (a hole cut out at the front) so you don’t have to shift or adjust throughout the day. This version uses modal which feels softer than cotton but still breathes well. They also have 4 way stretch so it moves with you. Other benefits? The separate compartment helps keep “things” cool on hot days and it also happens to accentuate… your bits. Let’s put it this way: It would also win in the category of “Best for the Third Date”. MyPakage has two waist-band sizing systems; eg waist size 76-81cm is S (Europe) and M (Asia).
FOR OUTDOOR GAMES
Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Performance Boxer: These are made from Patagonia’s proprietary weave of polyester. They do a great job of wicking away moisture and dry quickly. It still has plenty of stretch to move with you and both the print and sewing process still keeps things as smooth as you’ll hope to be. If your outdoor performance is truly sweaty you will be less likely to scare away admirers who get close thanks to Patagonia’s odour control. Bonus points just in case? 100% recycled polyester and Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet donation program will show off your LONG term thinking. The sizing can be a bit on the larger North American sizing (just talking waist size here).
FOR HIGH OUTPUT ACTIVITIES
Saxx Quest 2.0: These are great for your high output short duration activities (running, the gym, climbing). They are another brand that has what they call a “BallPark Pouch” to keep your anatomy away from your body and provide “friction-free support”. Despite having a separate pouch they still provide enough support that “things” don’t move around too much. National Geographic called it the “ultimate travel boxer” – it’s quick-dry, anti-stink, ultra-light, and adventure-ready. The nine panels do a great job of keeping the underwear in place while flat seams prevent chafing. They are made with polyester to dry fast and move sweat away from your body.
FOR KEEPING THINGS HOT
Smartwool 250 Long Johns: If you don’t want to get frozen out of the action when headed somewhere cold, these long johns are the way to go. Think skiing or snowshoeing. Other materials will do a better job of wicking but merino wool is great at regulating temperatures and doesn’t absorb odours nearly as easily as synthetic. If they do get wet they’ll take a while to dry but do the best job of maintaining some insulation. They also do a better job than synthetics (and an infinitely better job than cotton) of not allowing you to get chilled in cold damp conditions, plus they don’t itch (unlike other wools) and are also available for women.
Changing into a sports bra before working out is as essential as changing into sneakers, but the right underwear is also important – avoid anything sheer, lace, or silky which traps more moisture, increasing your risk for yeast infections and pH imbalance. Switch to underwear with more coverage in breathable fabric for a safer workout. ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Hipkini: On multi-day active adventures, these undies can be easily washed in a sink, and they air-dry quickly. The ultralight mesh will keep you dry, and the patented sweat-, odour-, and stain-resistant fabric will keep you clean and fresh. Patagonia Active Hipster Briefs: These briefs are made from soft recycled nylon, with moisture-wicking properties and mini-ribbed fabric at the crotch to keep air flowing freely. The seamless waistband doesn’t roll, with stitching that won’t chafe or creep up. UnderArmour Pure Stretch Sheer Bikini: The fitting is next-to-skin without the squeeze, so it feels like you’re not wearing anything. The soft stretch mesh fabric delivers unrivaled breathability, coupled with anti-odour technology. Fitknix Air Athletic Boyshorts: Knixwear specialises in women’s underwear. Their Athletic Boyshorts has a seamless finish, with moisture-wicking, anti-odour carbon cotton fabric and quickdry properties (2-3 times faster than regular cotton) for every type of athlete.
Kyushu is appropriately called the “Land of Fire”, as volcanoes are omnipresent on the island. From the Aso caldera in the north to Ata in the south, these volcanic calderas make up much of Kyushu’s mountainous backdrop – from fuming craters to pretty cone-shaped mountains – making for a picturesque road trip. By the end of the day, hop in one of many atmospheric hot spring resorts – waters of which are heated by these very volcanoes – for a well-deserved romantic soak.
VOLCANOES AND HOT SPRINGS OF KYUSHU VISITING VOLCANOES
Volcanoes are the main attraction in Kyushu – locals are so used to volcanic activity that they actually live in the calderas. Visitors can learn more about this landscape at the many museums dotted near active volcanoes, or observe up close the steaming fumaroles of some of these active volcanoes along hiking trails, by ropeway, or from a helicopter. Mt. Aso Situated within the vast Aso-Kuju National Park, Mt. Aso is an active volcano complex with one of the world’s largest calderas, stretching 25km in diameter. Within the caldera limits are towns and hot spring villages, as well as several resurgent domes and a central plateau that consists of five mountains (known as Aso Gogaku) – the most active of
these is Naka-dake, whose crater continuously billows with volcanic gas.
Naka-dake (1,506m) is accessible via hiking trails as well as a ropeway, making it the only place in Japan where you can see an active volcano – with its turquoise caldera lake – this close. There are shelter dugouts around the crater lip. While the crater is currently inaccessible, you can see the smoky cone from
the lower ropeway station, or hop on sightseeing helicopter tours for an aerial view. You can also see the Aso Gogaku mountains from the Daikanbo viewpoint, located on Aso’s caldera rim. Kirishima South of Aso is Kirishima, an active volcanic mountain range containing volcanic cones, caldera lakes, gorges, and hot springs. Rising like a gigantic plateau, Kirishima Geopark is encircled by railway lines which connect to various cities around its periphery, including Ebino City and Kirishima City. You can visit Kirishima Geopark from the Ebino Eco Museum Center in the Ebino Highlands, where you can access volcanoes and crater lakes via scenic hiking trails. These include a trail to Mt. Karakunidake (1,700m) and Onami Lake
(3 hours), as well as one to the 2 crater lakes of Rokkannon Miike and Byakushi (2 hours). There’s a popular 12km trail (6 hours) from Mt. Karakunidake to Mt. Takachiho-no-mine (1,574m) at the other end of the park, although the trail traverses the crater of the active Mt. Shinmoedake which is currently closed due to a recent eruption. Sakurajima The picturesque active volcano island of Sakurajima is located along the northern shores of Kagoshima Bay. The last cataclysmic eruption occurred here in 1914, and changed the landscape: the island expanded, and lava flows connected it to the mainland. Sakurajima is today an icon of the bay, and is home to three peaks: Kita-dake, Naka-dake and Minami-dake, which is currently active. Erupting almost con-
stantly since 1955, the smoky peak sees minor eruptions multiple times per day. Locals living in the area are used to the volcanic ash that can blanket the towns – there are even specialised trash bags for them. The steaming peak of Minami-dake can be seen from observatories like Yunohira, Kurokami, and Arimura; there is also the 3km-long Nagisa Walking Trail which cuts through a lava zone created by the 1914 eruption. Free footbaths can be enjoyed at the Nagisa Park Foot Bath, or if you’re up to a bit of digging, you can dig your own “thermal pond” at one of the beaches – the seawater is heated by thermal activity.
Nearby Yufuin has a more tranquil atmosphere, eschewing large-scale developments with its communal baths, craft studios, and cafes – all with picturesque views of Mt. Yufu. Neighbouring Kumamoto Prefecture also has a hot spring gem. Like a village out of the Edo era, Kurokawa Onsen’s river gorge is lined with picturesque traditional ryokans with rotenburo (outdoor hot springs) that have made this town popular. A nyuto tegata wooden plaque (¥1,300) gives you access to any three of these outdoor hot spring baths.
HOT SPRING PARADISE
Officially marketed as ‘Onsen Island Kyushu’ by the local tourism board, the island is naturally abundant with onsen (hot springs) which are heated by Kyushu’s volcanic landscape. Oita Prefecture is nicknamed ‘Onsen Oita’ because it produces the highest volume of thermal water in Japan, which can be enjoyed within its two major hot spring sites: Beppu and Yufuin. Beppu has over 2,000 hot spring sites spread over eight towns, nicknamed Beppu Hatto, ranging from large family-oriented spas to secluded mountain
ryokans. Located along the scenic Beppu Bay, it’s backed by Mt. Tsurumi (accessible via a ropeway) which has several scenic trails to various shrines on the mountain.
Kagoshima Prefecture in the south takes second place for the volume of thermal water produced, with two popular onsen areas: Kirishima and Ibusuki. Kirishima Onsen, located on the foothills of the active Kirishima volcanoes, consists of a number of hot spring resorts in a mountainous area. The water quality ranges from crystal clear to creamy sulfuric springs. Ibusuki, on the southern tip of the Satsuma Peninsula, is another popular hot spring resort area. No visit is complete without a unique hot sand bath, either at a resort or a public facility. Dressed in yukata (cotton kimono) you are literally buried, by shovel-toting staff, from neck to toe in hot sand by the beach.
THINGS TO DO
With a landscape that consists of mountains, lakes, and grassland, there’s no shortage of things to do in Kyushu.
of the Aso mountains. You can opt for short rides around the Nakadake crater, longer day-trips, or even nighttime rides with the Milky Way for a backdrop.
Lake Ikeda, located on Kagoshima’s Satsuma Peninsula, is the biggest crater lake in Kyushu, dominated by Mt. Kaimondake (a cone volcano) on the southern end. At over 200m deep, it’s a magnet for unique watersports like FlyBoarding and HoverBoarding. The former involves being strapped to hydraulic-powered boots which allow you to ‘fly’ up to 2m above the water, while the latter is a similar concept on a wakeboard.
potato varieties in Kumamoto and Kagoshima respectively. These are ideal accompaniments to the local cuisine which range from raw meats to ramen. One of the most famous dishes from Kyushu is the Hakata Ramen from Fukuoka. Made with pork bone broth, the concept of noodle refills (kaedama) originates here. Kyushu is also famous for basashi (horse sashimi) and jidori, free-range chicken normally served slightly seared (or even raw). In Beppu, there are some restaurants that specialise in jigokumushi (‘hell food’) which uses thermal steam to cook the food. You can order ingredients (or bring your own) and cook your own food in specially-made bamboo containers.
Horse riding is a popular activity yearround, particularly around Kusasenri (Kumamoto) which is dominated by grassland and farms dotted with grazing cows, with breathtaking views
For a traditional experience, you can also visit the vermillion-accented Kirishima Shrine, built in 1715 with striking architecture reminiscent of the famous Nikko Tochigi, decked in a kimono. A dressing service is provided by local volunteers for a small fee.
Kyushu is known throughout Japan for shochu; while it’s distilled nationwide, Kyushu is known for its rice and sweet
There are direct flights from Singapore to Fukuoka, situated on the north of Kyushu island. From here, there are numerous road, rail and air connections to other prefectures like Kumamoto and Kagoshima. Follow Me Japan (http://followmejapan.com.sg) offers various packages including nature, hot spring, and self-drive around Kyushu. Visit www.welcomekyushu.com for more on Kyushu.
There’s no need to head to far flung lands – or even take a flight – to experience secluded beaches and private villas located just hours by sea from Singapore. Here are some private islands in Indonesia and Malaysia where you can easily visit as a weekend jaunt (most villas impose a 2-night minimum stay) for that relationship refresher.
BAWAH ISLAND Unveiled last year, this private island retreat set in a marine conservation zone across five islands, three lagoons and 13 beaches. The eco-friendly resort (zero-waste, pesticide-free, no fishing allowed) has 35 villas (overwater bungalows and villas) made by hand with upcycled materials. In addition to paddle-boarding or hiking, there’s a spa and yoga pavilion. Only accessible by seaplane from Batam, it takes 3.5 hours to get there.
From US$1,960/night per couple (includes round-trip transfers from Singapore & meals)
PULAU JOYO Located in Indonesia’s Riau archipelago, Pulau Joyo’s accommodation consists of stilted beach palaces, traditional Javanese joglos and a driftwood palace. A plethora of activities is on offer, from a traditional massage at the balé to sea kayaking. From Tanah Merah, take the ferry to Tanjung Pinang where you’ll be taken to their private dock for a ride to the island – the entire journey takes about 3 hours. From S$322/night per person (includes all meals & transfers from Tanjung Pinang)
CEMPEDAK ISLAND Launched in 2017, the resort has 20 private bamboo villas cooled by natural ventilation. Each crescent-shaped, double-storey villa has its own tear-shaped plunge pool with the bedrooms upstairs, complete with balcony. The island, with its white sandy beaches, granite boulders and lush rainforest, is home to wildlife like hornbills, kingfishers, otters, and rare pangolins. Cempedak is located 2.5 hours by boat from Singapore (via ferry to Bintan and a 25-minute boat transfer). From S$450/night per room; daily board S$95/person
NIKOI ISLAND Located 85km (2 hours) away from Singapore just off Bintan, each of the 15 stilted beach houses can accommodate two to six people. The island is a sea turtle conservation area and emphasises environmental conservation; thus instead of air conditioning the houses rely on sea breeze, double-vaulted roofs and fans. An array of water activities (kayaking, diving, etc) as well as hiking and rock climbing are on offer. From S$390/night per room; daily board S$95/person; transfers from Bintan S$90/person
Weekend Jaunts 6
4 2 3
TELUNAS ISLAND Telunas Resorts sits within a cove, surrounded by greenery that’s home to wildlife like hawks, eagles, kingfishers, and Grey-back monkeys. Of the 2 locations, the Private Island is more catered for couples with 15 stilted sea villas. You can relax at the infinity pool, go for a massage at the overwater spa, or head out for water activities. To get there you’ll need to first get to Sekupang, from where there’s another boat ride to Sugi; the journey is 3 hours.
From S$295/night per room; daily board S$85/person; transfers from Sekupang S$85/person
PULAU TENGAH Located just offshore from Johor’s east coast, Batu Batu is a private island resort set amongst coconut groves, rocky outcrops and eight white sand beaches. There are 20 one-bedroom and 2 two-bedroom villas constructed in the style of a Malay kampung. Snorkel or dive amongst colourful coral reefs, and kayak or walk around its 3km perimeter. To get to the island you’ll need to make your own way to Johor’s Mersing Jetty from where you take the resort’s speedboat. From RM230/night per person (includes all meals); transfers from Mersing RM55/single boat trip
Situated at the crossroads of northern and southern Europe in the north of Belgium, the Flanders region is a unique combination of environments, history, and people. Its rich cultural heritage is evident in its six beautifully-preserved cities – Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen – with some listed on the World Heritage list. These charming cities are filled with art, beautiful architecture, cultural heritage, gastronomic delights, authentic beers, famous chocolates and a touch of romance.
Bruges is without a doubt the number one romantic hotspot in Flanders – its profusion of well-preserved buildings, cobblestoned roads, and myriad picturesque bridges makes you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time.
In this UNESCO-listed city, you can cross countless stone bridges over picturesque canals plied by gondolas. Everywhere you look, the architecture overwhelms – from the ornate City Hall to Market Square’s gold gabled buildings that are towered over by a leaning belfry; here, you can climb the 366 narrow steps for a breathtaking view of town. Admire the beautiful façades of the Tolhuys, Pijnderhuis and Poortersloge on the Jan van Eyck Square. Contemplate silence in the courtyard of the beguinage (an enclosed community), founded in 1245. The whitewashed buildings originally housed single women but these days they’re inhabited by Benedictine nuns.
Flanders was the inspiration behind the famous art movements for some 250 years, and inspired the likes of Flemish masters van Eyck, Bruegel and Rubens, whose works can be literally experienced in cities like Antwerp and Ghent. Antwerp is a hub of some of the biggest names in fashion thanks to the reputation of the avant-garde designers known as the ‘Antwerp Six’. For a bit of luxury, visit the high fashion boutiques in the Sint-Andries neighborhood or one of hundreds of diamond ateliers in the
famous diamond district; it’s also the birthplace of the “Antwerp cut”, said to give diamonds more sparkle. Divided into two quarters – the Historical Centre and the Arts Quarter – Ghent has an overwhelming collection of splendid architecture. It’s got a medieval castle, countless grand churches, and canals lined with Gothic buildings like Vleeshuis and Sint-Baaf. The best time to see them is at night, when these buildings are illuminated to create a theatrical effect; start from Sint-Michiels bridge and follow the waterfront north.
Taste some of its famous chocolates (free samples are usually offered), or drop by De Halve Maan brewery (established in 1856) to sample the famous local beer, Brugse Zot.
FOOD OF LOVE offer a variety of toppings like chocolate sauce or ice cream.
Perhaps Flanders is more famous for its gastronomic offerings, with exquisite morsels sold by dozens of long-established chocolatiers dotted throughout Flanders; meanwhile the sweet aroma of warm waffles wafts in the air from nearby vendors on almost every street. Chocolates: Belgian chocolates have a higher cocoa content than most other chocolates, using 100% cocoa butter. Famous brands like Godiva and Leonidas are everywhere, but there are many more small scale, luxury brands: ‘The Chocolate Line’ showcases ingredients like smoked eel and cauliflower; ‘Mary’ was the first woman to pioneer Belgian chocolates in 1919; and Pierre Marcolini is synonymous with expensive chocolates that are a feast for the eyes.
All of these brands have a headquarter in Brussels, although other cities will likely have a shop as well. If you don’t have enough time to visit them all, you can do your last-minute chocolate-shopping at the airport. Waffles: There are two variants of waffles served in Flanders: Brussels and Liege. Brussels waffles are generally light, thick and crispy with bigger squares and traditionally dusted with confectioner’s sugar. These are more commonly served at cafes and restaurants.
Eating Your Greens In West Flanders around Poperinge, you can find hop gardens that supply to beer brewers. Hop shoots are a Belgian delicacy they are the most expensive vegetable in the world (€1,000 per kilo) due to their limited availability (March) and labour-intensive harvesting method. They are eaten either raw, or served warm with a creamy sauce. Another Flemish vegetable is the white asparagus (aka white gold), typical in Mechelen. It’s labour intensive to grow, with its fairly short season; the asparagus are white because farmers cover the shoots with soil as they grow.
Liege waffles are softer and chewier and don’t have angular sides – they’re shaped similar to tic tac toe – and are flavourful enough to be eaten without toppings; they’re most commonly served by street vendors who
D is cover t h e Lo r n a J a n e d if feren ce fo r Yo u r s elf :
LOVE ON TWO WHEELS The Flemish are fanatic about cycling: from cities to countrysides and motorways, everyone gets around on bicycles. There are over 100 themed cycle loops and 12,000kms of cycling routes that take you through the Flemish landscape. For some hardcore cycling, tackle part of the Tour of Flanders route in the Flemish Ardennes – cobblestoned hills and all. For a leisurely ride, Flanders is full of quiet cycle lanes that criss cross its pastoral landscape, which is dotted with villages and the odd castle. It’s a romantic way to explore the surroundings. You can explore the landscape following themes (ie. Chateaus) or by length. For example, the Castle Route (48km) takes you through meadows and magnificent chateaus, built by rich industrialists of the last century. These line the banks of the river Scheldt, with the star attraction being the medieval Laarne castle, a moated fortress.
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FLEMISH TIPPLE In Flanders, they take beer very seriously, and each region has its own special brew. Belgian beers date back centuries and there are about 1,500 types of beer, ranging from deep red to golden blond and dark brown, brewed using many different fermentation techniques. The variety of beers on offer is mind-boggling – there’s kriek (cherryflavoured beer), gueuze (sour beer), Trappist, blonde, and more. Plus, the alcohol level is often much higher than your average lager: the popular tripel beer starts from 7.5%-10% abv. With such a huge variety of beers,
it’s no surprise that when it comes to pairing alcohol with food, that the Flemish prefer beer to go with their meals. Beer pairing menus, and even ‘beer gastronomy’ are popular across Flanders. So instead of having the usual wine and champagne with your dinner, pairing your meal with beer is definitely not your average romantic dinner date. The Flemish are passionate about cycling and beer, and combining the two is a practical way to get from pint A to pint B. Whether you’re up for the challenge of tackling the hills and cobblestones of the infamous Tour of Flanders, or a leisure cyclist wanting to explore the Flemish countryside along
the miles of famous cycle roads, a beer cycling tour is the ideal way to relax and experience traditional Flanders. Beer cycling routes allow you to visit breweries along the way, as well as cafes where you can sample local beers and cuisine. Mechelen’s Gouden Carolus Route (58km) combines the Het Anker brewery in Mechelen and De Molenberg Whiskey distillery in Blaasveld, passing historic beguinages and the peaceful river landscape along the towpaths. The Lambiekroute (79.8km) takes you past all of Flemish Brabant’s gueuze brewers through picturesque villages, forests and impressive castles like Beersel, Gaasbeek, and Groot-Bijgaarden. With plenty of beer-themed routes to explore, you can spend the night at one of many bike-friendly B&Bs dotted throughout the country.
The infamous Westvleteren XII, brewed by St. Sixtus Abbey, is the most sought-after beer in the world. This quadrupel (10.2% abv) beer is so rare you can only get them from the abbey itself, after you’ve pre-ordered by phone and been selected by the monks. The proceeds are strictly for the upkeep of the abbey, and reselling is frowned upon. Another place you may be able to sample the beer is at a cafe near the abbey.
Belgium’s main international airport is Brussels National Airport, which has plenty of connections to destinations in Europe and the world via airlines like Brussels Airline, KLM, Swiss, Lufthansa, and Emirates. Major European cities like London, Paris, or Amsterdam are less than 2 hours away by train. Within Flanders, the train network connects its major cities and rail travel is generally quicker than driving.
ROMANTIC RAILWAY RIDES AROUND THE WORLD
While train travel is usually a means of getting from one place to another, you don’t have to be a rail enthusiast to appreciate a great rail journey – it could be for its scenery along the route, its historic value, or even its feat of engineering. There are hundreds of classic railway journeys around the world, ranging from short rides of a couple of hours, to multi-day journeys that span countries and even continents. There are hundreds more that tackle inaccessible landscapes to provide essential transport to locals.
Rail travel is an eco-friendly mode of travel, and also beats driving and even flying as a faster or cheaper way of getting around in some countries. Best of all, there’s no need to worry about traffic, unfamiliar roads, or missed connections. All you need to do is sit down and enjoy the ride. Instead of opting for the next flight or holiday destination, rediscover travelling by taking a journey on some of the world’s most luxurious scenic railways tucked away in various corners of the world – it’s a great way to relax and enjoy the company of your partner.
• Grand Hibernian
• Shiki Shima • Midnight Express Mizukaze
SOUTH AMERICA • Andean Explorer • Tren Crucero
• Golden Eagle
• Indian Pacific
JAPAN Japan may be famous as a land of shinkansen, but in recent years, it seems that luxury is the new theme. In 2013, the first to come into service was the Kyushu Seven Stars, but since then, there has been 3 luxury trains launched within the last 2 years (The Royal Express which chugs through the Izu Peninsula is the latest), allowing moneyed travellers a chance to explore various destinations across the country while experiencing the best of Japanese hospitality in opulent ‘hotels on wheels’.
Tokyo - Chubu, Tohoku, Hokkaido Duration: 2 & 4 days With its maiden departure last year, Shiki Shima’s design is thoroughly futuristic with traditional Japanese elements. The 10 cars can only hold 34 passengers at a time, who are housed in one of 17 suites. There are 3 types of suites, ranging from the basic to the luxurious Shiki-Shima Suite, which has 2 floors and a wooden bathtub. There’s a shared dining room and futuristic observatory cars.
There are 2 itineraries to choose from: 2D1N or 4D3N. The former explores the prefectures of Niigata, Nagano, and Yamanashi where you can experience wine pairing in Japan’s oldest wineries. The 4D itinerary journeys towards the northern Tohoku region and into Hokkaido. The first stop is in the magnificent temple town of Nikko, before heading to Hokkaido to explore the southern portions like Hakodate, Noboribetsu, and Niseko. The return portion follows Japan’s west
TWILIGHT EXPRESS MIZUKAZE
carriage harks back to the glamorous Art Deco era, with geometric embellishments and bright colours.
Launched right after Shiki Shima, the Twilight Express Mizukaze also has 10 carriages that accommodate only 34 passengers at a time. The design of the
With luxurious observation decks and dining carriages, there are three classes of rooms: Twin, Single, and the Suite, which occupies an entire carriage, featuring a clawfoot bathtub.
Kyoto/Osaka - Shimonoseki Duration: 2 & 3 days
Twilight Express Mizukaze runs from Kyoto and Osaka to Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture: one runs on the northern Japan Sea Coast (Sanin), and the other follows the southern Seto Inland Sea coast (Sanyo). The itineraries range from overnight trips (Kyoto to Shimonoseki or vice versa) to a 3-day return trip that explores both coasts. Each itinerary has a sightseeing stop per day, which include natural and cultural sites ranging from ancient teahouses to lush paddy fields.
coast, dropping by Aomori and Niigata before ending at Tokyo. To book a spot, you’ll have to enter into an online lottery (the July-September 2018 season is full). Price per person: JPY320,000 JPY450,000 (2D1N); JPY740,000 JPY950,000 (4D3N)
At the moment, tickets are only available for purchase in Japan and there is no English service on board. As they’re popular, passengers will be selected by lottery. Price per person: JPY250,000 JPY750,000 (2D1N); JPY500,000 JPY1,200,000 (3D2N)
IRELAND Unlike its neighbours in Scotland and England which have numerous rail services ranging from commuter to luxury, Ireland is a relatively small island and the railway lines only access a limited number of destinations. However, despite the shortfall, the entrance of Ireland’s first luxury train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, was met with great success – it was sold out every weekend when it first launched.
Dublin - Belfast, Cork, Galway, Killarney Duration: 3, 5, & 7 days The Grand Hibernian is the newest and only luxury train in Ireland, which began its service last year. The train interior may not have historic fixings in terms of mahogany, but the finish is luxurious with Irish accents – like tartans and Celtic knots – modelled on the Georgian mansions of Dublin. The sleeper train fits just 40 guests on 20 en-suite cabins which are available as double or twin; there are 2 dining carriages that serve Irish fare featuring plenty of seafood and game. The dining tables are laid out for four or more people, so socialising is encouraged on board (all beverage is included, even alcoholic). The Hibernian roams the Irish countryside, skirting dramatic coasts, and drops in on fascinating cities and heritage properties where you can experience Irish culture. Departing from Dublin, there are 3 itineraries to choose from: two-, four- and six-night journeys. The two-night – the Taste of Ireland –
heads north, dropping in on Belfast and the Viking town of Waterford for the magnificent mansion of Curraghmore House before returning to Dublin. The four-night itinerary – the Legends and Loughs – explores more of Ireland’s countryside, with visits to places like Cork, Blarney Castle (where you can kiss the stone), Galway, and Westport. The six-night itinerary – Grand Tour of Ireland – basically combines both itineraries. On various excursions, you’ll get to do whisky distillery tours, have private visits of sites like Ashford Castle and Kylemore Abbey, and go on a boat excursion on Lough Leane in the Lakes of Killarney. By the evening, you’ll get to enjoy a hearty dinner with traditional Irish entertainment – quite often performed by train staff. The Grand Hibernian stables for the night at historic stations to ensure a good night’s sleep.
While there are no other luxury rail options, there are scenic day-trips that explore the Irish countryside on board services like the Derry to Coleraine (45 minutes) which follows the River Foyle and the sandy Benone Strand before passing beneath the Mussenden Temple through one of the country’s longest tunnels; or the Dublin to Rosslare (3 hours) which passes the Avoca viaduct, Killiney Bay and terminating at the waterfront town of Wexford. Local services also ply the route from Dublin to Belfast and Galway.
Price per person: from €2,986 (Taste of Ireland), €5,122 (Legends and Loughs), €8,108 (Grand Tour of Ireland)
AFRICA Travelling across Africa by train is a romantic way to explore the vastly different landscapes. There are options for single-country rides – like the famed Blue Train of South Africa – or multi-country trips that traverse at least two countries or more. There are train trips that chug past the desertscape of Morocco, or the dunes of Namibia, or the wide plains of Nairobi, or even ones that traverse multiple ecosystems. There are luxury options which include 5-star accommodation on board, or more affordable ones (local trains with first-class cabins) that ply the same route.
THE PRIDE OF AFRICA
Cape Town - Dar es Salaam Duration: 15 days One of the most epic African train journeys is the 15-day Pride of Africa (Rovos Rail) from Cape Town in South Africa to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, travelling through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. This luxury train’s carriages are antique, brilliantly restored, featuring classic designs that ooze old world charm. The en suite rooms – available as Royal, Deluxe, Pullman (featuring a bathroom with a Victorian tub) – are decorated in beautiful wood panelling and period Edwardian features. In keeping with
its history, there are lectures provided throughout the journey by historians; during dinners, guests are expected to dress formally. While the cars are air-conditioned, the windows can still be opened so you can appreciate the sights, scents, and sounds of Africa; few luxury trains in the world have this feature. Another standout is the rear observation car with an open-air balcony where you can sit al fresco as you enjoy the journey. The sojourn begins in Cape Town and drops in on other South African sites like the historic village of Matjiesfontein, the diamond town of Kimberley and the city of Pretoria. While accommodation is on board, there are days when you get to sleep outside the train: for example, 2 nights in a game lodge at a Game Reserve, and one night at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel. Crossing Botswana into Zimbabwe, you’ll get to visit Victoria Falls and have a river cruise.
After crossing the Zambezi River, the train crosses the impressive Kafue railway bridge in Zambia and continues to Chisimba Falls you can enjoy a bush walk. The final approach to Tanzania descends into the Great Rift Valley, negotiating the tunnels, switchbacks and viaducts of the spectacular escarpment. It then climbs across the Selous Game Reserve – the largest on the continent – before pulling in at the bustling city of Dar es Salaam. Rovos Rail also has shorter itineraries that range from 3-4 days; there’s the Cape Town-Pretoria (across South Africa), the Durban Safari (Pretoria-Durban) and Victoria Falls (Pretoria-Victoria Falls). There’s also a 9-day, 3,400-kilometre journey on the Namibian Safari (Pretoria to Swakopmund), taking you from the savannahs of the Highveld to the Atlantic in the west. Price per person: US$12,450 (Pullman), US$16,500 (Deluxe), US$21,550 (Royal)
SOUTH AMERICA Travelling by rail is a great way to explore South America – from Mexico to Argentina and Chile, these carriages are less bumpy than buses. Many of these are high-altitude railways with breathtaking views of the Andes along the way as they pass tunnels, viaducts, and zigzags. While there aren’t many long-distance railways, there are a number of short scenic rides, like the Tren a las Nubes (“Train to the Clouds”) which connects Argentina to Chile through the Andes, or the mountain-hugging Copper Canyon service (“El Chepe”) from Los Mochis to Chihuahua in Mexico.
Cusco - Puno, Arequipa Duration: 2 & 3 days While there are a handful of luxury train experiences in South America, the Andean Explorer is the first luxury sleeper service. Launched last year, it explores the Peruvian highlands from Cusco to Puno and Arequipa. The rooms are configured in double
or twin (and bunk), all en suite, with oxygen tanks and masks provided for comfort at high altitudes. There is also an outdoor covered deck at the rear of the train, and a spa will operate from this year. There are two itineraries: the overnight Cusco to Puno or the 2-night Cusco to Arequipa. Both can either start or end at Cusco, with a slight change in excursions off the train. From Cusco, the
Guayaquil - Quito Duration: 4 days, 4 nights
The luxury Tren Crucero explores the High Andean landscape of Ecuador, passing through moorlands, cloud forests, and coastal landscapes, traversing the Avenue of Volcanoes, home to over 10 volcanoes. The track is a spectacular feat of engineering of zigzags that hug the side of the mountains with an average altitude of 5,000m.
ancient capital of the Inca Empire, you’ll traverse the highest plains of the Andes before arriving at Puno to explore the beautiful Lake Titicaca and its islands. The 2-night itinerary continues across the vast Colca Canyon, before terminating at Arequipa, a World Heritage city with a formidable ensemble of baroque buildings grafted out of white volcanic rock, with the imposing El Misti mountain (5,825m) as a backdrop. Price per room: 1 night from US$1,110 (Bunk), US$1,670 (Deluxe Double); 2 nights from US$3,230 (Bunk), US$4,630 (Deluxe Double)
Carrying 50 passengers, the convoy – consisting of two luxury passenger cars in Colonial and Republican style – is pulled by both modern diesel and antique steam locomotives. Nights are spent in characterful countryside hotels and haciendas, all locally-owned in support of local people. With them, you will hike the rainforest, roam ancestral markets, or visit artisans’ workshops. The 4-day journey is available from Guayaquil to Quito (Train to the Clouds) or vice versa (Train of Wonders). The former starts from the shores of the Pacific Ocean, climbing 3,600m in barely 450km at the mythical “Devil’s Nose” pass with its vertiginous zig-zag, where you experience one of the most dramatic changes in vegetation in the
world. You’ll traverse the Chimborazo volcano moorlands along the Avenue of Volcanoes, ride along the Chanchán river canyon, and explore Quichua culture at Otavalo just beyond Quito. Price per person: US$1,735
AUSTRALIA Australia’s landscape is one of extreme contrasts – you could go from rich, green forests to sparse ochre desert and fertile farmland in a matter of hours. While self-drive trips let you explore the country at your own pace, taking the train allows you to see more without having to worry about traffic. There are a few luxury train rides that you can take, depending on what you want to see – you can go from north to south (or vice versa) across the country from Darwin to Adelaide, or west to east (or vice versa) from Perth to Sydney.
INDIAN PACIFIC Perth - Sydney Duration: 4 days
One of the most iconic journeys across Australia is on board the Indian Pacific – which celebrated its 100 years of service last year – from Perth to Sydney (or vice versa), a 4-day journey covering 4,352km of the Australian landscape from the Indian Ocean on the continent’s western shores to the Pacific on the east.
The diversity of the Australian landscape that can be viewed on this remarkable transcontinental journey encompasses the barren expanse of the Nullarbor to the towering majesty of the Blue Mountains and every goldmine, ghost town and grapevine in between. From Perth, it climbs through the scenic Avon Valley and into Western Australia’s expansive wheat belt, before arriving at the gold rush town of Kalgoorlie, built on fortune and hardship. Wander around the grand old pubs and absorb the atmosphere here. The landscape takes on a richer hue as it journeys through the mallee scrub and into the ancient and barren Nullarbor Plain – the ancient stillness of the desert landscape is broken only by kangaroos or the occasional bird of prey – stopping at Cook, one of the world’s most isolated outposts.
There are 2 classes of en suite cabins – Platinum (which has its own Platinum Club car) and Gold, which has single-bed, or twin-sharing either in bunks or a double bed configurations. By day the cabins, designed with a minimalist modern flair, are configured as lounge seats which convert to beds by night.
Arriving in Adelaide, you’ll explore its colonial buildings surrounded by park lands before travelling through pastures and mallee scrub to Broken Hill. Nicknamed Silver City, this former mining town with beautiful 1920’s buildings (a photographer’s haven) sits amidst the harsh desert and an oasis of lakes.
The desert landscape morphs into the sandstone cliffs, forested valleys, escarpments and waterfalls of the Blue Mountains – starting from April this year, if you depart from Perth, you’ll be able to explore the Blue Mountains on the Cableway, Skyway, and Railway, taking in stunning panoramic views from Echo Point. The final approach to Sydney flows into the more arid landscapes of the New South Wales outback.
If you prefer to traverse Australia through its red centre, The Ghan (3D2N) plies the route between Adelaide and Darwin, passing desert towns like Alice Springs and Coober Pedy for excursions. Price per person: from AUD$1,869 (Gold Twin); AUD$3,689 (Platinum)
TRANS-CONTINENT Almost everybody’s heard of super long-distance trains that ply the route between Beijing, Mongolia and Russia – anyone thinking to follow this journey have the option of budget travel or upgrade to first-class cabins. However, the railway line from Moscow extends far beyond just Beijing or Mongolia, providing intrepid couples the chance to explore the vast expanse of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf – dropping in on ancient Silk Road caravan stops – in relative luxury.
PERSIAN ODYSSEY Moscow - Tehran Duration: 18 days
Operated by Golden Eagle, this itinerary is a 18-day long-distance journey from Moscow through the “stans” – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – and into Iran. The journey can also be taken in reverse order.
The Golden Eagle has three categories of en suite cabins: Silver, Gold and Imperial Suite. While the Imperial Suite has a King-sized bed and a sitting area, the Silver and Gold cabins’ seats are configured into bunk beds by night (with a double bed at the bottom). The journey traverses the vast expanse of Southern Russia and Kazakhstan before making the first stop at Baikonur (Russian Territory) to visit the launch station of Sputnik 1, where Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
After crossing into Uzbekistan with a stop at Tashkent, you’ll drop by three of the country’s UNESCO sites along the legendary Silk Road – Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. These cities are a vision conjured from The Arabian Nights, with their grandiose mosques and photogenic madrassahs decorated in intricate geometric patterns interspersed with gleaming blue tiles. As you explore the busy and colourful bazaars – sampling dried fruits along the way – imposing minarets peek at you from between ochre-coloured alleys and ancient fortified walls. Some of the sites you’ll visit include Registan Square, Bibi Khanum Mosque, and the Ulugh Beg observatory in Samarkand; the fortified residence of The Ark and the Palace of the Moon and Stars in Bukhara; and the 2,000year old Itchan Kala with its imposing fortified wall that once protected the heart of Khiva, the final stop for caravans crossing the desert to Persia and the Silk Road. Crossing into Turkmenistan, you’ll stop at the capital of Ashgabat, a modern city with extravagant fountains, golden domes and towering buildings rising incongruously from the Karakum desert
like its moniker, the ‘Las Vegas of the Karakum’. Entering Iran, you’ll explore the sacred city of Mashhad (home to the Imam Reza Holy Shrine, the largest mosque in the world by dimension), the imposing medieval desert citadel of Rayen Castle, Yazd (one of the oldest cities in the world), and Isfahan, Persia’s capital from 1598 to 1722. This city is packed with some of Iran’s best sights, including the Chehel Sotoon Palace, the Armenian Quarter, and the Naghshe Jahan Square.
Before making the final stop at Tehran, the train detours south towards the impressive ruins of the 6th century Persepolis (the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire) and Shiraz – the heartland of Persian culture for over 2,000 years, synonymous with education, poetry and wine. Price per person: US$20,995 (Silver); US$24,995 (Gold); US$41,995 (Imperial Suite)
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THERMAL BATH SOJOURN
Hot spring vs. cold spring Strictly speaking, hot springs aren’t merely water that’s heated by underground steam. Their waters are from volcanically-heated subterranean sources including pools, or even underground rivers. While terminology varies from place to place, waters from 36-37º (human body temperature) up to boiling are considered “hot springs”. “Cold springs”, such as those bottled as drinking water, are from similar sources but have cooled more before emerging above ground. Both have similar minerals, dissolved at high temperatures underground, and carried to the surface. Why are Hot Springs Therapeutic? Hot springs simultaneously increases our heart-rates and lowers blood pressure, so they increase circulation while relaxing us. Apart from the outright effect of their heat on our bodies, their high source temperature means they dissolve and carry minerals like sodium or sulfur in their liquid. This coats our skin, or is even absorbed in small amounts, with concurrent beneficial effect on conditions like eczema, or even (purported) effects on internal disorders (through absorption of trace elements and minerals).
Few travel experiences are more romanticised than that of the hot spring. From the glamorous belle epoch-era spas of Europe, to the countless rugged natural pools found everywhere from the Arctic to Australia and the US, our collective love-affair with a nice, hot dip goes back to our earliest ancestors. A happy by-product of volcanism, thermal waters are found literally everywhere. While they’re obviously more prevalent in volcanically-active places like Japan or New Zealand, they dot the planet from pole to pole, often in the most unexpected places – like the steaming pools of Uunartoq and Qeqertarsuaq in Greenland, or the aptly named Deception Island in Antarctica. In between, they’re found from the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, to the Alps, the Himalayas, and the high Andes, and even right here in Singapore.
HARNESSING HOT SPRINGS
People have used hot springs throughout human history, across almost every culture
where thermal waters are found, for everything from washing clothes to bathing. The use of thermal baths evolved independently among locals in almost every corner of the world throughout history. In the Mediterranean, it was the ancient Egyptians, followed by Phoenecians, early Greeks, and eventually the Romans who perfected the concept of public baths. Elsewhere, both the Mayans and Incas evolved their own distinct, completely independent hot spring cultures in the volcanic Yucatan, and the high Andes all the way to Machu Picchu at the famous “Inca Baths”. Even in Central Asia, the fierce Mongols hordes had a distinct soft spot for hot springs. Today, travellers can visit different hot springs in almost any corner of the earth, basking in what they have in common – their soothing hot waters – while also experiencing the distinct hot spring culture of each destination.
Famous worldwide for its steaming geysers and bubbling waters, Iceland is literally an island of hot springs. This natural wonder is ingrained in the very fabric of Icelandic society, beginning as the source of the country’s vast geothermal energy. For visitors, an outdoor soak is an essential part of the Icelandic experience – a surreal way to spend a dark winter’s day, or to soak those muscles after a long day’s hiking. Dating back to Viking times, this tradition of bathing outdoors can be experienced at several locations throughout the island, set amidst stunning landscapes.
Iceland’s best alternative hot spring spots in terms of cost and crowds. Compared to Blue Lagoon, it also feels more natural (ie not man made), as its pools have sand bottoms, and rock walls. It’s especially popular in winter, when you can view the Northern Lights in the evenings. Entrance is ISK2,500 (S$31), excluding towel rental. Laugarvatn Fontana: Located 1 hour (70km) east of Reykjavík, the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa is situated on the shores of Lake Laugarvatn which is fed by subterranean volcanic springs, essentially making it a vast, open-air hot tub, with the spa having both lakeside (open-air) baths and steam rooms. Entrance is ISK3,400 (S$43); towels and robes are available for rent. The surrounding village of Laugarvatn (pop. 300) also lies along the popular Golden Circle route, making it an ideal access point for nearby Gullfoss waterfall, while numerous hiking routes lead into the surrounding mountains and birch forests. Blue Lagoon: This is the country’s most famous thermal bath complex. Its iconic steaming blue water originates 2,000m below the surface and is pumped above ground where it does double-duty powering the neighbouring Svartsengi geothermal plant. By the time it reaches the surface, it cools to 38-40ºC, taking on its iconic blue tint due to a mix of algae, minerals and silica it picks up along its journey.
Day-packages start from ISK6,990 (S$90) including entrance fee, towel and your own silica-mud mask, all the way up to ISK53,000 (S$675) including bathrobe, towels, sparkling wine and a day-spa package. There are two hotels on site: The Silica (from S$750/night), and from April 2018, The Retreat (from S$1,800/night), with suite-rooms boasting private hot spring pools. The Blue Lagoon is just 50 minutes from the capital Reykjavík, and 20 minutes from Keflavik Airport, with regular shuttle services to/from both. Secret Lagoon: Located in the small village of Fludir, very near the famous Geyser and just off the popular Golden Circle route, Secret Lagoon is one of
Myvatn Nature Baths: Located in northern Iceland’s rugged backcountry, Myvatn is a 6-hour (475km) drive from Reykjavík. It includes both natural steam baths, courtesy of its many active steam fissures, as well as heated volcanic pools. Situated in Iceland’s vast, northerly volcanic plain, Myvatn is home to many volcanic sites, including Krafla where you can walk among the steaming vents. You can also view the Northern Lights in winter; in May, the Myvatn Marathon brings runners through the surrounding countryside. Entrance is ISK4,700 (S$54), with towels and robes available for rent.
THERMAL BATH SOJOURN | 31
Within Europe, Hungary is synonymous with spa culture. The country’s home to over 1,000 naturally occurring hot springs, the majority of which are found in the Alföld, Hungary’s great central plains region. Over 150 of these have been made into established spa baths, 13 of which are found in Budapest alone. Owing to the country’s complicated past with its erstwhile neighbour, the Ottoman Empire, Budapest is awash with historic Turkish-style bathhouses, while others – like the iconic Szechenyi and the Gellert – were established during Budapest’s belle epoch.
Szechenyi Hungary’s most famous spa, the historic baths are located within the grounds of Budapest’s sprawling City Park. The vast Neo-Renaissance style spa complex is one of Europe’s largest, housing 18 different baths, including 3 large outdoor pools (2734ºC), and 15 indoor pools (20-40ºC), as well as saunas and steam rooms. Built in 1913, Szechenyi has been a focal point for life in the capital ever since (locals still play chess in its steaming pools), while a more modern advent is Szecska, an after-hours weekend summer pool party. Full-day entrance costs from 4,1004,300HUG (S$21-22), with private cabanas also vailable. Thermal Beer Spa: Situated inside Szechenyi the unique Thermal Beer Spa. Its 6 cedar tubs each accommodate a couple, and come with their own beer taps serving Czech beer. The baths are filled with warm herbal-scented water, and various beer ingredients (hops, malt and yeast) which are reputed to be good for your skin. The 45-minute sessions including appetizers and freeflow beer (€25/person or €40/couple in one tub); tickets to the Beer Spa is purchased on top of your day pass, giving you priority entry to Szechenyi.
Gellert Baths The Gellert Baths in the historic Gellert Hotel is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, with artisanal mosaics and stained glass windows. There are multiple outdoor and indoor baths (36-38ºC). Gellert’s waters are rich in calcium, manganese, sodium, and sulfates and are reputedly good for chronic joint problems. Full-day entrance costs 4,900-5,500HUG (S$25-28); private cabanas available. Rudas Baths Dating from the Ottoman occupation in the 1560s, Rudas has 6 thermal baths – indoor and outdoor (16-42ºC) – the most beautiful of which is the octagonal “Turkish” pool, situated underneath a vaulted dome. The baths are male- or female-only on certain days, and co-ed on weekends. Full-day entrance costs 3,3003,700HUG (S$17-19). Héviz Hungary’s largest thermal lake gives its name to the spa town of Héviz, located
2 hours from Budapest. Considered the oldest in Hungary, the picturesque lake is surrounded by nature, where you can bathe surrounded by water lilies. The water (24-36°C), and is rich in sulfur, radium and minerals, and inhabited by a variety of bacteria and algae that contribute to its healing properties. This small town is worth visiting for its farmers’ markets and museums, as well as Roman ruins and Romanesque churches.
Lying on the fabled Ring of Fire, the island of Taiwan is no stranger to the occasional tremor. Those same tectonic forces that have also given rise to its abundant natural hot springs. Dotted across the island, hot spring spots range from “wild” natural springs in the island’s rugged interior to luxury hot spring resorts, making Taiwan a diverse destination for a soak.
Miaoli county is most often associated with Lion’s Head Mountain, or as the heartland of the Saisiyat aboriginal people, it’s also home to some of Taiwan’s best hot springs. Concentrated around scenic Xueba National Park (home to some of Taiwan’s highest peaks), hot spring resorts include Hushan, Tenglong, and Tai’an’s luxury Papawaqa Onsen.
Wulai Wulai is one of Taiwan’s most popular hot spring resorts thanks to its rugged mountain setting and unique Atayal aboriginal tribe culture. At 90 minutes from Taipei, it’s also the closest aboriginal area to the capital. The town lies in the narrow Wulai Gorge, just above the Nanshi River, and is fed by natural thermal waters at various points. There are public hot springs at various resorts, including the modern Pause Landis Resort, the secluded Wulai Spring Resort, and the luxurious Volando Urai. Volando is Wulai’s most high-end property, merging modern, traditional Taiwanese and local aboriginal themes, focusing heavily on promoting local Taiwanese arts and aboriginal culture, collaborating with master drum makers, traditional metal workers and aboriginal musicians. Much of this is on display during daily “rituals”, ranging from traditional drum performances to zen-like silent chess matches played on floating wooden platforms. Besides in-room hot spring tubs, Volando offers public baths, including the “Kurhaus” with both outdoor and indoor hot
and cold pools, steam room and sauna from NT$850-1,000 per 4-hour session. Volando’s Grand View Bathhouse has various private baths with seasonal rates from NT$1,120-1,400 per hour. All waters are fed from Wulai’s main thermal source, which is rich in sodium bicarbonate, and reputed to be good for the skin. Besides hot springs, Wulai boasts easily-accessible aboriginal culture, with Atayal shops and restaurants dotted along Wulai Old Street. Nearby Wulai Waterfall is also accessible by foot, or via the historic Wulai Scenic Train, a former logging trolley which runs between Wulai Old Street and the base of the 80-metre tall falls. Wulai is easily accessible by car or the Taipei MRT and connecting bus. Miaoli While mountainous
Blending with its dramatic forest setting, Papawaqa’s architecture is largely made completely from reclaimed cedar from trees that died in a 2004 flood, which together with its plant-covered exterior make it fit well into the surrounding forest. The onsen has multiple indoor public and private baths, ranging from NT$2,0003,500 per 2-hour session, depending on the day. It also has extensive outdoor tubs, including earmarked swimsuit pools, as well as segregated male/female-only nude bathing pools. Open from 8am to 11pm, Papawaqa’s odourless waters are mildly alkaline (20º to 40ºC), with public entrance at NT$500. Tai’an is 2.5 hours (140km) by car from Taoyuan Airport, and 3 hours from Taipei.
THERMAL BATH SOJOURN | 33
Perhaps no other place on earth is more closely associated with hotsprings and bathhouses than Japan. The country’s love affair with thermal pools dates back thousands of years, and today Japan has over 3,000 hot spring resorts (onsen) and over 25,000 individual hot springs, many of which are rugged outdoor baths (rotenburo).
Dogo Onsen: Located in Matsuyama City on the west coast of Shikoku Island, Dogo Onsen is probably both Japan’s most famous and oldest onsen, dating back over 1,200 years. Part of Japan’s popular culture, it was the inspiration for the Ghibli movie, Spirited Away. It’s often grouped with Arima Onsen (Hyogo) and Nanki Shirahama Onsen (Wakayama), as the Nihon San Kotou (Japan’s 3 ancient baths). Its main 3-storey, wooden honkon (public bath) resembles a Japanese castle, complete with watchtower where a bell tolls the hour several times per day. It also has a designated yushinden, a bath reserved exclusively for the Emperor. Modern Dogo dates from the 1890s, when it was expanded to accommodate the local residents who lacked indoor plumbing. Despite the changing times, today it remains a fixture for local residents. Entrance fees for 60-minute sessions are divided by level: the ground floor Kami no Yu public bath (¥410), the exclusive second floor Tama no Yu bath (¥840), and the third floor tour of the Emperor’s private yushinden (¥1,250). Dogo is open daily from 6am to 11pm, and is easily accessible via the Dogo Onsen (tram) station. Kurokawa Onsen: Located on the volcanic island of Kyushu, in Kumamoto Prefecture, the historic town of Kurokawa is one of Japan’s most picturesque onsen spots. Tucked within a gorge along the Tanohara River, the town has been a popular onsen
resort since the Edo period, and many of its 29 hot spring inns date back centuries. While the name “kurokawa” means “black river”, there is a vast range of water types, from mildly acidic to alkaline, and sulphurous. Many of Kurokawa’s inns have extensive facilities, such as Ikoi Ryokan with its 13 different baths, while others feature more secluded, private rotenburo, such as Iyashi-no-Sato located slightly out of the main town area. Each inn provides guests with traditional yukata robes and sandals to wear around town. The town’s public onsens are open daily (8:30am to 9pm); access any 3 with the nyuto tegata, a souvenir wooden bath token (¥1,300). Kurokawa is accessible via direct bus from Fukuoka Airport, Hakata Station and Kumamoto Station. Nozawa Onsen: Combining some of Japan’s best ski slopes
with traditional soto-yu public baths, the small mountain resort of Nozawa Onsen in Nagano is one of Japan’s most adventure-oriented onsen destinations. Situated just below the ski area, the historic town of Nozawa Onsen is extremely compact and quaint with its 13 free-entry baths all located within walking distance of each other. The town attracts avid onsen tourists, and many of its baths are open 24 hours per day. At under 3 hours from Tokyo by bullet train and shuttle bus, Nozawa ski area is one of Honshu’s most popular, with 36 slopes ranging from beginner to advanced (its longest run is over 10km). In summer and fall, the slopes are open to hikers and mountain bikers.
UNIQUE ACCOMMODATION: VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA On the westernmost edge of Vancouver Island is the Clayoquot Sound World Biosphere, home to the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. This is black bear central, where you can catch salmon and halibut, ride horses, kayak, hike, or go on whale- or bear-watching trips. Accommodation is in elegant safari-style tents – located along the open estuary or in the rainforest – decorated with antiques, king-size beds, rustic wood stoves, and ensuite bathrooms with outdoor showers (some have private cedar hot tubs). The secluded hotel can be reached only via a 45-minute private seaplane transfer from Vancouver, which is included in their 3-7 night packages. From CAD4,800 (S$5,100) per person; all inclusive (4D3N)
Chateau Ramšak is located in Slovenia’s picturesque wine region of Styria, a short distance away from the beautiful city of Maribor. Its vineyard is set in 15 acres of rolling green hills, where you can stay in one of its luxury tents (or treehouses) situated next to a picturesque pond. Ramšak has its own wine cellar with the largest wine press in Europe, and also the oldest tasting bar where you can opt for tasting sessions of their white wines. There are also wine massages. Accommodating only 2 adults, their Glamorous Tent S is set on a spacious terrace with private hot tub. From €140 (S$226) per night, including breakfast
Ladakh is a land landscapes with vistas and river v Buddhist culture numerous gomp atop craggy hills ravines. In summ home to festivals masked dancers. Set in the beautiful I Leh, Chamba Camp Thiksey (May to O foot of the imposing medieval hilltop T with the snow-capped Himalayas as a the camp arranges itineraries ranging morning prayers at Thiksey, and by ni air-conditioned, lavishly decorated en comes with a private butler.
From Rs108,000 (S$2,250) per person
ANTARCTICA While Antarctica may not be on everyone’s romantic destination list, it’s definitely on many people’s bucket lists. If you have the cash, you can splurge it on a private jet (5.5 hours from Cape Town) to the Whichaway Camp on White Desert. Located next to an ice cliff by a frozen lake, the 6 dome pods (made from aerospace material) are en suite, luxuriously designed with an old world ambience. Embark on a number of excursions per day, from rock climbing to kite skiing and polar exploration, or relax in the communal pod. From US$32,000 per person (S$42,400) allinclusive (4 nights, incl. flight)
Set in Torres del Paine National Park, EcoCamp Patagonia features ecofriendly state-of-the-art geodesic domes. To stay here, you have a few options of tours including the iconic W Trek (5 or 7 days), with views of skyrocketing mountains, deep blue lakes, and hauntingly beautiful forests. Hike to gorgeous Lake Grey to marvel at the calving glacier, and climb the steep moraine to the base of the Towers for an iconic view of the three monoliths of Torres del Paine. The domes range from Standard (shared bathrooms) to Suite, boasting sublime mountain views; there are also bar, yoga and community domes. From US$1,850 (S$2,450) per person all-inclusive (5D4N)
From lush forests to glacial mountains and vineyards, tented camps are the new byline in luxury, and it’s even got its own vocabulary. Gone are the days of dingy tents and flimsy collapsible chairs – glamorous camping, or ‘glamping’, proves that you don’t need solid walls to soak in the riches. Some of these tents literally take your breath – and your cash – away.
d of stunning h endless mountain valleys with a strong e, characterised by pas (monasteries) set s or hidden in deep mer, they become s featuring cham Indus Valley near October) lies near the Thiksey Monastery, a backdrop. By day, from archery to ight you retire to your n suite tent which
n all-inclusive (4D3N)
Elephant Hills is set in Khao Sok National Park, Southern Thailand’s largest stretch of primary rainforest that’s dotted with jungle lakes full of limestone formations. Marvel at the lush landscape, canoe down a river, visit local markets, relax at deserted beaches (or at the pool or bar), or spot some wildlife – from hornbills to gaurs – on a jungle hike; their unique Elephant Experience lets you interact with these magnificent creatures. There are two types of tents: the Elephant Camp, and the Rainforest Camp (floating tents in the park’s Cheow Larn Lake). Their popular 3D2N itinerary lets you stay at both, with activities included.
From THB21,340 (S$886) per person all-inclusive (3D2N)
Okavango Delta’s floodplains is a vast network of natural watering holes, where hippos, zebras, and immense herds of buffalo stop for a drink; it’s also an excellent birding site. Zarafa Camp, located along the Zibadianja Lagoon, comprises four huge tents on private decks, each with separate lounge and bedroom, private pool and outdoor shower. While elephants can be spotted from the veranda, daily guided tours include open-vehicle safaris, hippo-spotting lagoon cruises, or strolling across the floodplains. Canon 40D cameras and Swarovski binoculars are loaned for free. From US$1,865 (S$2,470) per person per night, including safaris and meals
Situated close to South Island’s spectacular West Coast Wilderness cycle trail, self-catering Hurunui Jacks campsite is nestled amongst ancient virgin forest on a private spot on the banks of the Kaniere River. This rustic canvas tent, heated by a wood-burning stove, is all about peace and tranquility – hit the cycle trail or sit back on the deck chair observing wildlife like bellbirds and fantails flitting through the moss-covered trees. The bathroom is a few metres away (where you can soak in the outdoor bath under the stars), and you can cook your meals in the retro camp kitchen. From NZ$250 (S$240) per night
Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Pick up your free copy now: www.sportsandtravelonline.com
Published on Jan 16, 2018
Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Pick up your free copy now: www.sportsandtravelonline.com