Great Train Journeys: The Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The ‘Sky Road’ runs 1956 kilometres across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau connecting Chinese Xining with Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.  As the world’s highest railway, reaching a literally breathtaking 5231 metres at the Tanggula Pass, this incredible engineering success spans an area known for earthquakes, low atmospheric pressure and freezing temperatures.

Xining to Lhasa Railway
Xining to Lhasa Railway

The line opened in 2006, after engineers battled permafrost, low-oxygen levels and a very sensitive eco-system. At peak times, up to 1000 passengers board the train for this magnificent journey. Of course many tourists use this route; brimming with heightened anticipation for the fluttering prayer flags, golden temples, chanting monks and endlessly photogenic landscape of Tibet.

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READ ABOUT MONOMYTH

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder:  fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. 

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

Prana

Travel has always been considered as an important factor in cultural and economic growth, but travelling with awareness, into an unknown world of new experiences, can also be a powerful stimulus for inner growth and personal development.

Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987), the famous American author and cultural anthropologist, through his extensive studies of mythology and religion, identified a repeating story pattern which he named Monomyth, or The Hero’s Journey. The repeating personal and collective transformation, common is so many of the stories he studied, takes the form of a tri-phase loop of Departure, Initiation and Return.

The Departure – The hero departs from the comfortable and familiar, venturing from the known world into the unknown world.

The Initiation – The hero reaches the threshold of adventure, embarking on a series of challenges, proving the hero’s ability and revealing their real character within.

The Return – The hero returns to the everyday world, awakened and resurrected, with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The Monomyth catalysed by transformative tourism, takes a traveller on a journey away from the comfort of their ordinary life, following a path of awareness and responsibility, requiring new skills and engagement, far from the status quo, unravelling a story of growth and passage, culminating with a return home, enriched and meaningfully improved, personally and to the benefit of others.

The transformational trends of sustainability, wellness, slow-travel, local community commitment, solitude, mindfulness, participation and experiential travel are modern indicators of the future of tourism. 

Transformational travel can take many forms, from:

  • Travelling with purpose
  • Exploring a place very different from your own home
  • Engaging with local communities and projects
  • Challenging yourself physically, emotionally or spiritually
  • Sharing perspectives and time with others
  • Mindful travelling, seeking meaning from experiences
  • Learning new skills
  • Giving more than you take
  • Slow-travelling, using sustainable modes of transport

Through transformative travel, a hero’s journey, or monomyth, gives intention to travel, encouraging learning and growth, fostering engagement with the wider world, reaping benefits on the individual and those they share their life with.

Review: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Statendam

Holland America Line is steeped in maritime tradition, with a history of sailing going back to 1873. Their elegant ships, with promenade decks and clean nautical lines, appeal to sophisticated world travellers. Despite such a conventional backdrop, the cruise line is thoroughly modern in focus: embracing global travel, enrichment, fine food, music and culture.

Nieuw Statendam seen from Hotel Jakarta, Amsterdam

Recently I visited Holland America Line’s, Nieuw Statendam, which was dedicated by Godmother, Oprah Winfrey in February 2019. Built at the Fincanteri yard, there are 1337 cabins to accommodate 2666 passengers. It is a beautiful ship, with a very relaxed atmosphere. There are many quiet spaces, as well as lots and lots to do. That’s a tricky balance to achieve. The essence is on travel, so Laser-Tag and water-slides are shunned in favour of great destinations and a true cruising experience.

Murano Glass in the Main Dining Room

As the second Pinnacle class vessel in the fleet, many of the successful features found on sister ship, Koningsdam, are carried over. The World Stage Theatre is a highlight, showing BBC Earth documentaries on giant LED screens, and the two-tier Lido deck transforms into an outdoor cinema at night, complete with blanket-covered loungers and popcorn. BLEND is a wonderful venue, where guests create their own wine to drink during the cruise, and Rudi’s Sel de Mer holds its place firmly amongst the other fantastic speciality restaurants. The Dutch Cafe, serving delicious coffee and local Dutch snacks, is incredibly popular as is the serene Greenhouse Spa.

BLEND

Of course, the Music Walk is a key feature on the Nieuw Statendam, as it is throughout the fleet, bringing the trademark Holland America Line world-class live performances every evening. Seasoned HAL cruisers will be familiar with duelling pianos at Billboard Onboard, classical recitals from Lincoln Centre Stage and B.B King’s Blues Club’s Memphis soul sounds. In an exciting move, Nieuw Statendam adds another dimension to the experience. The Rolling Stone Rock Room, in collaboration with Rolling Stone magazine, brings a top-class rock band to the stage until late, belting out one classic after another at this superb new venue.

Contemporary Art Work

The onboard art collection, worth over $4 million dollars, is one of the finest at sea. Unique contemporary works are found around the ship, some in prominent places, other more hidden. It could take a whole cruise to discover them all.

One of the most astonishing aspects of Holland America Line, and the Nieuw Statendam in particular, is the dizzying array of high-quality partnerships offered as part of the brand. The music-related collaborations, seen along the Music Walk, as well as partnerships with BBC Earth, leading Chef Rudi Sodamin and Chateau Ste. Michelle at BLEND are only part of the story. ‘O The Oprah Magazine’ is now fundamentally involved in the Holland America Line cruise experience; bringing meditation classes, a book club and workshops together to improve wellness.

Sail-Away Party

Suites have been re-designed in response to customer feedback, as have family cabins. Solo rooms are given as much importance as any other. All staterooms have Mariner Dream beds, glass shower screens, Elemis toiletries, free movies and USB sockets.

Club Orange is a programme introduced on Nieuw Statendam, where guest can access a range of priority perks and an exclusive eatery for $35 per day. I don’t feel entirely convinced by this addition to the Holland America Line brand, as the cost is quite steep and not really necessary on a ship offering such a high standard of services already. Time will tell if this addition goes the distance.

Gelato Ice Cream Parlour

Nieuw Statendam is an enhancement of an already great Holland America Line cruise experience. This is a lovely ship: perfect for adults but still suiting families, peaceful yet packed with interesting activities, based in tradition and still embracing modern values. All in all, this is a perfect way to travel.

For further information see Holland America Line

Themed River Cruises: Golf on Europe’s Top Courses with AMA Waterways in 2019

AMA Waschu Valley Danuber
The Waschu Valley

Immortalised by Johann Strauss in his famous waltz, the Danube is one of Europe’s most famous rivers, flowing through the heart of continent from the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea. The 1700-mile waterway meanders past UNESCO status countryside along with fine cities brimming with fascinating culture and history; such as Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Imagine combining this adventure with playing on some of Europe’s best golf courses?

AMA Golf
Beckenbauer Course

AMA Waterways, widely recognised as one of the leading luxury river cruise lines, offers a sensational Concierge Golf Programme to marry the two interests together in perfect harmony.  Offering certainly one of the best golf river cruises in 2019, each 7-night journey includes all the luxuries you would expect with AMA, such as fine dining and beautiful accommodation, as well as shore excursions and at least 5 games on these top courses.

  • Albatross Golf Club, Albatross Course, Prague, Host of the Czech Open
  • Hartl Resorts Beckenbauer Course, Bad Griesbach, Germany, Host of the Porsche European Open
  • Diamond Country Club, Diamond Course, Atzenbrugg, Austria, Host of the Lyoness Austrian Open
  • Penati Country Club, Legends Course, Senica, Slovakia, Host of the Slovakian Open
  • Pannonia Country Club, Budapest, Hungary, Host of the Hungarian Open

AMAMAGNA
AMAMAGNA

On arrival at each destination, you will be chauffeur driven to the day’s course with tee times,  practice balls and trolleys arranged in advance. After your round, during a pleasant lunch in the clubhouse, AMA staff will clean your golf clubs before returning you to the ship to enjoy dinner and all the facilities.

AMA Massage
Spa Services

For non-golfing partners, there are plenty of on-board activities as well as thoughtfully curated shore excursions. A generous discount is also offered on the cruise price. ‘Pre’ and ‘Post’ cruise options can be added to allow more time in Prague and dates run until mid October. Watch the video below to see the AMA experience.

For more information visit www.amawaterways.co.uk or contact Louise here

Images Courtesy of AMA Waterways

Ski France: is Samoëns the perfect resort?

The dizzy heights of Tignes, Val D’Isere and Courchevel attract Brits in their thousands every season, but are we missing a French secret?

The pretty village of Samoëns is a Savoyard gem; a monument historique revered for its precious links to the French stonemason trade. The ancient village, built at the foot of Mount Criou is only an hour from Geneva airport and served by a modern gondola swishing skiers to the Grand Massif in a mere 8 minutes.

View of the village from the express gondola

Narrow streets wind at an easy pace, taking in specialist shops showcasing the finest Haute-Savoie produce, towards a lovely square centred around an old lime tree. Locals queue out the door of the award-winning patisserie, the saucisson and cheese shop is a feast for the senses, après-skiers sip vin chaud in outdoor bars, bric-a-brac shops are a treasure-trove of chalet-worthy finds and gorgeous little cafes serve tartiflette smothered in gooey reblochon.

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The Grand Massif, watched over by the magnificent Mont Blanc, has 265km of piste and includes the snow-sure resort of Flaine. The gondola to Samoëns 1600 opens up the whole area with a wealth of runs suiting all abilities, including the 14km blue Cascade run.

On my recent trip, the Christmas celebrations were wonderfully French, French and French! Christmas Eve brought a stunning fireworks display, set off from the famous Jardin Botanique Alpina to waterfall in the sky above the village. Locals and visitors enjoyed gastronomique dinners late into the night before exchanging presents. Christmas Day was spent on the slopes enjoying the spectacular views and (luckily for us) warm sunshine.

Fireworks at Christmas

It’s worth noting that skiing back to Samoëns village isn’t possible, although you can ski to nearby villages and get the excellent ski bus back easily. Otherwise the gondola is the best way down and a pleasant end to the day. There are free nursery lifts for beginners and wonderful mountain restaurants dotted around the pistes. Prices are pleasantly affordable compared to the more high-octane French resorts.

Hotel Neige et Roc

We stayed as a family in two studio apartments at the Hotel Neige et Roc and ate at the wonderful Le Serac in Samoëns and Le Puzze in Morillion … both relatively cheap and serving fantastic Savoyard cuisine. Our ski hire was from Xtreme Glisses and we were very pleased with the service and quality.

For more information on Samoëns click here.

Radar: Hurtigruten target dead fish as power source of the future

Hurtigruten, the Norwegian expedition cruise line, intends to use cutaways from fisheries and other organic waste to power their fleet of ships.

The company has made strong moves in the sustainability field over recent years with the intention of becoming the world’s greenest cruise company. Liquified biogas (LBG) – fossil-free, renewable gas produced from dead fish and other organic waste is another step in this direction.

CEO Daniel Skjeldam says, “Renewable biogas is a clean source of energy, considered the most eco-friendly fuel currently available. Biogas is already used as fuel in small parts of the transport sector, especially in buses. Northern Europe and Norway, which has large fishery and forestry sectors that produces a steady volume of organic waste, has a unique opportunity to become world leader in biogas production.”

After celebrating the 125-year anniversary by being the first cruise line to ban single-use plastic, 2019 will mark two green milestones for Hurtigruten:

  • Introduction of the world’s first battery-hybrid powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, custom built for sustainable operations in some of the world’s most pristine waters such as Antarctica.
  • The start of a large-scale green upgrade project, replacing traditional diesel propulsion with battery packs and gas engines on several Hurtigruten ships.

In addition to liquified natural gas (LNG), these ships will also be the first cruise ships in the world to run on liquified biogas (LBG).

www.hurtigruten.co.uk

Trip of a Lifetime: Trekking to the North Pole

Ice Trek North Pole
Ice Trek North Pole Expedition

The North Pole is a geographical concept; a frozen point on an ever-moving slab of sea ice forming and moving with the seasons.

Ice Trek North Pole 2
Negotiating the Arctic Sea Ice

Sadly the Arctic is warming as global oceans heat up and melting sea ice reveals darker  water which absorbs more solar radiation. Higher temperatures are melting this frozen landscape with record lows of sea ice being recorded year upon year. The quality of the ice is also in decline as thicker ice, built up over long periods of time, is replaced by thin layers which are more mobile and unpredictable. This dynamic, shifting ice is a nightmare for polar expeditions which could soon become impossible to complete.

Trekking to the North Pole is a trip of a lifetime. Icetrek are specialists in guiding trips of this type as well as providing the specialist equipment needed for such an undertaking. Their North Pole Last Degree Ski Expedition heads off on April 4th 2019 and places are still available. Starting at Longyearbyen in Svalbard the 10-day trek covers 112km across pressure ridges, open leads, sastrugi and ice rubble … all against a backdrop of freezing conditions and 24-hour daylight.

Ice Trek North Pole 4
The North Pole

The €41,690 price tag includes all equipment, helicopter transfers, exert guiding, expedition food, on-trek accommodation and training. Rated as a Level 4 challenge, participants must be fit enough to pull a 45kg sled against drift in temperatures as low as -30°C. Unsheltered exposure could be as much as 6 – 9 hours each day.

Ice Trek North Pole

Icetrek Expeditions is a world-leading polar adventure travel company, offering trips to the Arctic and Antarctica. The company was founded in 1999 by Eric Philips who is an International Polar Guides Association Master Polar Guide and one of IPGA’s founding members.

www.icetrek.com

Images courtesy of Icetrek

 

 

 

Prana by Atzaro: Indonesian Island-Hop on the Ultimate Phinisi Super-Yacht

Owned by Atzaro, the luxe Ibizan hospitality group, this stunning Phinisi super-yacht is the largest of its kind in the world. Voyages explore the remote Indonesian Coral Triangle, following the trade winds to some of the world’s most inaccessible and dreamy islands.

Prana Indonesia map
Indonesia

Designed to reflect the ancient Indonesian double-masted Phinisi sailing vessels, this 180-foot ship is entirely handmade from ironwood and teak according to traditional methods.

Prana overhead
Prana

Beyond this authentic backdrop Prana gives way to pure luxury. Nine beautiful suites, with en-suite bathrooms and deluxe furnishings, are carefully placed across four decks ensuring privacy and wonderful sea views from floor-to -ceiling windows.

A Prana Suite
A Prana Suite

Daily sun salutations on the yoga deck start the day followed by an outdoor breakfast and a leisurely rest on one of the sumptuous day beds; perfectly placed to watch the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean drift by.

Prana yoga
Morning Yoga

Days are as active or restful as you like. A range of water sports and spa treatments are offered on board as well as carefully curated shore-based adventures.

Relax on deck
Relax on Deck

During May to October, Prana visits the Komodo National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the famous ‘dragons’, stunning pink beaches and pristine waters. If you seek adventure, the ship’s resident dive expert hosts specialist diving trips to explore the protected reefs.

Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park

In the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring, Prana traverses the remote Banda Islands. Famously part of the colonial spice trade, this heavenly part of the world is rich in myth and legend. Dominated by the grand Mount Api, the landscape gives way to virgin rainforest, white-sandy beaches and coral cliffs plunging deep into an ocean brimming with marine life.

Prana Spice Islands
The Banda Islands

The islands of Raja Ampat are Prana’s destination from December until April. Nestled in the heart of the Coral Triangle, these lost islands are home to prehistoric caves, hidden lagoons, forgotten tribes and some of the best diving in the world. There are ten times the number of hard coral species here as found in the Caribbean.

Diving the Reefs
Diving the Reefs

Prana is quite simply a haven after such exhilarating days ashore. Chefs prepare the very finest regional dishes served either under the stars, in the elegant lounge or on a deserted island beach. Old and new wines complement the cuisine along with a collection of carefully chosen cocktails, beers and spirits. After dinner the open-air cinema beckons or simply an early night to the sound of gently lapping waves.

Prana sunset
Sunset on Prana

What we like ….

  • guided access to remote areas of the world
  • a perfect balance of nurturing rest and adventure
  • a unique private charter

www.pranabyatzaro.com

Photos courtesy of Atzaro

 

 

Discovering Africa by Private Jet Safari

Bushtracks Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta

‘Luxury is access’ and Bushtracks Expeditions private aircraft safari brings the very best of Africa together in one stunning 15-day trip. 

Masai Mara
Masai Mara

Taking guests from the cloud forests of the Volcanoes National Park to the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, this ultimate safari brings together the magic of mountain gorillas and African wild dogs with the classic Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino).

Bushtracks Mountain Gorilla 2
Mountain gorilla

The trip is rich in educational content and unique experiences. Guests travel by private chartered plane along the path of the Great Rift Valley, enjoying exclusive access to remote wildlife habitats and a unique ariel perspective as they move from place to place.

An ariel view of Victoria Falls
An ariel view of Victoria Falls

Hosted by Tara Stoinski, (president, CEO, and Chief Scientific Officer for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund) the itinerary includes witnessing one of the natural wonders of the world: the great wildebeest and zebra migration in the Masai Mara.

Bushtracks Great Migration
The Great Migration

Accommodation is in some of Africa’s finest lodges including Vumbura Plains in the Okavango Delta plus an option to upgrade to the new and exclusive Bisate Lodge.

Vumburu Plains in the Okavango Delta
Vumburu Plains in the Okavango Delta

In keeping with the company’s ethos of sustainability and community involvement, for every booking, Bushtracks will pay for a year of secondary education for a student at a school in Zambia or Rwanda.

Bushtracks School programme
Educational support for local children

www.bushtracks.com

Photos courtesy of Bushtracks

 

Authentic Safari: Mountain Gorillas at Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Rwanda, previously torn apart by genocide, is now one of the most talked about safari hotspots in the world. This remote, intimate and peaceful East African country is still essentially under-the-radar of mass tourism. To come here on safari feels like having Africa all to yourself; just you and the wilderness.

Mountain Gorilla

The environment is pristine and spectacular. Mountains meet savannah amidst the glittering tin roofs of unspoilt villages, forests rich with mahogany and cedar, vertiginous hillsides, deep valleys, bamboo groves and rice paddies. The rehabilitation of this country is everywhere to be seen. Largely driven by the strength and determination of local communities, wildlife numbers are recovering and conservation is of key importance.

Rwanda

Trekking to see mountain gorillas is a truly authentic safari experience. These wonderful primates live in the lofty cloud forests of Virunga, amongst the volcanoes created where Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo collide. Fiercely protected by a rigourous conservation policy, only a small number of guided treks are allowed to visit each day.

Mountain Gorillas

These social animals enjoy long lunches, grazing on shoots and leaves continually to satisfy their need for substantial calories. For the human observer, they display so many similarities to ourselves; from the expressive eyes to the hand gestures, hugs and playfulness. Coming face-to-face with a mountain gorilla is a unique and life-changing experience.

Bisate Lodge as Night Falls

Bisate Lodge is one of Africa’s most exclusive safari lodges. As part of the stable of eco-pioneers, Wilderness Safari, Bisate sits just outside the Volcanoes National Park. It’s a mere twenty minutes drive from the park headquarters and starting point for daily mountain gorilla excursions.

Bisate Lodge Balcony

Designed by Johannesburg-based architect Nick Plowman, the design follows the fluid lines and traditional materials of the former Royal Palace in Nyanza. The lodge has close links with the local community, using local artisans to create many of the beautiful furnishings and accessories decorating the space as well as employing many local people to work in Bisate.

Bisate Lodge Bedroom

Guest accommodation is in six thatched round villas nestling on the steep hillside with balconies looking out over Mount Bisoke. Luxury is as much an element of Bisate Lodge as the authenticity of the experience. Living spaces have custom-made armchairs, log-burning fireplaces and huge bathrooms with black oval resin bathtubs and walk-in showers.

Bisate Lodge Bathroom

In the communal areas, fine dining brings together European and African cuisine paired with fine wines and intellectual company. Evenings are often spent curled up at the fire talking to the other guests or resident experts about conservation or wildlife.

Bisate Lodge Fireplace

When not out visiting the gorillas, you can walk through the national park with a local guide, join the reforestation project planting trees, visit local farmers or trek to seek out the golden monkeys.

Bisate Tree Nursery

Rwanda is a place to be humbled, inspired and nourished.

 

Our top reasons to go to Bisate:

  • access to exclusive areas of African wilderness
  • opportunities to contribute to the local biodiversity, community and conservation through hands-on projects
  • easy to combine with other African experience camps as part of a purposeful itinerary

www.wilderness-safaris.com

 

 

Radar: Azamara introduce new ship Pursuit

Azamara is a leader in small-scale luxury cruising with an emphasis on destination immersion. This summer sees the introduction of Azamara Pursuit: the third in the Azamara fleet. This Renaissance-class ship was built in 2001 and acquired by the line’s parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL) in March after 12 years with Carnival. With a history as Swan Hellenic’s Minerva II, Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess, and most recently as P&O Cruises’ Adonia the Pursuit is firmly moving forward with its own identity after a major refurbishment in Belfast.

Azamara Pursuit in Belfast
Azamara Pursuit in Belfast

The maiden voyage for Pursuit will depart on 1 August 2018 and travel to eight Norwegian destinations, including Kristiansand, Flam and Haugesund, with overnight stays in Oslo and Bergen. Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, said: “We’ve seen unprecedented support from the UK market for Azamara Pursuit, so we are delighted to be able to show our recognition of this by allowing its transformational journey to take place here. We’ve seen double the UK demand for Azamara Pursuit than we usually see for its sister ships, so this is a really exciting time for us as a brand. The maiden voyage will depart from Southampton and provide travellers with the opportunity to enjoy a country-intensive voyage to Norway, visiting eight destinations in the Scandinavian country. We launched our country-intensive series last year as an opportunity for guests to explore countries on a more in-depth level, which is part of our commitment to Destination Immersion.”

www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk