Travel writer Meera Dattani picks out eight of the best trips to add to your bucket list
If you're missing airports and adventures, street food dinners and cocktails at sunset, wildlife and the high life, you are not alone. While travel may have been off the radar for most, the desire for it has never been stronger.
There's certainly no shortage of incredible trips out there, from expedition cruises to super-luxury spas to train journeys spanning continents. To whet your appetite, we've found a few trips that hit on something special: a remote Norwegian lodge for the ultimate Northern Lights experience, a brilliant road trip by RV around the US state of Alabama, a new spa island in the Maldives and an unforgettable railway journey across Europe and into North Africa. Tempted?
Northern Lights in Norway’s Lyngen Alps
If you’ve dreamed about the Northern Lights, the new, luxury Aurora Lodge, 100 feet from the sea, in the remote Lyngen Alps of Norway, is one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis. This lodge is the area’s first luxury accommodation—a secluded, private space sleeping 10-12 guests—and designed by award-winning architect Snorre Stinessen who bought the land a decade ago before creating his eco, glass-and-wood dream. Experiences including skiing into the sea (yep, you read that correctly), whale tagging and swimming with whales under the Northern Lights, all in the company of expert guides, naturalists, specialists and private chefs. There’s also an outdoor jacuzzi and sauna by the creek... It doesn’t come cheap at £75,000 but that’s between 12 people (excluding flights) and includes food, helicopter transfers, guides and activities. One for a special celebration with family or friends and offered exclusively by Black Tomato.
Flight-free railway romance: London to Cairo by rail and sea
If you're skipping air travel or want to travel in a greener, cleaner way, or if you fancy a more adventurous trip by train and ferry, this might be the literal ticket. This slow-travel itinerary travels by train from London to Italy via the Swiss Alps, staying in hotels along the way – think of it as a flashier Interrail experience. You'll board the Europa-Mediterraneo cargo ship (simple, en-suite cabins) from Salerno, south of Naples, where you'll be one of 12 passengers on this six-day voyage to Israel, stopping in Piraeus, Greece and Izmir, Turkey. There's time in Jerusalem before taking the train to Tel Aviv, then to the Egyptian border. Beach time in the Gulf of Aqaba is followed by heady Cairo, where the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx await. You can continue the adventure by following the Nile to Aswan and the ferry to Sudan – one for the wanderlusters. From £2,400 excluding flights, including train journeys, sea crossings, accommodation, transfers and some meals; ResponsibleTravel.co.uk
Adventure and adrenalin in Aotearoa
Aotearoa, Māori for New Zealand, does adventure so well, and Maori-owned company Tapoi Travel specialises in luxury adventures. Their 'Cultural Encounters and Natural Adventures' trip is a voyage-and-a-half, from Hobbiton, aka 'Middle Earth' of the Lord of the Rings films, to lake kayaking around Mt Maunganui and its natural glowworm grottos. A day with a Māori guide combines walking, e-biking and a harbour cruise, but through the eyes of Tangata Whenua (people of the land), and ends with a traditional Romiromi Massage. At Rotorua, staying at Treetops Lodge and Estate, it's mud baths, geysers, ziplining and hot tubs; vineyards, art and nature beckon in Nelson; then Abel Tasman, New Zealand's only coastal National Park. It ends, appropriately, in the 'adventure capital of the world' of Queenstown, staying at Kamana Lakehouse. Experiences include jetboating through a canyon, helicopter flight and UNESCO World Heritage fjord of Milford Sound. From £6,500pp including accommodation, domestic flights and experiences. Flights with Air New Zealand from London to Auckland via Hong Kong from £2,000pp; Tapoi Travel
Food lovers in Vietnam
This food-themed trip gets to the heart of Vietnamese food culture with a splash of adventure. In the capital Hanoi, enjoy noodle-soup breakfast at the local market before getting acquainted with sweet iced coffee and the elaborate cakes on display. You'll go shopping for ingredients with a MasterChef finalist before cooking up a feast in their kitchen and taking a backstreet tour of Hanoi with a food blogger. There's also time to explore the city's intriguing mix of French-colonial, Communist and 11th-century architecture. Rural food culture is also explored, with a home cooking experience in the village of Ky Son and visiting an organic farm in Hoi An. There's a fun Vespa tour around the markets and bars of the royal town of Hue and market-hopping in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta – the trip is a fun way to understand Vietnam and its food heritage. From £3,500pp for 13 nights excluding flights, including most meals, transport, domestic transfers and five-star accommodation; Inside Asia Tours
Luxury camping in Botswana
Want a wildlife experience that's both high-end, adventurous and conscious of local community involvement? Botswana's new Khai Leadwood camp is on the edge of the Khwai River in the Okavango Delta, opposite Moremi Game Reserve and Khwai Concession, a wildlife area managed by the 400-strong Khwai community of BaBukakhwe or River Bushmen descent. When you're not out on game or night drives, you can enjoy walking or even mokoro (dugout canoe) safaris; from the tented camp itself, you might see hippos, elephants and occasionally even lions crossing the river. The camp itself is a luxury, solar-powered haven with a pool and the kind of décor and design that manages to be both natural and decadent, ideal if you're looking for a safari experience that's a little bit different. From £2,315pp for seven nights with African Bush Camps staying three nights at Khwai Leadwood and three at sister camp Linyanti Ebony including transfers, meals, drinks, activities and park fees. Flights from the UK to Maun, Botswana from £1182 with Virgin Atlantic.
Road trip by RV across Alabama
Be a free spirit and explore Alabama on a Cruise America RV (recreational vehicle), a different way to experience the history, music and culture of a state that's home to the US Space Centre in Huntsville, the white-sand beaches of Gulf Shores, and cities such as Birmingham and Selma that changed America during the Civil Rights movement. Experience the music city of Nashville and Muscle Shoals, where Aretha Franklin was discovered, before driving the 100-mile Lookout Mountain Parkway, passing canyons, waterfalls and national parks. You'll want to stop everywhere, but don't miss a store in Scottsboro called Unclaimed Baggage, America's only shop selling lost luggage… Then, in Montgomery, it's worth parking the RV and spending a night or two in the Zelda or Scott Suites at F. Scott Fitzgerald's home. Travelling by RV is the ultimate freedom ride – stop where and when you like; the open road is yours. Sweet Home Alabama trip from America As You Like, £1840pp including flights, first night hotel and 13 nights RV rental. Meals, activities, fuel etc. extra. Zelda/Scott Suites from £87 per night
A new spa island in the Maldives
In the North Male Atoll and open only since November 2020, Kagi Maldives is the first dedicated wellness island resort in the archipelago. All 50 villas have an outdoor bath/shower and private infinity pool and are located either by the beach or right over the lagoon – dive in from your front door, but the resort's USP is the Baani Spa. This vast spherical space above the lagoon with an open-air sky roof at the centre is where to go for indulgent treatments and restorative yoga with sound therapy. Kagi Maldives also has a dive centre and a reef, or you can go kayaking, paddleboarding or windsurfing. The signature Ke-Un restaurant is another slightly different Maldives concept, serving dishes inspired by the countries surrounding the Pacific Rim: think flavours of Hawaii, Japan, Thailand and Peru. There's also a barefoot beach bar for that unmissable end-of-the-day sunset drink. Kuoni offers seven nights in a lagoon pool villa, including breakfast from £2,299pp including flights from London to Male with Qatar Airways.
A luxury eco-lodge in Costa Rica
Fancy tree-climbing, oceanview yoga, sloth-watching and a jungle massage? Costa Rica, known for its eco-tourism and adventure, also does a fine job in luxury eco-lodges. One is Lapa Rios on the Osa Peninsula, one of the country’s original’ eco-resorts. It's set in rainforest among endangered monkeys, macaws and 300-plus bird species— plus, it runs on 100% green energy. You’ll also stay at Kasiiya Papagayo on the Pacific coast’s Papagayo peninsula; its tented suites (and two new tented lodges) look onto the forest or beach, where you might spot dolphins and whales. They’re big on organic ingredients and there’s a spa too— and did we mention its in the jungle? Closer to the Caribbean coast but inland, Pacuare Lodge on the Pacuare River has arrival and departure by raft (yes really!) and it’s ideal for hiking, ziplining and canyoning (or simply spa-ing). Like Lapa Rio, Pacuare’s new villas also meet high sustainability credentials. A 12-night trip including a night in the capital San José, flights, transfers, accommodation and all meals with Audley Travel costs from £7,800pp staying at Kasiiya Papagayo, Lapa Rios and Pacuare Lodge.