The white sands of the British Virgin Islands and (above, right) the luxurious Anegada Beach Club
British Virgin Islands
It’s a hard life relaxing on the Caribbean coast, rum cocktail in hand. Actually, it’s not – it’s a slice of paradise.
The British Virgin Islands are famous for long balmy days and a “no worries” atmosphere.
The first stop on our island hopping tour was the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda – named because the sailors will say, “You’ve reached the end – next stop South Africa.” The area is bursting with pirate history; rumour has it Blackbeard once roamed these shores.
We were welcomed to the mountainous island with a spectacular meal of local fish and vegetables, and their award-winning key lime pie was a taste-bud sensation.
The 65-acre site sits between the protected waters of North Sound and Eustatia Sound’s aquatic playground – perfect for sailing and snorkelling. I plunged into the reef to see the shipwrecked cannons surrounded by colourful coral, parrotfish, barracuda and many more species. I kept my eye out for any glints on the seabed that could be buried treasure.
The hotel’s activity board is packed with tours and water sports. We enjoyed a kayak tour among the mangroves and I tried my hand at sailing for the first time, with a young man called Marty literally showing us the ropes.
An early start saw us sail across the sea to our next destination, Anegada, whose name translates to “sunken land”. In contrast to the dramatic hills of Virgin Gorda, this island is as flat as a pancake.
With a population of 300, everyone knows everyone. Highlights here include Flash of Beauty, the number one spot for snorkelling, and Cow Wreck Beach, where hundreds of bones once swept ashore from an ancient shipwreck. Seven brand-new glamping tents line up along the shoreline at Anegada Beach Club, offering a stunning sea view from four-poster beds.
The tents come complete with furniture, electricity and a luxury bathroom.
Loblolly Bay is a must-visit beauty spot. Lying on the beach enjoying another rum cocktail, I felt like we were the only people in the world. And if you’re going to eat lobster in the BVI, it has to be at The Lobster Trap. Surrounded by palm trees, the jetty restaurant serves up excellent seafood.
A quick hop whisked us on to another unique island. Guana is a spectacular mountainous resort island that hosts up to 30 guests at one time. If you feel flush, you can rent the whole island for about £22,000 a day. The highlights here include a cinema under the stars and Long Man’s Point Trail, which peaks at 290ft.
Expect cookouts on the White Bay Beach and a delicious spread of treats. My appetite was tested with a mouthwatering, 15-course tasting menu, featuring the best the island has to offer.
Whether it’s a sun-filled, fun-filled getaway or a romantic break, the British Virgin Islands deserve a place on your bucket list.
Garden rooms at the Bitter End Yacht Club start at £335 per night b&b (beyc.com). Glamping at Anegada Beach Club starts at £217, room only (anegada beachclub.com). Sea view rooms at Guana Island start at £568, all-inclusive (guana.com). Return flights to Antigua start at £473pp with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, with the VI Airlink from £282 return (viairlink.com). Visit bvitourism.co.uk
Pretty as a picture Rishikesh
Cruising across the River Ganges on a small motorboat as the sun rises is a great way of awakening the senses before trying yoga for the first time.
With the foothills of the Himalayas soaring into a mist in front of us and the river to our backs, we limbered up on a lush green lawn under the watchful gaze of a large Buddha statue in the holy city of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, north India.
Our yoga teacher, an elderly woman who looked so frail that a gust of wind would blow her away, then took us through a series of asanas (poses with stretching) followed by deep breathing and chanting.
Feeling energised, I was ready to wander through the narrow streets packed with carts of fresh mangoes while dodging the sacred cows wandering loose to cross back over the river by its iron suspension bridge.
Rishikesh has been a popular destination for Western tourists looking to study yoga or meditation since The Beatles stayed at an ashram there in 1968 and composed several songs for their White Album.
Every evening before sunset it holds a Ganga Aarti, a ceremony blessing the river that is seen as giving life to the country. The swarmi (spiritual leader) from the ashram led the singing, chanting and fire rituals on steps on the eastern bank of the river. This was a much more colourful ceremony than the one
I had witnessed the night before at Haridwar – another ancient city an hour south of Rishikesh – where hundreds of men, women and children took dips in the icy waters of the river before casting off tiny flickering lamps and garlands of flowers as the sun went down.
We stayed at the Godwin Hotel, halfway between the two cities, which has clean, comfortable rooms and a good restaurant offering buffet dinners.
Heading south, a day’s travel by coach and plane took us to Kerala, which feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of the cities in the north. On the south-west tip of India, the state has a Communist government and proudly boasts its 100 per cent literacy rate, with children enjoying free schooling, uniforms and meals.
We stayed at the fabulous Uday Samudra Hotel at Kovalam Beach on the Arabian Sea, which prepares lavish buffets for breakfast and dinner, with masala dosas (pancakes wrapped around curried potatoes) setting the taste buds dancing.
A short drive inland took us to the International Sivananda Yoga Ashram, set in 12 acres of tropical splendour, for my second yoga class. In keeping with the laid-back approach to life in Kerala, this was a much more relaxing experience than trying to bend over backwards in Rishikesh, with our teacher taking us through a series of gentle stretches that left me feeling blissfully at ease.
A houseboat cruise along the famed backwaters is a must if you are in Kerala. The backwaters are a labyrinth of canals and rivers once used to transport rice and spices before roads were built. A gentle three-hour cruise took us on to Lake Vembanad, the longest lake in India, before we were dropped off at the wonderful Lakesong hotel.
As I flew home from Delhi, I vowed it wouldn’t be long until I returned for another magical tour.
For further information on Indian tourism, visit incredibleindia.org.
Idyllic Phi Phi Village Island Resort
Too old for backpacking and without the time to really explore the country, is it worth going all the way to Thailand for a lazy, week-long beach holiday? If you head to the islands to the south-west of the country, the answer is undoubtedly yes.
We gave bustling Bangkok city a miss, flying in and straight out again to Phuket.
The country’s largest island is a tourist hot spot with plenty of attractions, beaches, bars and accommodation to suit every budget.
Surin Beach, however, is quiet and tranquil. A 45-minute drive from Phuket airport, it’s a beautiful stretch of golden sand fringed with palm trees and waves big enough to surf on. Buy a freshly hewn coconut or a beer from one of the vendors for a few baht (outside hotels, eating and drinking in Thailand is phenomenally good value), lie back and unwind.
The Manathai Surin Phuket hotel is just across the road and is sleek, stylish and welcoming. Its two elegant pools are small but never felt crowded, and in the evenings we enjoyed a cocktail at the front of the hotel.
The buffet breakfast is excellent but the jewel in the hotel’s crown is its Pad Thai restaurant, which serves innovative twists on the country’s national dish plus a wide range of other delectable options.
There’s a small neighbouring village with enough eating and drinking establishments
to keep you occupied for a few days, plus several shops offering cheap but satisfyingly back-cracking massages. However, if you’re after something a little more soothing, try Manathai’s serene spa. I adored the Chillax treatment, which used aromatic oils (unlike traditional Thai massages) and ironed out my knots without leaving me wincing.
From Phuket you can book a day trip out to the nearby Phi Phi islands, but they’re so pretty you’d be mad not to stay for a few nights. The hotel we chose, Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort, has its own boat service that runs daily from Ao Po Grand Marina – the 90-minute scenic journey is completely hassle-free.
Situated on the beach in front of soaring green mountainsides, Phi Phi Island Village is sprawling and has plenty of restaurants and activities on offer. Its 200 “rooms” come in the form of thatched bungalows on stilts which are in fitting with the surrounding natural environment, and even the cheapest are spacious and private.
We found it easy to spend most days floating around the two big, beautifully designed pools that look straight out on to a little beach and warm, shallow, turquoise waters. But if you fancy getting off-site, there are daily boat trips to nearby points of interest like Maya Bay where The Beach was filmed.
I quickly learnt that spas are something Thailand does especially well, and the resort’s Wana Spa is no exception. Set high up on the hillside with stunning views of the bay, it’s a total oasis of calm. Its signature massage uses a combination of Thai and Western styles, which left my muscles feeling stretched and de-stressed, and finished with a hair braid and a cup of sweet ginger tea.
There’s obviously much more of Thailand to see but if you’re after perfect beaches, stunning views and a relaxing holiday, these two beautiful islands are an excellent place to start.
Hayes & Jarvis (01293 762456, hayesandjarvis.co.uk) offers a seven-night b&b holiday at the four-star Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort from £1,049 per person. Price includes transfers and return flights from Heathrow with Malaysian Airlines, leaving on May 21, 2017. Rates at Manathai Surin Phuket (manathai.com/phuket) start at £68 a night in a deluxe room with breakfast for two and transfers.