It’s that time of year again and you’re ready to blow the remainder of your accumulated annual leave. But you’re not just going to use it up. You have, for the purposes of this discussion, a huge amount of money, and you’re going to spend it and your leave on a holiday with real flair. Where, then, can you go for a holiday? Paris is passé; London and New York City are out – everybody goes there, and the two places hardly fit the bill required for a lavish holiday away, unless you love squeezing through bustling Christmas crowds. The same goes for Seoul and Tokyo, both destinations crowded by the Malaysian masses in light of their countries’ hefty tourism push over the past decade.
No crowds, then. Somewhere quiet, uncrowded and replete with all the amenities of a luxury travel destination. The places listed below will suit you more than fine, whether you’re going on your own, with a partner, or a large family.
Sanctuary Olonana, Kenya
Kenya may not come to mind naturally as a winter holiday destination, but the country remains a beautiful place to visit at the end of the year; December’s rains are short, and intrepid travellers have the chance to see newborn animals and migratory bird species. And in the heart of Kenya’s famous Masai Mara National Reserve is Sanctuary Olonana, the flagship property of resort group Sanctuary Retreats. It is Sanctuary Retreats’ most impressive property, a sustainably-minded camp with 14 luxury suites surrounded by lush forests and pods of resident hippos.
The resort’s suites are ritzy in the extreme. Surrounded by glass and walls of locally-quarried stone, visitors will wake to the sound of roaring rivers, animals in the distance, and trees swishing overhead. The experience is by no means an uncontrolled one, however; visitors are pampered by their own room attendants. The suites’ design compliments nature, with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, minimalist decor, wraparound porches and incorporated bedrooms, living rooms, and slate and marble bathrooms.
Guests can also book the resort’s star Geoffrey Kent Suite. Built with clean lines, contemporary style, vibrant art and native materials, the suite features two bedrooms, each with midcentury-modern-inspired furnishings, cloud-like beds and attached bathrooms with freestanding tubs. Meals are prepared on-site by a private chef and served in the fireplace-equipped dining room. Guests of this suite also enjoy their own dedicated safari guide and vehicle.
Rates for the Geoffrey Kent Suite go for US$7,500 a night, with progressively lower rates the longer you choose to stay. The other suites are significantly cheaper, ranging from US$1,140 a night and below.
North Island, Seychelles
A small island in the Seychelles, North Island is no ordinary island retreat. Most guests arrive by private helicopter, and the island’s 11 villas, set on four white beaches, were designed by renowned safari camp architects Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens. Several heritage stone agricultural buildings have been retooled to house a beautiful library, a dive centre and a boutique, besides a thatched lounge, bar and restaurant.
Villas one to ten are all enormous, with two bedrooms each. Villa 11 is slightly larger, however; reserved for couples, the villa was famously George and Amal Clooney’s honeymoon suite. If that minor detail doesn’t impress you, the architecture very well should; the villas comprise a series of open-sided and interlinking spaces that include whirlpool-set decks, open lounges, rough-walled kitchens, glassed-in bedrooms, shuttered bathrooms and open-air showers.
Prices are expectedly high. Villas range from US$8,750 a night, the price tag covering practically everything from full-day fishing excursions, bespoke spa treatments and reserve wine lists.
Deplar Farm, Iceland
If you’re adamant about keeping your December travel destination a wintry one, head for Iceland’s Deplar Farm, one of the most isolated, yet most luxurious hotels in the world. Deplar exudes Icelandic charm throughout, with turf roofs that blow in the wind just like the wild grassy meadows that surround it.
As far as luxury amenities go, the resort has a high-end gym and yoga studio, leading onto a whirlpool and massage studios. Beyond that, there’s an outside pool heated to 37°C for guests looking to gawk at the northern lights in comfort. There are saltwater flotation tanks, a media room with a huge screen, games consoles and movies, plus a bar with a high-quality pool table, dartboard and telescopic binoculars for surveying the surrounding mountains.
Deplar’s 12 elegant and stylish rooms are cozy, quiet affairs for guests to bundle up and unwind in warmth. Hardwood desks, comfortable beds with crisp sheets and super-soft reindeer skin covers, plus large windows that look out across the valley – the rooms serve as perfect winter lodges. Bathrooms are of a decent size, with underfloor heating and grand walk-in showers.
Deplar’s cuisine is invitingly Nordic; pescatarians get locally caught salmon, Arctic char and cod, while non-vegetarians get locally reared lamb, chicken and beef. Breakfast is a relaxed spread of meats, croissants, fresh juices, overnight oats, breads and grains, accompanied by eggs cooked to order and pancakes. There’s an extensive collection of wine and spirits, plus craft beers and cocktails.
Rates are high, yet affordable: US$1,770 per person, per night, based on double occupancy; includes full board, private concierge, full guide service, custom adventure itineraries and transfers from Akureyri Airport.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s December 2019 issue, brought to you by Standard Chartered.