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Travel ingenuity from our island hopping holiday experts

Blissful and Beguiling Sri Lanka

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The first time I visited Sri Lanka there was a war on. Twenty-plus years, 40-plus visits and a beach house later, how things have changed! In 1997, tourists were restricted to the southwest corner of the island – from Bentota through Galle round to Yala National Park. Now the whole of this aptly named “island of serendipity”, is open for business, and what a delight it is to explore.

“Journeys are long although the distances are short,” was the mantra of my loyal driver, Lucky, back then. And he wasn’t wrong.

To get to Colombo from the UNESCO-listed Fort at Galle (only 125km) you had to endure a 4 to 5-hour journey of hair-raising overtaking along an inadequate coast road. Traffic would grind to a halt on the approaches to Colombo, and crossing the capital to reach the airport was a war of attrition.

Now, a sparkling dual carriageway whisks you from the airport to downtown Colombo in 30 minutes and Galle can be reached in just over the hour. The delightful south-coast bays of Weligama, Dikwella, Matara and Mirissa (of whale-watching fame) are in easy reach. The Cultural Triangle, with its ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, and the historic centres of Dambulla and Sigiriya, are also much more accessible.

The hill stations of Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Horton Plains are still not easy to reach by road, although the train is a popular, more relaxing alternative. But once there, the stunning tea plantations and panoramic trekking country make for a magical setting. Sit back in a planter’s chair, sip a G&T and enjoy the colonial splendour.

Pasikudah, Trincomalee and the Jaffna Peninsula were pretty much off limits to all but the brave and/or foolhardy until 2009, so visiting the stunning beaches of the east coast was nearly impossible. Gravel tracks, frequent check points, mine sappers and curfews made travel long and arduous – our worst east-to-west-coast road trip took staggering 17 hours at the height of the conflict. Today, seeing 300 wild elephants watering at dusk in Minneriya National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list, as should the spice gardens around Kandy and the crystal clear waters of Nilaveli Beach running up to Pigeon Island. 

Wilupattu National Park was closed during the war to prevent Tamil insurgents reaching Colombo and Bandaranaike International Airport.

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5 Offbeat Things to do in Niseko this Summer

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As the winter recedes, so do the crowds that throng Niseko for its dreamy powder snow. And in their wake, they leave behind a countryside that seems to slowly stretch out and rise from its winter slumber. The grinding sound of ski ploughs and the whir of ski lifts is replaced by melodious songs of summer breeze and chirping birds. The country blooms all around, unaware of its unpretentious innocent beauty yet not needing the crowds to confirm what it already knows. That Niseko is divine in the winters, but it is in summer that Niseko truly displays its mesmerising self.

It is a step towards the unknown, but curiosity is well rewarded. If you truly want to explore the heart of the countryside, why not take a walk away from the beaten path and indulge yourself with these quirky offbeat activities instead?

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Beat the Rush for Powder: 7 Things to Do in Niseko

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The perfect snow, with adequate depth and powdery white texture – welcome to Niseko, where you can chase your ultimate powder dream. It’s the ideal place to ski, snowboard or try a host of snow-filled activities. From snowshoeing to gliding on your snowmobile, and even water-rafting in spring-time rapids, Niseko gives frozen water a good name.

Its increasing popularity as a ski-destination is further fuelled by the availability of high-end chalets for individual families as well as groups. But don’t follow the crowds. Beat the rush for powder by coming to Niseko a few weeks early to discover what the season truly offers. Explore the winter dream minus the crowds. It isn’t just about skiing!

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Honeymoon Bliss at The Layar

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The ideal honeymoon escape includes a sanctuary, a snug and divine welcoming space to celebrate, relax and appreciate your love in complete privacy. The Layar, located in the heart of Seminyak, hosts the perfect honeymoon villas, right on the doorstep of world-famous restaurants, beach clubs, shopping and surf.  Stay in and soak up Bali’s sun-kissed tropical ambience in your private pool, or mingle with fellow holiday-makers in this l’eldorado touristique. 

Imagine your perfect honeymoon in paradise

A romantic path draws you into the quiet and peaceful heart of The Layar.  Pass through lush manicured lawns and fragrant frangipani trees resplendent with exotic red lanterns framing the entrance to your villa hideaway. It’s the first welcome into a perfect honeymoon setting.

Stepping inside your private one-bedroom villa, the first thing you notice is its outstanding design. Each villa’s slanted ironwood-shingle roof frames a larger space which houses the living and dining quarters.

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Splendid Samui for the Whole Family

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elite havens official launching party - 18-03-2018 (229)

It is astonishing how much the charming tropical Thai island of Koh Samui has changed just over the last 10 years.  Expansion of the airport and direct flights from cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore have transformed the island from a backpackers’ haven to a sophisticated and vibrant resort island with leading international 5-star resorts, fabulous restaurants, and a wide choice of private holiday villas all over the island.

Holidaymakers looking to rent a villa in Samui are spoiled for choice by the Elite Havens collection which offers a superb range of luxury beachfront residences on some of the islands most beautiful beaches, spectacular hillside retreats with jaw-dropping views and palatial pleasure palaces with every  imaginable luxury, available for rent.      

There’s nothing quite like a villa stay for those who want to relax and be themselves among friends and family, where you have the flexibility and total freedom you never quite get in a hotel. 

In Samui, whichever villa you decide on, the relatively small island – you can drive around it in just over an hour –  means you are never very far from anywhere.

It’s an easy island to explore and fall in love with.    

Villa Neung is a chic designer villa with beachfront access to the idyllic Laem Noi Beach – an unspoiled white sandy stretch on the north-west coast, fringed by coconut palms and washed by a shallow blue sea. 

Designed for luxury tropical living, the villa has its own 15-metre beachfront pool, three ensuite double bedrooms and an airy, open-plan living and dining pavilion with stylish Thai-inspired interiors, making it an appealing beach holiday escape for families or small groups of friends.

Villa Nueng - Stylish villa facadeVilla Neung

The villa’s own staff will take care of absolutely everything, preparing delicious Thai and western meals to order, booking spa therapists, organizing tours and activities, perhaps setting up a picnic or candlelit dinner on the beach, and even watching over the young ones while you take a break.

For a change of scenery, a number of rustic beachside restaurants and bars are just a stroll along the beach and it’s only 20-30  minutes’ drive to the chic boutiques, trendy restaurants and nightlife of Maenam, Fisherman’s Village in Bophut and Chaweng.

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