It is authenticity, not just blingtastic accommodation, that luxury seekers now crave
More than just a destination
Luxury is no longer just about bling, blingier and blingiest. We've seen all that and, fun as it can be, it can also get quite tedious. Luxury now is something simpler. It can be the simple absence of crowding, noisy humanity; wide, open unspoiled space; the contents of a well-stocked mind that is yours to rummage through for the ultimate history lesson; the simplicity of an expertly thought out new take on a spa, a villa holiday or a camping adventure. Above all, authenticity is the true luxury we crave now: real places, real people and real experiences of real value.
1 History trip - Nile cruise on Sunboat IV The beauty and sophistication of what the Pharoahs of Ancient Egypt achieved renders any onlooker amazed, and there is no better history lesson in the world than a cruise down the Nile, stopping to look around the temples as you go. But this is a trip you have to do on the best boat and with the most experienced company, and thus the best Egyptologists. That way, you avoid the crowds. Sunboat IV isn't quite as sumptuous as the Oberoi boat, but it has that irresistible Death-on-the-Nile feel and, when having fallen asleep to soporific rocking, you wake to the smell of coffee - and that particular clarity of dawn light that makes anyone visiting Egypt reach constantly for the paintbox or camera. Making your way to breakfast, you feel Agatha Christie might walk in any minute. Stepping ashore shortly after dawn with your private Egyptologist, you will have the vast temple - Karnak, Luxor or Edfu - virtually to yourself. You will be back on board by 10.30am to drift down the Nile under a cabana by the pool or in the airconditioned lounge or well-stocked library. Pure heaven.
The four-night cruise, organised by Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com), costs £1,422 (Dh8,200) per person, including flights from Cairo to Luxor, and back from Aswan to Cairo.
2 Safari - Zarafa, Selinda Reserve, Botswana Botswana is home to the best safari camps in Africa, thanks to its natural beauty, superb wildlife and policy of focusing on luxury tourism, meaning vast tracts of land are divided into reserves with only a single camp. You can thus go out on game drives without ever encountering another vehicle - a safari luxury even greater than coming back from a night game drive to find a hot water bottle in your bed. Cognoscenti who thought King's Pool - permanently poised for a Vogue-goes-African photoshoot - the ultimate, should see Zarafa ("the lovely one" in Arabic). On 300,000 acres, owned by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, the multi-Emmy-winning filmmakers behind the heart-rending Eye of the Leopard, this has just four tents. Sublimely simple and utterly luxurious - with never more than just 20 people in all that space.
From US$625 (Dh2,300) per night, all inclusive (www.selindareserve.com) but less when booked through a tour operator.
3 First winter weekend away - The Dolder Grand, Zurich The sweet thrill of signing in as man and wife the first time you go away after your honeymoon is such that you really have to go somewhere spectacular. In winter, with snow on the ground adding to the pristine beauty of its mountain-backed, lakeside setting, Zurich becomes especially appealing. The majestic Dolder Grand, built in 1903 but hi-tech to the max, looks sleeker than ever after its zillion-franc overhaul. On Saturday afternoon: the scarily smart spa. Saturday evening: the Michelin-starred restaurant, then a film on your state of the art in-room entertainment centre. On Sunday, the Museum of Fine Arts, where 70 of Pablo Picasso's paintings from galleries and rarely-seen private collections worldwide have been brought back for a restaging of a retrospective that the artist himself curated - a first - in 1931. Cue snowflakes and happy ever after.
Rooms cost from 780 Swiss francs (Dh2.900) per night, excluding breakfast (www.thedoldergrand.com; 00 41 44 456 6000).
4 Ultimate shopping weekend - London In its heyday, The Savoy could outclass every other hotel in London, home away from home to every star in the firmament from Igor Stravinsky and Fred Astaire to Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Winston Churchill. Next Sunday, it reopens its doors, now under the ownership of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who kept faith even when the refurbishment costs overran by £100 million (Dh580 million). The shops of Piccadilly are within walking distance, Harrods and Knightsbridge a short cab ride and mini-tour of the highlights of London away, past Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park, and when the shopped-out wend their weary way back through those famous swing doors, there is now a frothily light tea room beyond the famous black-and-white tiled (still retained, hurrah) lobby.
Of the 269 rooms and suites, the eight-room royal suite with its yellow-silk-hung walls, £24,000 (Dh140,000)-Savoir beds, Murano chandeliers and perfect Thames view will be the one to bag, at £10,000 (Dh58,115) a night (www.the-savoy.com; 00 44 20 7420 2300).
5 Ultimate adventure - Arctic expedition There is no getting around the exorbitant cost of an Arctic adventure, most of it due to the logistics of getting there, but as that keeps all but the occasional handful of privileged visitors away, then so be it - part of the beauty of one of the Earth's last great wildernesses is its pristine emptiness. The new international company Momentum Adventures has devised a series of global adventures designed to be the ultimate in rugged fun and, for the princeling who has everything money could possibly acquire, its six-night Arctic expedition might be just the thing for a brother or cousin's birthday. Led by a tough team, including a member of the Swedish national rescue team and an adviser to the TV-documentary adventurer Bear Grylls, a small group will cross frozen lakes by sled, sleep in an ice cave lined with reindeer skins, and end by leaping from a Sami sauna into an ice hole.
The six-night trip costs £16,000, Dh93,000 (www.momentumadventure.com).
6 Cultural experience - Nagaur Sufi Music festival The regal, old-school, cravat-sporting 39th Maharaja of Jodhpur - an habitué of Claridges in London when in Europe - struck us as the kind of ruler who likes things precisely so, and thus it is no surprise that the conversion of one of his vast properties into a boutique hotel celebrating the heritage preservation of the region has been a project almost 20 years in the making. Located in Nagaur between Jaipur and Jodhpur, it is the perfect base for the many music festivals of Rajasthan, including the heart-stopping Nagaur Sufi Music Festival (February 17-19). The just-opened hotel, grandly entitled The Ranvas ("abode of the queens" - the king, Maharaja Bakhat Singh, had 10 queens in all), is set in the Ahhichatragarh fortress, whose name translates as the "fort of the hooded cobra". It was here in the 18th century that the maharaja was banished after murdering his brother. With time on his hands, he created first a 12-foot thick wall, then within it a vast pleasure palace and gardens.
The 10 havelis, or queen's quarters, have been turned into multi-room guest accommodation, each decorated with striking simplicity - silks, tiles, daybeds, all plain but vivid. A pool and two restaurants have been created, but in complete sympathy with their surroundings. The first Jodhana Heritage Resort, this will be followed by five other similar, possibly more timely, restoration projects. Double rooms cost from 10,340 Indian rupees (Dh843) per night (www.jodhanaheritage.com or call 00 91 291 257 2321).
7 Luxury riding and camping - Argentinian Andes ride This winter - it will, of course, be summer in South America - the first luxury camp in the Argentinian Andes will be set up in the country's remote Mendoza Province. From the end of December until the end of March, when it will be taken down until the following season, riders will have the opportunity to ride through some of the most varied scenery in the world - mountain lakes, waterfalls, vineyards - before returning to the comfort of hot showers and a blissful bed.
Guatana Camp, 2,400 metres above sea level and a six-hour ride from the nearest road, will be equipped with tents with bathrooms, heating and electricity (even summer nights are bitterly cold at that height). As expeditions (for a maximum of 14) involve six or seven hours in the saddle each day, this is for experienced riders only. The six-night, full-board trip is organised by the Latin America specialists Cazenove & Loyd, and costs £1,270 (Dh7,380) per person, including return flights between Buenos Aires and Mendoza (www.cazloyd.com; 00 44 207 384 2332).
8 Middle East experience - Black Tomato This really is the ultimate way to enjoy the stark beauty and luscious luxury of our own region. First you are scooped up in Muscat and installed for two nights in the coolly sophisticated beachfront Chedi - its slinky interior is a mix of traditional Omani architecture and contemporary Arabian design. With that as your base, you can loll in one of the four very private spa suites, swim in the 42m infinity pool, eat in one of the two waterside restaurants, or go into town to look around the old fortresses and the exquisite Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Next comes three nights camping at Fins Beach - to swim in the sea, climb the rugged mountains or lose yourself in the desert - before coming back to splendid tents lit by oil lamps and candles, with cushions, carpets and bubbling shisha pipes laid out around a crackling fire as you consult the night-sky printouts supplied and the maps provided to plan the next day's adventure. From there you are whisked backed to Muscat, then to Dubai and on to Zighy Bay. With four nights here, you can get your heart pumping with a paraglide, a powerboat extravaganza, or take a ride in a traditional dhow, before having a final, four-hand massage.
The nine-night break costs £4,255 (Dh24,700), including internal flights, from the cutting-edge travel experts Black Tomato (www.blacktomato.co.uk; 00 44 207 426 9888).
9 Beach detox - Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives It is no fun even going near a beach if you can't look down happily on your own form. So. Take a small, remote former coconut plantation in the Maldives, where the only prevailing sound is of the ocean and there is nothing cosier than a storm blowing up. Ring it with Four Seasons' very large, very private, very minimalist villas, with vegetation so completely screening them from each other you get the eerie feeling that the resort is three-quarters empty even when it is full. Add the best, most luxurious, semi-open-air Ayurvedic spa in the world, where nuns taken from ashrams in Bali carry out three-hour massages as if they were sacred rituals. Enroll yourself in the Ayurvedic Immersion detox programme - you can surely feel the pounds falling off already. And if you go with a spouse or family, you can easily do the detox without impinging on their holiday.
The four-night spa package costs from $1,322 (Dh4,855) a night; the 21-night Immersion package is also available and, as ever, for much less if you book through a tour operator (www.fourseasons.com/landaagiraavaru; 8000 65 0561 [toll-free] ).
10 Ultimate villa holiday - Villa Orpheus, Mykonos Mykonos' new marina for super yachts makes arrival on this hedonistic Greek island more convenient for some, but however you arrive - extricating yourself from the little airport or gliding in calmly by sea - it is impossible to arrive at this dazzlingly white Cubist retreat with anything other than a sense of relief. Decorated minimalistically but hung with vivid, oversized paintings, the dramatically stark five-bedroom, five-bathroom Villa Orpheus looks out over the Aegean from a hilltop 4km from Mykonos town. If you want a lot of staff swirling around you, stay at a hotel; if you want staff who plan and tweak, get things just so and then disappear, remove yourself to a villa like this.
Here, intelligent luxury rules. This is one of the properties of the new company Villa Crew, whose aim is to provide an experience similar to staying in a private hotel, but with more freedom and privacy. Dinner on the first evening is provided exactly the way you want it when you are wiped out by travel and disinclined to set off into town. After that, nifty housekeeping is provided - beds are made, washing up done - but staff stay out of sight. The outdoor dining area is shady, the rooms cool cocoons. Any service you need - car, masseur, boat trip or picnic - is available through the lifestyle management company Quintessentially.
"We just think of all the things we would like, and offer them to our guests," explains Katie Freedman, who along with her husband Jonny owns the villa, along with another nearby, and two in Cape Town. The villa sleeps 10 and rents from €5,250 (Dh30,500) to €16,000 (Dh93,000) per week (www.villacrew.com).