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Dreaming of a faraway Christmas
PICTURE THIS: the snow-capped peaks of a majestic mountain range, shimmering like jewels in the distance. Or a sun-kissed whitesand beach, with cocktails and coconut trees for company. For far too long, dreaming of the perfect getaway has been just that: a dream. But it's December 2021 now, and you're about to make up for lost time. Here, for your consideration, are fi ve faraway destinations that are sure to move you.
It's no big deal that the sun doesn't shine during winter in the Lofoten Islands, because there's still much to see - starting with a spectacular light show, courtesy of the Northern Lights (available between August and April). Despite its location on a rugged archipelago in the Arctic Circle, a three-hour fl ight from Oslo and just 2,400 kms from the North Pole, Lofoten enjoys a relatively mild coastal climate: as a benefi ciary of the Gulf Stream and its northern extensions, average temperatures are above freezing all year. The bad news is the weather can (and will) be extremely changeable. Several islands are connected by road, and Lofoten is an hour's drive away from Leknes, the main town in the region.
Cod fishing is the main event in these parts and visitors can look forward to cozying up to this traditional aspect of Nordic life, especially since the region is studded with colourful fi shing villages. They'll be able to stay in comfortable, converted fi shing cabins (known as rorbuer) and exemplifi ed by the likes of Eliassen Rorbuer (colourful and charming cottages by the water's edge) and Holmen, a family-run high-end boutique hotel where the emphasis is on farm-totable gastronomy. The six-course Christmas menu will likely include fresh krakebolle (sea urchin).
Otherworldly landscapes aside, local menus will feature stockfi sh (unsalted dried cod), a dish that dates back to Viking times, and all the seafood you can eat. The fjords and waters around Lofoten are still relatively unexplored by tourists from this part of the world, but Norwaybased luxury travel company Becuriou has just made it easier by opening an offi ce in Singapore.
Madagascar (the country, not the movie) is the fourth-largest island in the world, lying in the Indian Ocean about 400 kms off the coast of East Africa. This former French colony, with a population of 27.7 million, was once closed to the outside world. Basic infrastructure is sorely lacking but it remains an alluring destination, high on bucket lists and off ering visitors plenty to explore.
It's not too far-fetched to say that Madagascar is unlike anywhere else on the planet. More than 80 percent of the fl ora and fauna here is unique to the island - it was once connected to both Africa and the Indian subcontinent. The country is now a fascinating blend of beaches and rainforests, deserts and highlands, with incredible biodiversity throughout.
From waterfalls and wildlife (there are about 100 species and subspecies of lemur on the island) in Amber Mountain National Park in the north, black-and-white coated indri lemurs at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park in the east and the Avenue of the Baobabs in the west, where a grove of ancient trees lines a dirt road, nature is the star attraction.
Madagascar frequently ranks among the poorest countries in the world, yet it is also home to one of the most exclusive private-island resorts this side of, say, Necker Island. Miavana, a no-expense-spared resort with eye-watering rates, opened three years ago on Nosy Ankao, an island off the northeast coast. Another option on the luxury front is Anjajavy Le Lodge, on a peninsula in the northwest and surrounded by a lush nature reserve.
TRISTAN DA CUNHA
If getting away from it all (literally) is in your post-Covid travel future, allow us to introduce Tristan da Cunha - offi cially the most remote (inhabited) island in the world. Tristan, a small island group in the South Atlantic Ocean, is roughly midway between South Africa and South America, with an active volcano in the middle of the main island. It was named for the Portuguese explorer who discovered it in 1506 but is now a British Overseas Territory, with a population of 244.
Getting to the main island of Tristan (98 sq kms) requires a bit of a trek - or more accurately a six-day voyage from Cape Town. It's so far from anywhere else (fellow British Territory St. Helena is some 2,100 kms to the north) that one of the islands in the Tristan archipelago is named Inaccessible. It does have the same number of UNESCO World Heritage sites as Singapore, though - two of the territory's six islands constitute a wildlife reserve.
Even though visitors will have to plan on staying a few weeks (or months) because of the irregular transportation schedule, there's not a whole lot to do in Tristan, a farming and fi shing community with a 2,000 metre-high volcano as an impressive backdrop. Homestay accommodation is available, and be sure to pack wet-weather clothing as well as a golf set: a cow pasture does double duty as a nine-hole course.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK, BOTSWANA
If social distancing is still on the agenda a year from now (and all indications are that it will be), then you could do worse than plan an African safari. South Africa is probably the most popular destination among Singaporeans, with its luxury lodges and tours that run like clockwork and produce wildlife sightings almost on demand. But if you're looking for smaller crowds and a more old-school experience, consider a stay at Chobe Under Canvas, an off -radar, fi ve-unit tented camp in Botswana's oldest and most biologically diverse national park.
Chobe National Park is located in the country's north, a short hop away from the Okavango Delta where other spectacular safari experiences await, especially during the wet season between December and April. East of Chobe and just across the border in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is also easily accessible. Chobe Under Canvas, one of several lodge options available in the park, off ers a secluded, close-to-nature, game-rich experience - plus all the comforts of a hotel room.
The park, which can be reached via Kasane (a two-hour fl ight from Johannesburg), boasts one of the largest concentrations of wildlife on the continent. Game drives and river cruises will serve up close encounters with elephant herds and predator species. The Savuti Channel, in a remote corner of the park, also attracts impressive birdlife and migrating animals. Make it a trip to remember by combining Chobe with a visit to two or more safari lodges in Botswana, Zambia or Namibia - all with must-see wildlife experiences on off er.
Just before 2020 took a turn for the surreal, Oaxaca, a highland town in southern Mexico, was ranked by Travel + Leisure as the best city in the country, knocking off perennial favourite San Miguel de Allende in the process. This may in itself be a good reason to sound the death knell for Oaxaca, but having outlived conquests and colonisation over the centuries, there's a decent chance that it will survive a 21st century invasion by expat and tourist hordes in search of that life-changing experience.
Rich in scenery, traditional arts and crafts and dripping with laid-back colonial charm, Oaxaca attracts artists and other creatives tired of life in the urban sprawl. There is a distinctive vibe to the place that hipster types fi nd irresistible. Oaxaca also gave birth to the Zapotecs, an indigenous pre-Columbian civilisation dating back thousands of years. There are constant reminders of its oncepowerful presence, with the Monte Alban ruins (dating from 500 B.C.) on a hilltop just outside the city, among the most important of the archeological sites in the country.
The city's historic cobblestoned central district and its many open-air markets have their admirers, but Oaxacan food and drink (mezcal is the home-grown spirit of choice) is the big draw. Woodfi red kitchens turn out tortillas topped with delicious meats, a variety of classic mole sauces and protein-rich snacks like crisped seasoned grasshoppers (chapulines). This is home to a culinary scene that attracts food lovers from around the world, so what are you waiting for?
For more information on Norway and Botswana tours, visit www.becuriou.com. For Oaxaca and Madagascar, go to www.a2asafaris.com. For Tristan da Cunha, check out www.tristandc.com