Luxury Trips For The Adventurous Traveller
A free solo climber in Yosemite Valley, California. Photograph by Mr Mikey Schaefer
How to inject some derring-do into your next getaway (without sacrificing the comfort).
In the way that all trends in the travel world tend to inspire a portmanteau, there is one to describe the demand for holidays that go big on adrenaline without holding back on comfort or civility. We have entered – at a speed that ought to require some sort of harness – the age of the luxepedition.
No longer content only to recline, dine and undertake activities as dopamine-triggering as meandering through galleries or across beaches, the modern traveller seeks greater thrills. And the industry is waking up to the demand, as high-end hotels and operators pop up in the unlikeliest places.
From surfing on a remote Norwegian island, by way of a desert marathon, to the world’s plushest Antarctic pod, we bring you six of the best holidays where adventure comes as standard.
Arctic Surfing, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Photograph by Mr Kian Bourke-Steer/Unstad Arctic Surf
Wetsuits are the new shorts in the surfing world, where a trend for hanging five in ever-colder waters has gripped the sport like icicles on a boardsman’s beard. What began as a way to flee the sharp elbows of the world’s most famous surf spots has become a lifestyle, in which the hardiest surfers journey to the remotest landscapes. The Oahu of winter is the Lofoten Islands, where the waves would freeze if they were much colder. More than 100 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the Norwegian archipelago thrusts into the Atlantic Ocean. Each winter, surfers gather at Unstad, a tiny beachside village that is now home to Unstad Arctic Surf. Their comfortable cabins have saunas and hot tubs in which intrepid surfers can commune under the Northern Lights post-surf. The waves themselves are accessible to all but there is plenty to draw the toughest surfers, who descend on Unstad every September in their wetsuits like a colony of athletic seals at the Lofoten Masters, the world’s northernmost surfing competition.
What to pack
RUNNING THE MARATHON DES SABLES, MOROCCO
Photograph by Mr Erik Sampers
It was perhaps the fate of Mr Mauro Prosperi that sealed the fearsome reputation of the Marathon des Sables. In the 1994 iteration of the multi-day dash across the Sahara in Morocco, the Italian policeman got lost in a sandstorm and veered off course. He ran out of food and water within a day. Soon he was drinking his own urine and eating bat guts in a remote shrine, where his only company was the corpse of a long-dead holy man. An attempt to end it all with a penknife failed only because his blood had become so thick. Salvation arrived eventually with a goat herder and, after nine days, the hospital at an Algerian military camp. Yes, we know, quite the story. Mr Prosperi had wandered almost 200 miles off course, but his legend hangs over the event. The 33rd running of the 155-mile race takes place this April, when more than 1,300 masochists will gather for the starting pistol. Finishers are advised to hotfoot it out of the desert to the new Mandarin Oriental resort, a restorative oasis of calm on the Saharan side of Marrakech.
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What to pack
Polar Exploring, Antarctica
Photograph by Mr Martin Hartley/Eyevine
There was a time when Antarctic explorers required a pack of sled dogs and hearty stores of Bovril pemmican to fuel their adventures. Even today, more than a century after the adventures of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mr Roald Amundsen, the bottom of the planet is a forbidding place, more recently testing the mettle of Prince Harry, and Messrs Bear Grylls and Buzz Aldrin. The difference in their case is that they stayed at the world’s remotest – and perhaps coldest – luxury hotel. Whichaway Camp sits on the edge of the Schirmacher Oasis, a five-and-a-half-hour flight from Cape Town. White Desert, run by husband-and-wife team Mr Patrick and Mrs Robyn Woodhead, South African explorers in their own right, refurbished the private camp in 2016 so that its six sleep pods now boast en-suite bathrooms and all other mod cons a weary explorer might expect. The central dining pod has fur-lined chairs around a lavishly laid table, where Ms Justine Lindsay, former private chef to Mr Lewis Hamilton, serves gourmet meals that do not, mercifully, include pemmican.
For those not happy to simply gawp at the mountainous, ice-bound scenery, a programme of rock climbing, ice trekking, crevasse abseiling, kite skiing and communing with emperor penguins can be arranged. For ultimate bragging rights, White Desert can arrange a flight to the South Pole itself.
What to pack
Rock Climbing, Yosemite
Photograph by Mr Jimmy Chin
The American climber Mr Alex Honnold said he felt barely a ripple of adrenaline when he climbed El Capitan, a near-vertical granite formation in Yosemite National Park, without company or ropes last year. But the preternaturally calm athlete drew the eyes of the world to his mammoth achievement when he became the first man to achieve the feat of daring. Every summer, thousands of daredevils descend on the natural wonder in the Californian Sierras like migrating eagles soaring to new dopaminergic heights. Climbing guides cater to all abilities, right up to those required to conquer El Capitan or Half Dome. Whatever thrill visitors seek, they’re advised to complete the Yosemite experience at The Majestic, the historic hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee) where presidents and royalty stay, and where the views of Half Dome have not changed for thousands of years.
What to pack
Heli-Biking, New Zealand
Photograph by Mr Jay French/Freeride
Skiers first realised the uplifting potential of the helicopter in the 1950s, when Swiss pioneers opened whole untracked mountain ranges in the Canadian Rockies using them. As heli-skiing has soared to become a major industry within an industry, other mountain thrill-seekers are taking off in search of new kicks, keeping the rotors spinning through summer. On New Zealand’s South Island, mountain bikers keener on tearing downhill than slogging upwards access the towering glaciers and volcanoes of the Southern Alps, using Queenstown as a base to journey up to 3,000m and higher.
The London- and New York-based travel company Black Tomato offers a week-long tour from the town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, where extreme-sport junkies can warm up with the world’s highest bungee jump. Cycling routes include the 150km Otago Central Rail Trail, which takes in gold-rush townships, while the biggest thrills await on the flanks of Mount Burke and the Remarkables range. In Queenstown – or in the hills above it – base yourself at the Azur, a collection of luxury private lodges with breathtaking views of the mountains and Wakatipu.
What to pack
Kayaking, Chiapas, Mexico
Photograph by Mr Marcos Ferro/Gallery Stock
K’inich Janaab Pakal remains the biggest name in Palenque, the ancient settlement in Mexico’s Chiapas state. The Mayan king, also known as Pakal the Great, ruled over the city for most of the seventh century. His legacy today is the stunning jade death mask on his tomb, only rediscovered in 1952, and the trail of tourists he still draws to one of Mexico’s greatest Mayan ruins. Much of it is still engulfed by cedar and mahogany trees, and often shrouded in mist, but the rediscovered pyramids and towers were part of what the Mayans knew as Lakamha, or “big water”, a name inspired by the other attraction in town: the thundering cascades of Agua Azul and the jungle waterfall of Misol-Ha. Most visitors are content to marvel at the spectacles but for those in the know, the rivers around Palenque offer some of the best kayaking in the Americas. Where the water isn’t white, it’s a bewitching blue (“Agua Azul” means blue water), and villagers come out to the river bank to watch the bravest paddlers drop between steep canyons and lush forest.
Venturing there requires serious planning and organisation but offers rich rewards. Use Planque as a base, where the seven suites of the boutique Quinta Cha Nab Nal hotel nestle in jungle within walking distance of Pakal’s tomb.