The New Grand Tour: 12 Luxury Experiences From Around the World

Pemba Island to Antarctica, luxury cruises to superlative food—this list covers them all.  
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Stay in the Underwater Room at Manta Resort, Pemba Island, and get a chance to get up close and personal with marine life. Photo Courtesy: Sascha Gottschalk/The Manta Resort, Pemba Island

1. Pemba Island, Tanzania

Jewel of the Indian Ocean

Blanketed in green, with stunning sand bars and hidden white sand beaches, Pemba is the jewel of the Indian Ocean. And with sister island Zanzibar soaking in most of the attention, it is rendered exclusive. Dive in some of the world’s best dive sites in Pemba’s plentiful coral reefs. Explore the Ngezi Forest Reserve, home to Pemba flying foxes, red colobus monkeys and endemic birds including the Pemba green pigeon and Pemba African goshawk, or walk through the island’s abundant clove plantations. Take the exclusivity up by a notch by staying at the Underwater Room at Manta Resort. Watch schools of colourful fish, or even an octopus or two, swim by the window of your underwater bedroom in the three-deck room floating in the midst of a reef.

 

2. Douro Valley, Portugal

Bespoke Barrels and Biking

Touch down on the Iberian Peninsula for a week of what DuVine Cycling and Adventure Co. founder Andy Levine calls “couture bicycling.” Roll through the ancient city of Porto, the Douro Valley famed for its casks of port, and little-known backcountry regions like Trás-os-Montes (“Behind the Mountains”) on your private biking tour. Pick grapes with a local family in their vineyard. Taste 100-year-old tawny ports from the barrel and sample local cheeses. Stay at Six Senses Douro Valley, a 19th-century manor house transformed into a hotel (don’t miss the luxurious spa). Ask the staff for their unique tree-climbing adventure program that sees you perched in the branches to enjoy the vistas of the countryside. Saúde!

The New Grand Tour

Oysters served in the Six Senses Douro Valley’s Vale de Abraão restaurant (left); The exterior (top right) and pool (bottom right) of Park Hotel Vitznau, overlooking Lake Lucerne. Photos by: Robbie Lawrence (oysters), Klauslorke (hotel)

3. Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Swiss Serenity

Health and wellness are to 21st-century seekers what hope and glory were to Edwardians—a call to action. Switzerland, with its bracing Alpine air, is the place to start when you need to restore the body and refresh the soul. Stay at Park Hotel Vitznau, a castle-like Lake Lucerne property with an ice grotto spa, two Michelin-starred restaurants, and six cellars boasting 32,000 bottles of wine. Play on 6,995-foot Mount Pilatus, where a special safari could lead to an encounter with the curved-horn mountain ibex, or catch the world’s steepest cogwheel train to Mount Rigi and get schvitz-y in heated mineral baths. Switzerland’s divine. And you’re soaking in it.

 

4. Tuscany, Italy

Feast for the Senses

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The medieval village near Il Borro in Tuscany (right); A spread laid out by the villa (top left); Il Borro’s infinity pool (bottom left).
Photos By: Magnus Bogucki (Food & Street), Photo Courtesy: Ilborro (Pool)

Italy needs no superlative. It is one. Embrace the dolce vita by unlocking the secrets of its cuisine in two-to-three-day cooking classes inside exquisite villas set in the Tuscan countryside. “We organise experiences such as making your own wine—with your own personalised label—and enjoying cheese-making demonstrations and bread or pizza lessons,” says Andrea Grisdale, CEO and founder of IC Bellagio, a cultural experiences company. The villas, Il Borro and Il Borgo San Felice, are a feast for your eyes. The feast for your stomach, you’ll help create.

 

5. Egypt

Adventure at Eye Level

Egypt has attracted travellers since before the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote of its wonders. Ancient Roman tourists even left Latin autographs on the pyramids. Two thousand years later, Egypt’s allure remains. Outfitters such as Abercrombie & Kent can arrange an adventure on a traditional Nile sailing vessel, or dahabeeyah, from the storied ruins at Luxor, which include the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, to Aswan. Stay at the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, where Howard Carter first announced his discovery of King Tut’s tomb to the media and Agatha Christie penned Death on the Nile. Or try the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan, which hosted everyone from Winston Churchill to Diana, Princess of Wales.

 

6. St. Petersburg, Russia

Behold the White Nights

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St. Petersburg defines royalty—whether it is the opulence of Peterhof Grand Palace (left) or the brilliance of the ballet troupes (right). Photos By: Bwzenith/Istock Editorial/Getty Images (Palace), Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images (Dancer)

Summer at this high latitude brings lengthy days and luminous nights, and the cultural capital of Russia glows like a Fabergé egg. During the peak of White Nights festivities in June, art exhibits, opera, and ballet bloom like moonflowers and St. Petersburg refuses all sleep. At midnight, the canal-laced city along the Neva River pulses with life. Nevsky Prospekt, Peter the Great’s grand avenue, becomes part fashion flounce, part dance party. When you finally crash, why not do so like royalty? The Four Seasons Lion Palace, built for Princess Cleopatra Lobanova-Rostovskaya, tucks you in imperially.

 

7. Borobudur, Indonesia

Ancient Wonders

Covered by volcanic ash, jungle, and mystery, the ninth-century Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur slumbered for hundreds of years until 1814, when British colonial bigwig Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles ordered it saved and restored. Today it’s a 90-minute car trip from Yogyakarta airport to Amanjiwo, an Aman resort near the temple site where local children shower you with orchid petals. Rise before dawn for a temple tour to watch the sun’s rays illuminate its spires and the peaks of surrounding volcanoes. Afterward, make your way home through the dreamlike landscape of rivers and rice paddies.

 

8. Antarctica

Exhilarating Exploration

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Expedition travellers cruise past an Antarctic iceberg in a Zodiac (left); The Aranui 5 at anchor off Tahuata in the Marquesas (bottom right); The rotunda of the DalemJiwo Suite at Amanjiwo resort, Java, Indonesia (top right). Photo by: Sven-Olof Lindblad (Antarctica), Photos Courtesy: Aranui, Amanjiwo Resort

Antarctica’s appeal is never its weather, it’s the drama. This inspirational place is, perhaps, the wildest continent. It’s certainly the most desolate, with horizons composed of towering blue icebergs, snow-capped peaks, and immense, slow-moving glaciers. The best way to capture the spectacle is to approach by sea, on National Geographic expedition vessels such as the National Geographic Explorer. On its “Journey to Antarctica” trip, the ship leaves from Patagonia and deploys Zodiac landing craft, which skim along waters where leopard seals swim and take passengers ashore among waddles of penguins, sentinels of the Big Chill.

 

9. Marquesas

South Pacific Bliss

Gardenia and frangipani: even the scent of the Marquesas makes visitors want to linger indefinitely. Herman Melville and Paul Gauguin are two of the most famous travellers who were seduced by the fruited valleys, sapphire bays, and fragrant warm breezes of these remote South Pacific islands. Get there via the unique Aranui 5, a freighter/cruise ship that journeys from Tahiti to several of the sparsely inhabited islands. Crew members perform traditional dances, interpret the tiki carvings at sacred sites, and lead a 17-kilometre hike up a mountain on Fatu Hiva to reveal Instagram-worthy vistas. But, sorry, cell phone reception is spotty here. Yet another reason to consider staying forever.

 

10. Peru

Swell on Wheels

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A bedroom (right) on the Belmond Andean Explorer train; A railroad through the Andes (left). Photos Courtesy: Belmond

Reach for new heights on a gleaming train. The Belmond Andean Explorer chuffs you through some of Peru’s most illustrious sights in grand style. Travel from Arequipa, the “White City,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site, past Lake Titicaca and up to the old Inca capital of Cusco, your staging ground to conquer Machu Picchu. While in Cusco, stay at the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a former convent in the city’s historic centre, which offers suites with oxygen-enriched rooms. At an altitude of 11,150 feet, that’s a real breath of fresh air.

 

11. Australia

Jet-setting Journey

It’s a big continent and someone needs to sort it. Luckily, there are wizards in Oz. The Tailor, a purveyor of custom trips down under, solves the expansive problem with a two-week-long private air tour that can plot out and fly your party from the majesty of the outback and Uluru to tropic Queensland and its wildlife (wallabies and koalas and cockatoos, oh my) to a surfing lesson on Sydney’s Bondi Beach and a special backstage tour of the Opera House. Not to mention a stint on the Great Barrier Reef and a hop to Kangaroo Island’s nature reserves. Be devilish—tell The Tailor to tack on a trip to Tasmania, too.

 

12. Palm Springs, U.S.A.

Desert Sandbox

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The newly revamped Parker hotel in Palm Springs, with its mid-century entrance (top left), staircase with carpeting inspired by the halls of the fictional Overlook Hotel in The Shining (bottom left), and lobby with bold and cheeky decor (right). Photos By: Jessica Sample/Gallery Stock (door), Winnie Au (stairs & room)

Round out your global journey by heading for some R&R in Southern California’s exuberant Palm Springs. The Coachella Valley’s collection of mid-century modern architecture is a throwback to an era of toreador pants and Strontium-90, but it’s also an expression of an unbounded, optimistic time when jets would zip us everywhere and travel knew no limits. Park at the Parker, a glamorous 1950s-era hotel that just underwent a brilliant facelift by interior designer Jonathan Adler, who injected luxe materials and eccentric design elements (spot the seven-foot-tall bronze banana sculpture on the main lawn). Embark on a tour of ritzy homes, including Frank Sinatra’s dazzling digs. On this new grand tour, you did it your way. Head home happy.

  • Andrew Nelson is National Geographic Traveler's (U.S.) Editor-at-Large and has travelled the U.S.A. in search of great tastes.

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