Vietnamese thrills in December
Swap your anorak for something lighter, and escape to the Vietnamese sunshine. December is the perfect time for travelling through this region crossed by the Mekong delta. You will avoid the heat of the summer months and the monsoon rainfall.
As soon as you land in Hô Chi Minh-City you are surrounded by a whirlwind of hyperactivity. You will be enthralled by the energy of the city, formerly known as Saigon. In the midst of this hectic urban activity, explore the city centre where you can still find remnants of France's colonial past. Amongst the monuments of the Pearl of the Far East, you discover the Central Post Office made from plans drawn up by Gustave Eiffel, the Tan Dinh pink church built from bricks imported from Toulouse and Bến Thành market, where you can sample your first phở, the legendary Vietnamese soup. Like a real Saigon native, go pillion behind a Vespa driver. Off you go, for a nocturnal jaunt between Cholon, the Chinese quarter, District 9, an offbeat district dedicated to art, and the Jade Emperor Pagoda, hemmed in between the buildings.
On the following day, make your way to the port of My Tho, 70 km south. Board a sampan, a comfortably appointed teak boat, for a private cruise on the Mekong delta. Time stands still for two days of sailing the old-fashioned way, when your spirit will be soothed by the bobbing of these traditional crafts. You glide through a labyrinth of canals surrounded by lush vegetation. From villages on stilts to floating markets, you can observe the everyday life of fishermen and peasants making their living from a fertile river with many twists and turns.
After this immersion in the Vietnamese countryside, you take to the skies to travel to the Nha Trang region for a seaside retreat. The Six Senses chain has opened a luxurious resort along a magnificent bay fringed by a fine sandy beach, on a mountainside. You will quiver with pleasure when you see your stylish villa facing the sea. Your hotel offers a course in Vietnamese cuisine where you will learn how to make spring rolls. Later, as night falls over the seashore, the terrace is transformed into an outdoor cinema.
Six Senses Ninh Van Bay
+84 (0)5 83 52 42 68
January in the Cuban countryside
During its dry season, between December and April, Cuba invites you to spend winter in its mild Caribbean climate. Air and sea temperatures are on a par at around 26° C, for your greater wellbeing. A longing for tropical nature impels you to leave Havana.
A few hours away from the capital, you arrive in the heart of the island's most beautiful landscapes. You will be impressed by Viñales Valley, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its mogotes, limestone mountains sculpted by erosion, rise up from the depths of a lush valley. Before exploring these dramatic landscapes, check into your accommodation in a Viñales guesthouse. Daniel and Juany welcome you into their elegant home nestled in the valley. This welcoming couple will offer you a horseback ride through the countryside. In the saddle, you can soak in the rural ambience of this corner of Cuba, where time stands still. Amidst the tobacco fields and the sugar cane plantations, you meet peasants guiding their ploughs pulled by oxen. Families hang up tobacco leaves in the palm-roofed drying sheds of their colourful houses. Surrender yourself to the charms of this rustic good life.
It is time to go and breathe in some sea air. Cuba abounds with cayos, small white sandy islands lapped by turquoise blue waters. For your relaxing interlude, you opt for Cayo Levisa, a journey of 45 minutes away. There, there is no vast hotel complex. The uninhabited island is covered in mangrove. Only the 40 bungalows of the modest Cayo Levisa hotel stretch out along 3 km of sandy beaches. When you discover this charming setting, you will pinch yourself. You spend lazy days bathing in the translucent waters and reading in the shade of the coconut palms. Some days, you break out of your torpor and set off to explore the underwater wildlife. Cayo Levisa has its own diving club. A boat will take you beyond the coral reef. At a depth of several metres, turtles, spiny lobsters and multicoloured fish frolic amidst the black coral.
Casa Daniel y Juany
+53 48 796339
Hotel Cayo Levisa
La Palma, Cuba
A steam cruise on the Nile in February
The winter is mild in Upper Egypt in mid-February. Before setting off on a delightful cruise on the Nile, a short stay in Cairo will enable you to visit the legendary sites of the pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza. As you enter the great pyramid, the monumental scale of this architectural masterpiece will make you dizzy. A stone's throw away, you can be one the first lucky visitors the Grand Egyptian Museum which opens to the public in January 2019.
When you arrive in the city of Aswan, the gateway to Nubia, you will be overcome by emotion on discovering the majestic river on which graceful feluccas glide. At the end of the day, why not visit the famous souk, famous for centuries for its spices. You will be intoxicated by its lights, colours and oriental fragrances.
On the following day, climb aboard an iconic boat: The Steam Ship Sudan. This ancient steamship will take you on an exceptional cruise to Luxor, 220 km to the north. Make yourself comfortable on this elegant ship restored in a retro-chic British style.
Throughout this trip untouched by time, your mood will become contemplative. From the bridge of the Sudan, changeless landscapes and rural scenes pass by. On each excursion, you will marvel at the remains of ancient Egypt constructed along the length of this enormous river. Your specialist Egyptology guide will transport you into the fascinating world of the pharaohs.
From the charming temple of Philae, stranded on its island, to that of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the gods Horus and Sobek, from the temple of Edfu, the best preserved of the Ptolemaic period, to the spectacular Temple of Dendera, take time to admire the detail of the bas-reliefs and the whiteness of the ancient stones. Luxor, the high point of this anthology cruise, will reveal the splendours of ancient Thebes to you. A sensation of eternity awaits you at the tall columns of the Temple of Karnak and in the darkness of the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Queens.
Steam Ship Sudan
Holi: Indian colours in March
You dream of a dramatic getaway to escape the winter cold. Destination: the north of India. In March, temperatures begin to climb in Uttar Pradesh, where people are getting ready for Holi, the most emblematic of Indian festivals. Leaving from Delhi, a 3-hour journey takes you to Mathura, one of the country's seven most sacred villages.
Thousands of pilgrims converge at the birthplace of the god Krishna for the arrival of spring, on the 21st of March. Enter the immense Krishna Janmabhoomi complex and witness the folk dances and bonfires symbolising the she-demon Holika.
On the following day, a good-natured atmosphere pervades the city. Jubilant Hindus sprinkle you with orange, blue and red powder. Clad in a simple T-shirt, and your eyes protected by your sunglasses, throw yourself in your turn into this joyful, multicoloured battle. For one day, social rules no longer exist. Everyone is having fun, singing and dancing.
Still dazed by this crazy festival, catch your breath again near Vrindavan, another holy place 9 km away. Gather your thoughts on the ghats, stone steps which line the banks of the romantic River Yamuna, where Krishna and Râdhâ, his favourite lover, loved to walk. Stroll amongst the temples with their elegant sculptures. You will be very moved by the white marble extravagance of the Temple of Iskcon. Just a foretaste of the wonderful Taj Mahal which awaits your visit in Agra.
Uttar Pradesh 281001
+91 565 242 3888