Deep in the heart of India
From November to March, winter shelters the plateaux of central India from the searing heat. Take advantage of this lull in temperatures to explore part of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, two historic states, steeped in spirituality. This road trip off the beaten track starts in the city of Aurangabad, located an hour's flight from Mumbai. After spending a peaceful night in a cottage at The Meadows hotel, you take your seat in an Ambassador, the definitive Indian car with the retro look.
Your driver takes you to the iconic site of Ellora with its rock-hewn temples. You are overcome with emotion as you explore the 34 temples and monasteries carved into a high cliff face overlooking the Deccan valley. These artistic wonders from the Indian Middle Ages belong to three major religions born in the sub-continent, Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. You will be lost for words as you admire the monumental size of Kailasha, a cave temple carved from a single rock and dedicated to Shiva.
Next day, you set off for the Ajanta Caves, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, two hours away from Aurangabad by road. This spectacular historical treasure makes a great impression on you with a long line of thirty or so monasteries, carved out of the rock, running along a pathway in the cliff face. There are umpteen rooms, all revealing fascinating frescos and murals recounting the life of the Buddha. What a huge privilege it is to see and admire how Buddhist art developed over more than a thousand years.
A three-hour drive takes you to Burhanpur, a historic city founded by the Mughals. A visit to Jama Masjid, a huge black-granite mosque, and then a palace built by the great emperor Shah Jahan, who commissioned the Taj Mahal, reveals the true beauty of medieval Islamic India.
Continue your journey to the heart of Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state in the country and the historic crossroads between southern and northern India. Through the windows of your Ambassador, you watch hills and plateaux of medium altitude pass by. Driving along, you see groups of pilgrims at the side of the road, walking towards the Narmada River, one of the seven sacred rivers of India.
Suddenly, the legendary temple-city of Maheshwar comes into view. In this small devout town, spared by the excesses of tourism, you get close to the heart of timeless India. Sitting high above the mythical river, the Ahilya Fort Hotel offers an enchanting break in a historic setting. Richard Holkar, descendant of the last maharaja of Indore, converted this ancient dynastic palace into a refined hotel free from any over-the-top luxury. Your tastefully decorated room opens onto the main patio of a Maratha building with white-washed walls. Let your mind run free in the shady gardens and interior courtyards of this blissful paradise. This evening, you are invited to a magical dinner beside the torch-lit swimming pool. With the sound of cicadas chirping in the background, you succumb to the pleasure of tasty duck with pomegranate, biryani with jackfruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden.
Early next morning, you set off on a romantic boat trip along the Narmada River, before pulling up alongside a ghat, a broad flight of steps at the river's edge used as a landing place. The beating heart of local life, the river is used as much for ritual ablutions as for scrubbing and drying washing, comprised mostly of colourful traditional garments. The town is well known for its incomparably fine silks. The Rehwa workshop is worth a visit: it was founded by the Holkar dynasty to keep the tradition of hand-weaving alive and to provide employment for women. You cannot resist buying a vibrantly coloured sari and do a good deed in doing so: your purchase helps to fund the local school attended by the weavers' children.
You will no doubt leave Maheshwar with a heavy heart. On the road to Indore, the city where your return flight to Mumbai awaits, you go over every image of this Indian reverie in your mind – it will probably stay with you for life.
The Meadows Resort & Spa
Gat no. 135 and 136 Ellora Road
+91 240 267 7412
+91 11 4155 1575
Thrills and spills in Zermatt in the Swiss Alps
In the depths of European winter, the lure of snowy peaks points you in the direction of the Swiss Alps, by far, the number one venue for winter sports. With 7,000 kilometres of runs and a huge choice of ski resorts, Switzerland promises an exhilarating skiing experience. You opt for the uber-famous resort of Zermatt, nestled in a steep-sided valley. Once you arrive in Geneva, you head to the village of Täsch, where a small, red, cog-wheel train zips up the mountain to Zermatt.
Strolling down Bahnhofstrasse, the pedestrian shopping strip in the village centre, the views in every direction are simply awe-inspiring. No fewer than 38 peaks soaring above 4,000 metres pop up all around you. In the middle of this Dantean scene, the undisputed star of the show is the Matterhorn. This iconic mountain rising to 4,478 metres never fails to fascinate. It is impossible to escape its looming triangular silhouette, sculptured from the crystalline rock.
Before hitting the slopes and exploring Zermatt's vast network of pistes, an electric taxi drops you off at the chalets of the CERVO Mountain Boutique resort. The Nordic-Alpine decor of your cosy suite will make you feel right at home. With your ski pass already booked by the hotel's concierge, you set off for a day of thrilling sporty adventure.
Climb aboard a cabin on the Matterhorn Glacier Ride, designed by the famous Italian design company Pininfarina. The world's highest cable car, using a three-cable system, whisks you up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the highest mountain station in Europe. And the surprise when you get to the top will knock you off your feet! A viewing platform, the highest in the Alps, gives 360-degree vistas over a plethora of peaks and glaciers.
You have reached the rooftop of Europe: breathe in the intoxicating pure air before hurtling down endless runs covered in a pristine blanket of snow. For a feeling of complete freedom, and if you are a proficient enough skier, set off on a black run, marked but not groomed, and leave your tracks in the powdery snow. The Matterhorn Ski Paradise area boasts 36 kilometres of runs reserved for freeriding.
After all this exertion, you deserve to sample the cuisine at the Zum See restaurant. Huddled amongst age-old larch-wood chalets, this Zermatt institution awakens your appetite with its sweetbread and morel mushrooms and its incomparable apple strudel. Then, recharge your batteries in the spa at CERVO, where the steam from the Turkish bath helps your tired body to unwind after the day's intense activity.
Next day, the Gornergrat railway train drops you off at Riffelberg station. You are about to embark on a somewhat crazy experience. Welcome to Zermatt's igloo village! Just like you, 30 or so guests have decided to enjoy a ‘cool' stay in this melt-away hotel-restaurant perched at a height of 2,727 metres. This fabulous experience kicks off with a Swiss cheese fondue on the sunny terrace with breathtaking views over the snow-covered Matterhorn. Soak up the beauty of the Valais Alps as you take a post-lunch walk in snow-shoes. When you get back to your frozen hideaway, dive into a bubbling-hot whirlpool. Lose all sense of time and place in this dreamlike location, decorated with underwater animals sculpted into the ice, then go and sip a cocktail – without ice – in the igloo bar. Your glistening frosty cocoon awaits! A bed with polar-expedition sleeping bags guarantees a devilishly romantic night.
CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort
+41 27 968 12 12
Restaurant Zum See
Zum See 24
+41 27 967 20 45
Digital unplug in South Africa
One and a half hours from Cape Town, near to the peaceful township of Botrivier, a gravel track leads up to Keisseskraal Farm, in splendid natural isolation. You soak up the serenity of the place, which has no mobile phone coverage. Perched on a hillside, your Copia Eco Cabin takes in a tranquil mountain valley. The way these recycled shipping containers have been transformed into wood-clad eco-friendly accommodation is an incredible feat. Inside your unusual solar-powered hideaway, comfort has not been neglected: a large bed, kitchen, whirlpool and fireplace for the cooler months. From the terrace, the immensity of the sky plunges you into deep reverie. With your mind calmed, you set off to discover the surrounding area. Off of the coastal town of Hermanus, you might be lucky enough to spot some Southern Right Whales. To get over this emotional experience, head to Manny's Kitchen, a gourmet restaurant belonging to Manny, a Portuguese chef who cooks up dishes from Madeira, his native island, to perfection.
Calmness, unadulterated beauty and isolation – that is exactly what you will find at the Highlands Mountain Retreat, the perfect place for a digital detox cure. To experience this escape for body and mind, you leave Johannesburg and head south to the undulating foothills of the Maluti Mountains – a three-hour drive away. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park unveils its colourful sandstone rocks and vast grasslands where zebra, wildebeest and antelope prance about. You climb 2,200 metres above sea level up to the Highlands Mountain Retreat. Your luxury camp with its eight log cabins looks out over a landscape of luxuriant virgin nature. Breathe in the crisp fresh air and let go of all your tension. Take in the unique view over mountains plunging sharply into the canyons below.
Feel the need to distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of urban life? Then the Tankwa Karoo National Park is just the ticket. 316 kilometres north-east of Cape Town lies a dry region, the only arid biodiversity hotspot in the world. On its extensive grasslands, circled by the giant Cederberg Mountains, you get to reconnect with nature free from any pollution. And you can forget about using your mobile phone in this wilderness. After an hour's drive along the track, you arrive at the Tankwa River Lodge. You will fall for the rustic charm of this old farm dating back to 1820, converted into an elegant villa with white-washed walls. Sepia photos and antiques add an extra dash of soul to this historic place. On the agenda for your digital detox break are relaxing by the pool, watching the wildlife and dining in the bush under the clearest skies you will ever see.
Copia Eco Cabins
Van der Stel Pass
+27 82 776 0278
15 Hoof Way
+27 28 284 9777
Highlands Mountain Retreat
Golden Gate National Park
+27 12 426 5111