Bisate Lodge, Rwanda, Africa
Rwanda is the African destination to book for 2018, its supreme wildness finally matched with some super-high-end lodges. Bisate, the newest lodge from luxperts Wilderness Safaris, is our pick. Built on a hill just outside the Volcanoes National Park, with soaring views of green patchwork countryside, are six round, thatched-roof villas. Each has locally crafted matting covering the walls and ceiling, roaring log fires for chilly evenings, and bathrooms with deep, black, oval tubs. In the main building, recycled glass-bottle lights and an emerald tiled bar rub up against slouchy leather sofas with sheepskin throws for cosying up on after dinner (every dish is scrumptious, from the broccoli and tahini lemon soup to the passion-fruit cheesecake).
Take a helicopter ride to Kigali, grab beachfront drinks at the hip weekend hangout New Tam-Tam, where locals dance to Congolese music on the sand, or visit a coffee farm in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. Even more out-of-this world-amazing, though (and the real reason you’re in Rwanda), are the treks to search for mountain gorillas; watch mesmerised as silverbacks breakfast on bamboo, their babies making mischief in the forest. There are also wilderness walks to look for playful golden monkeys, and a nature trail at Bisate with a sundowner stop in the shadow of nine volcanoes. This is monkeying around at its finest.
Winning streak: Wilderness Safaris puts an emphasis on conservation and community, which means you can plant a tree with smiley agronomist Jean-Moise Habimana (you’ll get the co-ordinates so you can find it if you return) and meet villagers who’ll show you how to make local beer.
Go: A Forest Villa costs from £809 per person, per night, including meals; wilderness-safaris.com
Jackalope, Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Of late, Melbourne’s been getting all the love. But for an original Aussiemoon, head to the Mornington Peninsula. Countryside painted in emeralds and olives, fields thick with vines… this is wine country at its romantic best. Adored by in-the-know Melbournites (it’s just an hour’s drive from the city), it’s about to get a lot more attention with the arrival of Jackalope.
Named after a mythical jack-rabbit-meets-antelope creature, this sleek, low-slung building in 11 hectares of Willow Creek winery’s grounds is one sexy beast. Rooms, with deep Japanese tubs and black robes, are minimal and alluring. Other spaces feel as if you’re in a dark fairytale; hallways lit by neon alchemy symbols, and modern art galore. Outside, a space-age spa ‘geode’ sits next to a black infinity pool – the spot to sip Pinot Noir at sundown.
There are two equally impressive restaurants: the barnyard-feel Rare Hare, serving plates of heirloom tomato, peach and whipped feta, and Doot Doot Doot for Aussie-fusion fine dining. Visit wind-lashed beaches, go winery-hopping or hit the hot springs, before returning to Flaggerdoot bar for cocktails made with spirits you’ve never heard of. Never boring, rather bonkers and utterly brilliant.
Winning streak: From the one-off interiors to the 23ft-high jackalope sculpture by Emily Floyd and chemistry-lab artwork by Rolf Sachs, a stay here is as close to bedding down in a contemporary art gallery as you’ll get.
Go: A Terrace Room costs from £370 per night, B&B; jackalopehotels.com. Etihad Airways offers return flights from London Heathrow from £696.
Most hotels can’t claim a National Park as their garden. But hidden amongst lush forest and pink granite monoliths in Núi Chúa National Park sit Amanoi’s 31 smart pavillions. High on a cliff above the azure waters of the East Sea, only birds intrude on your seclusion, whether you opt for a villa with lake, jungle or ocean views. You might be tempted beyond this enchanted realm by local fishing villages, whose colourful boats chug back with their catch each morning, or a nearby complex of 13th-century temples, but most pleasures are found within the property’s grounds and private beach. Bracing hikes come in the form of scrambling over cliffs on coastal walks, and steep climbs to Goga Peak for sunrise.
Venture from your in-villa pool to the tranquil cliff pool for al-fresco movies and Margaritas on balmy nights. Or spend days at the spa, set by a lotus-flower-filled lake – a tranquil environment for tailor-made programmes by the delightful Dr Lucas, resident doctor of oriental medicine. Not to be missed is the Sacred Cham dinner, a six-course feast (ours included succulent marinated octopus) at a candle-lit jungle spot, followed by a mystic ritual with a Cham master, who serenades the spirits to bless your life ahead. Go with an open mind – it’s a magical experience.
Winning streak: The location – in the very epicentre of the jungle. Wild-at-heart couples are sure to flourish here.
GO: Turquoise offers seven nights in a Lake Pavilion from £2,450 per person, B&B, including flights and transfers.
Alila Fort Bishangarh, Rajasthan, India
If you’re lucky, once in your life you find a hotel that is so special, you want to keep it a closely guarded secret. Alila Fort Bishangarh is such a place. While Rajasthan isn’t short of heritage hotels, we can think of at least two reasons to choose this one.
First, the fact that it’s said to be the only warrior fort that has been converted into a resort. Second, its location – an hour and a half from the pink capital of Jaipur, but in a remote, untouched slice of the countryside off the well-trodden Golden Triangle circuit. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the rolling Aravalli Range, this 230-year-old pile has been rescued, restored and revived by Alila and its crack team of architects and artisans, and turned into a knockout: 59 suites that unfold over quirky nooks and crannies, with ornamental latticed jaalis and scalloped arches. Heritage rooms, where romantic jharokha-style windows frame the temple-speckled landscape, are most special.
There are four restaurants and bars, including Nazaara, which serves Rajput fare cooked in a fire pit, but all you’ll want to do is head to the pool to sip Champagne while admiring the fort in all its glory, under the sunset’s pink and orange hues.
Winning streak: The hotel’s stylish subterranean spa which, carved out of the fort’s foundations, showcases the original – now artfully lit – stone walls.
Go: Audley Travel offers seven nights, with three nights in Alila Fort Bishangarh, from £2,945 per person, B&B, including flights and a private car with a driver and a guide.
Awasi Iguazú, Argentina
Love’s course doesn’t always run smooth. Legend tells that an ancient god created the Iguazú Falls – which thunder down at 10,000 cubic metres a second – to eternally disrupt the path of a beautiful young maiden who spurned him for another lover. Flash forward to 2018 and you can enjoy the thrill of the Falls first-hand without any drama – thanks to Argentinian jungle retreat Awasi Iguazú.
This boutique bolthole from adventure-luxe gurus Awasi, located just 15 minutes from the Falls, is so new, you can still smell the freshly cut pine. Aromatic wood has been used almost everywhere, giving the place – and its 14 stilted villas – a robust safari-lodge grandeur. The restaurant is a classy affair with an imposing bar forged from one gigantic hunk of guayubira wood. Pull up a stool, listen to tropical rain clattering on the tin roof and enjoy Pinot Noir and succulent steak, followed by crème caramel with a pineapple and ginger syrup. You’ll need to keep your strength up for hiking and kayaking in the Alto Paraná Atlantic forests, home to alligators, tapirs and toucans (or, each room comes with its own 4WD and guide, so load the car with snacks and head off on a four-wheeled adventure instead). Back at base, walk back through steamy copses of guava and bamboo to your villa and plunge pool. Sup something cold, dive in, and while away hours watching butterflies flit overhead.
Winning streak: Awasi Iguazu has just secured exclusive access to the Iguazu Falls, thrice-weekly, before they officially open, meaning you can enjoy one of the seven natural wonders of the world – without the crowds.
Go: Double Villas at Awasi Iguazú cost from £1,486pp for two nights, all inclusive with private guide and 4WD, all exursions and airport transfers. TAP Air Portugal offers return flights from London to Sao Paulo via Lisbon, from £557
Chablé Resort and Spa, Mexico
A restored 19th-century hacienda and clutch of casitas in 750 acres of jungle just outside of Mérida, Chablé is the game-changing retreat causing a stir
in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Gardens stuffed with palms and exotic blooms provide the backdrop for boho-chic casitas, discreetly divided by lush vegetation – meaning midnight lantern-lit dips in private infinity pools beckon. So far, so tropical. What’s so special? Here, wellness takes centre stage; the spa is one of the few in the world built around a natural spring-fed cenote – a cave system filled with fresh water, considered sacred by the Mayans. Treatments harness ancient techniques and are
ideal for post-wedding rejuvenation.
There’s a steam room, salt cabin, flotarium, whirlpools and meditation sessions, too. But it’s not just for spa junkies; hotshot chef Jorge Vallejo of Mexico City’s renowned Quintonil oversees the food: hello, breakfasts of avo toast topped with Tabasco pepper, and a la cazuela eggs in pea cream and local cheese. Whether chilling in pillow-stuffed ‘nests’ hanging from ceiba trees, exploring Mayan ruins or sipping tequila at Ixi’im bar (it has one of the world’s largest selections – more than 3,750 varieties), hedonist honeymooners of all varieties are catered for in style.
Winning streak: Chablé is a true wellbeing wonder, where you can try everything from shamanic rituals, chakra therapy and sound cleansing to t’ai chi, Qi Gong and hammock yoga.
Go: Chablé Resort offers casitas from £835 per night, B&B. Aeroméxico offers return flights from London Heathrow to Mérida, via Mexico City, from £548.
Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Sri Lanka
Not only is this offbeat lodge on Sri Lanka’s southern coast a design-lover’s dream, with steampunk-style ‘cocoons’ that look like they’ve been stitched together with 6ft needles – but you’ll also find a menagerie of wild animals quite literally on your doorstep. Rooms have huge four-poster beds, opulent jewel-toned rugs and private decks overlooking busy watering holes, plus a vast copper bathtub to wallow in from the birds’ dawn chorus until the frogs pipe up at sundown.
Keep your eyes peeled for langur monkeys peering into your porthole windows during indulgent in-room ayurvedic massages, head to the open-air restaurant for sour and spicy seafood soup, surf’n’turf (local shoe lobster and Tasmanian tenderloin steak) and tapioca crumble, or sip sundowners as the stars come out and the waves crash softly on the beach nearby. The Wild Martini (vermouth, local rum and pineapple) made us feel all warm and fuzzy. At bedtime, listen out for tiny jungle cats clambering over your tent as you sink into cloud-soft pillows, with a cinnamon iced tea in hand. Expect Sri Lanka’s wildest creatures, and creature comforts, in abundance.
Winning streak: For a real adventure, take a pre-dawn safari in nearby Yala National Park – we saw elephant herds with suckling infants, crocodiles and even a majestic male leopard.
Go: Cox & Kings offers a five-night tour from £1,895 per person, B&B, including flights with Sri Lankan Airlines and transfers, with one night at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, and four nights at Wild Coast Tented Lodge.
One&Only Wolgan Valley, Australia
If you’ve chosen Sydney for your honeymoon, à la Pippa Middleton, make sure you hire a car and do the two-hour drive into the Blue Mountains. Pass tourist trap Katoomba, then wind around near-empty roads to reach the picture-perfect, steep sandstone-cliffed Wolgan Valley.
At the foothills of the mountains is the One&Only, set in its own 7,000-acre conservancy area. There’s trekking to be done up Donkey Mountain, horses to ride around the valley and night-time wildlife excursions to spot impossibly cute wombats, possums and kangaroos. When you want to flop, head to your villa: squashy sofas, a working fireplace and wooden rocking chairs make it feel like you’ve stepped into a stylish Little House On The Prairie set.
Splash in your private pool or hit the spa for a soothing treatment using hit Aussie skincare range Sodashi. Meals are served in the main homestead, which has straight-outta-Jurassic-Park valley views and a six-course tasting menu featuring local Mandagery Creek venison, Oberon line trout and a stellar wine list. Then it’s out for stargazing on the lawn, to spot famous constellations in high definition (remember they’ll be upside down, and you might see some unfamiliar ones, too, as you’re in another hemisphere). It’s the great outdoors, but not as you know it.
Winning streak: Every villa comes with a pair
of mountain bikes, so adventure is on your doorstep as you whizz around the resort’s lengthy trails (a map and walkie talkie are provided in case you get lost).
Go: Turquoise offers three nights in a One Bedroom Heritage Villa from £1,815 per person, all inclusive. Return flights to London
Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador
Eco lodges don’t come much more majestic than this spectacular modernist retreat. Minimalist concoctions of repurposed steel, sustainable wood and sheets of glass place you centre stage, surrounded by dramatic waterfalls, some 500 species of birds
and a thick blanket of emerald trees (the ferns are so densely packed, they tickle your windows).
It’s hard to believe you’re under three hours from the bustle
of Quito, but this is a nature preserve and true wilderness retreat saved from the clutches of logging magnates by the former mayor of Quito, Roque Sevilla. The feel-good credentials of Mashpi don’t stop there; Sevilla trained former loggers to work at the hotel, ensuring that not a single tree was cut down to create it, and he still actively works encouraging the community to transition to livelihoods based on conservation rather than deforestation.
The 22 rooms are sleek, pared back but utterly luxurious, while the vast windows in the dining room give you a ringside seat to watch the wildlife (toucans and parrots are often seen in the canopy) beyond.
Winning streak: The Ecuadorian Chocó is a biodiversity hotspot, making this a dream for nature lovers (you might even spot a puma or two).
Go: Scott Dunn offers a six-night trip to Ecuador for £3,500 per person (with two nights in Quito, B&B, and four nights at Mashpi Lodge, full board). Includes a selection of activities, international flights and transfers.
Taj Exotica, Havelock Island, Andaman Islands
The sand is so soft and white on Radhanagar Beach and the sea so warm and clear, it’s hard to imagine a more agreeable spot for the first five-star hotel on the Andaman Islands – India’s secret off-shore tropical paradise, an archipelago of 325 islands. Taj has hidden its move-me-in-now hotel so well under a canopy of giant mahua, padauk and palm trees that it can’t even be seen from this wonderfully unspoilt beach (known locally as beach No. 7). Yet just a few steps beyond the greenery is one of the largest and most impressive infinity pools ever conceived, suspended above the sand on a vast decked platform. Right next to it, the cool al-fresco Turtle House restaurant serves sensational cocktails and cuisine that fuses Indian and South-East Asian flavours (try the seared pork tenderloin with spiced grilled snapper).
And when it comes to the villas, they’re so spacious that even the preposterously comfortable four-poster beds feel a little lost inside. The friendly, pull-up-a-chair atmosphere of the hotel matches the congenial vibe of the island – at night, locals will happily take you on canoe trips to see phosphorescent light shows; in the morning, they’ll point you to the best diving-by-day coral canyons.
Winning streak: Our prediction? This rugged, unspoilt island will fast become the new Maldives, so get there now before it’s all over your friends’ Insta feeds. There’s nothing better than being a trailblazer, right? (Especially when you’re staying in the only five-star hotel on the trail.)
Go: Greaves Travel offers a 10-night tour to the Andaman Islands from £3,145 per person, including three nights at the Taj Exotica Andamans, B&B, British Airways flights from London, internal flights, boat transfers, temple tour and private sightseeing.