Unlocking the World's Most Exotic Locations

Tiger's Nest

The globe is getting smaller but sometimes you need the experts to help you access all areas. Here's our pick of the top luxury tour operators unlocking the mysteries of the world's most exotic destinations. 

Arabian nights


TOUR Oh So Moorish
COMPANY Gypsian Boutique Tours    
DURATION 18 days
GROUP SIZE Flexible (private tour)
BEST TIME TO GO March to May, when the countryside is green and lush
THE WOW MOMENT The lantern-lit hammam at La Maison Arabe in Marrakech

It’s impossible to understate the magic of Jamaâ El Fna, Marrakech’s fabled central square – a real-life Arabian Nights fantasy where Berber storytellers, medicine men and snake charmers ply their trade. Venture onwards into the labyrinthine souk, where leather artisans and potters line the endless alleyways, and stop for coffee, pastries and a spot of haggling. From the walled oasis of a traditional house in Marrakech to the pristine seaside town of Oualidia, from glamping on the cinnamon sands of the Middle Atlas mountains to exploring Fez, the country’s captivating cultural centre, this tour embraces the sensory overload that is Morocco. Wineries, spicy cooking, luxury hotels and indulgent hammams round out the experience.

Fine China


TOUR China & the Yangtze
COMPANY Abercrombie & Kent    
DURATION 13 days
GROUP size Maximum 18
BEST TIME TO GO September to November, during the warm, clear days of autumn
THE WOW MOMENT Xiling Gorge, the beauty of which inspired ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan

How best to see China, a vast land with an equally vast history? This tour visits Beijing and Shanghai, of course – both a whiplash-inducing mix of millennia-

old traditions and the excitement of the 21st century – but the country’s ancient beauty is showcased in a far more leisurely way along the storied Yangtze River. China’s historical and cultural lifeblood, the Yangtze calmly wends its way through the country’s green heart, past sky-grazing cliffs and forested slopes towering overhead, with peaceful tributaries featuring karst caves and natural springs. This epic journey on a luxury river cruiser, where all suites and cabins have their own private balcony, also pauses to explore the shrines, temples and monasteries in the mystical river town of Fengdu.

Big freeze


TOUR Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent
COMPANY Collette 
DURATION 13 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 32
BEST TIME TO GO January, when all-day sunlight creates perfect conditions for spotting penguin hatchlings and whales
THE WOW MOMENT Crossing the legendary Drake Passage

Antarctica exerts a pull on travellers like few other places. It’s a destination for adventurers and philosophers alike, who thrill to its surreal, monochromatic beauty and eerie isolation. The summer months open a brief window to this pristine frozen paradise on a cruise aboard the state-of-the-art National Geographic Explorer.

See colonies of chattering penguins and humpback whales breaching only metres from the expedition ship. The crashing of whitecaps against the vessel while you cross the Drake Passage is another adventure. But this journey is not all ice and polar animals. Before you hit the big freeze, soak up fiesta time in Argentina’s cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires, followed by a flight to Ushuaia, the planet’s southernmost city huddled between the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel at “the end of the world”.

Time travel


TOUR Jordan & Cyprus
COMPANY Bunnik Tours 
DURATION 17 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 20
BEST TIME TO GO March to May, before the heat of summer
THE WOW MOMENT Visiting Petra by night, when it’s lit by more than 1000 candles

Nothing can prepare you for Petra and no movie or photograph can capture the grace of Al-Khazneh (The Treasury), its two storeys hewn into the sandstone cliff by human hands two millennia ago. Accessed via a narrow, winding pathway through vertiginous rose-hued rocks, Petra is monumental – not just for its carved beauty but also its palpable connection to empires past. It isn’t Jordan’s only jewel, though. On this tour, you also visit the Dead Sea and spend a night in a Bedouin-style camp at Wadi Rum, the stunning desert wilderness known as the Valley of the Moon. In the Mediterranean, Cyprus beckons, too – the island of milk, wine and honey girdled by turquoise waters.

Olé mole


TOUR Mexico in Depth
COMPANY Peregrine 
DURATION 15 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 12
BEST TIME TO GO December, when there’s plenty of sunshine but it’s not too hot
THE WOW MOMENT Strolling along the Avenue of the Dead in the ancient city of Teotihuacán

Don’t mistake Mexico for its clichés; tracing a parabola from the colourful nation’s central capital, Mexico City, to its palm-fringed Caribbean shoreline will replace any misconceptions with vibrant realities. This tour allows you to sample proudly regional street-food specialities (tacos de mariscos in Mexico City, mole tamales wrapped in banana leaves in Oaxaca) and experience the contrast of the country’s modern cacophony and Colonial charm. You’ll also delve into the minutiae of artisanal pursuits, such as weaving and mescal-making, swim in the waters of the Yucatán Peninsula and marvel at the nation’s rich archaeological history at the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán.

Fire and ice


DESTINATION Helsinki to Budapest
TOUR Northern Lights and Lapland
DURATION 22 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 40
BEST TIME TO GO November, the peak time for viewing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis)
THE WOW MOMENT The Northern Lights’ spectral display

Seeing the aurora borealis – colourful streamers of light flaring in the Arctic sky – is a bucket-list experience. But if the famed apparition doesn’t show, there are plenty of consolations. In Lapland, sleeping in a glass igloo for two nights is a phenomenon in itself – you feel like you’re in the open air while staying warm and cosy – and it’s guaranteed. So is being whisked through the snowy wilderness on a reindeer-pulled sleigh. After a flight to Amsterdam, transport of a different kind awaits: a luxury riverboat to call home for the next 14 nights while it floats along the Rhine and Danube, past crumbling ruins clinging to rocky cliffs and medieval villages lining the way to the imperial grandeur of Vienna and Budapest.

Contented kingdom


TOUR Bhutan Explorer
COMPANY Tempo Holidays    
DURATION 13 days
GROUP SIZE Flexible (private tour)
BEST TIME TO GO September or October, to coincide with the colourful three-day Thimphu Tshechu religious festival
THE WOW MOMENT The Tiger’s Nest, a stunning cliffside-hugging temple overlooking the green Paro Valley

It’s known as the Kingdom of Happiness; a quasi-mystical country in the Himalaya where people proudly wear traditional dress and gross national happiness is a quantifiable yardstick. Bhutan is one of the world’s last untouched jewels (the capital, Thimphu, doesn’t even have traffic lights) and it’s where you’ll see lofty Buddhist monasteries, glacial-river valleys sandwiched between panoramic alpine peaks and virtuosic displays of archery, the national sport. Your gross traveller happiness is increased by impeccable luxury hotel brand Aman, which operates five boutique lodges across this magical kingdom. On this tour, you stay at each one, starting in Thimphu and finishing up in the charming valley town of Paro, where your suite is warmed by a traditional bukhari wood-burning stove.

Sensory feast

Spain and Portugal

DESTINATION Spain and Portugal
TOUR Northern Spain & the Douro Valley
COMPANY Captain’s Choice
DURATION 25 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 26
BEST TIME TO GO The end of August, when the summer heat has passed but the nights are still balmy
THE WOW MOMENT Grazing on pintxos in San Sebastián’s historical cobblestoned centre

Southern Spain has Moorish history and endless sunshine but the country’s north has a gastronomic pedigree that’s second to none. Lively tapas bars and Michelin-starred restaurants are an indelible part of this immersive tour, the food competing for attention with the rich legacy of architecture and art in Catalan capital Barcelona, beachside haven San Sebastián and Bilbao, home of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. Leaving the hordes of tourists behind, traverse the green swathes of Galicia on a privately chartered train then board a luxury riverboat and glide through Portugal’s Douro Valley, where you’ll find that the majestic Alto Douro Wine Region well deserves its World Heritage List status.

Tsar power


DESTINATION Moscow to Berlin
TOUR Eastern Europe by Private Train
COMPANY Constellation Journeys
DURATION 22 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 120
BEST TIME TO GO June, when it’s warm but not hot
THE WOW MOMENT The multicoloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square

St Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital, is a confection, its rivers, canals and streets lined with pastel-hued buildings and dotted with sumptuous palaces and ornate churches. The jewel in the crown is the Winter Palace, which houses the State Hermitage Museum’s grand art collection. Moscow rises to the challenge with Red Square, the improbable domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, the Bolshoi ballet and the Kremlin. This tour enables you to travel like Russian royalty on a private train, carving a path through Eastern Europe to visit historical seats of power Kraków, Prague and Berlin. It’s no whirlwind trip, with multiple nights spent in each incredible destination. A tsar will not be hurried.

Monkey magic


TOUR Japan Winter Discovery
COMPANY Insider Journeys
DURATION 14 days
GROUP SIZE Maximum 16
BEST TIME TO GO February, to coincide with the Sapporo Snow Festival featuring enormous ice sculptures
THE WOW MOMENT Snow monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring outside Yudanaka Shibu Onsen, Nagano Prefecture

Bathing in onsens is a year-round ritual in Japan. The snow monkeys outside Yudanaka Shibu Onsen also engage in the practice, spending winter days lazing in a steamy hot-spring pool. On this tour of Japan’s two largest islands, Honshu and Hokkaido, experience the country’s extremes, from the kinetic energy of Tokyo to the quiet majesty of Sounkyo Gorge and its frozen waterfalls. Visit the protected habitat of the red-crowned crane (a graceful symbol of fidelity, prosperity and longevity), cruise on an icebreaker through creaking floes on the Sea of Okhotsk and, of course, enjoy onsen opportunities galore.

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