Never mind the Taj Mahal or Grand Canyon – try diving with whale sharks or stargazing in Utah instead. Travel experts tell Lisa Grainger what’s on their bucket lists
1 Sail round Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
This is one of the most affordable ways to see a natural wonder of the world – an all-in day trip from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is about £40. This includes the bus journey (about three and a half hours each way), a boat trip out to the limestone islands and lunch on board. Just book at any travel agent in the centre of Hanoi. And don’t forget your cossie.
2 Lunch on the Isle of Skye
The Three Chimneys is a tiny restaurant in a former fisherman’s cottage whose ingredients all come from the island or nearby Lochalsh. Regularly cited as one of the world’s top 50, it offers a seven-course tasting menu (£90 per person) including oysters, langoustines with tattie scones, crab with green apple and nasturtium, and a hot marmalade soufflé.
3 Camp in the Empty Quarter
Rub’ al Khali, the Empty Quarter on the Arabian Peninsula, is the largest sand desert on Earth. Hud Hud Travels sets up the most comfortable camps surrounded by mountains, canyons and plains. Tents have proper beds and starlit showers (as you might expect at a cost of £730 per person per night), and excursions are conducted on camels for those who want to explore the dunes slowly (or there are Jeeps for fans of air conditioning).
4 Learn to dance in Cuba
Dance company Ballet Folklórico Cutumba offers lessons in Cuban son and salsa in Santiago de Cuba and organises club nights in Havana. Plus, trips around the country can be arranged, trying or watching various dance forms and experiencing local styles of music. A three-day package costs £480 (including flights from Havana).
5 Shop for antiques in Paris
Paris has the biggest flea markets in the world – from the seven-hectare Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen at Clignancourt to the smaller Porte de Vanves. Antiques specialist Stuart Paterson will not only whisk you round the best bits, but arrange for your purchases to be shipped back home – all while you’re lazing at the perfect little Marais hotel, Pavillon de la Reine. Rooms start at £365 a night.
6 Explore Spitsbergen from a ship
Basecamp Explorer’s ship, Noorderlicht, is based all year in the frozen fjords of Norway, hemmed in by ice. Overnight packages start from around £835 per person and while its ten cabins are not superluxurious, they provide a base from which to explore the Arctic wilderness from February until May, climbing glaciers and traversing mountain passes by dog sled or skidoo.
7 Click with the bushmen in Botswana
Jack’s Cap and San Camp, owned by the charismatic guide Ralph Bousfield, are in the middle of the biggest salt pans in Africa, the Makgadikgadi. From here, go with San bushmen into the desert, learning about bush life and traditional lifestyles, or head out on safari to spot unusual creatures such as desert lions, brown hyena, porcupines and meerkats. Prices from £710 per person per night, staying in stylish colonial tents filled with antiques and four-poster beds.
8 Explore the Dolomites in privacy
San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge in the Italian Dolomites was once a 16th-century hunting hideaway. It’s now a stylishly decorated gourmet retreat for private groups, run by a charming couple. You can keep it just the two of you from £1,995 a day or invite friends for an extra £82 per person a day. With mountains and forests all around, there’s plenty to do, from hiking, biking and mushroom-hunting in the forests to skiing – just ten minutes away by helicopter. Or you can just float in the heated pool, admiring the views and tucking into porcini soufflés and wild-boar tagliatelle.
9 Relax in Provence
Stay at La Bastide de Marie: a farmhouse converted into a superchic boutique hotel. Spoil yourself at the spa, hang out in olive groves, then go on a tour with a local painter to discover the spots that inspired Picasso, Matisse and Chagall. From £315 a night.
10 Lie on a beach in Mozambique
Situated on 200 metres of private beach on a protected wildlife peninsula, Pambele is on a stunning part of the African coast, surrounded by reefs, deserted beaches and seas teeming with fish. The fully staffed private house sleeps ten adults and four children (from £3,920 a night all-inclusive) in five wooden, thatched villas, and comes with a catamaran and speedboat for excursions to marlin fish, dolphin and whale-spot, or picnic on one of 100 little islands nearby.
11 Watch glaciers calve
Glacier Bay in Alaska has some of the world’s most impressive glaciers. The only yachts allowed to stay there overnight are those owned by American Safaris. Week-long trips start from £1,154 per person per night. From the intimate yachts, see huge ice walls falling off glaciers, explore icebergs from kayaks and, if you’re brave, take a dip in the icy water.
12 Fly-fish on the Tweed
The Boathouse, a five-bedroomed, self-catering cottage in Northumberland, is not just surrounded by spectacular countryside, but fronted by 1,000 yards of the River Tweed, renowned for its salmon fishing. It starts at £1,000 per week and, for non-fishers, there are fine beaches at nearby Bamburgh and spectacular clifftop walks at St Abb’s Head.
13 Track gorillas in Rwanda
Tracking gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans is the highlight of staying at Virunga Lodge (from £384 per person per night), but its hilltop position, with views over the Virunga volcanoes, shimmering lakes and misty tropical forests, is pretty special, too. There are 10 gorilla families in the area (of the 800 or so mountain gorillas still left in existence); once one has been found, you have just one precious hour to spend with them.
14 Swim with penguins in Cape Town
At the very tip of the African continent the oceans are packed with sealife, which can be spotted from the beach. Boulders beach is the classic penguin-watching spot but also try Betty’s Bay, where you can swim with them too; watch whales and their offspring at Hermanus; and shark-dive in cages at Gansbaai. Stay at the Marine in Hermanus (from £264 per room) or Grootbos (from £94 per room), situated in a botanically rich nature reserve.
15 See Scotland from a castle
Ackergill Tower, near Wick, which has one of Scotland’s most northerly golf courses, offers all of the romance and none of the discomforts of a 15th-century castle. There are turrets; baronial dining rooms hung with flags and bedecked with armour; its own opera house for ceilidhs; four-poster beds with views of the sea; beaches – often dotted with seals – on which to walk or fish. With 71 of your nearest and dearest, you can hire it exclusively from £7,000 a night. Rooms are available from £350.
16 Rent a private manor
Finding a perfect country house isn’t easy, but Eastcourt House in the Cotswolds is pretty close to ideal: a 1658 Grade II listed building south of Cirencester which has been restored over the past two years. It’s furnished with a mix of antiques and modern art, and has a swimming pool and tennis court. Sleeps 14; from £4,000 a night.
17 Stargaze in the Wild West
The western states of America are some of the most unpolluted by light, which is why hotels are set up for activities at night, as well as day. Stay at Amangiri in Utah (from £670 a night), which has a resident astronomy guide and massive telescope, or just over the border in Arizona at the Four Seasons Scottsdale (from £270 a night), where every suite comes equipped with a telescope.
18 Hike glaciers
The Aletsch Glacier in the Swiss Alps is Europe’s longest and largest, flowing from just beneath the Eiger. A 7-night hiking trip takes in breathtaking views from the summit of Eggishorn at 2,878m, and allows close-up experiences of the glacier at Riederalp, staying at comfortable local guest houses en route. From £1,065 per person.
19 Step out on the new Wales Coast Path
The path is now 870 miles long, taking in some of the most beautiful parts of the British coastline. A good start – or end – is the Llys Meddyg restaurant and hotel, known for its food using local produce and foraged ingredients. Rooms start at £100 a night and a three-course meal is £35 a head.
20 Taste whisky on Jura
Right next to the distillery on the island of Jura – inhabited for 8,000 years – is Scotland’s most romantic hideaway. Furnished by the fabulously named French decorator Bambi Sloan, it offers snifters of peaty whisky just a few steps away and dramatic sea views. It sleeps up to eight people and costs £2,500 for four nights.
21 Game-watch on the Zambezi
Chongwe River House is the only private villa on the Lower Zambezi and the most exclusive location from which to see game from the water and land. From the Gaudí-esque house in Zambia, paddle on canoes right up to elephants, drive out lion-spotting at night, fish for the sharp-toothed tigerfish, or just lie by the pool, listening to game trumpet and roar all around. Prices start from just under £2,000 a night for a family of four.
22 Fall in love with palatial Venice
Stay in one of the city’s swankiest hotels. The Gritti Palace’s rooftop suite now has a private pool with stonking views of the Grand Canal (£7,825 a night); the Ca’Sagredo hotel has restored murals in its palatial rooms (from £430 a night); the new Aman (from £830 a night) has opened in a former palace. Lunch at Cip’s, right on the Canal – order cuttlefish with fresh peas or spaghetti with clams.
23 Take over a mini Italian hamlet
American aesthetes have taken over the entire village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro and created the just about perfect Monteverdi: a group of three villas (starting at £4,570 for the week), a chapel, a seven-room boutique hotel (rooms cost from £310 a night) and a farm-to-fork restaurant. Learn to cook Italian-style or simply luxuriate in the fine private collection of art and wine from vineyards just outside your window.
24 Sail off Papua New Guinea
Just off the coast of the remote Raja Ampat area, 5 metre-wide manta rays swim the channels, whale sharks come to breed, and walls of unspoilt coral drop for miles onto the ocean floor. This is the place to which the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace came to discover new species (now in our Natural History Museum), and where the scenery is still as stunning as it was when Sir Francis Drake dropped anchor. The Tiger Blue schooner sleeps up to ten and has its own chef, diving equipment and tender and can travel to the Banda and Komodo islands, too. You and six others can hire her from £2,680 a day or two can share a double cabin from £3,025 per person including international flights, transfers, meals and watersports.
25 Bathe at the top of the Victoria Falls
Just above one of the world’s biggest waterfalls is a pool, which, at low tide, you can only get to from a Zambian island with an experienced guide. With him, you can swim into it, be guided onto a rock at its edge and watch millions of gallons of water roaring over right beside you. Stay at Tongabezi, from £360 per person per night, a little further up the river.
26 Cocktail over the sea
The Rock Bar at Ayana Resort in Bali (rooms from £152 per night) has one of the most stunning settings on the island: built right over the sea, with bar seats set up for optimum sunset views and DJs on hand to keep the party going as the stars come out.
27 Furniture-shop in Stockholm
Swedes are masters of simple but stylish living, and their capital is littered with design shops. Spend a morning with guide Charlotta Carlsen of Smart City Shopping, lunch on herrings, lobster and fine wine at Lisa Elmqvist in the Ostermalms Saluhall (£70), and end the day with waygu beefburgers (£30… yes, for the burger) at the Michelin-starred Matbaren restaurant at the Grand Hôtel.
28 Fly above the fairytale castles of Bavaria
Germany’s 19th-century “mad king”, Ludwig II, built palaces to rival Louis XIV’s in Versailles, and 200 years later inspired Disney. For a fairytale view of the Linderhof Palace, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee, fly in a balloon to see his fantastical creations from the air. A 90-minute ride for 2 costs £166.
29 Rejuvenate in Geneva
The seven-day Better Ageing Programme at La Réserve in Geneva, £3,300, is not just supervised by doctors, nutritionists and fitness instructors, who use science to test your body and ascertain what it needs; it is also beautiful: modern, luxe, light and overlooking Lake Geneva. Rooms are an additional £300 a night.
30 Live like a cowhand in Montana
The Ranch at Rock Creek, in spectacular Montana wilderness, has been a working cattle ranch for more than a century. Expect clay shooting, horse riding, biking, hiking and fishing in the summer, as well as skiing and skating in winter. All-inclusive rates start at £517 per person per night. Accommodation is in spacious wooden villas or canvas tents with five-star comforts – including barstools topped with cowboy saddles.
31 Meet Santa in Finland
The Arctic Circle, just above Rovaniemi, is where Santa has set up his Finnish home – and where children can visit the bearded, red-suited man, tell him their wishes, send a postcard with a North Pole stamp and then meet up to 50 Arctic creatures in the Ranua Zoo, from polar bears to Arctic ravens. A three-night package starts at £588 per person. After a night at the private log cabin Bear’s Den, there are husky rides and a trip to the reindeer farm the next day.
32 Dive with whale sharks
From April to June, the world’s biggest fish converge on the Unesco-protected Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, coming so close to the beach that you can paddle right up to them. Stay at the barefoot luxury Sal Salis (£410 per night all-inclusive), where you camp on the dunes with no one else around.
33 Dance with the Gnaoua
Every year in June, hundreds of traditional Gnaoua musicians converge for the World Music Festival in the white-walled coastal town of Essaouira in Morocco. Most gigs are in the square or on the beach, so the whole town becomes filled with sound: a hypnotic mix of Haitian and Brazilian melodies, African beats and Islamic chants that few can resist dancing to. Stay at the chic Villa Maroc (rooms start at £75 a night).
34 Take children on safari in South Africa
An ideal combination for first-time safari-goers is Ant’s Nest in the Waterberg (no lions or elephant, but there are horses, so you can trot around; £160 per person per night and £103 for the kids), followed by Jaci’s Safari Lodge in Madikwe (from £170 for adults and £74 for children aged 5 to 12; four-year-olds and under go free), which has the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant).
35 Ski in Aspen
The little town where America’s millionaires jet in to ski and snowboard has remained remarkably unblingy. The slopes are wide, the snow is powdery and deep, and skiing is hassle-free thanks to ski concierges who store, dry, clean and transport equipment between slopes overnight, so you can make straight for the après-ski attractions without any distractions. Stay at the historic Hotel Jerome (rooms from £400 a night), with its famous J-Bar (where cocktails were disguised with ice cream during Prohibition).
36 Party with Indian folk-lovers
Every October, groups of musicians from all over India descend on Jodhpur, playing on ramparts, in ornate palace rooms and on platforms on the edge of a mountain in a wild, colourful celebration of traditional folk music. The place to stay is in safari-style tents in the maharajah’s fort, which is closed to crowds at night, leaving it blissfully free for you to explore on your own. A seven-night package to Rajasthan (including flights and four nights at the fort) starts from £2,150 per person.
37 See tigers in Rajasthan
Thanks to poachers and the insatiable Chinese demand for tiger bones for traditional medicines, there aren’t many of these magnificent animals left in the wild. A good place to see them is Ranthambore. If you can stretch to it, stay in the smartest glamp site, the Oberoi Vanyavilas (from £550 per night), where staff look immaculate in cream outfits and coloured turbans.
38 Luxuriate in colonial splendour
Singita Sabora Tented Camp, on a 130,000- hectare private reserve in Tanzania, is where Middle Eastern princes and Hollywood stars go for safaris, Out of Africa style. Its canvas-walled rooms are littered with Persian rugs and antiques; the food is gourmet and served on silver; there’s a stable of horses for crossing the plains; and masseuses to soothe muscles after a hard day. If you’re lucky, the wildebeest migration passes by here; if not, they’ll whisk you off by plane or helicopter to see it. A seven-night package (including flights and transfers) starts at £6,495 per person.
Africa Travel, 020-7843 3500
39 Venture into the tribal heartlands of Ethiopia
Ethiopia is still home to ancient tribes who have had little contact with the Western world. Simoon Travel runs small specialist group tours into Southern Ethiopia to meet little-seen tribes and witness their traditional way of life once a year with prices starting from £3,300 for two weeks (full board, including flights). Accommodation is basic – but with such stunning sights around, who cares?
40 Party like a film star
The most glamorous house on the Côte d’Azur is Le Grand Chateau in St Tropez (yours to hire from £25,000 per week). It sleeps 16, and is just off the Place des Lices (within walking distance of Caves du Roy, Club 55 and Nikki Beach), with its own DJ and 16 metre pool lit by coloured fibre-optic lights for pool parties.
41 See New Zealand by helicopter
The aptly named Louisa “Choppy” Patterson founded her own helicopter company in 1976, and her smart black Over the Top flying machines still whisk guests over some of the country’s most exquisite scenery. Glide over fjords, glaciers and coastlines, stopping for an hour or two of heliskiing or a picnic on the edge of a mountaintop – with an antique gramophone providing the soundtrack. A 30-minute ride starts at £134.
42 Feast on Michelin-starred foraged food
Fäviken restaurant isn’t easy to get to – on a huge estate in the north of Sweden, with an airport a few hours’ drive away. And neither is it easy to get into; it has just a few tables and long waiting lists. But the long journey there is worth it to sample the extraordinary cuisine (fancy birch-sap wine, berry digestifs or roast deer with nuts?). There are six double rooms (from £187), and most guests stay the night.
43 Explore the pampas
From a South American perspective, Patagonia is the end of the Earth – and it feels like it. Arctic gales blow, trees grow sideways… even its mountains are twisted into contorted peaks. In Chile, stay at the Explora inside the Torres del Paine National Park (from £1,716 per person for four nights) or the Singular hotel (from £213 per room), converted from a cold-storage plant just outside the park, and cross the hundreds of miles of pampas and Lord of the Rings-like ice-covered mountains on horseback.
44 Sail the Croatian coast
Anouska Hempel’s private 92ft gulet, Beluga, is equipped with a butler and a chef from Blakes Hotel, and is captained by a charming local sailor who will let the anchor down whenever you want: in turquoise bays, at oyster restaurants, in deserted coves. It sleeps six and is yours for the week for £37,400. Or, for around £1,000 per head for ten people, book the Eleganza gulet, from Sail Dalmatia.
45 Follow Scott to the ends of the Earth
On Silversea’s Silver Explorer – one of the most luxurious expedition ships on the seas – it is possible to reach the snowy world explored by Captain Robert Scott (but in considerably more comfort). Witness calving glaciers and penguins and killer orcas, while taking in spectacular scenery. The ten-day trip starts at £6,450 per person.
46 Drink in the vineyards of Cape Town
Because of the diversity of South Africa’s vineyards – some small and charming, others sophisticated and gilded – there’s always plenty to do around the characterful towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Dream trip? Stay at Babylonstoren, feasting on dishes made of produce from its own gardens (from £258 a night); then luxuriate at Delaire Graff (from £444 a night), with its impressive African art collection, slick spa and private villa pools with vineyard views.
47 Live like a tsar in St Petersburg
The Russian city’s famous Lion Palace, immortalised in Alexander Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman, has been restored and transformed into a Four Seasons hotel under the watchful gaze of the Department of Culture to make sure none of its precious frescoes, marble, elaborate ceilings and impressive staircases is lost. Double rooms start at £236 per night.
48 Sip in the châteaux of Bordeaux
Winemaker Bernard Magrez organises bespoke trips into rarely visited private estates, touring the properties in his Rolls-Royce, enjoying dinners and concerts in private châteaux (including his own) and, from September to October, taking part in the harvest. A 24-hour tour starts at £1,068 for two people.
49 Celebrate with monks in Bhutan
In April, during the Paro Tsechu festival, thousands of devotees flock to the Paro Dzong fortress for five days of celebrations, which culminate in a huge appliqué picture of Buddha being unfurled at dawn. Highlights include festival dances and hikes during the day and nights in quaint mountain inns. The festival package starts at £2,795 per person including flights, hotels and guided tours.
50 Snorkel in the Indian Ocean
Park Hyatt Hadahaa in the Maldives is a beautiful string of villas on a speck of sand, with a pristine house reef and a resident marine biologist. Think Finding Nemo, but with turtles. From £514 per night.