If I could be anywhere right now… With the whole world to choose from, five writers reveal the dream places they want to return to when the lockdown ends
- Joe Minihane dreams of being back at Saruni Samburu in northern Kenya, an eco lodge with epic views
- Mike Maceacheran would love to revisit The Great Bear Lodge – the ‘epitome of Canadian luxury wilderness’
- Sarah Rodrigues has the Four Seasons in Arizona, which is set within the Sonoran Desert, on her mind
We may not be able to travel at the moment but nothing is stopping us from dreaming about the incredible places around the world we long to visit.
This week five of our travel writers reveal the far-flung destinations they would love to venture to after the restrictions are lifted.
The other-worldliness of Casa de Luis in Cuba, the serenity of the Four Seasons in Arizona, the cosy convenience of the Retrome Hotel in Barcelona, the epicness of Saruni Samburu in Kenya and the wild beauty of The Great Bear Lodge in Canada are all in their sights.
Joe Minihane: A sensational safari and the best sunrise
Joe Minihane dreams of being back at Saruni Samburu in northern Kenya
The Land Cruiser skidded over bare rock as we made the final ascent to Saruni Samburu. The eco lodge, perched atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the Kalama Conservancy in northern Kenya, was to be our final stop on a five-night flying safari across the country.
I’d spent days on the trail of cheetahs in the Maasai Mara, watched a black rhino and her calf charge across the plains in Laikipia, and come within arm’s reach of a bull elephant in musth while on a drive through Samburu. All accompanied by experts on endangered species, each one driven by a passion for wildlife and a desperation to see it protected.
Between excursions on the ground, I had flown in a ten-seat Cessna across lakes teeming with flamingos and along rivers where hippos and crocodiles lounged in the equatorial sun. It was everything I had ever hoped for from a safari.
So in my lockdown daydream, I am back at Saruni Samburu, walking to the door of my own villa, marvelling at the way light lands on the rocks but still trying to pay attention to my guide’s warnings about the leopard which often prowl these paths at night.
Life on the edge: Looking out at the sprawling Kalama Conservancy in Kenya
The greatest view on earth: The view from one of the stunning villas at Saruni Samburu
The open-sided villa has the greatest views I have ever encountered, ranging over the plains and up to Mount Kenya. I’ll wake to the greatest sunrise imaginable, while giraffes stroll between acacia trees far below.
Next door is an outdoor shower from where I’ll belt out Beatles hits for the benefit of the elephants heading to the waterhole which sits at the foot of the hotel grounds.
That evening, after a dip in the crater-like pool under a full moon, I’ll sip on a G&T and reflect on the greatest travel experience of my life, rounded off by a night in the finest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
Maybe, when the lockdown ends, I’ll experience the pleasure of Saruni Samburu all over again. One can dream.
- Villas at Saruni Samburu start at £400 a night, based on two sharing, plus a £94 conservation fee per person (saruni.com).
Richard Mellor: Barcelona’s beating heart
Richard Mellor wishes he could teleport himself back to Barcelona
I wish I could teleport myself back to Barcelona last May. Over three days, with the mild sun heating my bare arms and fleeting Mediterranean breezes blowing in, I embarked on rangy walks between the city’s distinct quarters: Raval’s scruffy lanes and street art, the Gothic Quarter’s churches and tourists, and sleepier Poblenou’s architecture studios and new-wave bars playing surf songs.
Following my nose, I’d pause for a sensational tapas or coffee before ambling onwards, thrilling at details, unhurried, unworried, utterly content. Rarely have I been so happy.
The city enchanted me in a way few places have – but crucial to that was my having such a beckoning base. On a practical level, Retrome pleased with its geography: the hotel is near a metro station (Girona) and within strolling distance of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church, Placa de Catalunya, the main Ramblas and, as I discovered, most other things.
It’s in Dreta de l’Eixample, a bourgeois barrio of grand residential streets dotted with shops, pavement restaurants and just enough hustle and bustle. Retrome is a portmanteau of ‘retro’ and ‘home’. Unusually, the hotel is split into two: a cafe-bar doubles as reception, and there are eight bedrooms above; a few doors north past a mannequin shop, there is another townhouse where seven chambers flank a spacious communal kitchen-lounge area and free-to-use espresso machine.
My room was compact (but the bargain price reflected that) and comfy. And I’d lucked out: I had a balconette overlooking one of Eixample’s quadrangles, a patchwork of allotments and palm trees.
Barcelona’s Retrome is split into two: a cafe-bar doubles as reception, and there are eight bedrooms above; a few doors north past a mannequin shop, there is another townhouse where seven chambers flank a spacious communal kitchen-lounge area
The hotel is near a metro station (Girona) and within strolling distance of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church, Placa de Catalunya and the main Ramblas. Pictured is one of the bedrooms
Gazing across that was enjoyable, but so was lusting after that kitchen-lounge area’s carefully compiled, yes, retro design from the 1950s to 1970s – including a gramophone, bubble lights and a pistachio-green Vespa leaning on a wall. In one alcove, original 19th Century crystal tiles evoke the four seasons. The main bar, whose staff dispense local tips during breakfast, contributes red-velvet swing seats.
Checking out was a glum moment. I didn’t want to travel, didn’t want to catch a plane – things that, right now, I’d give anything to do.
- Stays cost from £70 a night via hostunusual.com, or book via retrome.net and a free continental breakfast is included.
Lydia Bell: A retreat from Havana heat
When life gets complicated in Britain, Lydia Bell dreams of Cuba
Pinar de Rio is a province of rolling hills west of Havana, promising a tantalising escape from the Cuban capital’s jaded heat. Rivers and springs cross its lushness and farming villages nestle in the dips of its Sierra de los Organos range.
In the Vinales Valley, limestone knolls (mogotes), moulded by subterranean rivers, spring from the blood-red earth, and tobacco fields shimmer green.
When life gets complicated in Britain, I dream of Cuba, where I was living this time two years ago, and of the Casa de Luis guesthouse in the valley.
A simple stone cottage cradled by a mogote, it is home to Luna, a portly black labrador, a ginger cat, and Luis, a passionate type who, when not out adventuring, can be found, rum in hand, arguing about local politics on his patio.
Before the local town of Vinales was founded in the late 19th Century, the other-worldly valley was home to a remnant native Taino population and a smattering of runaway slaves. Then arrived some tobacco-growing Canary Islanders. Their emerald-eyed descendants still live in the valley, weather-beaten farmers who brandish machetes and plough with oxen.
Luis’s father was one of them. He expected his son to marry and stay here. Instead, Luis sold onions for an ancient neighbour to raise funds for his first typewriter, then emigrated to Europe, working for two decades in Madrid and Paris as a journalist and novelist.
In the Vinales Valley, limestone knolls (mogotes), moulded by subterranean rivers, spring from the blood-red earth, and tobacco fields shimmer green
Casa de Luis (pictured) is a three-bedroom guesthouse that ‘turns out good food, sometimes hard to find in Cuba’
His family were surprised when Luis returned in 2017 to transform an uninspiring cottage into an eccentrically beautiful three-bedroom guesthouse.
The kitchen turns out good food, sometimes hard to find in Cuba. From the garden there are rocket salads and fruit cocktails, with rich black beans and smoked pork from the valley. Some days, local lamb is slow-cooked on carbonised wood, marinating in tomato puree, green pepper, garlic, onion and vino seco.
Luis’s house has well-thumbed bookshelves, shady seating nooks, rocking chairs and stone-banked vegetable gardens. I could stay there all day in a hammock, eating his food and watching the comings and goings down the lane. I like to watch the locals speed past saddleless in spurs and straw hats on their country horses, shouting ‘Vaya, vaya! No pare!’ – Go, go! Don’t stop!
I’d only get up to hike, or to pop in at my favourite restaurant in Cuba. El Guajani is a farm-to-plate idyll that operates out of a tiny hideaway cottage shrouded in flowering vines amid fields.
Last year, my favourite place on Earth was cosmically validated, too. Better than any ranking on TripAdvisor was the meteorite shower that landed here with a thwacking sonic boom. It embedded the pretty patio at Luis’s house with sparkly fragments of asteroid.
- Cuba Private Travel (cubaprivate travel.com) offers a three-night B&B stay at Casa de Luis for £280.
Mike Maceacheran: We’re going on a bear hunt…
Mike Maceacheran remembers an epic trip to The Great Bear Lodge in Canada
On a curl of wild beach somewhere deep in the Great Bear Rainforest in Canada, a suspiciously smug and plump mother bear and cub were bounding towards us.
At least, it seemed that way. They were on the prowl, the cub tumbling through the sedge grass like a slinky, the mother’s wet snout and shaggy coat glistening in the sunshine. Wow, it made me feel alive.
It was summer 2016 when my wife and I soared by seaplane to land at the stealthily placed Great Bear Lodge. There are no roads in and we were so tickled pink by the prospect of tracking the world’s largest coastal bears that we barely thought about the lodge’s heartstring-tugging location as we skidded across the glassy-calm fjord.
Now, looking back, it’s difficult to overstate the natural beauty on show. There are imagination-haunting forests. Glacier-capped mountain tops. Wiggly fjords. Impossibly pretty beaches.
The eight-bedroom floating lodge – secreted away on Smith Inlet, about an inch north of Vancouver Island on the map – is the epitome of Canadian wilderness luxury. Inside are delightful doubles, all woody furniture and fjord-meets-forest views, and a tastefully curated lounge and dining room on the right side of showy. Sloshing waves and hooting owls provide the evening soundtrack.
Outside are gorging grizzlies, treacle-black bears, coastal wolves and the white spirit bear – the rarest on Earth. Just ask Chris Packham or the folk from the BBC or National Geographic just how awe-inspiring this place is. They’ve stayed here while filming.
On shore, out on a forest hike or canoe paddle with a ‘bear whisperer’, Mother Nature flourishes around you. From scurrying mink to sea otters, the rainforest buzzes with activity.
Arriving at the floating Great Bear Lodge by seaplane. It is the ‘epitome of Canadian wilderness luxury’
You may catch a glimpse of gorging grizzlies, treacle-black bears, coastal wolves and the white spirit bear – the rarest on Earth
Farther up the channel is the Nekite River, where wildlife hides are arranged for watching grizzlies grasp for salmon as they flutter and flip their way up the river to spawn. These hides provide the greatest show on the planet.
Post-safari, on the lodge’s bobbing boardwalk with a cold beer, there’s now nothing left to do. But that’s exactly the point. You look deep into the forest, consider the shadows and shaking trees. You stand on the water’s edge, looking out to sea, spying bald eagles and the arcing spume from an orca on the horizon. You concentrate on every twitch and realise how perfect it is.
- Full-board double rooms cost from £1,400 for three nights, with return seaplane flights from Port Hardy and excursions (greatbeartours.com/great-bear-lodge).
Sarah Rodrigues: A diamond in gold rush land
Sarah Rodrigues has the Four Seasons in Arizona on her mind
Having travelled the world – first as a backpacker, then as a travel writer – who’d have thought the place most on my mind would be a Four Seasons?
It’s not ostensibly the stuff of intrepid journeying, but how many chain hotels are set within the bleached-red majesty of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona?
As a space-lover, the strange tension between social distancing and claustrophobia has sharpened my cravings for some wide-open vistas and vast, uncluttered landscapes.
In 2018, my drive from Phoenix to the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon was characterised by many-armed cacti posing against the sky like yoga students; by arrival, darkness made picking out the details of our surroundings impossible.
I fell asleep with the shutters open and woke to a chalky-pink landscape, deepening with the sunrise. Accommodation features luxe textures, earthy hues and architecture that blends with the surrounding craggy peaks.
One of these gives its name to the Pinnacle Peak trail, which is accessible from within the resort’s grounds – glorious to tackle on an early-morning hike.
Lust-worthy: There are plenty of opportunities for relaxing at the Four Seasons Scottsdale
Accommodation features luxe textures, earthy hues and architecture that blends with the surrounding craggy peaks
At the breakfast in the resort’s Proof Canteen, I found it almost impossible to choose between the banana almond pancakes and the green chilli pork benedict… but if we run, rather than walk, the trail next time, I can have both, right?
Perhaps we weren’t entirely deserving of the treatments we succumbed to in the blissful spa, but after lockdown’s bushy brows and dull skin, I vote that all self-indulgence should be guilt-free.
Arizona’s Gold Rush may not gleam as brightly as California’s, but the rejuvenating properties of the gold-infused Pinnacle Treatment had me glowing in a way I can’t wait to achieve again.
The health-conscious sophistication of downtown Scottsdale’s culinary offerings took me by surprise. But even if I don’t stir from the Four Seasons for anything more than a trek up Camelback Mountain, I’ll be more than content with a meal at Talavera, the hotel’s sublime Spanish steakhouse, attached, somewhat dangerously, to a gin bar. When can I go back?
- Rooms cost from £190 a night and suites from £440 a night (fourseasons.com/scottsdale).
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