Seven Magical Destinations

Set 2007 off to a fantastic, unforgettable start, and spend it somewhere truly inspirational. Nic Havers, has discovered seven divine destinations.

By Nic Havers on 11 January 2007 in Travel Articles

Forget Old Lang’s Syne and other New Years’ celebrations.  Set the year off to a fantastic, unforgettable start, and spend it somewhere truly inspirational.  Travel writer, Nic Havers, has discovered seven divine destinations where the magic of the place makes it so unique you’ll be left with a lasting impression for years to come. 

1. Zahra, Tulum, Mexico – surely the sexiest resort on earth  For the pleasures of barefoot luxury, nature, and absolute relaxation, you should head to Zahra, an eco-chic resort three miles south of Tulum on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.  Zahra’s scenery imparts a magic-realism: the wild beach has sand as soft as flour. There is the ancient Mayan temples of Tulum or you could simply take an afternoon swim in the exorbitant turquoise of the Caribbean and then make love on a blanket beneath the coconut fronds.    A shaman can offer a cosmic wedding ceremony to unite a couple, or you can discover new ways of living through dawn yoga, lucid dreaming courses or purify yourself with a temazcal (Mayan sweat lodge).  The lady in your life can experience the traditional Mayan therapy of having her entire body covered in locally-grown chocolate (known for its potent aphrodisiac qualities), in preparation for an unforgettable night of passion.   Traditional Mayan food, lime soup and some impossibly sexy Yucatecan dishes (best eaten with the fingers) are served by candlelight at heart-shaped tables.  Paths lined with candles exhaling incense lead through the moonlit jungle to isolated cabanas, raised on stilts above the beach, and furnished with huge beds of billowing sheets.  Passion, love and beauty are everywhere.  Zahra,  telephone 00 1 604 628 7077 or  

2. Collioure, France – a fantastic splash of colour for the New Year  It was Henry Matisse, the artist, who said, “In the whole of France there is no sky as blue as the one above Collioure.”  The French town, lying almost in Spain but resolutely Catalan, is best seen out of season, when the weather is still spring-like and you can have the place to yourself.  Artists Matisse, Picasso and others developed their fauvist (meaning ‘wild beasts’) style of painting in the town, utilising intensely vivid, contrasting colours and simplified shapes.    This little town tumbles down the hillside in a splash of colours, wedged into the Cote Vermeille – or Vermillion Coast, named after the purplish-red rocks.  The outdoor markets sell all manner of local produce – fat, freshly-landed oysters from Cap Leucate, huge bulbs of garlic, paper cones of sardines.  The town is framed by the extraordinary church of Notre Dame des Anges, built in Mediterranean Gothic style.  A wander around the quayside at dusk reveals anchors, fishing nets and a thriving fishing industry. The feeling here is one of stepping back to yesteryear in the cobbled streets and artist’s shops.  You can in fact walk much of the spectacular Cote Vermeille from here, the footpath plunging to isolated coves and fishing towns all the way to Spain.  This is the perfect place to discover the French joie du vivre – or joy of living.  Stay in either an isolated country mas or a painter’s cottage in town, booked through Maison Let France, telephone 00 33 633 309 038.  Ryanair fly to Perpignan from London Stansted.  For tourist information, contact:

3. Nordic Light Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden – the ‘coolest’ place to spend New Year   Stockholm, nicknamed Venice of the North, asserts its charm most of all during the winter, when it’s cold but bright and many of the waterways freeze and can be skated or walked upon, affording a totally different perspective of one of Europe’s arguably most beautiful cities.     Jump aboard an old steam boat which sails around Stockholm’s impressive 24,000 islands.  The cruise shows off the raw, frozen beauty of the archipelago and at mid-day, they serve a hearty smorgasboard washed down with aquavit.     Sweden’s most unusual hotel is the Nordic Light Hotel, promising an exceptional visual experience. Through its minimalist elegance and simplicity, it offers a calm, relaxing environment.  Interiors are stunningly lit by the talents of 'lighting architect' Kai Piippo who decides each month where the subtle, spiky illumination goes according to season and amount of light outside - remember there's only three or four hours a day in winter.   Just over the road is Ice Bar, a vodka bar where everything from the counter and walls to the glasses are made of ice. At minus six degrees, they supply you with fur anoraks and mittens to prevent frostbite.   Nordic Light Hotel  

4.   Lake of Pregnant Maiden, Langkawi, Malaysia – the ultimate escape from reality  You can imagine mermaids swimming at this remote speck of limestone off the coast of Malaysia.  It’s called the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.  Do like I did and float on your back in the dead-centre of the lake with moustachioed catfish nibbling your toes. That sounds alarming but catfish are as friendly as your everyday goldfish and it’s a strangely soothing experience. 

This lake is a freshwater body suspended above sea level between sheer rock.  To get here, you board a 30-minute speedboat ride from Langkawi’s main island. Legend says that a white crocodile lives in the lake and that any female bathing in the magic waters will bear children.  The lake is named after a fairy princess who buried her stillborn baby under its waters and then gave the island a blessing of enduring fertility. If you look carefully, you may see the outline of hills and rocky outcrops on one side of the lake resembles the shape of a pregnant maiden lying on her back.

A swim in the eerie waters is balm to any winter-weary Northern European’s soul, especially when it’s 31c here, but minus 2 back in London.  Back on Langkawi’s main island, you can celebrate the New Year in style by staying at the Bon Ton village, consisting of seven wooden, individually-painted antique houses on stilts.  They serve Nyonya cuisine, a fusion food blending together Chinese, Indonesian and Thai cooking.   Dishes include laksa, noodles in a spicy coconut soup with seafood, lemongrass, pineapple, chilli and beansprouts. Or there is otak-otak, fish mashed with coconut milk and chilli, served on a banana leaf.  And when you’re ready to party, there are some great moonlit beach-shack parties just a short taxi ride away.  Fly from London to Langkawi direct on Malaysia Airlines, and stay at Bon Ton Resort,

5. Hampi, Karnakta Province, India – history and "to die for" sunsets  You won't believe what you're seeing when visiting Hampi.   Hampi was the former capital of a great Hindu empire in the Deccan plateau. In its heydey, it was a fairytale city with many temples, palaces and the most beautiful of mansions. The city was robbed of all its strength and splendour in 1565 AD when the ruler Rama Raya was defeated and killed by a confederation of Mughal kings.  Today, it consists of numerous shrines and temples that are still an active place of worship. Pilgrims gather outside the Virupaksha temple, built to honour Shiva, in the very heart of Hampi Bazaar  From there you can explore the whole area. The countryside surrounding the small Indian holy town of Hampi, in the southern region of Karnataka, is like Martian terrain. Huge boulders litter the eerie landscape, and ancient temples nestle into every hill and valley. This place is known as The City of Ruins.  Make your way to the hill behind the town and take a seat for a spectacular sunset in one of the most peculiar places on Earth. Or watch it with the monkeys and sacred cows painted pink, at the nearby monkey temple - a great vantage point but only if you have the energy for the steep climb. Either way, head into town when it’s finished and refuel with a 30p curry.

6. Fernando de Noronha islands, Brazil – Brazil’s own Galapagos islands  There are more spinner dolphins and sea turtles than people on Fernando de Noronha.   The Brazilian Environment Protection Agency limits visitors to this mountainous archipelago and national marine park to 700 per day.  Therefore, these islands, lying 340 miles off the northeast coast of Brazil offer a true Robinson Crusoe experience.   Nearly everything and everyone (including UNESCO) on the seven-square-mile main island is geared toward preserving Noronha's abundant marine life and endemic land species.  Beach lovers will find 16 immaculate, deserted beaches, set between craggy sea cliffs and volcanic rock formations emerging from the translucent waters.

 The horseshoe-shaped Ba?a do Sueste and the isle of Cabeluda form one of the most idyllic backdrops, all of it on view from the bungalows and common areas at Pousada Maravilha (55-81/3619-0028;  Whether guests here sink into outdoor ofuro (Japanese baths) on their private decks or onto the impossibly comfortable lobby furniture from top Brazilian design firm Artefacto, heaven is one word that immediately comes to mind. The 12 eucalyptus- and ipe-wood bungalows at the new Pousada Teju-A?u (Estrada da Alamoa, Boldr?; 55-81/3619-1277; resemble upscale tree houses—ones filled with examples of northeastern Brazilian design, such as onion-skin lamp shades and finger paintings of hometown street scenes from Recife Artist Z? Som.
Environmental laws limit fishing in these waters, leading to a shortage of fresh seafood on the island, so the long lines for tables at Ecologiku's (Estrada Velha do Sueste; 55-81/3619-1807) are justified. Sizable local lobsters are served whole or thrown into fiery capixabas (a version of Bahia's moquecas, or seafood stews).

FlyTAP Portugal Airlines fly to Brazil from London,

7.   Tortola, British Virgin Islands – on the pirate trail.Dreams are made in the British Virgin Islands and you'll see why when you take the short plane ride from Antigua, sweeping above gorgeous tropical shores. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the archipelago Las Virgenes after Saint Ursula, who by legend, had a following of 11,000 virgin maids.  Virginal encapsulates the feel of the islands with masses of greenery everywhere .  The Spaniards’ galleons, carrying riches back to Spain, were attacked by Blackbeard and Sir Francis Drake, leaving a legacy of place names such as Dead Chest, Smuggler’s Cove and Devil’s Bay.

There is an absence of high-rise hotels, and the capital Road Town has a village atmosphere.  Our jeep’s registration plate carries the maxim: “BVI – Nature’s Little Secrets”.   You'll hear the calypso patois of long-time residents in the streets. 

The roads are so endearingly steep they make the island feel like a small continent.  At Sage Mountain National Park, you can walk in jungle where you will hear the killi-killi birds and pass elephant ear vines before arriving in a meadow, the sort of place you want to lie down and make love in, complete with stupendous views down to a sea of rare turquoise.   Swim at the sensational Cane Garden Bay, and then stop for conch fritters and homemade lemonade at a caf? before proceeding to the isolated beach beyond Long Bay.  Stay at Long Bay ( and don’t' miss jumping on a yacht around Virgin Gorda island, for its idyllic beaches and challenging sailing conditions. 
British Airways fly to Antigua and then take a short flight to Tortola on Caribbean Star  More info about the BVI can be found at or telephone 020 7947 8200.




jadesmith, USA

Fernando de noronha island brazil, second heaven after Hawaii and Bahamas. Thanks to the deep clear water surrounding the island. It is a great location for scuba diving. Warm water and exuberant subaquatic fauna and flora can be found during dives from 25 to 40 m deep. The life above and below sea is the main attraction of the island. Sea tortoises, dolphins, albatrosses and many other species are frequently observed.

1 November, 2010

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