Do you spend holidays with the family or use vacation days? It's a dilemma for travel lovers -- family obligations weighed against the desire to see the world when your absence in the office will essentially go unnoticed. Those choosing travel will be well rewarded to forsake inflated ski and beach hotspots such as Aspen and St. Bart's in lieu of a remote escape that will get a lot more adventure and extravagance per luxury dollar between Christmas and New Year's.
Safari for two in Botswana
Winter in America means summer in the southern hemisphere, so sunny weather awaits in trips run by
, utterly elegant permanent camps in Botswana's Kalahari Desert named after iconic African adventurer Jack Bousfield. From there the company runs mobile safaris that zip you away from the traditional camp experience and into the Makgadikgadi Pans -- alone. Usually requiring a group of up to 10 other travelers, the company recently unveiled mobile expeditions for couples, one of the most intimate wildlife experiences available on the Botswana luxury safari circuit this season.
Uncharted Africa Safari offers stays at permanent camps in Botswana's Kalahari Desert.
A five-night experience is tailored to each guest to maximize game viewing in areas such as the Nxai Pan, Tsodilo Hills and Okavango Delta. Days are spent exploring migrating lion prides and playful meerkats before stumbling upon lavish picnics -- fluffy linens, vintage china and crystal stemware shaded by a giant baobab tree -- arranged by accompanying, but usually hidden, staff. At night, a mobile camp is set up in the wild plain with vintage safari tents -- dating all the way back to Bousfield -- with telescopes and a bucket shower worthy of a Vogue fashion shoot.
Rajasthan is the new Bhutan
Every few years a place like Bhutan or Sri Lanka explodes onto the travel map to become a jet-set buzzword, and the latest "it" spot is Rajasthan. It's not easy to get to: First travelers must get to Delhi, then take a six-hour Golden Temple Train or faster Augustkranti train to Sawai Madhopur, where they discover the exquisite
among the Aravali Hills in Ranthambore National Park. It's worth all the effort -- its name literally means "special peace" -- to get to the 10-tent micro resort, one of the continent's most luxurious wilderness experiences.
December and January are the coldest months; days are sunny and warm enough to swim, but the temperature at nights is near freezing. The resort's dining and lounge areas are made of a series of elaborate white tents formed into an elongated pagoda and holding banquettes and leather-clad directors chairs. Inside there's a nightly dinner service of Indian and western dishes with vegetables from the camp's organic vegetable garden, and afterward guests gather for nightcaps around the outdoor lounge's fireplace to embellish the day's wildlife tales. Many awake at 5 a.m. to explore Ranthambore on foot or by SUV and stalk tigers, leopards and and other big cats.
Billionaire luxury on New Zealand's South Island
Flying over Christmas sometimes numbs the realization you've spent 10% of your holiday in a pressurized stainless steel tube at 30,000 feet. Luckily getting to Queenstown is a bit more tolerable than Rajastan; there's just one layover from Los Angeles. It's here American billionaire Julian Robertson, co-founder of Tiger Management, reopened the famous
in August. The post-and-beam lodges, redesigned by New Zealand interior designer Virginia Fisher, rise in a series over Lake Wakatipu.
Framed by the Remarkables mountain range made famous in Peter Jackson's
Lord of the Rings
films, the 10-room main lodge is made up of a butterflylike design of outdoor decks and fireplaces under a glass atrium. The modern architecture, large glass panels in bilevel spaces and accordion shutters maximize views of the lake and mountains. The atrium allows direct access to a bright and airy dining room. Jackets are required in the evening for men -- if you forget yours, one will be provided.
Recently the owners completed a deal to acquire Queenstown's legendary
, which will make them a force to be reckoned with in New Zealand's South Island luxury market.
Live like Malcolm Forbes, or even better
may be the closest thing you'll likely ever see to Shangri-la. It's on one of Fiji's most exclusive archipelagos -- it belonged to media mogul Malcolm Forbes and is now owned by Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz -- and is the latest name to drop for Aman junkies and Bora Bora regulars who rave of the island's unrivaled exclusivity. The archipelago has its own airstrip, so visitors arrive via a private flight from Fiji's Nadi International Airport. Staff are waiting to usher guests into the six-star cloud of Laucala service. It's no easy task to one-up the late Forbes, who once chartered a fleet of Concordes to fly guests to his Moroccan-theme birthday party. But one-upped he has been, with a David McLay Kidd-designed eight-hole golf course, equestrian stables for long beach rides and a plantation that supplies the resort's five restaurants.
The thatch-roof buildings are nestled below a mountainside of endless coconut trees. The buildings have a sophisticated interior design, forsaken by so many Tahitian and South Pacific resorts, created by London-based Lynne Hunt.Hunt weaves a visual tale for the resort's 25 bungalow residences, which have private pools and outdoor showers framed by panoramic views of the South Seas. Those that prefer more of a social scene can use the massive lagoon-style pool, a 50-foot lap pool capped with a peekaboo edge that almost looks like the real thing. A few feet away
the real thing, including a coral reef and jetty for afternoon yachting, wreck-diving or snapping of underwater photos that can be sent back to mom in a "Happy Holidays" email.
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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.