Tropical paradise at Nihiwatu Resort in Indonesia.
Nihiwatu Resort, Indonesia
Seclusion, surf and style combine to create this luxurious hideaway - the only resort on Sumba Island, Indonesia. Where is it? Overlooking a striking two-kilometre beach and headland on Sumba Island in Indonesia’s remote East Nusa Tenggara province, a 55-minute flight from Denpasar. [caption id="attachment_1655" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Ocean view surrounding Nihiwatu Resort[/caption] Why is it amazing? It is the only resort on isolated Sumba Island, which is best known for its annual Pasola horse festival where clans charge each other with wooden spears and headhunting practices, until a few decades ago.   Set on a 438-hectare estate peppered with verdant rice terraces and grasslands interspersed with pristine rainforest, Nihiwatu has soaring views over Sumba’s spectacular coastline with a world class surf break on its doorstep. [caption id="attachment_1651" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Divine pool area at Nihiwatu Resort[/caption] Accommodation is in 19 thatched roof villas which have been hand-built using bamboo, stone and alang-alang grass, then finished with rare ikat textiles made by local tribes-people.   While the luxury is understated, the philosophy at Nihiwatu is pure sustainability, with room rates used to assist poverty alleviation, malaria eradication and clean water supply to villages on the island. [caption id="attachment_1653" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Inside guest suites at Nihiwatu Resort[/caption] Meaning you can indulge while being assured that your holiday money is going to a good cause. Don’t leave without Walking the length of roaring Nihiwatu Beach, where waves pound in from Africa and the sand is a treasure chest of goodies washed in from the sea [caption id="attachment_1656" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Plenty of beach side activities at Nihiwatu Resort[/caption] When to go May to September for the best surf. Details From $467 per night; +62 361757149; nihiwatu.com
The unmissable pool at La Veranda, overlooking the beach on Phu Quoc, Vietnam.
La Veranda, Vietnam
An idyllic east-meets-west escape, La Veranda overlooks beach on Phu Quoc, Vietnam, while the resort is a 19th-century colonial oasis.
Room with a view at Nikoi Private Island
Nikoi Private Island, Singapore
Ever wondered what it'd be like to relax on your own private island? You can. Welcome to the luxurious Nikoi Private Island, Singapore.
5 of the best English coastal towns
For many, a holiday in a quaint idyllic English seaside village is top of the bucket list. Tick off five of the best Ol’ Blighty has for a glorious British Summer. St Ives – Cornwall The spectacular crescent-shaped Porthmeor Beach is the focal point for all visitors to St Ives, from families with their buckets and spades, to romantic couples and surfers. You only have to stroll along its rippled sands on a sunny day, with the ever-changing light bouncing off the Atlantic surf, to realise why this once busy pilchard-fishing village has become the hub of the country’s art scene.   The jewel of the art crown is the Tate St Ives that stands proudly on the hillside behind the beach. Peruse the works of celebrated local artists like Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron before enjoying an alfresco lunch on the stylish rooftop terrace with picture-postcard views. More of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures can be seen dotted around town and her larger works are on display at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden on Barnoon Hill.   In the heart of town, the fusion of traditional seaside elements and boutique chic makes for an interesting mix: there is a network of cobbled lanes crammed with art studios, surf shops, brasseries and several bakeries selling hearty Cornish pasties.   And although it can get busy in peak season, St Ives remains an essential Cornish tour stop. But, if the summer crowds become too much, walk a small section of the huge 1013-kilometre South West Coast Path for a taste of Cornwall’s stunning coastal scenery. The 11-kilometre stretch from St Ives to Zennor features a series of plunging descents into rocky coves and steep ascents to headlands offering panoramic views of the turquoise waters below. Where to stay Primrose Valley: Stylish, award-winning Edwardian eco-hotel with individually furnished rooms and great sea views, just a stone-throw from the beach. primroseonline.co.uk Treliska: Attractive, modern and relaxed guesthouse just steps from the town centre. treliska.com Best pub for a pint The Sloop Inn: One of Cornwall’s oldest and most famous pubs (circa 1312) has retained much of its atmosphere from times long past. It is a favourite hangout for artists, fishermen and travellers alike. sloop-inn.co.uk [caption id="attachment_42830" align="alignleft" width="1500"] View overlooking Porthminster Beach St Ives Cornwall England[/caption] Brighton – East Sussex Brighton first established itself as a seaside resort in the mid-18th century due to the developing trend in sea-bathing. It cemented its reputation further when the hedonistic Prince of Wales (the future George IV) began visiting the town in the 1780s with his mistress, helping to establish the ‘naughty weekend’ away.   Fast forward to present times and this is the scene. It’s a sunny summer morning and the seafront is abuzz with joggers, dog walkers and people practising Tai Chi, while others enjoy gourmet breakfasts and sip mochas at outdoor cafés. Further along towards the pier, seafood vendors serve mussels, shrimps and jellied eels from their beachside kiosks as beach attendants rent out deckchairs to holiday-makers.   In recent years, the place that evokes images of car rallies from London, beach raves, Mods and Rockers, and a lively gay scene has undergone a transformation – out are the dingy B&Bs and tatty seafront, replaced by cutting-edge bars, classy restaurants, slick hotels and a cool bohemian vibe.   The Grade II listed Brighton Pier is still the place to go for some classic seaside fun with its amusement halls and iconic fairground rides, like the ghost train, helter skelter and golden carousel. Just back from the beach are other quintessential experiences – get lost in the atmospheric maze of streets that make up the Brighton Lanes, once a fishing village and now a cornucopia of designer boutiques, restaurants and antique shops. Close by is the Royal Pavilion, home of King George IV and one of the most exotic, extravagant royal palaces in Europe. Where to stay The Grand: For those with deep pockets, this is the place to stay, where rooms overlooking the sea, old-fashioned glamour, afternoon tea and cocktails are the order of the day. grandbrighton.co.uk   Drakes: This elegant seafront townhouse with sleek rooms and a top-notch restaurant is an excellent choice for that ‘naughty weekend’ away. drakesofbrighton.com Best pub for a pint Evening Star: Tucked away near the station, this cosy gem of a pub (no football, no music and no food) has an extensive menu of award-winning real ales, Belgian beers and real ciders. [caption id="attachment_42832" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Brighton Beach, England[/caption] Whitby – North Yorkshire Much of Whitby’s wide-ranging appeal stems not only from its rich seafaring history and idyllic setting, but from the two sides of its character – one as a working fishing port and the other as a traditional seaside resort. The imposing ruins of the 13th-century abbey dominate the skyline above town where narrow cobbled lanes and red-bricked houses spill down the slopes of the headland to a natural harbour below.   Along the harbour, amusement arcades ring with the sounds of one-armed bandit machines, while the sea air is tinged with the sweet aroma of candy floss and toffee apples. Brightly-painted fishing boats line the quayside where salty characters load off their catch destined for the town’s fish market and numerous fish and chip shops. One of the best known is the Magpie Café on Pier Road, where people queue outside to buy crisp battered haddock or cod, with chips and mushy peas.   Whitby has managed to retain much of its 18th-century character. And the fact that Captain James Cook, the town’s most famous adopted son, completed his apprenticeship here as a seaman (between 1747 and 1755) and sailed from this tiny harbour, is a strong drawcard. Visit the house in Grape Lane where Cook studied, which today is a museum in his honour, and take the pilgrimage stroll to the West Cliff, where a bronze statue of the great navigator stands, for panoramic views over town and the Esk River.   On the opposite headland, the famous 199 steps to the ruins of the abbey straggle the hillside and its sombre graveyard of ancient tombstones. This haunting setting was the inspiration for Dracula by Victorian novelist Bram Stoker who wrote the classic 1897 yarn in a B&B in the old part of town. Fans wanting more can visit the walk-through Dracula Experience on Marine Parade and the tourist office sells an excellent Dracula Trail leaflet to visit some of the featured sites. Where to stay Marine Hotel: Situated in a prime position on Whitby’s harbourside, the Marine Hotel features four luxurious rooms with sea views (two with private balconies) and specialises in hand-picked local seafood. the-marine-hotel.co.uk   White Horse and Griffin: Quality affordable accommodation and restaurant in a 322-year-old building. Ask about the Boat House, a romantic little hideaway over a gangplank in the middle of Whitby Harbour. whitehorseandgriffin.com Best pub for a pint Station Inn: Atmospheric watering hole offering an extensive range of cask-conditioned ales. stationinnwhitby.co.uk Margate – Kent The fortunes of this popular English seaside holiday town have ebbed and flowed since artist JMW Turner produced seascapes here in the 19th century. Tourism numbers dwindled in the second half of last century, but recently Margate has firmly stepped back on the tourist map, thanks to a programme of major cultural regeneration projects. In particular, the Turner Contemporary gallery, which highlights the town’s links with the famous artist and the plans to reopen the iconic Grade II listed Dreamland amusement park in 2013.   The long stretches of clean, sandy beaches and the 44-kilometre Viking Coastal Trail are still the main attractions and the Old Town and Harbour Arm have a distinctive arty feel, with quirky shops, galleries and great places to eat. Open-air live music, art exhibitions and festivals all bring Margate to life throughout the summer months.   Other activities providing year-round entertainment include amusement arcades, the Hornby Visitor Centre (featuring model railways and cars) and the mysterious Shell Grotto. Discovered in 1835, this subterranean world is a collection of winding passages leading to an oblong chamber, its walls decorated with strange symbols and mosaics made completely out of shells. Situated about 1.5 kilometres along the seafront heading east is the Tom Thumb Theatre, thought to be the world’s smallest working theatre. Where to stay The Reading Rooms: A luxury five-star gold boutique B&B in a recently restored Grade II listed Georgian townhouse. Situated just a five-minute walk from the sea and Old Town cultural quarter. thereadingroomsmargate.co.uk Best pub for a pint The Lifeboat Ale & Cider House: This CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) pub serves locally-sourced Kentish ales and ciders, a range of Kent cheeses, Mrs Moxham pickles and Ramsgate sausages. thelifeboat-margate.com [caption id="attachment_42831" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Margate Bay from a victorian shelter in Kent[/caption] Blackpool – Lancashire Blackpool is England’s archetypal fun-by-the-sea resort. Love it, loathe it or both, the ‘Las Vegas of the Lancashire Coast’ may be tacky and cheesy, but it continues to attract people year after year. Especially since the arrival of the railway in 1846, which ultimately turned the town into one of the country’s first seaside resorts for the working classes.   From the mid-19th century, whole Lancashire mill towns would descend on Blackpool for the ‘Wakes Weeks’ annual holiday, spending their hard-earned cash living the good life for a few days, strolling its three piers and watching the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bob Hope perform at the Grand Theatre.   Perhaps Blackpool’s best known attraction – and the reason for its continued popularity – is Pleasure Beach, which evolved from a gypsy encampment in the early years of the 20th century. Today, this wonderful theme park houses a marvellous collection of old-style wooden rollercoasters such as the world’s first Big Dipper (1923) along with modern high-tech rides like the Pepsi Max Big One.   If the pier is Brighton’s trademark, then Blackpool’s is its 157-metre tall tower, modelled on the Eiffel Tower and opened in 1894. In addition to offering tower top views, it also houses the Tower Circus and the magnificent Tower Ballroom. After the summer months, when other English seaside resorts begin to wind down, Blackpool extends its holiday season with another star attraction, the world famous Blackpool Illuminations where over eight kilometres of the promenade is illuminated with half a million coloured light bulbs (open from August to November 2013). Where to stay Number One: This aptly named luxury five-star boutique accommodation overlooking the new South Beach Promenade is Blackpool’s number one place to stay. numberonesouthbeach.com Big Blue Hotel: This modern four-star hotel ticks all the right boxes when it comes to price, comfort and style. As an added bonus for families with children, it’s situated at the southern entrance to Pleasure Beach. bigbluehotel.com Where to drink The Dutton Arms: Relaxed traditional pub with outdoor seating near Pleasure Beach and a range of cask ales perfect for a cold one on a summer’s day. www.duttonarms.co.uk
The red umbrellas of Anantara Rasananda, Koh Phangan Thailand.
Koh Phangan – more than just a Full Moon Party
Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party is an infamous monthly event drawing backpackers from all over. Quentin Long asks what else is there on the legendary island once favoured by Thai Kings?
Dedon Island resort on Siargao Island in the southern Philippines.
Nay Palad Hideaway, Philippines
It doesn't get much for idyllic than the stylish Nay Palad Hideaway on Siargao Island in the southern Philippines.
Exquisite sights of El Nido's 'Big Lagoon'.
El Nido: ‘The nest’ of pure Philippines paradise
Globally protected for its biological and geological diversity, this tiny speck in the Philippines is called Heaven on Earth for good reason. Gary Walsh ­island hopped his way south from Manila to the stunning El Nido – “The Nest” – an idyllic ­island outpost he would find very difficult to leave.    You’ve been here before.   You’ve glided past these sudden, cinematic eruptions of karst limestone on a red-rigged junk in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, slalomed between them on a speedboat in southern Thailand, and been paddled serenely along a river in their shadow in China’s Guilin. The thing is, you’ve never been alone. All alone But here you are alone – or as close to it as you’re likely to be in this heavily touristed world. Here, near the northern tip of the Philippines island of Palawan, you have the place almost to yourself.   The Philippines attracts fewer visitors than other countries of Southeast Asia, and here at El Nido you can reap the benefit. [caption id="attachment_8652" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The seclusion of a Palawan beach.[/caption] Arriving and staying in Puerto Princesa I’d arrived in the island’s main town, Puerto Princesa, from Manila and spent a pleasant day exploring the sights – a whitewashed ­cathedral, a port filled with fishing boats, a couple of lively markets – before jumping on a jeepney for Sabang, a sleepy fishing village close to the Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed phenomenon.   I stayed happily in a bamboo nipa hut on the beach for less than $10 a night, eating fish straight from the Sulu Sea and drinking warm San Miguel beer, watching the light fade until the mosquitoes forced me inside, where I read under a bulb that somehow seemed to make the room darker until the generator spluttered to a stop.   The Underground River was fun, and I lolled in a rowboat as I was paddled through spectacular cathedral-like caves and long, dark tunnels, past formations called the Virgin Mary and the Holy Family. This is the Catholic Philippines after all. Heading to El Nido But El Nido was where I was headed. Flights between El Nido and Puerto Princesa come and go, and I fluked a time when they were operating. The alternatives – seven hours in a roaring, belching jeepney or haggling for a bangka boat with all the imponderables of weather and sea conditions – didn’t seem terribly appealing.   The town is a couple of streets by the waterside – a huddle of dusty sari-sari stores, cheap hotels and guesthouses, cafés and hawker stalls, dive shops and tourist offices, with tricycles buzzing everywhere. What makes it memorable is the setting. [caption id="attachment_8659" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Over-water luxury at Lagen Island resort.[/caption] El Nido beach is appealing from a distance, with dozens of elegant bangkas, spidery outriggers rolling gently on the swell, waiting to whisk passengers onto a glorious aquamarine sea. But on closer inspection there’s rubbish on the sand and in the water, and you don’t want to consider what happens with the town’s ­sewerage outfall. Still, just raise your eyes. In El Nido In every direction there are islands, some rising sheer from the water, green monoliths with occasional tantalising wisps of white sand. To the west are spiralling limestone stacks crested with dense rainforest foliage, and directly behind the town, the Taraw Cliffs.   Full-scale climbing is growing around El Nido, but the 230m haul up the cliffs can be done without ropes. Estimates of climbing time range from 45 minutes to two hours, and it’s tough going on the sharp rocks and occasional sheer walls, but the reward is a glorious panorama of Bacuit Bay.   I jumped on a bangka for Lagen Island, an exhilarating journey with the boat skipping lightly over the waves and running close to steepling cliffs along a mostly virgin coastline. My Sabang nipa hut was traded for five-star luxury. [caption id="attachment_8653" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Island hopping by local 'bangka'.[/caption] Lagen Island Resort A giant karst stack looms over Lagen Island Resort. As in southern Thailand, the cliffs hereabouts are home to swiftlets whose nests are harvested for soup – the name itself, El Nido, means “the nest” – but Lagen Island is about preservation rather than destruction, with the resort the sponsor of a range of ­environmental initiatives. It has its own ­nature trail that’s home to a colony of macaques and a profusion of endemic birdlife.   Miniloc Island shelters both Big Lagoon, a soaring space with an entrance so shallow that boats often have to be towed through by their wading skippers, and Small Lagoon, the ­entrance to which is wide enough for just one person to kayak or swim through. These are prosaic names for most poetic places. The water is utterly translucent and the bangkas appear to be floating on air.   Secret Lagoon is … well, secret-ish, reached by wading through shallow water and then clambering through a metre-wide hole in the rock.   There’s squeezing and slithering, too, to enter Cudugnon Cave, a Neolithic burial site of quiet magnificence, shafts of lights illuminating glistening multi-coloured rock curtains. Vigan Island gets its nickname, Snake Island, from a narrow serpentine sandspit that emerges only at low tide and acts as an organic pontoon for swimmers and boats.   In truth, it’s partly what you don’t find at El Nido that makes it so magical. No jet-skiing, no parasailing, no banana boats or booze cruises. Just the simple pleasure of chugging along a silvery sea on a bangka at sunset. [caption id="attachment_8658" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Exploring the azure El Nido seas.[/caption] The details Best time to go Dry season runs from December to May, with March to May best for diving.   Avoid Easter, when Filipinos traditionally return to their home provinces. How to get there Philippine Airlines (PAL) flies daily to Manila from Sydney and Melbourne.   Jetstar flies via Darwin.   AirAsia flies daily via Kuala Lumpur.   From Manila there are daily flights to El Nido with ITI and three flights weekly with Seair - 10kg luggage limit applies.   Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa.   Jeepneys to El Nido take around seven hours, and there are also bangka boats from Puerto Princesa and Port Barton. What to do Take to the water. Go on day trips or rent your own bangka, but spend your time exploring the islands.   Scuba sites abound, although much of the coral is bleached, and PADI courses can be undertaken.   Snorkelling is cheap, and many island resorts have small reefs just off their beaches or piers.   Restraints If you’re staying in town, be aware that El Nido’s electricity officially runs for about 18 hours a day, but don’t bet on it.   Visitors to El Nido are charged a 200-peso (less than $5) ecotourism development fee, the proceeds of which are used to protect the environment.   If it helps to preserve this extraordinary place, it’s a remarkably small price to pay. Places to stay Luxury:   Stunning Lagen Island Resort spreads around a horseshoe-shaped bay beneath limestone cliffs. Over-water cottages are prime real estate.   Miniloc Island Resort is slightly older and set on a pretty cove, with snorkelling on a reef from its jetty. Both are around 40-45 minutes from El Nido by bangka.   Comfortable:   Treetops (treetopselnido@yahoo.com) is a little out of El Nido town, which isn’t a bad thing. Simple non-air-conditioned cottages and friendly hosts. Close by is Coral Bay Resort, with decent A/C cottages and rooms on Corong-Corong beach.   Affordable:   Smack in the middle of town, the Entalula is a comfortable guesthouse overlooking the beach.   Ipil Travelodge El Nido is one street back from the water in the heart of town. Best thing about El Nido Island hopping by bangka. Organised tours abound, but to see El Nido at its best hire your own boat and head out as early as possible. Worst thing about El Nido The actual township has little to recommend it other than as a transport hub. Get there, and move on as quickly as possible.   If you're interested in planning a Philippines adventure, check out our travel guide to the Philippines, right here...

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