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Zen Soul-Journ In Kyoto

Text SARU

The pleasant surprise at Hoshinoya Kyoto is that it has no televisions or VCRs in guest rooms. Or rather, she has no need for such distraction from the beauty of nature. Situated in the picturesque Arashiyama valley, Hoshinoya allows visitors to sojourn in the comfort and unique accommodation experience of their own private villa with an atmosphere far removed from the outside world.

The start of a Hoshinoya Autumn spiritual experience begins with a privately arranged rickshaw ride through the most famous Sagano bamboo forest in Japan. The distinctive rustle of the bamboo leaves is a tonic for the soul. Arriving at famed Togetsukyo Bridge, one cannot help but admire the beautiful red Momiji leaves dancing in the air. Boarding a private ferry to the resort, the ten minute boat ride along the Oigawa River indulges visitors to cast aside earthly worries and simply embrace the stunningly beautiful views of autumn. A picturesque nobles’ retreat greets upon arrival – visitors will be instantly aware of how exclusive the location actually is.

Founded upon the concept of experiencing authentic Japan with modern comfort, Hoshinoya Kyoto seeks to treasure Kyoto’s values and culture and her harmony with nature while accepting a modern sensibility. All guest accommodations feature a view of the Oigawa River, delighting those who stay here for the beauty of the season. The rooms are built in the Sukiya “tea house” style of 17th century Japan, and softly lit to bring out the Kyoto-style paper patterning. True to the concept of authentic Japan with modern comfort, furnishing is in modern Japanese style but made to appear at their most beautiful, at the eye level of a viewer kneeling formally. After soaking in the exquisite en suite Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) bath tub, put on Zori (Japanese clogs), Tabi (Japanese socks), slip into traditional Japanese wear and get ready for the magic that unfolds.

Hoshinoya offers a variety of rare and unique opportunities to experience Japan. Guests can not only discover the richness of Kyoto’s natural beauty, but also discover the spirit and sophistication of Kyoto culture. Experience self enlightenment through morning Zen meditation in a temple, enjoy a romantic dinner on the river boat under the star-lit skies, a Kyoto walk in Kimono, Ikebana classes,  biking in Kyoto (all upon request), or Monko, a Japanese incense ceremony (organised daily).

As one’s spirit heals through breathtaking sights, pleasing sounds of nature and spiritual experiences that touches the heart, the taste of Hoshinoya beckons. Kyoto cuisine has always combined mainstream Japanese cooking with Kyoto’s imperial tradition and selected local ingredients. Helmed by one Michelin-star chef Kubota Ichiro, Hoshinoya, Kyoto Japanese cuisine is carried to a new level by boldly incorporating foreign cooking art. Indulge in the exquisite taste of Kyoyasai (Kyoto local vegetables), prepared with full respect for the seasons and be led gently from one dish to another in your gastronomic journey. For true culinary pilgrims, arrangements can also be made in advance for an ethereal dining experience at the nearby Kyoto Kitcho, a 3 Michelin Stars Japanese restaurant in Arashiyama.

While adjourning to one of the 25 guest rooms for rest, be mesmerised by the “Water Garden” in front of the library and try to spot the “Hidden Garden” nestled amongst the guest rooms. Both are illuminated after dark, by stars in the skies and carefully placed subtle lighting, to represent the phases of the crescent moon turning full. Immersed in the pleasures of a shadowy world, lost in the bright fluorescent illumination in which we live today, Zen is discovered in Kyoto.


P.S. If absolutely necessary, rental DVD player, DVD movies and projectors are available upon request

Access:

Hoshinoya Kyoto is situated in the easily accessible yet stunningly beautiful Arashiyama region of Kyoto City, a traditional vacation area dating back to the Heian era (794 – 1185). Upon boarding a boat from the famed Togetsukyo Bridge, guests can take in the splendour of Arashiyama’s natural scenery in a ten minute boat ride up the Oigawa River before reaching Hoshinoya Kyoto.

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The Secrets of Seychelles

Located 4 degrees south of the Equator and hundreds of miles away from anywhere else, Seychelles was once the perfect hideout for pirates to stash their bounty. Today, Seychelles is known to be the dream destination of honeymooners, even the royal ones. With 115 islands sprinkled across the Indian Ocean, you can be sure to find a secluded spot that’s hidden from view, yet has all the treasures that nature has to offer — clear turquoise waters, dramatic granite cliffs, coral atolls and lush tropical vegetation.

A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of modern city life, this archipelago holds many of the world’s oldest riches. Formed millions of years ago, when fragments of the Gondwanaland supercontinent were cast adrift, these granitic islands are the only ones to be found mid-ocean.

Left uninhabited until the late 18th century, Seychelles is now home to some of the most primitive flora and fauna. The most exotic of which is the legendary coco de mer. This extremely peculiar fruit, which resembles a woman’s bottom, and even has a male counterpart, suggests perhaps, that this really is the place meant for love birds to get acquainted with their primal instincts.

Lest you think that such an idyllic destination is hard to get to, let’s set the record straight. Getting there is easy. Air Seychelles operates a weekly direct flight from Singapore to the main island, Mahe. Mahe may measure just 27 kilometres by 8 kilometres, but it boasts of a whopping 70 beaches and the splendid Morne Seychellois National Park.

Whether you decide to take a stroll down the white, sandy beach, a walk on the verdant trails or a dip in the crystal clear waters, you’ll quickly understand why this was originally called ‘Abundance Island’. Every nook and cranny is brimming with life. You’ll feel it in the pulse of the popular Beau Vallon, inhale it in the serenity of the scenic Mission Lodge, and swim amongst it in the reefs of the Anse Royale.

Then at the end of the day, head for the Sunset Beach Resort. Watching the sun fall below the horizon, turning the ocean into liquid gold, is sheer intoxication. This makes for a romantic backdrop should you choose to dine on delectable local cuisine at the alfresco Silhouette.

And that’s just the beginning of Seychelles. Mahe is a good base to explore the many islands around. Take your pick from the nearby inner granitic islands like Praslin and La Digue or venture further to the outer coralline islands far removed from civilisation.

But the ultimate in exclusivity lies on Frégate Island Private. With just 16 villas and one presidential suite on three square kilometres of paradise, you’re pretty much living it up with the rich and famous. 120 staff provide the exceptional service to top it all off. If you were ever to be stranded on an island, this is the one you’d pick.

As we approached this highly anticipated segment of our trip, an awe-inspiring sight gripped us. Entranced, we watched as a pristine, rocky island surrounded by glittering waters in the evening sun drew near. Perched on the edge of the cliffs were these quaint villas, soon to be home for the night. By the time we were shown to ours, the sky had turned dark. But we knew we’d awake to a majestic view the next morning. In fact, I could hardly wait to see the beauty that would greet me at my doorstep. The crashing waves and chirping birds, heard only by the lightest sleeper, acted as my alarm clock at dawn, just as Mother Nature had intended. And true enough, I opened the door to see the vast ocean, framed by luxuriant trees just as the sky began to receive its first rays of light. The best part? I got to soak it up in the privacy of our very own infinity pool, jacuzzi and daybed.

This is a haven that’s not just adored by guests; flora and fauna revel in it too, evident from the nesting birds, free-roaming giant tortoises and sprawling tropical vegetation. Overhead, exotic birds like the Magpie Robin, Fairy Tern and Lesser Noddy abound, while countless marine lifeforms lie under your feet, just waiting to be discovered.

The more we got to know Frégate, the more it charmed its way into our hearts. There is the integrated environmental programme, which helped restore and rehabilitate some of the world’s rarest species. There is the luxurious Rock Spa, which concocts their own traditional treatments made with natural ingredients. There are the unique gastronomic experiences, made even more delicious by the island grown produce — breakfast in the Treehouse or a private candlelight dinner on the beach.

There are the seven dazzling beaches, and even a private beach on this private island; at Anse Macquereau you turn a sign to say that it’s occupied when you arrive and then back to ‘vacant’ when you leave.

And there is, of course, a certified private butler appointed to each villa, and ours was sprightly Burhan. His warm smile and gentle demeanour gave us a hint that our stay was going to be immensely enjoyable indeed.

Burhan knew the ins and outs of the island and showed us to its most spectacular spots. He led us on a short hike through the tortoise trail, past the magnificent age-old banyan trees and to a lookout point overlooking Anse Felix. Here, we finally caught sight of the elusive Frégate bird. This elegant bird, with a wingspan of two metres, is known for its impressive flying abilities, and no longer nests on the island. We were lucky to have caught sight of it, but it’s true what they say about this being a shy bird; as soon as we reached for our cameras, it flew away swiftly.

Befitting of the ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ philosophy of Frégate, Burhan managed to arrange for us, within short notice, to have a Creole dinner at the Plantation House. The Plantation House is really a museum that acts as a second restaurant on the island, but is typically closed during the season when we were there. Dinner, however, turned out to be a pretty magical encounter. We were transported into another world altogether as we tucked into traditional dishes like fisherman’s salad and seafood curry among pirate artefacts and cowrie shells.

After thanking Burhan for the wonderful evening, we stepped out onto the pathway heading back to our villa. Twinkling stars dotted the cloudless sky, bidding us sweet dreams as we retired for the night.

It has been said that treasure from ancient pirates still lies buried somewhere in Seychelles to this day, waiting to be uncovered. With all the gems that abound on this unmatched destination, there is truly wealth to be found around every corner.

 

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SWISS launches special fares for new Singapore-Zurich service from just S$705*!

 

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) has launched special introductory fares for its new daily service from Singapore to Zurich that will commence on 13 May 2013.

Visit the magnificent Swiss Alps or the breathtaking Lake Zurich with a round trip in Economy Class from as low as S$705*! If you’re looking to spice up your travel with optimum comfort, a round trip in Business Class is available from S$3705* and offers the innovative SWISS Business Class seats that eases into a 2-metre lie-flat bed.

To enjoy this unbelievably low fare, travellers must purchase their tickets between 14 January 2013 and 28 January 2013. Travel period is from 13 May 2013 to 30 November 2013. Terms and conditions apply.

The new route to Switzerland’s prime economic hub will be operated with an Airbus A340-300 aircraft, offering 219 seats. The westbound LX 179 flight will depart from Singapore at 23:10 and arrive in Zurich at 06:10 the following day. The eastbound LX 178 service will leave Zurich at 22:45 and touch down in Singapore at 17:10 the next day.

Celebrate the launch with SWISS and book your Europe getaway now at www.swiss.com or through your travel agents!

*Round-trip fare includes taxes, surcharges and is subject to currency exchange fluctuations.

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The Heart of India : Goa

 

In the past, Goa was the preserve of hippies making their way across the Indian sub-continent, stopping off to enjoy some rest and relaxation on its then undiscovered beaches. Today, it still retains much of that old hippie vibe, but has become so much more besides, and is even a stop for ships sailing with Fred Olsen cruise lines. Neither the hippies of the sixties, nor the Portuguese colonists that arrived in Goa in the sixteenth century would have foreseen their little slice of Indian paradise becoming a luxury holiday destination. However, among many other things, that is exactly what it has become. So what’s the appeal?

Goa’s main attraction is, naturally, its beaches. Huge swathes of deep yellow sand,.lapped by warm seas and and backed endless palm trees are strung out all along the coast. Some beaches are almost as deserted as they might have been back in the sixties, others are most definitely on the tourist trail, with a modern nightlife to match. In most areas, there is a choice of accommodation, from basic beach huts to sparkling, modern four and five star hotels. So, choose your beach and then find the accommodation to match. From north to south, these are the places to be in Goa.

Arambol and Mandrem

The last real hippie paradise in Goa. Arambol is a quiet paradise, far away from the package tourist crowds that dominate further south. The village is really just a ramshackle collection of streets that lead down to the beach. There, you’ll find beach huts serving up the catch of the day, and a friendly, laid-back vibe. If you’d rather experience glorious isolation, head just south to the wonderfully empty sands at Mandrem beach.

 

Chapora and Vagator

Chapora is a gorgeous, characterful village that charms everyone who visits with its cafe culture, ancient fort and stunning views over rugged clifftops that back the beach. The small settlement of Vagator is just around the headland. It’s quieter and less discovered than neighbouring Anjuna.

Anjuna

Anjuna is famous for its flea market, which has run there weekly since the 1960s. It’s also the centre of Goa’s party scene, so is the place to head if you’re keen to get your dancing shoes on. If you’d rather just kick back and relax, you’ll fit right in. There is plenty of space on Anjuna’s huge beach, with beach restaurants offering cold drinks, hot food and comfortable sunbeds.

Baga, Calangute and Candolim

This stretch of central Goa is the centre of its tourist industry, and offers the widest choice of hotels, huge beaches and plenty of drinking and dining options. The character changes as you head south. Baga, to the north, is the party end, with some noisy upmarket clubs catering to a mixed crowd of young Indians and westerners. Calangute is quieter and more family oriented, with Candolim the most chilled-out.

Colva and Benaulim

This pair of beaches in the south of the state are ideal for those who just want to relax and enjoy. Days are spent sunbathing or exploring the local back-lanes by bicycle, evenings eating out under the stars, listening to the waves…

Palolem and Agonda

Completely undeveloped until relatively recently, these beaches have become favourites with both backpackers and luxury-seekers. Palolem is lively and friendly, lined with bars and restaurants. Agonda is much quieter. They’re just a few kilometres apart, so you can easily split your time between the two as the mood takes you.

Away From the Beach

While the beaches are, indeed, lovely, Goa is not just about its beaches. It has a fascinating history and culture too, with strong Portuguese influences. In the quieter resorts, you can wander along the lanes away from the beach, past white churches and green fields. Head to the magnificent Old Goa, once the Portuguese capital, to see what colonial life might have been like in Goa. The city is a unique meeting of cultures, packed with churches, cathedrals and other historic buildings that have made it a UNESCO world heritage site.

Getting There

Non-stop flights operate from the UK, taking around ten hours. For a wider choice of flights, fly to nearby Mumbai and catch an internal flight from there. If you have time, stop off in Mumbai for a couple of days and experience a little of its Bollywood energy.

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Dubai: Land of Gold

Text Lin Zixin Photo L.H. Lim

Rising from what used to the nothingness of the shimmering Arabian Desert, Dubai, bustling heart of Middle East today, will have you thinking of gold in more ways than one. Dive headfirst into the magic and energy of Dubai and experience the miracle story of this east-meets-west city for yourself.

Looking at Dubai’s urbanscape, it might be hard to imagine the city as anything else besides its cosmopolitan and prosperous self today. After all, this is a place with many of the world’s firsts – the tallest building, the largest fountain, the biggest mall… and the list goes on. However, do not be intimidated by the hubbub before your eyes. Lying beneath that sleek and modern demeanour is a city that is equal parts traditional and contemporary, waiting to be discovered by the traveller who looks just hard enough.

The Contemporary

The modern face of Dubai is absolutely indiscreet and unabashedly flamboyant. And this much you’ll expect from a city that has too often created something from nothing, embarking on one ambitious project after another; from the entirely man-made Palm Islands to the currently on-hold man-made archipelago The World, it is evident that subtlety is not a trait that is highly valued in Dubai.

Thrust in the heart of Downtown Dubai, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to understand this. Looking up, soaring skyscrapers paint a dramatic skyline of daring asymmetrical lines against the cloudless sky, screaming “look at me!” All around you, the air is charged and the crowd is energetic as they stream in and out of the countless buildings lining the streets.

Wander into any of them, and you’ll probably find yourself in one of Dubai’s many mega shopping malls. Dubbed the “shopping capital of Middle East”, Dubai’s world-class shopping experience is definitely every shopaholic’s dream come true. Apart from more Louis Vuittons, Pradas and other high-end luxury goods than needed to satisfy your material girl within, Dubai’s malls also boast extravagant entertainment facilities including the likes of an Olympic sized ice rink, the world’s largest indoor ski park and a jaw-dropping 21-screen Cineplex that will be sure to occupy you for hours on end.

For buys that are more local than international, comb through traditional souks for pashmina shawls, spices, ethnic ornaments and other exotic trinkets. No matter what you are looking for, Dubai will be unlikely to leave you disappointed.

Dubai has no lack of world-class dining experiences as well. Fork out a whooping S$160 for a luxurious lunch at the 7-star Burj Al Arab. The hotel’s location on an artificial island off Jumeirah Beach guarantees fabulous sea views unparalleled by any other in Dubai. For dinner, indulge in a pampering meal while taking in the city’s night lights on the 122th storey of the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. After which, take a leisurely stroll to the nearby Dubai Fountain, the largest fountain in the world, and admire the magnificent musical fountain performances that happen every half an hour starting from 6pm in the evening.

Listening to the exotic repertoire and looking at the blinking lights in the distance, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the scene channels Las Vegas of the Arabic night. You know what? You’re probably not that far off anyway.

The Traditional

For an experience of the traditional Arabian charm, book yourself on one of those desert safari tours that can be easily arranged for through your hotel. Departing in the evening around dusk, be prepared to be transported to another realm of rolling sand dunes and mysterious velvet black, all in the comfort of your guide’s trusty Land Cruiser.

Joining tens of other vehicles at the desert in an impressive procession of Land Cruisers, the air hangs with anticipation for the exhilarating experience that is about to come – dune bashing. At first slow and steady, sit tight as your vehicle suddenly plunges and rises, twists and turns with unbelievable dexterity on the soft sand dunes under the skilful manoeuvres of your guide, a feat that will be sure to evoke gasps and exclamations all around. Before you know it, the thrilling experience is over in a flash, but the memory of it will definitely send your adrenaline rushing for a long time to come.

Calm your palpitating heart by admiring the breathtaking beauty of the desert twilight. Relish the moment as the sun dips slowly beneath the horizon and bathes the golden sand in the day’s last rays. Just don’t forget your camera for this picture-perfect moment because before you know it, the darkness will already have crept in.

By the time all light is gone, you will also have arrived at the final stop of the tour – the campsite for the dinner programme. In the still of the desert and the dark, the orange lights of the campsite from afar are an inviting sight. Walking in, a waft of the mouth-watering aroma of succulent barbecued meats is enough to tantalise your taste buds and whip up your appetite. With just the carpet beneath you, settle down on one of the plush cushions and low tables that have been casually placed around the campsite and enjoy your dinner under the twinkling constellation.

After the filling dinner, take a few moments to experience the activities that are unique to the region. First, hop on the back of one of the many camels at the campsite. Bobbing and swaying on the humped creature’s back with the trainer patiently leading the animal around the grounds, we bet you’ll be feeling like Arabian royalty in no time. Otherwise, you could ink yourself with exquisite lattices through henna or try a few puffs of shisha, which is actually pretty like smoking a water pipe.

The raucous programme for the evening begins just as you are starting to get comfortable around the campsite. To the compelling beats of Middle Eastern music, be captivated by the passionate movements of the buxom belly dancer clad in vivid jewel tones in front of you. When she is done with her routine, gracefully oblige her invitations to join her in dancing up a storm! Do not be too worried if you barely know how to belly dance – chances are your neighbour doesn’t too! Pull someone along with you to share in the fun (and the initial embarrassment) and round up the evening in the desert with claps, laughter and heaps of good spirit.

Having experienced the best of Dubai and its different faces, we’re betting that you’ll be raring to come back to this sparkling land of gold in no time.

Getting There

You can choose from a large variety of airlines to get to Dubai from Singapore. Emirates operates daily flights with fares starting from S$1065. Total flight time is about 7 hours. Local transport is convenient as well as buses or prepaid taxis to the city centre are easily accessible from the airport.