For all your research and planning, sometimes it’s nigh on impossible to discover one-of-a kind adventures beyond the popular places most people visit. Or is it? Even the most familiar destinations have secrets you’ve not yet discovered. It’s all about knowing where to look…
Words: Marianne Françoise Dick
Main Image: Bisate Lodge, Rwanda
For some, travelling is about ticking well-known sites off a list – one of the seven wonders of the world or that cocktail bar in the tallest building in their favourite city. For others, travel is about seeking journeys far from the mainstream. Ones that surprise and delight. At its core, this latter exploration is about tasting unfamiliar flavours, unlocking unknown sensory reactions and ultimately finding something off the beaten track. These journeys unearth hard-to-find experiences, and in doing so, transport you to intriguing places that awaken rare emotions, attitudes and ambiences.
One such place where this is made possible is Finca La Donaira, an eco-retreat in rural Andalucía where the pace of modern life is slowed down –where everything you think you know about how the world works must be relearned. Touring the local terrain is a transformative experience that connects your body and soul to the landscape in new ways. The retreat is centred around an organic farm, which uses traditional ways of working the land from the earth up. You’re invited to delve into this rich honeypot of olive oil, almonds, figs, wine and home-reared wagyu at rustic mealtimes. There’s a certain taste and texture of healthy, organic produce that you’ll never find on the shelves of a supermarket, no matter how hard you look.
This kinship between humans and nature is evident in the very materials of the resort. Exposed stone walls and warm terracotta celebrate the area’s precious and vital resources, while freestanding copper baths, open to the elements, allow you to breathe in every molecule of fresh air. This connection with the outdoors allows the body to slow and sync with the seasons, with classical music concerts beneath the stars and yoga as the sun rises. Meanwhile, unbound freedom is encouraged by the equestrian centre, where you can roam the bucolic Andalusian landscape on one of 70 Lusitano horses (the oldest breed of saddle horse on the planet). Canter and gallop with these majestic creatures on epic hacks and learn age-old horsemanship skills from Seamus Gaffney, the estate’s very own cowboy.
While certain atmospheres can fill us with calm and wonder, others can truly astonish by shaking up our expectations and stirring our curiosity. Royal River in Tenerife is a private wonderland of African-inspired influences and design led thinking, set back from the madding crowds of the shores.
Around every corner, the contemporary architecture reveals new surprises youwon’t find elsewhere on the island. A lazy river, fringed with verdant foliage, connects the River Villas with out-of-the-box-poolscaping. A porcelain giraffe holds a chandelier between its teeth in the fine dining rooftop restaurant, The Top – a hint, perhaps, at the avant-garde display of revolutionary cuisine set against jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Away from raucous nightlife, you can mingle with friends among the pink flamingos and tropical flora etched into the wallpaper of the French bistro Flamingo. Golden palm leaves replace ordinary light fixtures, and the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of French food is epitomised in a menu that includes foie velouté with fig and deer tenderloin soaked in berries and red wine.
As the Royal River takes you down an unsuspecting rabbit hole in a familiar destination, so does Bisate Lodge in Rwanda. Six round, thatched villas rest peacefully in 42 hectares of land on the slopes of an eroded volcanic crater, much like little eggs waiting to hatch, each with a view of Mount Bisoke. Gorilla trekking is, of course, the main draw here – it is, after all, where the conservationist Dian Fossey studied gorillas extensively and ferociously campaigned for their protection. In fact, you can hike through the tropical rainforest, up to nearly 3,000 metres, to see Fossey’s grave, as well as those of the gorillas she fought so hard to protect. But this fascinating history is only a small taste of the intrigue and wonder to be found here. Back at camp, Johannesburg-based architect Nick Plewman has ensured that you are wowedby stunning design around every corner.
Paired back, muted colours of the villas and communal areas allow the rich, indigenous culture to shine through, with concrete floors, exposed brick walls, tan leather chairs and timber as the backdrop. The accessories provide the detail, each one curated by Rwandan designer Teta Isibo in collaboration with local artisans. Spot traditional ‘kitenge’ fabrics, recycled green glass bottle chandeliers, and traditional ‘ibyansi’ milk jugs. With soft, warm lighting, it feels as though you’re being enveloped in a natural bubble, shrouded by surrounding wildlife and greenery. You can find the occasional branch sneaking over the wrap-around balconies and hear the calls of monkeys on the horizon.
A soak in one of the large, black oval resin tubs in the bathrooms will leave you feeling soothed. And afterwards, you can snuggle up in an armchair next to a crackling log fire with a drink before dinner. International dishes are mixed with local cuisine, with surprises like ‘Kuku Paka’, east African chicken with rice, and fresh tilapia fish with mango salad. Just by staying here you’re already contributing to reforestation and biodiversity conservation, as well as supporting the local community. Bisate has planted over 75,000 indigenous trees and you can help to plant more while you’re here.See all of the resort’s hard work for yourself, and embark on nature trails with an in-house guide, watch forbirds, and listen to stories from nearby villagers or the staff, of more than half of whom are local. As the sun sets, you’ll return to the floating, peaceful abyss of these comforting cocoons above the treetops.
Experiences such as these satiate a hunger for discovering new places and, instead, open our eyes to the places we already thought we knew.