Azura Benguerra Island, Mozambique

10 Perfect Travel Moments

From Mozambique to Manhattan, ELLE's Travel & Lifestyle Director shares her top 10 memories.

You may also like Susan Ward Davies' Confessions Of A Travel Perfectionist

Travelling is full of highs and lows, successes and disasters – but every now and then the stars will be aligned in your favour, to elevate an experience to unforgettable status. The perfect moment.

These are just a few of them:

🚢 BEST BOAT TRIP

BURMA: Belmond Road To Mandalay

Burma is a go-now-before-it-gets overrun kind of place and one of the most magical things to do there is the Orient Express Road To Mandalay boat – a sleek, white, 82-berth Rhine River cruiser, which plies the Irrawaddy between Bagan and Mandalay. Small and beautifully kitted out, it feels like something out of an Agatha Christie novel, with exquisite all-inclusive Asian-fusion meals and discreet service where they bring you something before you even realised you wanted it. Cabins are cosy and cleverly designed, with drawers under beds, compact wardrobes and dinky shower rooms.

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There's a massive picture window through which you watch the jungly, waterside landscape slowly drift by: women scrubbing clothes on grassy banks, kids diving off rocks, water buffalo ponderously ploughing paddy fields… It is the most restful, serene way to explore I can imagine, and you regain a little more of your soul each day.

There's a massive picture window through which you watch the jungle landscape slowly drift by: women scrubbing clothes on grassy banks, kids diving off rocks, water buffalo ploughing paddy fields. It is the most restful way to explore I can imagine, and you regain a little more of your soul each day.

Stunning #sunset at U Bien Bridge #DiscoverBelmond #luxury #travel #cruise #myanmar

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0845 077 2222; Belmond. £2,500pp for seven nights, including full board and internal flights. Thai Air, flies from London Heathrow to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) from around £600 return

Azura Benguerra Island, Mozambique

🐠 BEST EXOTIC LUXURY

MOZAMBIQUE: Azura at Gabriel's

Azura at Gabriel's, Benguerra Island, is one of the best of Mozambique's luxury resorts. Fourteen spacious thatched-roof villas are ranged along a beautiful stretch of white sand, each with its own pool (some big enough for swimming, others just plunge pools), little garden, and palm-shaded day beds on the edge of the beach. If you're lucky you can spot whales and dolphins playing offshore and scuba fans can dive over reefs teeming with rainbow-coloured fish.

Diving on Sencar #Quilalea #azuraretreats #diving #scubadiving #padi #mozambique

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There's a small but well-run spa where you can be exfoliated with coconut shell scrub and massaged with marula oil. Eat delicious (mostly local) food and drink wine that the owners Christopher and Stella Bettany have flown in from their own French Loire valley vineyard.

The staff will lavish you with treats, such as surprising you with breakfast on the beach on your last morning, sailing you by dhow to remote sandbars or building beach bonfires where you lie watching the night sky, listening to the staff share stories about the stars and local folklore. Just heaven, really.

REPOST: Sky, sand and ocean @azuraretreats 🏖 @beautifulhotels

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Azura Benguerra Island, Inhambane Province, Mozambique; +25 8847310871, Doubles from £455pp full board. Seven nights from £1,880 inc all flights, transfers (via helicopter) and full board, via To Escape To (0871 711 5282)


🌅 BEST BEACH HOTEL ROOM

TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS:

Parrot Cay South east of the Bahamas, Parrot Cay is the dream private island: 1,000 acres of tropical vegetation – some of it taken up with the private holiday homes of the likes of Donna Karan, Keith Richards and Bruce Willis – enclosed by a mile-long white beach. You fly into Providenciales, the capital of Turks and Caicos, and then you'll have a 40-minute boat ride to Parrot Cay, accompanied, if you're lucky, by dolphins.

The resort has 42 white, airy rooms in and around the main building, but possibly the best room I have ever stayed in was one of the 12 wooden beach houses, each with a private pool and sandy garden that leads to the beach, tucked away behind the dunes ensuring maximum privacy. When I win the lottery, I'm heading straight back here.

Our beachfront villa at #ParrotCay is a honeymooner's dream. #COMOHotels Captured through the eyes of @meshellbuser

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Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks and Caicos Islands; +1 649 946 7788. Doubles from £329 for a terrace room, including B&B, afternoon tea, 40-minute boat transfers to Providenciales, wifi, yoga and pilates classes and non-motorised water sport activities. British Airways, flies from London Heathrow to Providenciales from around £700 return

Saadani River Lodge

🐅 BEST BEACH SAFARI PARK

TANZANIA: Saadani National Park

Tanzania's only coastal safari lodge has eight tented huts hidden in the trees bordering a massive empty beach where, they say, hippos play in the waves at dawn. There was no hippo-surf action when I was there, but there were elephant prints in the sand and plenty of the rustles and twig-cracking of prowling wildlife after dark. The first night is all, 'Oh my god, what was that?' - but you'll be quite blasé by day three and it's worth feeling the fear for the pre-breakfast swims, sunset beers in the boat-shaped bar and bouncing about the 1,062km2 former game reserve in the back of an open jeep. And if you're up really early, you can chug upriver at dawn in a small wooden boat looking for hippos, crocodiles and all kinds of exotic birds.

Where the wild things are

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+255 22 277 3294; Saadani Lodge. From £180pp, including full board and game drives. Kenya Airways, flies from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam from around £500.

Grootbos Nature Reserve
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🌾 BEST ECO HOTEL

SOUTH AFRICA: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

This stylish eco hotel overlooks Walker Bay on the whale-watching coast of South Africa, two hours east of Cape Town. Grootbos, meaning 'big forest' after the surrounding ancient milkwood trees, has 27 rooms divided between the Garden Lodge (11) and Forest Lodge (16), some with private pools, and all with lots of art, spectacular bathrooms, wood-burning stoves for chilly nights and spirit-lifting views across the fynbos (heathland) to the ocean.

Here it's all about the food (just-caught seafood and hand-picked organic produce from the Grootbos Gardening Project) and the great outdoors. You can hike across the fynbos, ride horses along the beach, clamber into a dinky, four-seater plane to swoop over the ocean looking for sharks, seals, dolphins (and even whales from June to December), but sometimes you just want to chill on your private deck. My highlight? Taking a Jeep along a bumpy coastal track and stopping for the incomparable local sparkling wine as the sun set behind wave-lashed rocks.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, South Africa; +27 28 384 8053. Doubles from £170pp including B&B, lunch and five-course dinner, horseriding and guided walks. British Airways has return flights from London Heathrow to Cape Town, from around £720

Jordan

⛺️ BEST CAMPING EXPERIENCE

JORDAN: Wadi Rum

We arrived by camel train, lurching along on the back of these massive, unpredictable creatures across the expanse of red sand flanked by towering rocks. We stopped at a simple camp in one of the most spectacular settings I have ever slept in. Owner Mzied Atieg's family have owned this land for generations and to accommodate paying guests he erected two big Bedouin tents – one for eating, one for sleeping – and a tiny washroom (with a working shower to rinse off the red desert dust). After dinner (tabbouleh, lamb, yoghurt, flatbreads), a fresh mint tea and a puff of a hookah pipe, you can either head for the tent, or do as we did: spread rugs out on the dunes, top with a thin bedroll and blankets, and fall asleep watching the stars, and the moon coming up from behind the rocks. Awesome.

Sleeping under the stars in Jordan
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Mzied's Camp, Wadi Rum; +962 777 304 501, Visit Jordan. £30 pp full board inc jeep/camel transfers. Royal Jordanian, flies from London Heathrow to Amman, from around £550 return

Bhutan

🌄 BEST TREK

BHUTAN: From Paro to Uma Par to Sky Burial Site, Tiger's Nest

We climbed for about five hours, from the little town of Paro through beautiful forests of pine trees, along rocky narrow paths that wound around the mountain. As we got higher, branches clinked with icicles and the altitude made our hearts race and our breathing like a 50-a-day smoker's. And when we (finally) clambered to the top, it felt so amazing, I half-expected ticker tape and a 21- gun salute.

We pitched camp around 4pm on a small, snowy plateau 3,800m up among the spectacular white peaks. The tiny Bundra monastery was just above us, clinging to the mountainside. In front, a hilltop covered in giant white prayer flags (the Bhutanese put these everywhere: the higher, the more auspicious – so archers even fire them up to really inaccessible peaks). On another stood a small chorten (a stone monument containing Buddhist relics).

Bhutan flags

Black yaks grazed through the snow. Our guides unloaded the team of pack ponies, put up tents, gathered firewood, and prepared supper. We just photographed the sunset (endlessly), huddled around the fire drinking yak butter tea and hot ginger, ate our vegetable paneer, dahl and red rice by candlelight, stumbled about giggling in the dark to find the loo tent (a sentry box affair erected above a hole in the ground) – and generally felt drunk on the exhilaration of it all. We woke at dawn to fresh snow, and the sunrise flooding the mountains with rosy light. It was beyond spectacular. I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary on Everest (which isn't all that far away), and would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Greaves India (020 7487 9111) offers tailor-made tours to Bhutan. Price on application

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🍹 BEST COCKTAIL SPOT

HAVANA: Hotel Inglaterra

Havana is so atmospheric, so redolent of intrigue and past glory days, that however cliched it feels sometimes you just want to immerse yourself in it all. The Hemingway trail is well trodden, that of novelist Graham Greene less so, and nothing beats channelling his novel Our Man In Havana on the shady terrace of his favourite hotel, the Inglaterra, with an icy, zingy mojito and watching the exuberant Cuban world sashay by. Panama hat optional.

Hotel Inglaterra, Paseo del Prado 416, Havana; + 53 7608 593. Doubles from around £117, room only. Virgin Atlantic, flies from London Heathrow to Havana, from around £400 return


💃🏾 BEST NIGHT CLUB

GHANA: Next Door, Accra

Labadi Beach is one of the best in Accra. LA beach, as it's called, is wide, wild and uncrowded, even on Saturday afternoons when it's party time here. A heavy mist rolled in off the breakers, partially obscuring the kids kicking a football around and what sounded like a Bob Marley tribute band.

We ordered Star beer at a makeshift beach bar, and after a few minutes had acquired a fascinated coterie of 10 year olds showing us how to play oware – a kind of Ghanaian backgammon – in return for Coke. The bottled kind. The best music in town was about 10 minutes down the road at Next Door, a palm-thatched outdoor club whose concrete dance floor overlooked breakers pounding the rocky beach. It was around 10pm when we got there and the joint, as they say, was jumping. Sappers were playing Highlife, the world's most danceable music, which sounds like a fusion of salsa, soca and cajun. We squeezed on to a table and ordered fufu (a paste made of plantain, yams or manioc) and pepper soup, but there was barely time to eat. The dancing was exuberant and sexy, and the music compulsive, with a rhythm that kept you on the dance floor for hours.

Next Door, Labadi Beach, Accra. British Airways has return flights from London Heathrow to Accra from £535

Crosby Street Hotel, New York

🗽 BEST CITY HOTEL ARRIVAL

NEW YORK: Crosby Street Hotel

After up-all-night packing, a way-too-early Gatwick dash, a cramped knees-to-seat flight, a hostile JFK airport immigration ritual, a grumpy taxi ride, a weary check-in and five attempts with the electronic room key, you've arrived! The door opens on to a room flooded with the kind of intense, snow-reflecting, squint-inducing sunlight you get on ski slopes. Ceilings are high, linen is crisp, the bathroom magnificent, and clever little arty gifts from the Moma shop opposite await on the glass table. And to top it all off, through floor-to-ceiling windows you can see acres of blue sky over the rooftops of SoHo. Welcome to the Crosby Street Hotel. ●

Crosby Street Hotel, New York, +001 212 226 6400. Doubles from around £380, room only

This article was first published in ELLE's August 2016 issue

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