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When it comes to travel today, true luxury lies not in a beautiful hotel or a private jet, but in experiences that are rare, precious and memorable. The prowl for that perfect souvenir has given way to a thirst for access, as a new generation of travellers chase adventures in far-flung places. The barriers to entry for experiences like swimming with sharks, training with Special Forces in a James Bond-esque secret facility and exploring the Arctic region have all but broken down. So even in the remotest of locations, these experiences can be accompanied by top-class accommodation and services.
Here is a list of five travel experiences that will take intrepid travellers to places and experiences that were once thought impossible.
1. Arctic explorations
The remote Svalbard Archipelago is a series of islands located between the North Pole and Oslo in Norway, where this epic journey begins. Over six days, guides from specialist tour operator Red Savannah take travellers through steep mountain tracks and valleys, and across frozen lakes on powerful 600cc Lynx snowmobiles. The Arctic wildlife includes walruses, seals, snow buntings and polar bears. Towards the end of the trip, a day’s worth of dog sledding, powered by an enthusiastic team of Alaskan huskies, takes guests to the Scott Turner Glacier. There, guests hit the ground in crampon-ed shoes to explore the beauty of an ice cave in which they can enjoy a picnic to remember.
2. Take it to the limit
If a flight into space seems extreme, then take it right to the edge in a MiG-29 Fulcrum twin-engine jet. Capable of speeds over Mach 2.3, the aircraft rockets up to 21,330m where passengers can take in heart-stopping views of the earth’s curvature and the boundless darkness of space. As part of high-performance holiday specialist Incredible Adventures’ Edge Of Space programme, the trip includes several nights in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, where the flight takes place. The flight includes the experience of breaking the sound barrier and aerial acrobatics that might leave guests with a temporary neck ache from exposure to high G-forces — but what price adventure?
3. Live the Bond life
Brown and Hudson
Rare is the man who doesn’t fantasise about being James Bond. Rarer yet is the man who acts on fulfilling that fantasy.
The latter can get a leg up thanks to London-based bespoke travel specialist Brown & Hudson, which can curate an exclusive Bond-inspired experience that might include racing to a secret training facility in the British countryside in an Aston Martin DB9 to train with Special Forces, or bungee jumping off Switzerland’s incredible Contra Dam. If the world is not enough, hop on a flight into space for a 10-day visit to the International Space Station. Clearly, the sky is not the limit.
4. Ballooning over Bhutan
The Ultimate Travel Company
There are few more spectacular vistas than that of Bhutan’s golden temples, emerald forests and its majestic Phobjikha Valley as seen from the stratospheric confines of a hot air balloon. This ballooning experience is the height of a journey through Bhutan with The Ultimate Travel Company, which passes through the Himalayan kingdom’s almost mythical villages and monasteries, with stops at exclusive retreats including the likes of Uma Paro and Uma Punakha. Guests join Buddhist masters reincarnated as young monks, who offer insight to the country’s religious customs, and visit meditation centres where older monks live sequestered from the rest of the world for the traditional three years, three months and three days. Bhutan’s mountains, like Gangkhar Phensum, are not for climbing (for it angers the deities who live at their summit), so the adventure is in discovering the country’s well-preserved cultural charms.
5. Sail through the Galapagos
Live with sharks, snorkel with sea lions, explore volcanic beaches, and simply gawp at the unique species of wildlife that inspired Charles Darwin, who reportedly spent five weeks in the Galapagos Islands in 1835 before formulating his theory of natural selection. The finest way to explore this Ecuadorian archipelago is on the MV Origin, a 20-passenger mega yacht from stalwart Galapagos cruise company Ecoventura. A leader in conservation, Ecoventura designed the MV Origin to reduce fossil fuel consumption by over 30 per cent. Which means guests can traverse this highly protected UNESCO World Heritage site in luxury (gourmet meals, gym, jacuzzi, and the smallest crew-to-guest ratio in the region), while minimising environmental impact.