I’ve travelled the world, this place is my No.1

It’s the wave of tropical heat. The welcome sounds of familiar, yet foreign, languages throughout the airport. The anticipation of hawker-centre delights, and a new discovery every visit. Arriving in Singapore is an unmistakable signal a holiday has begun; it’s a place I’m always thrilled to return to.

That’s my answer – today, anyway – to the million-dollar question that no one in the travel industry can avoid: what’s your favourite destination?

We asked a series of expert travellers to share their all-time favourite places, and their responses are as diverse as they are inspiring. Prepare to rewrite your bucket-list.

Hawaii, USA: The island escape

Since her first visit at age six, Escape’s cruise expert Andrea Black has been entranced by Hawaii’s islands. “I love the beaches, the Hawaiian people, the music, the aroma of plumeria in the air, the food, how laid-back it feels.”

It may seem a natural choice for a cruise writer, but Andrea says even avowed non-cruisers should consider boarding the Pride of America, which tours the Hawaiian Islands. “You’re in port every day across four islands – Oahu, Maui, The Big Island and Kauai. It beats the hassles of airports and you can treat the ship as somewhere to rest your head after a long day exploring (and surfing) the islands,” she says.

If you have to choose one island, make it Kauai. “It is incredibly beautiful from every angle – by ship along the Na Pali Coast, by helicopter, by foot, and by scenic boat along the Wailua River.”

THE HOTEL: On Waikiki, The Royal Hawaiian – aka the “Pink Palace”, where Joni Mitchell wrote Big Yellow Taxi – is one of Andrea’s top picks, or, for value and views, Outrigger.

Hoi An, Vietnam: The R&R capital

Who better to ask for a hot travel tip than Australia’s best travel agent? Having clocked up a remarkable 47 years in the travel industry, and in that time visiting almost as many countries, Travel Associates Rockhampton manager Sheron Konig was this year named Australia’s top cruise consultant.

A whirlwind two days in Hoi An 15 years ago had her hooked. “Just walking the streets you really get the real Vietnam experience,” she says of the historic tourist town, known for tailor-made clothes, shoes and jewellery.

Hoi An’s relaxed pace is a welcome respite after the sensory overload of Vietnam’s big cities. “You can flop and drop at the beach, and there are plenty of local markets to explore. Hoi An has something for everyone,” she says. “I always recommend spending at least five days in Hoi An to fully immerse in the local culture and experience all the city has to offer… I have never had a client come back disappointed.”

THE TOUR: Sheron suggests a sightseeing tour to the Marble Mountains, a fascinating complex of caves, tunnels and Buddhist pagodas.

Bungle Bungles, WA: The Outback marvel

WA-based travel writer Carolyn Beasley has travelled far and wide, but nothing compares to the surreal landscape of the Bungle Bungle Range in the Kimberley.

“I first visited in 1994, and although I’d seen pictures, I was totally awestruck,” she says. “It’s easy to see why it’s still a special place for the Gija and Jaru traditional owners.”

To see for yourself, hire a kitted-out camping 4WD in Kununurra, Broome or Darwin, or stay at Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge or APT Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge. “Both are all-inclusive, and both are fabulous places to stay.”

Don’t miss the north of the park, where Echidna Chasm and Mini Palms Gorge are as striking as the beehive-shaped domes.

THE TOUR: If you can, splurge on a helicopter joy-flight to view many gorges that can’t be accessed from the ground. 

Istanbul, Turkey: The culture fix

There’s no destination Escape’s travel advice guru Dilvin Yasa is quite as passionate about as Istanbul.

She’s travelled to Turkey almost every year since she was a teenager – and don’t tell her extended family, but it’s not only them that keep her coming back. It’s also the culture, the food and the shopping (who doesn’t need a Turkish rug in their life?).

Think of Istanbul and the striking architecture of the city’s major landmarks likely springs to mind, but Dilvin recommends venturing beyond the major tourist sites.

“Everyone should see the likes of the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace at least once, but be sure to see the ‘real’ Istanbul too.”

Dilvin suggests taking the ferry to Kadıköy and wandering the streets, eating along Moda’s waterfront, shopping on Bağdat Caddesi, and island-hopping on the Sea of Marmara.

THE HOTEL: Even if you’re not arriving by ship, make time to visit the glamorous new Galataport Istanbul cruise terminal complex, where The Peninsula Istanbul opened on the waterfront this year. 

South Africa: The wildlife wonder

Now a journey designer for Scenic, Liz Crowley tests and selects experiences for Australian, New Zealand and African itineraries. But on her first visit to Johannesburg in the 1990s, she was a backpacker on her way back to Australia after living in London.

“It took my breath away then, and it still does, although now, thanks to Scenic, where I stay is a bit different as we are a luxury tour operator; The Oyster Box in Durban that we include on our tours in South Africa is one of my favourite hotels anywhere.”

A stay at a game lodge is a must for the safari experience, she says. “Starting the day with a game drive is the best and absolutely worth getting out of bed early for when you are on vacation.”

THE TOUR: Liz suggests Scenic’s 11-day Cape Town to Victoria Falls itinerary as an ideal introduction to Africa. 

Queenstown, New Zealand: Food with views

Food editor-turned-Escape content director Jana Frawley had clocked up about 35 countries before setting foot in New Zealand. “I was awestruck by its natural beauty,” she says. “I likened it to dating half my life only to discover the love of my life lived next door.”

Queenstown is filled with high-adrenaline attractions, but for Jana the food is an even bigger drawcard. A hike to the top of Queenstown Hill is a must, to build an appetite for lunch at the famous Fergburger (Jana recommends phoning in your order to skip the queue).

“The Trust the Chef dégustation at Amisfield Winery is exceptional or book the Hop on Hop off Wine Tour and taste at your own pace,” she suggests.

THE HOTEL: The Rees Hotel is Jana’s top pick, and, naturally, its True South restaurant is a standout. If you’re looking to splurge, she suggests Eichardt’s or Blanket Bay Lodge.

Pueblos Mancomunados, Mexico: Hiking heaven

If you haven’t heard of this under-the-radar Mexican region, you’re not alone. Active traveller Alex McClintock hadn’t either until a Mexican friend let him in on the secret. A series of eight remote villages connected by 100km of trails through stunning high country, it’s a drawcard for hikers and nature lovers.

“I felt an incredible sense of peace in the dry pine forests of the Oaxacan sierra,” says Alex. “It was such a change from the bedlam of Mexico City a few days before.”

On an overnight hike, “midafternoon you’ll arrive at a small stone cottage in one of the villages, where a little old lady will be waiting to serve you fresh handmade tortillas by an open fire”.

THE TOUR: Sierra Norte Expeditions runs guided hikes, which Alex recommends – if you’re fit. “The paths aren’t difficult but it’s relatively high altitude and the guides go like mountain goats.” Or there’s a horseback option. 

Bali, Indonesia: The ultimate luxury

Escape lists editor David Smiedt is no stranger to Bali – but a recent stay at The Oberoi Beach Resort elevated the destination to holiday legend status in his book.

“What stood out was immaculate service,” he says. “Every staff member knew your name and made an effort to watch your patterns so that by the third day, they knew what sort of coffee you preferred at breakfast.”

Its beachfront location in Seminyak, lush garden surrounds, five-star spa and fine dining are none too shabby – but the unique cultural offering is what took the resort to the next level for David.

“We loved that every day at 4pm, there was free afternoon tea in the mini amphitheatre and a different Balinese cultural tradition to learn about – art, typography, spirituality, music and so on.”

THE ADD-ON: For the best of two islands, The Oberoi offers packages combining stays at both the Bali resort and its sister property on Medana Beach, Lombok.

Rome, Italy: The ancient city

“I cannot go to Europe without going to Rome,” says Escape managing editor Kelli Armstrong.

The best pasta and vino of your life is reason enough to visit, as is top-notch shopping with Italian fashionistas – but it’s the backdrop for it all, the history, that’s the biggest attraction for Kelli. And nothing compares with touring the Roman Forum and Colosseum.

“I’ve been obsessed with ancient history and archaeology since I was a kid,” she says. “In areas of Rome you are literally walking in the footsteps of emperors and among ruins that date back as far as the second century BC.”

THE HOTEL: Lovers of history (and luxury) can stay at The Inn at the Roman Forum, a historic townhouse with a 2000-year-old crypt on site. 

Japan: The sport scene

Cherry blossoms, snow monkeys and sushi restaurants are top of mind for many tourists when planning a trip to Japan. But Intrepid Travel’s Brett Mitchell suggests another way to immerse yourself in the culture.

“I would recommend getting to a baseball game if you have time,” Mitchell says. “While I’m not familiar with the game or the rules, I can tell you that being around so many passionate Japanese fans is an incredible experience.”

And if there’s one piece of advice he’d offer, it’s to allow time to get out of Tokyo and the major cities. “I would definitely recommend fellow travellers add an extra week to their itinerary to travel off the beaten path, into the mountain villages and the quaint coastal fishing towns that are scattered along the coast.”

THE TOUR: Brett’s personal favourite trip is Intrepid’s Classic Japan, a 12-day tour exploring the heart of Japan from Kyoto to Tokyo. 

Wengen, Switzerland: The snow paradise

When a pair of travel-loving snowboarders go on honeymoon, expect to find them on an off-the-beaten-path mountain. In the case of travel writer Jennifer Ennion and husband Lachlan, Wengen ski resort in Switzerland was the final stop on a month-long snowboarding honeymoon – and remains one of their all-time favourite destinations.

Catching a train through jaw-dropping Jungfrau region scenery is a highlight in itself – and since Wengen is a pedestrian-only resort, it’s the only way to arrive at what Jennifer describes as “a fairytale location, with powder-laden farming properties butting up against world-class ski runs”.

THE EXPERIENCE: Hire an old-fashioned timber toboggan and hurtle down a snowy “sledging” track.

“This is not tobogganing as an Aussie knows it,” Jennifer cautions.“It’s crazier, with your reward for surviving being a lunch of delicious raclette and glühwein in a village far below.” 

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