For many of today’s ambitious and clued-up travellers, package tours and predictable holidays by the pool no longer appeal. Having the same experience as everyone else is so ‘last Millennium’ – so if you fancy a trip with a difference, let Wings be your guide. Settle back in your seat and be transported to our selection of the most intriguing niche retreats and unusual, adventurous and fulfilling holiday experiences to enjoy at Arik destinations.
Words Rob Laing
Ask 10 people to describe their idea of the perfect holiday and you may get a completely different answer each time. For some, relaxing with a good book on golden sands with the sounds of the ocean lapping on the shore is their idea of bliss. For others, it could be a long hike breathing in the mountain air, or riding down one on a snowboard. Even if you’re looking for something unusual for your getaway, there’s never been a better time to find it; a vast range of tours, day trips and unique experiences are waiting to be discovered, covering a never-ending range of interests to help you find your very own holiday nirvana.
This perfect retreat could be just a small part of your business visit, in the form of a half-day diversion, or a could fill a full two-week itinerary to suit your needs. Even something as simple as trying a new way to tour a city’s sights and immerse yourself in its culture could open new horizons on your visit. And if you want a more hands-on experience, holidays that involve learning a new skill or developing an existing interest with an experience-based break are growing in popularity.
Free-diving, snorkelling and surfing are taking visitors off the beach and into the water. Meanwhile, health retreats with activities including yoga are also on the rise, suggesting some holidaymakers are looking for longer term benefits from their time away. For those looking for spiritual enlightenment, there’s an ever-growing range of meditative breaks to choose from, too, enabling you to find an oasis of calm even in the middle of the world’s busiest cities.
Thanks to the constantly evolving channels of social media, travellers have more information available to find what they need and make more informed choices than ever before. Whether it be reading reviews from past visitors, or sharing tips, customers are shaping their holiday experiences more than ever before, and often becoming their own travel agent. And this means companies cater for a broader range of tastes and interests with their services. With the internet, niche travel trends in one small corner of the world can become globally recognised, giving more of us even more ways to enjoy our time away in the way we want. So join Wings as we take a look at just some of the wonderful and varied ways to find your holiday happiness in and close to Arik Air’s destinations…
Find out why Senegal is one of surfing’s best-kept secrets
World-class waves in uncrowded and unspoiled surroundings? It sounds too good to be true. Until you visit the beautiful reality – on a tiny island off Africa’s westernmost coast. Ngor’s golden beaches can be found surprisingly close to Dakar’s centre and its bustling streets, but they witness relatively flat seas as a result of being sheltered by the close island of the same name. On the island itself, you’ll find a very different story; with reef breaks and waves all year round. It was actually one of the locations chosen to feature in iconic 1966 surf film The Endless Summer – and the Ngor Island Surf Camp allows visitors to wake up every morning in balmy weather, with a day of bliss riding the waves on their doorstep. The camp’s surf school can help visitors of all ages, abilities and nationalities learn to find confidence on a board and the Surf House is the perfect chillout area for the end of the day, too, with a heated pool and outside showers.
Because it’s one of the highest properties on the island, the solar-powered house boasts sea views from every window of its accommodation and a stunning 360-degree panorama of the island’s waves from its roof terrace.
Private surf lessons: From €20 for two hours (including board and wetsuit hire, group options available); accommodation prices (inc transfers, half board and island transport)
Surf House Accomodation: €37 per night (dormitory) €75 (single room with private bathroom), €119 (double room)
Beginner Surf School package (inc dorm accommodation, transfer, breakfast, dinner, surf lessons): €348 (one week) and €598 (two weeks)
View astronomical wonders in the stunning surroundings at Kielder Observatory
Northumberland’s Kielder Forest is a six-hour drive north from London, but your journey will be amply rewarded with some of the darkest skies in Europe, perfect for the stargazing opportunities offered at the stunning facilities based there.
Kielder Observatory encourages people of all ages to achieve a better understanding of the wonders of our universe in a friendly and informative environment, with a team of astronomers, guest speakers and volunteers on hand to help you. There’s a wide variety of evening events throughout the year, providing access to Kielder’s telescopes on clear nights in comfortable surroundings. In the winter months, a cosy log fire and their famous hot chocolate are on hand to give visitors a toasty welcome, and on warmer nights, how about gazing up at the Milky Way on the observation deck in a special Moon Chair?
Some of Kielder Observatory’s regular events include Family Astronomy nights to inspire and educate children, and Deep Sky astronomy to view the faint galaxies, clusters and nebulae of the outer solar system. Aurora Night remains Kielder’s most popular event, focused on understanding the science behind the world-famous Northern Lights, observed there many times.
Tickets for events are £18.15 for adults, £16.50 concession, £45.63 for a family ticket (all prices include optional Gift Aid donation). Booking in advance is essential via a full calendar of events. Call +44(0)191 2655510 or visit the website below.
Bite The Big Apple
Enrol at boot camp to bring out your inner master chef
As New York City is one of the greatest places to eat in the world thanks to its rich cultural diversity, you’ll also find it the perfect place to learn to cook with experts. The renowned Culinary Institute Of America is the world’s premier culinary college, with campuses in California, Texas and New York for those with aspirations to become leaders in their profession. But visitors can get a two-, three-, four- or five-day taste of life in the top-class kitchens there by attending one of the New York Hyde Park Campus’s Culinary Boot Camps. You can expect to be challenged, but the emphasis is also on inspiration and fun, with a hands-on ‘learn-by-doing’ approach under expert instruction by the college’s tutors. And of course, you’ll eat your culinary creations, too! There’s a range of Boot Camps on offer that will suit most tastes, from Italian, Mexican, Asian and Mediterranean cooking skills, to comfort foods, grilling and BBQ, Hors d’Oeuvre, fresh cheese and its more intense Cooking Technique Series with meats. The Institute can help you serve it all up with style.
Prices: from $895 (includes uniform)
Bird Is The Word
An eco-friendly stay in a natural nirvana
With over 540 species and 170 of those native to its stunning coast, The Gambia is teeming with birdlife for veteran ornithologists and budding birders to enjoy. So much so, you will probably spot exotic species while relaxing by the pool of your hotel in the morning sunshine.
The Gambia is a paradise for nature photographers especially, with the country’s incredible array of storks, egrets, birds of prey, terns, cuckoos, nightjars, rollers, bee-eaters and kingfishers. Based in Gunjur in the south of the country and just one kilometre from the peaceful beach, the Footsteps Eco-lodge offers a range of accommodation in calm and friendly surroundings with over 100 different bird-species sightings recorded within its grounds alone.
Footsteps also takes the issue of sustainability seriously, in a variety of carefully considered ways. Through composting of kitchen waste and even guest toilets (don’t worry, they’re odourless!), use of solar- and wind-generated power, grey water recycling and solar-heated guest water, locally sourced food and exclusively local employees – Footstep Eco-lodge represents a business that is conscious of minimising its environmental impact. So while you’re enjoying The Gambia’s lush environments and natural riches, you can feel good about contributing to its well-being, too.
Footsteps Eco-lodge availability:
April to December
Prices: Seven nights’ accommodation (including breakfast) from £420 (based on two adults and up to two children or three adults sharing) or from £315 (one adult)
An entire safari in just one day
If you’ve ever dreamed of rolling savannah and the unforgettable sights of lions, leopards and giraffes living free under the baking sun, why not make it a reality with a thrilling day or two-day experience? Johannesburg is within driving distance of three different game parks; Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg Game Reserve and one of Africa’s largest game reserves, the world-renowned Kruger National Park.
Of the three, Pilanesberg is the closest to the city, with a two-hour drive making it ideal for a highly rewarding day experience viewing wildlife from an open-top vehicle. Felleng Tours visit all three reserves, and the owner-run company works tirelessly to offer a wide variety of other day experiences and packages, too; from Soweto’s townships to a hot-air-balloon ride over the city. The Pilanesberg day tour takes in the stunning vistas of the 132,000-acre national park and its varied habitats, including vast savannah grasslands home to around 10,000 animals, including the Big Five (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) and hundreds of bird species. Your day will begin early with collection from your hotel, and an option with lunch at Pilanesberg’s luxury Bakubung Bush Lodge is available.
Prices on request
Ride And Seek
Discover Brooklyn in a different way… on two wheels
Seeing a city’s sights on foot or from the comfort of a tour bus are both tried-and-tested options for a first-time visitor, but a leisurely pedal-powered trip with a local guide through one of New York City’s most diverse cultural hubs can give you a uniquely intimate insight into what makes it tick.
Get Up And Ride are strong believers in the biking experience in The Bronx, the northernmost of the five boroughs of NYC that was home to some of hip-hop’s early pioneers, and is the base for the New York Yankees baseball team. “We strive to provide our guests with a unique local experience,” Get Up And Ride founder/CEO Felipe Lavalle tells us. “Our tour guides live in the areas we tour and we showcase the authentic, off-the-beaten-path sites that only locals know about. This means we frequently get off the bikes to step inside unique local businesses that are favourites of the local community. All of our guided tours include a bike rental, helmet and walkie-talkies with headsets, which we use to provide commentary throughout the ride.”
Prices: From $79 per person, with tours from three hours to five hours in length.
Availability: Daily from mid-March to mid-December.
Bike rentals also available from $25
Take a journey through South Africa’s art history
Experiencing the breadth of a country’s contemporary and historical art can give you a unique insight as a tourist. Responsible Travel’s extensive 11-day South Africa arts-and-crafts tour goes deep into the country’s cultural melting pot, covering a wide range of styles from ancient and modern influences. It all begins in Cape Town’s Castle Of Good Hope (the country’s oldest building) to view the Fired exhibition, celebrating clay artistry from South Africa’s archeological past to the present. From there, travellers will meet local artists and view unique collections before enjoying the art collections of The Cape Winelands and then flying to Johannesburg to take in its galleries and urban regeneration.
As its name suggests, the company takes its commitment to promoting responsible travel seriously in South Africa. It calculates the carbon footprint of each visitor on the tour and gives a voluntary donation to Food And Trees For Africa (FTFA) in order to offset impact. Responsible Travel also selects home-grown suppliers and family-run hotels to support the local tourism industry at each step of the tour, to help you support the South African economy as well as its art communities.
From: ZAR 67,100 (approx £3,064 per person, based on two people sharing). Included: internal flight, airport collection, four/five-star lodging, entry fees, tips, guest speakers and tour leader. Meals: nine lunches, six dinners with wine and soft drinks.
14 to 24 February 2017
Never Mind The Mbalax
Get into the rhythm of life in Senegal’s musical capital
Dakar is one of Africa’s great musical cities, famed for its hip-hop scene and mbalax dance music – a high-energy sonic coktail of Senegal’s sabar style with western jazz, soul, latin and rock elements. Songlines Music Travel’s nine-day November tour aims to help outsiders get into the swing of Senegal’s scene by guiding them to the best local sounds and sights of the city’s roots music. Get prepared for some late nights… and a fair few bottles of the city’s own Gazelle beer. The key nightspots, such as local hero Youssou N’Dour’s always-popular club Thiosanne and intimate live venue / restaurant Just4U can offer live acts every night, but it might be midnight before some shows begin. With this in mind, the trip balances out the pace in the middle of its itinerary with a three-day chillout excursion to the old French colonial town of St Louis – Senegal’s former capital is reminiscent of Havana and the French Quarter of New Orleans, with its laid-back 19th-century charm. Djembe drum lessons on St Louis’s beach are the perfect apéritif before the trip ends on a high-octane note, with two days back in Dakar for the live Friday and Saturday highlights.
Price: £1,495 (includes accommodation on a twin share basis, breakfasts, transport between Dakar and St Louis, all visits and live music as per itinerary, services of a Songlines Music Travel Leader)
Dates: 18 to 27 November, 2016
Sip Tea Living
Tea and tranquillity could be the perfect pairing in London
Any visitor to Great Britain may well have enjoyed the quaint delights of its tea rooms, and it is a place famous for its love of the drink. In its capital, one enterprise is combining guided tours with a passion for tea culture to offer visitors something fresh. “Everyone knows Britain as being one of those countries famous for its tea culture,” says T-Lovers founder and tea connoisseur, Lera Zujerva. “So what can be better that discovering London through its tea history and culture?”
The highly-rated T-Lovers Tea Walks take visitors through the narrow streets and alleyways around the North Bank and South Bank areas to find out more about the country’s historical links with tea (with tea drinking involved of course!), while the Tea Tasting Tour visits the fashionable streets of Shoreditch for learning about and sampling different teas in four unique locations. T-Lovers also offers visitors the chance to take a break from the fast pace of city life, too.
“Through our Asian Tea Ceremonies, tea can provide a peaceful and relaxing retreat from the busy city,” adds Lera, “and they can re-align you back to yourself, nature and life itself.” Uluntu Tea Room is based close to London’s famous Tower Bridge and hosts the ceremonies three times a week. Attendees gather together to share tea in silent meditation, before sharing their thoughts on the experience over snacks afterwards.
Guided Tea Tours (£25 inc. teas and a cake) and the two different Tea Walks (£20 inc. teas and cake) run once a month on various days and times, advanced booking is essential. Group Tea Ceremonies and Meditations take place three times a week, with a minimum suggested donation of £10.
Day Out With A Difference
Shop Gotham NYC Shopping Tours
Make the most of your time in one of the world’s fashion capitals with a variety of tours to suit your fashion requirements. The tours offer their own special insider perks while exploring the city’s shopping paradises, including special access to wholesale designer showrooms, exclusive discounts and even the chance to meet designers.
Price: From $38
Unseen Tours, London
See the capital from a different perspective with this multi-award-winning, not-for-profit social enterprise working with homeless and/or vulnerably housed individuals as walking tour guides of the city’s iconic areas including Brixton, Shoreditch, Camden and Brick Lane. If you want to see the often overlooked realities of London, this is the way to do it.
Price: £12 adults / £8 concessions (Tuesdays, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday)
Holy Trinity Spa, Sogacope, Ghana
Escape the hustle and bustle of Accra to this spa and health farm situated along the Volta River. A range of services attend to your wellbeing with a De-stressing Day Spa Package including massage, lunch, horse riding, river cruise and the option to use Holy Trinity’s extensive sports facilities.
Find Your Tribe
Create a bespoke itinerary for your visit to cities including Lagos, Accra, Dakar and Johannesburg with this app. It’s aimed at filtering only the best experiences for the travel connoisseur by covering insider advice on everything from nightlife to hotels and shopping.
Not just a place for booking, the reviews here from past visitors will give you insight and tips for making the most of your own stay. And if you still have a question unanswered about a particular activity, a fellow traveller may well be able to help.
Get a visual feel for city life or your niche interest by searching on the photo-sharing social media service. Search for images and profiles by hashtag, location or interest. Take a look at some popular profiles for places and interests including Dakarlives, Lagosphoto, _accra, Newyork, Visitlondonofficial, Africatracks and Footballsenegal.
On Course For relaxation
UBREW Beginner Brewing Course, London
Craft ales are becoming big business and this one-day course is the fastest way to understanding the fine art of brewing. Ubrew is a successful open-brewery crowd-funded venture based in Bermondsey, offering a range of hands-on tutorial sessions with an expert brewer, to create your own beer.
New York City Photo Safari
What better way to sharpen your photography skills than a workshop on location in iconic locations, including Grand Central Terminal and Central Park? You can even focus on New York’s vibrant life after dark, with an expert instructor to give you feedback and direction.
Senegal Style Drumming Lessons, Dakar
Get into the rhythm of Senegal with a two-hour lesson (it is also a B&B guesthouse) near Derklé, under the tutelage of djembe and djun djun player Ibou Sene (who speaks both English and French) and his colleagues. There’s even a three-day course to build your own djembe drum.