Whether made by nature or man, many of the world’s most amazing sites are next to the water’s edge. Not surprisingly so, as the water has played such an important role in both history, the evolution of man and in recharging the spirit. Some of the most unique of these places are still off the radar to most tourists, but our readers are lucky to be able to discover a few of these best kept secrets thanks to these insider tips from our local experts across the globe.

The  Arethusa Pool on Mou Waho Island, Lake Wanaka  

Our experts at Touch of Spice fill us in on one of Lake Wanaka’s best kept secrets, accessible only via boat lays an island, known as Mou Waho or commonly referred to as the lake on the lake.

“The largest of Lake Wanaka’s islands, Mou Waho is a protected home to many native bird and plant life, but what makes it so popular is what’s hidden at the summit,” explains Kelcey Radford of Touch of Spice. The peak sits at just over 200m above lake level and offers stunning views of Lake Wanaka, mountain ranges – and its very own lake.

“A natural feed lake, The Arethusa Pool sits in a rock cradle some 150m above the main lake. Come summer the water here reaches slightly higher temperatures than Lake Wanaka, providing an opportunity to swim in a truly unique location.”

Touch of Spice has a wonderful range of luxury villas in the Wanaka area, like the Ridge Retreat, pictured above right. From here you can journey out to Mou Waho Island by private charter to visit Wanaka’s famous “island on a lake on an island on a lake on an island on a lake” Yes, three times over!). Contact Touch of Spice at this link for further information.

Katha and other sites along the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar

One of the most beautiful waterways in Southeast Asia is undoubtedly Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. Snaking its way down the country from north to south, it passes by gilded temples, lovely villages and breathtaking landscape. The best way to experience all of this is certainly by boat and our experts at Amara River Cruise have a fleet of two beautiful handcrafted teak boats on which you can sail the river during their private cruises. Zenaida des Aubris of Amara takes us on a virtual journey past some of her favorite riverside sites:

“The itinerary of the Amara River Cruise on the Irrawaddy from Mandalay to Bhamo in the north (or vice versa) is a true opportunity to get to know the heart of Myanmar. Because this route is off the beaten path, the many stops along the way of the six-day cruise offer a glimpse into everyday life. One of the highlights is a visit to the small city of Katha, home to the author George Orwell for several years and where he wrote his novel “Burmese Days”. His house can still be visited, it has not been refurbished and is openly accessible. Another highlight is the beautiful scenery where the shores of the Irrawaddy form two gorges, with high cliffs holding the morning mist and opening up to picturesque vistas.

“The coastal landscape along the Irrawaddy offers a constantly changing panorama. White and gold-tipped pagodas are found next to practically every settlement. Every river-mile brings new impressions and new images. Enjoy being pampered by the attentive staff of the Amara while seeing this tropic landscape glide by!”

Enjoy this authentic experience of Myanmar with Amara River Cruises by reaching out to them.

The Marietas Islands, Punta Mita, Mexico

Situated off the coast of Punta Mita Mexico, these stunning uninhabited islands are home to 44 different species of plants and wildlife, a recommendation of local experts In Villa Veritas. A UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve, it’s the breeding ground of a number of species of seabirds including the blue-footed boobies and the red-billed tropicbirds. Due to its pristine coral reefs and abundance of sea life, it’s become a popular location for snorkeling and scuba diving, making it an excellent boating excursion from Punta Mita. On the hour-long journey you may even catch sight of some sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, wild dolphins, and humpback whales.

These unique islands can be seen on the horizon from the Estate Marietas by In Villa Veritas. This gorgeous, spacious oceanfront estate is an exquisite example of relaxed luxury. It sleeps twenty in six bedrooms, varying from master kings to large family rooms sleeping six. Located in the La Punta Estates area of the Punta Mita Resort, guests can benefit from its two Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses, the Four Seasons Resort, The St. Regis Resort, the St. Regis Memede Spa, and the Punta Mita Tennis and Fitness Center.

Take in a perfectly luxurious holiday surrounded by the spectacular natural setting of Punta Mita with In Villas Veritas at this link.

Northern Venetian Lagoon, Italy

With its tight streets, palazzi, churches and masses of tourists, Venice is as urban a city as they come. But the lagoon in which the famous island floats is one of the best kept secrets of the region.

“The Venetian lagoon is a veritable eco-paradise in the Mediterranean; with an average depth of two feet, it is home to marshy land masses that spawn a diverse fauna, from oysters, shrimp, and cuttlefish, to anchovy, eels, mullet, and sea bass,” reveals enthusiastically Allison Zurfluh of Isola Santa Cristina. “Vast species of birds make their home among the fishing valleys that are an organic part of Venetian life. Dotting the lagoon rise grassy barene, island marshlands that cannot be accessed by public transportation.”

Set in the very heart of this unique ecosystem, Isola Santa Cristina partners with Mauro Stoppa to provide exclusive forays into the northern wilds, where writers such as Ernest Hemingway found inspiration for lengthy works. Locally-sourced Venetian delicacies are prepared aboard an antique flat-bottomed fishing boat, or bragozzo, as it cruises expertly through narrow, otherwise inaccessible, canals. An experience of a lifetime, Venice will never seem the same again.

After a unique, adventurous and delicious day out on the lagoon, retreat to your private island getaway on Isola Santa Cristina. Hidden in the lagoon, a 30-minute boat ride from Venice, the island features one large, historic house which has been recently renovated to incorporate the best modern luxuries. The refined house is set within beautiful gardens which roll over into a maze of more wild paths, orchards and vineyards.

Escape to this Venetian island hideaway by contacting Isola Santa Cristina.


Vatuvara Island, Fiji

If you would like to reach the place where the sea meets the sky then journey to the lagoon of Kaibu Island, home to the luxurious ultra exclusive Vatuvara Private Islands resort. The namesake of this small group of Fiji’s some 300 plus islands, it is one of the remotest private islands in the world, offering a breathtaking destination filled with lush forest of green and fringed by spectacular beaches and azure waters. Vatuvara is preserved as an environmental sanctuary, where access is allowed only via the resort.

“The Fijian archipelago encompasses one of the most extensive coral reef systems in the world perfect for the dive or marine enthusiast,” elaborates Jacqui Reyes of Vatuvara Private Islands. “The beaches within the northern group are significant nesting sites for endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles. The oceans team with an abundant variety of marine life.”

Guests at Vatuvara can discover the island’s diversity of bird and wildlife, including the unique and endangered Coconut crab on exclusions to secluded coves were you can enjoy a gourmet picnic on a private beach. For the more adventurous, there are ancient hidden caves to explore, scuba diving, game fishing, jet skiing and paddle boarding.

Vatuvara Private Islands offer luxurious accommodation with impeccable discreet service. Villa sizes range from 4000 sqft to 7000 sqft and each of our four villas sleeps two adults and house their own massage bure. They also enjoy a direct beach access. Accommodation is available as a whole island occupancy or as one of our four villas. The island’s entire operation is organic certified to USDA and ACO standards, including a 4-hole golf course.

Spend your days boating around this perfect island paradise by contacting Vatuvara here.

Poor Knight’s Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Located 23 kilometres off New Zealand’s Tutukaka Coast and washed by warm currents swept from the Coral Sea, the Poor Knights Islands are an international icon, an insider tip from our local experts at Touch of Spice.

“A total Marine and Nature Reserve (World Heritage Site status currently pending) the 11-million-year-old Islands’ volcanic origins have created a dazzling array of spectacular drop offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels,” describes Kelcey Radford of Touch of Spice.

“Above and below water, the Islands are abundantly populated with unique and incredibly varied plant, animal and fish life. Laying claim to an astounding Maori history and the world’s largest sea cave (and only living dinosaur and largest insect) the remarkable Poor Knights thoroughly deserve their protected status.”

The perfect place to stay in this exceptionally beautiful part of New Zealand is Touch of Spice’s  private beach retreat on Moturua Island, Kauri Cove. Accessible only by helicopter or boat, this sleek villa, designed by renowned New Zealand architect Pete Bossley, sleeps 14 in six bedrooms with five bathrooms. From this fabulous, luxurious base, Touch of Spice can arrange a private paddleboard tour to the remarkable Poor Knight’s Island, offering sight-seeing, kayaking, cave explorations, snorkeling, swimming, sea mammal-spotting, snippets of fascinating history and Island facts and great food.

Plan a luxurious rip to discover the many splendors of the Bay of Islands with Touch of Spice here.

There are few historic sites on the planet that marvel visitors more than Myanmar’s ancient city Bagan. From the ninth to thirteenth centuries it was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first to unify what would become Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and develop itself as a strong rival of its Cambodian counterpart Angkor Wat. At its peak, there were over 10,000 Buddhist temples, monasteries, pagodas were erected in Bagan. Today around 2,200 of these remain, a sprawling yet extremely memorable site to visit. A somewhat overwhelming challenge which can be made much more rewarding thanks to these excellent insider tips provided by our Myanmar expert Zenaida des Aubris of Amara Group and vivid description of traveling in the country by Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece.

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Bagan temples / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch


Situated in the Mandalay region, roughly in the centre of Myanmar, Bagan sits on the banks of the famous Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River which snakes its way north to south through the country, emptying into the Andaman Sea.

There is a local airport next to Bagan, Nyaung U, with regular flights from Yangon. You can also reach the site by overnight trains from Yangon or daytime trains from Mandalay. A more picturesque option is to reach the site by boat, either on a public ferry from Mandalay or a private cruise such as aboard the wonderful hand crafted teak boats of Amara River Cruises, further on this experience below.

Upon arrival all foreigners must buy a Bagan Archaeological Zone pass costing 20 USD, 20 EUR or 25,000 Kyat upon arrival (prices of Jan 2017), therefore it’s recommended to have enough cash on you. Activities like transportation services, rentals and ballooning can be arranged at an additional price.

Bagan temple collage

Bagan temples / Photos: Ileana von Hirsch


Once onsite, you can have a accentuate your visit with Zenaida’s excellent tips:

  • Rent an E-Scooter: This is her number one tip to explore Bagan. According to Zenaida, they are very simple to operate and are powered by an electric battery. This will allow you to be able to explore the temples on your own. There are many smaller temples and stupas in the archeological zone which are only accessible either on foot, by bike, e-bike or horse-cart. Exploring these smaller temples and stupas is a lovely way to get to know Bagan. You can get really close to the intricate carvings and admire the ancient artistry. They are also so lovely to visit because they are off the beaten track. In fact, these tracks are often just that – dirt tracks across fields of peanut or sesame plants. Conditions are fine for walking or riding on these, nevertheless, don’t expect amenities such as handrails or road signs.
  • Wear Comfortable, Close-toed Shoes: Many of small temples are quite overgrown, so be sure to wear shoes that give some protection.
  • Bring Along a Flashlight: If you decide to explore the interior – most of them are accessible – be sure to also take a flashlight because there is no electricity. That said, by and large, the exterior is more interesting, artistically speaking, than the interior.  Though please remember that you explore at your own risk – there are no safety precautions anywhere.
  • Skip Sunset at Main Temples: Try to avoid seeing the sunset from atop one of the main temples – unless you like clambering up unsecured steps to the top and having to contend with many other visitors wanting to do the same thing.
  • Instead, Hire a Boat at Sunset: A much more pleasant alternative is to hire a small boat and have it take you to about the middle of the Irrawaddy River. Here you’ll be able to see the sun set over the mountain ridge on the one side and Bagan with its temples on the other.
  • Or Setting in on a Hotel Terrace for Sunset: Many of the hotels along the river’s edge, like the Bagan Thande Hotel, have lovely terraces or lawns where you can relax, exotic drink in hand, to enjoy the sunset, far away from the crowds.

Bagan temples at Sunset / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch


Combine all of Zenaida’s useful tips above by creating your own tour of Myanmar, including the Bagan Temples, on one of Amara’s private luxury cruise boats. Their small fleet consists of the Amara I and II, two spacious boats made of teak and carefully constructed by local craftsmen. Traditionally designed with modern luxury comforts, the boats have either five and seven double cabins which are air conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms.

The Amara team has various suggested itineraries, however, they can work with you to design the perfect cultural cruise. For one of UltraVilla’s Directors, Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece, Myanmar is the country of her heart. She traveled there four years in a row and on one of these trips experienced firsthand the Amara River Cruise. Ileana tempts us with some of her highlights from a typical day:

Bagan cruise

Amara River Cruise / Photos: Ileana von Hirsch


“Lunch on board is the usual feast: delicate coriander-spiked curries, crisp little platters of beans dressed in chilli and peanut sauce and tiny fried bananas in syrup. We chug peacefully up the river in the afternoon, scenes of Burmese arcadia scrolling along in the golden light.

“At six, we pull into a sandbank on an island midstream, and go off with Ting Ting, our hostess, to buy peanuts from the local village. An ox cart squeaks by with a wickerwork carriage and huge wheels carved out of a single block of wood. A raft is being loaded with watermelons by graceful girls carrying huge loads on their heads with apparent ease. The setting sun behind the village turns it into a silhouette of tipsy-looking stilt houses, tangled palmtops and rose-lit hills, all reflected in a pale, glassy sheet of water.

Myanmar cruise scenes

Scenes of Myanmar on an Amara River Cruise / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch


“We wander back across the sand to the boat, where the boys have laid out a glowing path of candles hidden inside translucent bamboo segments, guiding us to a festively laid table under the stars.

“After dinner, the crew put on a show for us, our numbers swelled by a group of villagers attracted to the music. Ting Ting is the star dancer, graceful and accomplished, the musicians try to tire her out with ever faster music, till she collapses in a giggling heap. Then we all join in and there is singing and dancing till the fire burns down and the villagers wander off home under  an upside-down crescent moon.”

What a vivid and beautiful experience, many thanks to Ileana for sharing it! Enjoy these authentic connections with real Myanmar while taking in its historic and religious sites, natural beauty and cultural uniqueness on an Amara River Cruise.