February 14 is a while away, but if you want to really spring a surprise on your chocolate-loving fiancé(e), this is the time to start planning. Elevate Destinations, those guys who subscribe to “voluntourism”—combining travel with volunteer work in the host countries—have planned a Valentine’s Day Chocolate Tour to Belize, a tiny central American country washed by the Caribbean and bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. A British colonial heritage makes it accessible to English-speakers, but it’s their cacao that talks a universal language. Focused on Toledo district and the town of Punta Gorda, the trip packs in a cacao farming tour—including a workshop on roasting, milling, winnowing, grinding and conching cacao—a volunteer day with the non-profit Sustainable Harvest International, a trip to Mayan ruins, topped by a hands-on chocolate-making workshop (and you can actually bring your creations home). Besides, there is swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving (off the Belize Barrier Reef) and horse riding on offer. In between discovering the people and places, you are put up in a cabana at the Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge ensconced between a river and a rainforest.
The tour runs 13-20 February and costs $3,700 (around Rs1.7 lakh) per person, inclusive of seven nights’ accommodation, all meals, airport transfers (but not air tickets). To sign up, visit www.elevatedestinations.com.
Choco haven: The Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge in Belize.Elevate Destinations
Walking on air
The new New Zealand is best accessed not by road—traditionally regarded as the most congenial way of getting around this beautiful, foreign driver-friendly country—but by air. The spectacular landscapes— soaring peaks, crystal lakes, vast expanses of the sea—around Queenstown reveal another facet of themselves when witnessed from a twin-engine Britten Norman Islander aircraft. “Flightseeing”, as the locals dub it, lets you experience everything from glaciers to rainforests, lakes to river valleys. Fly over Milford Sound, often described as the eighth wonder of the world, or Mt Aspiring National Park, named after one of New Zealand’s highest peaks, with Real Journeys (www.realjourneys.co.nz; prices: 385-425 New Zealand dollars or about Rs12,700-14,000). Alternately, sign up with Over the Top (www.flynz.co.nz) for a helicopter flight over the Southern Alps that climaxes in a gourmet picnic in the heart of the mountains, complete with access to a private alpine hut. If exclusive for two, prices range from NZD440-4,275.
After a day like that, it’s only fitting you retire to luxe accommodation. The Whare Kea Chalet is accessible only by helicopter, and is manned by your personal host and mountain guide. To work up an appetite for the European cuisine on offer, try heli-skiing or mountain-climbing in winter and golf, fly-fishing or mountain biking in summer. Tariffs range from NZD5,000-7,000 for two per day. The chalet can be booked, however, only as part of bookings for the Whare Kea Lodge, just over an hour away from Queenstown; tariffs: NZD800-1,300. Log on to www.wharekealodge.com.
Cruiser: ‘Flightseeing’ over blue peaks.
Destination weddings are one thing. But when it comes to pulling out all the stops on luxury honeymoons, you could do worse than sign up with Kuoni, which has a whole array of options to choose from.
In the Maldives, a three-night/four-day package for two costs a very reasonable Rs42,300 (ex-Mumbai) and Rs44,300 (ex-Delhi), inclusive of accommodation at the Paradise Island Resort (www.paradiseislandmaldives.net) and return airfares. If Australia’s on your mind, a nine-night/10-day getaway is available for Rs1,29,260 (ex-Mumbai) and Rs1,31,360 (ex-Delhi), covering accommodation at the Four Seasons, Sydney (www.fourseasons.com/sydney), and Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast (www.palazzoversace.com), a stretch limo ride in Brisbane, et al. Should you want to go the Switzerland way, six nights and seven days in the lap of luxury at the Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken (www.victoria-jungfrau.ch/en) and the Palace Luzern in Lucerne (www.palace-luzern.ch/en) will cost you Rs2,54,690, inclusive of candlelight dinners. Call Kuoni at 022-66391000 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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