Travelling with your senses
The experience: Go full Stranger Things and experience the ‘upside down’ in the Scottish Highlands.
Deep within the omnipresent valleys, mountains and moors of Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands lies a shallow, freshwater lake that tips reality on its head. Loch Achtriochtan, located just off the A82 trunk road that winds through the glen, is protected from the Highlands’ turbulent winds by the surrounding mountains, so much so that, if you’re lucky, you’ll witness one of its moments of utter mirror-like stillness. The splayed strokes of ochre and hunter green that sweep towards the looming summit above are reflected in the loch’s glassy waters, creating a mind-bending optical illusion that would see Will Byers running for the hills. It’s a rare sight – the Highlands experience some of the strongest winds in the UK – but worth waiting for.
The experience: Channel your inner Avatar and set your eyes on the closest thing we have to the glowing world of Pandora.
This natural light show isn’t found on a far distant planet (although, something similar might be), nor is it really magic. In fact, it’s just a bunch of plankton, known as Dinoflagellates (dinos), using a bioluminescent defense – all very sciency really. But a magical sight, all the same. On the southern shores of Isla de Vieques, the illuminated Mosquito Bay has the brightest bioluminescent waters in the world. As you kayak beneath the night sky through the glittering plankton, which float close to the water’s surface, they burst into a glowing greenish-blue and leave a starry trail behind you. The magic happens all year round, but arrive during the phase of the new moon and the dinos will dazzle you with their best show of the month.
The experience: Learn to be more like Marvel’s Daredevil by eliminating sight and enhancing the sensitivity of all your other senses.
Eliminate one of your senses and suddenly, the other four become all the more important. That’s what you learn when you take a blind tour of the Netherlands’ oldest city, Nijmegen. MuZIEum recreates the blind experience and offers guided tours in the dark. With virtual reality glasses simulating the different forms of sight loss, a blind or partially sighted tour guide will lead you around the city, where you will navigate your way using sound, smell, touch and taste. It’ll teach you to see the world through different eyes, bringing awareness to the visually impaired, and the value of your senses.
The experience: You missed out on the trip to Mars; so instead, you want to watch the clearest skies on the planet to reconnect with life beyond Earth.
A trip to the small town of San Pedro in the Atacama Desert is guaranteed to leave you starstruck. The region offers some of the darkest and clearest skies on the planet, thanks to its high altitude, dry climate and low air pollution. It’s for this reason the Atacama Desert is one of the best stargazing sites in the world, offering a clear view of the southern sky’s starry constellations, nebulas and the Milky Way. Receiving less than 14 inches of rain per year, your astrological experience extends further than just looking through a telescope, with the dry land resembling the red, rocky landscape of Mars. San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (SPACE) is one of South America’s largest and highest open-air public observatories offering telescope rentals and tours.
The experience: The chance to see the world in first class without your feet leaving the ground, or causing too much damage to your wallet.
The world is your oyster – as long as you can handle long-haul flights. If the thought of sitting at 40,000 feet while listening to rumbling engines, creaking cabins and alarming dings causes you to break out in a sweat, then jetting across the globe probably isn’t going to sound appealing, even with a first class ticket. Cue virtual reality travel. With Tokyo-based First Airlines, getting to New York, Paris, Rome or Hawaii takes just two hours. Experience boarding, take-off, landing and a guided sightseeing tour, all simulated through virtual reality and projection mapping. You’ll even get to sample in-flight meals prepared by an ‘onboard’ chef. Of course, you’ll have to get to Tokyo first but for around AU$72 for a first class flight, you could visit all four destinations in a day for less than a domestic flight.
The experience: What could be better than drinking a famous rum cocktail from the shack on a beach that made it famous?
Alongside the Caribbean’s turquoise waters, vibrant marine life and colourful cultures, there’s one other ingredient that’s required to finish the pretty picture; sipping a rum cocktail from an al fresco shack. On Jost Van Dyke Island in the British Virgin Isles, nestled in White Bay, is the original home of the Painkiller cocktail. Soggy Dollar Bar created this popular, Caribbean-staple cocktail in the 1970s by mixing premium dark rum, coconut cream, pineapple and orange juice, and a hint of Grenadian nutmeg. Join in the island’s tradition: anchor your boat just off the beach, swim through the crystal waters to shore and pay for your Painkillers with a soggy dollar. Unique name, no?
The experience: Taste wine that gives new meaning to divine, because the higher the altitude, the more chance it has of being touched by the gods, right?
We’re not saying that higher altitude wines are the best in the world, but it does seem a little coincidental that vineyards that are closer to heaven grow deliciously light and fresh fruits despite the hellish environment. There is some science as to why high-altitude wines taste so good – the exposure to direct sunlight, dramatic changes in the temperature and drainage systems of mountainous landscapes all play a part. The sun exposure produces the lively colour and strong tannins, while the night-time temperature drop means the ripening process of the grapes is slower, halting sugar production and ultimately producing wine with lower alcohol and higher acidity. A visit to Colomé winery will give you firsthand tasting impressions of its famous ‘wines of altitude’. Situated between 2300 and 3111 metres in Argentina’s Calchaquí Valley it’s one of the world’s highest vineyards and its robust wines can be sipped while enjoying the untouched terrain and breathtaking views of the Colomé region from its James Turrell Museum in Molinos, Salta.
The experience: Adding a little spice to your life has never been so tasty.
If you can’t get through a meal without adding a little salt and pepper, then you’ll appreciate the fineries of Cambodia’s Kampot. The region’s pepper is regarded as some of the best in the world with a distinctly sweet taste and fruity aroma. Located in ideal growing conditions, between the coast and the mountains, it’s Kampot’s rich quartz soil, rainfall and sunshine that ensures its bountiful growth and production, and savouring a Cambodian dish seasoned with fresh pepper and spices shouldn’t be missed. At La Plantation, you’ll be guided through the history of pepper production in Kampot (plus a little about Fleur de Sel (Flower of Salt), which is collected from the surface of evaporating seawater) and learn to cook Khmer food from a local chef, who will teach you how to use Kampot salt and pepper in your dishes. Alternatively, take a seat at one of the plantations two restaurants: Mahob, serving up Khmer food and La Rotisserie for French cuisine, and enjoy some peppered Lok Lak beef or roasted chicken with Kampot pepper sauce.
The experience: Get your lips around Cuba’s most famous export.
Cuba is renowned for its salsa and vintage cars, but its cigars are legendary. From featuring in some of history’s most iconic movies like The Godfather and Scarface to finding their way in the hands of celebs and world leaders, the taste of a Cuban cigar is a coveted flavour. The country’s fertile soil makes it a hinterland for tobacco plantations and you’ll find some of the best in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Viñales National Park. Located about four hours west of Havana, the area is home to a number of tobacco growers. The crops are harvested by hand and then hung to dry in barns before being rolled, ready for you to draw in some of the rich flavours of the freshest cigar you’ll ever smoke.
The experience: Discover what it means to taste with your eyes.
When you’re transferred to the secret location of Shanghai’s avant-garde restaurant, Ultraviolet, you’re welcomed by a room that’s void of decor. Chairs surrounding a single-lit long table welcome the exclusive 10-person guest list for the 20-course meal. When the first course arrives, diners are treated to a multi-sensory experience that plays into French chef Paul Pairet’s theory of ‘psycho taste’ – the psychology and emotions associated with food and the notion that taste can be altered by external factors. With each course the atmosphere is tailored to the dish and enhanced through lighting, sound and scent. The experimental meals are meant to tantalize more than just your tastebuds, and you’ll be amazed by how many of your senses you can use to taste just one meal.
The experience: Hear Mother Nature tell her story loud and clear.
If you were hiking through a forest, surrounded by luscious, dark-barked fir trees, wooden megaphones would be the last thing you’d expect to see. But that’s exactly what sits in the RMK Pähni Nature Centre. The timber megaphones – an art installation created by Estonian interior architecture students – are each three-metres in diameter, and amplify the surrounding sounds, and silence, of nature. The role of the megaphones is to give visitors a chance to sit, sleep, meditate and just listen to the soothing sounds of the fir forest. Sitting inside one of the wooden structures gives two visual perspectives, and acts as a reminder that life is all about how you choose to look at or listen to your surroundings.
The experience: Channel your inner Doctor Dolittle and listen to dolphins speak.
The Hawaiian spinner dolphin, known locally on the island as nai’a (dolphin), might be one of the smallest species of this finned creature, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with its playful acoustic and acrobatic show. Torpedoing up to three metres into the air while serenading in playful whistles, squeaks and clicks, their series of melodic sounds are used to communicate with their pod as they hunt for prey and protect each other from predators. Off the coast of Oahu, the four-hour Best of the West tour by Wild Side Hawaii will get you up to speed on dolphin ‘wet-iquette’, offering a snorkelling experience with these graceful mammals, as well as giant sea turtles and humpback whales, for about AU$250.
The experience: Learn how to make construction and sound engineering work in one awe-inspiring package from an ancient civilisation.
There’s more to the Chichén Itzá’s El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan) than just it’s impressive structure. The exhibition of Mayan architectural and engineering genius attracts thousands of visitors each year on the spring and autumn equinoxes as a carved serpent dances in what is a trick of light. But it’s the clap-triggered chirping noise that really piques our interest. Standing at the bottom of the stairs, a clap generates a sound which some believe mimics that of a sacred quetzal bird. It all comes down to geometry, but debate still stands as to whether or not this was intentional. Either way, the Mayans have managed to baffle minds and challenge the sound-processing skills of each new generation with this quirky feat of engineering ever since.
The experience: Share your deepest secrets with the walls of New York City’s underground.
It’s one of New York City’s most-visited sights, filled with architectural wonders and a fascinating history, plus a secret or two. Deep inside Grand Central Station there’s a stealthy little nook where, beneath the ceramic arches adorned with Guastavino tiles, you can whisper into the corner and the sound will travel to the other side. Grab a pal and speak to each other as you stand at opposing diagonal corners. Just don’t confess anything you wouldn’t want a stranger to know. Discover the Whispering Gallery and more on an audio tour of the station for AU$11 or jump on a guided tour for around AU$38.
The experience: Hear the creaks and cracks of the earth.
Imagine standing near the precipice of an almighty wall of ice. All is still. Suddenly, a cacophony of sound breaks out: a deafening crack cuts through the air, then a groan, both which reverberate off the mountains blanketed with green above, followed by an booming splash into the turquoise waters below. You’ve just experienced the sound of Perito Moreno Glacier as it crumbles into the deep blue. A whopping 30 kilometres in length, five kilometres in width and 60 metres high, this hunk of glacial ice is consistently advancing up to two metres each day – a stark contrast to some of the other world’s glaciers which are receding at an alarming rate. The result of this constant growth is fractures in the ice, which send immense blocks of ‘berg down into the blue waters. Like the gaping yawn of the earth opening up – both awe-inspiring and scary – it’s a sound that will move you to your core.
The experience: Finally satisfy your curiosity and party with jellyfish, minus the stinger hangover.
Nothing can prepare you for the ethereal experience of floating in clear water surrounded by a fluther of jellyfish. There are only a few places in the world that offer the experience to swim with stringless jellies. Jellyfish Lake on Kakaban Island in East Kalimantan, part of the Indonesian Archipelago, is one destination, alongside the more popular lake of the same name in Palau. Unfortunately, because of changing weather conditions, the jellyfish population on Palau has diminished and over the last few years, the lake has seen periods of shutdown. The lesser-known mangrove-fringed lake on Kakaban is home to four varieties of jellyfish (compared to Palau’s two), which thrive in diluted seawater alongside white anemone, sea cucumbers, crabs, snakes and clams. Years of living in this closed system without natural predators has forced these jellies to evolve into harmless, soft, gelatinous umbrellas, so it’s only natural we want to join the party.
The experience: Build a sand castle masterpiece with the world's softest sands.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of soft sand between your toes, a balmy breeze bringing with it salty smells and the sound of the sea gently rolling on the shore. The sugary-white, powder-fine sands of Siesta Beach at Siesta Key in Florida are some of the softest going around. The sand here is said to consist of 99 per cent pure crushed quartz from the Appalachian Mountains, which gives it the glorious whiteness and also means the sand stays relatively cool – even on the hottest of days. Siesta Beach’s shallow, calm waters are ideal for splashing about and the quartz sand lends itself perfectly to building castles, so you can unleash your inner creative while basking on this beautiful beach.
The experience: Feel the true power of water with a waterfall massage.
Nestle among the rocks and let the warm water caress your skin as it cascades down terraced pools of the palest blue at this natural hot spring. Cascate del Mulino is a southern Tuscan gem where you can plonk yourself in a pool and feel any stress or tension instantly melt away. Steam rises from the mineral pools and the smell of sulphur tinges the air while you settle back to enjoy the spectacular scenery as the warm waterfalls work their magic. Naturally heated at 37.5°C year-round, the mineral content of the water is perfect for relaxing tired muscles.
The experience: Forego the confined space of a traditional ice bath with a plunge into the Southern Ocean.
For a truly bone-chilling and spine-tingling rush of adrenalin, you can’t go past a plunge into the freezing waters of Antarctica. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted but it’s a swim you won’t be forgetting any time soon. Thankfully, this voluntary ice bath is followed by a luxuriously hot sauna back onboard the boat to allow you to defrost. Aurora Expeditions offers the Polar Plunge excursion as part of its Antarctica expeditions, so as well as the opportunity to bathe in what is normally the domain of penguins and seals, brave swimmers will also experience a unique holiday adventure.
The experience: A chance to test your mettle and prove your strength in the coldest inhabited place on Earth.
Visiting a remote, far eastern corner of Siberia in the middle of winter is a sure-fire way to put your senses to the test. And while this land of extremes is renowned for its chilly Arctic weather, you can take it to the next level at Oymyakon – the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth with an average low of a bone-chilling -50°C. Oymyakon is home to a just few hundred hardy souls and can be visited from Yakutsk, which holds the well-deserved reputation as the world’s coldest city. It’s a 930-kilometre drive across ice, including a stretch over the Lena River, which doesn’t need a bridge thanks to the sub-zero temperatures. Just make sure you rug up before you go!
The experience: Lose your breath at a boiling gloopfest.
One small step for man. One giant leap for… a bucket? Take a walk among the lunar-like landscapes of Mount Námafjall, Hverir and Myvatn in Iceland’s north and you’ll be rewarded with plumes of marshmallow clouds billowing from fumaroles and pots and pools of thick, glooping mud – the result of the geothermal activity from the isle’s boiling reservoirs. But it’s the lingering scent that will leave you breathless. The steam and gas emitted from the boiling pits has a sulphurous stench likened to rotten eggs. To prove your iron stomach, make for Gunnuhver, the country’s largest mud pool. At 20 metres wide, the belly of this beast regularly erupts with boiling water and bubbling mud, which can be viewed from a ramp at a close but safe (and very stinky) distance.
The experience: Get a hearty whiff of one of the best scents in the world: chocolate.
Scientists say that the smell of chocolate has the power to reduce stress and improve one’s mood, and one of the best places to inhale its invigorating scent is Ecuador. Thanks to the country’s proximity to the equator, cacao plantations have a variety of distinct floral, nutty and fruity aromas. Dive in to the full chocolate experience at Finca Sarita, a small farm just outside of Calceta, and learn about the processing and fermentation of the rare Arriba cacao that is transformed into To’ak, the most expensive chocolate in the world (a single vintage bar costs about AU$495). Or, if you’re in Quito, indulge in To’ak’s new two-hour comprehensive tasting tour, Chocolate and Art. Whether you choose the former or the latter, it’ll be an experience to savour.
The experience: Inhale some of the world’s best and worst smelling oxygen, and breathe in the earth’s life force.
It’s a well-known fact that Amazon is the greatest life force on our planet. More than 40,000 exotic plants thrive, producing more than 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen. Make the 10-kilometre journey by boat from Manaus, the only city within the forest, to arrive at the stunning confluence of the jet-black Rio Negro and the coffee-coloured Rio Silomões, which form the Amazon River. The pungent bouquet of latex oozes from the rubber museum down river, and is married to the rich soil, fragrant flowers and the warm, sweet moisture that clings to the air from the rainfall. It’s a sensory experience that will leave a lifelong imprint on you.
The experience: To find one of the sweetest towns of all, in more ways than one.
Perched on a sunny hilltop, the medieval village of Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is infused with a unique olfactory history: it’s aniseed country. The sweet, liquorice-like scent of the anise plant permeates the town’s cobbled streets, so naturally it makes sense that it’s also the home of Les Anis de Flavigny, an anise candy shop. These tasty treats are crafted from a 1200-year-old recipe in a former Benedictine abbey, where they were once created by the monks who lived there. Each seed is carefully selected, then coated in sugar syrup and repeatedly rotated in a pan, transforming the original kernel, weighing a tiny two milligrams, into a one-gram candy. There’s also an anise museum, cafe and boutique, perfect for collecting a variety of anise scents and flavours to gather as keepsakes to fill your home.
The experience: Challenge your sense of smell with obnoxious, fishy odour but delicious tasting meals.
It’s often difficult to reconcile a bad smell with something tasty, but Vietnam’s famous pungent-yet-palatable fish sauce, crafted off the southwest coast on the small isle of Phu Quoc, is an affirming reminder that opposites indeed attract. Crafted from anchovies fished from the island, plus salt and water, the odorous sauce is fermented in vats made from beech wood and then stewed for a year before the amber-coloured liquid is bottled straight from the barrel. This simple process ensures the sauce is fresh (no preservatives) and high quality. If you can stomach the fishy scent, see the process in action and sample it at the local factories. All the best Vietnamese dishes are laced with its heady flavour, albeit with a far more innocuous smell.
The experience: Grab Wilson and indulge in your most dreamy Castaway fantasy on this tiny Indonesian isle.
While engaging the senses can be wonderful, sensory overload is a very real thing, and the urge to disappear to a deserted island can be strong. Enter Run Island, one of the smallest isles in Indonesia’s Banda archipelago. At just three kilometres long and one kilometre wide, this forgotten blip of limestone and tangled jungle is a diamond in the rough, complete with one of the most fascinating territorial swaps in history. In 1667, the Treaty of Breda determined that the Dutch would exchange the small trading village of Manhattan to the English for Run Island and its valuable monopoly of nutmeg trees. They could not have fathomed the metropolis Manhattan would become. These days the island is as isolated as ever. The journey to Run is long and there are just a handful of guesthouses, but once you’re there, you’ll find an idyllic escape to unwind. Of course, it’ll still be somewhat of a sensory experience with the pristine white sand scrunching between your toes and the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. But given you’ll have most of this tiny island all to yourself, you’ll quickly forget that stress was ever a thing.
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