The beauty of Philippines island

The journey to Siargao should have taken an hour, but we’d already been in the air that long when an enormous cloud tore across the sky and chased us twice around the island.

When we finally touched down I realised that the runway we’d been circumnavigating was little more than a finger swipe through custard, a patch of scrubland disappearing into the jungle around it.

After hauling my bag from the prop plane, baffled at the lack of security checks, I climbed into a waiting jeepney, the ubiquitous and colourfully adapted American army jeeps used as public transport in the Philippines.

Bouncing along the dirt track was like stepping back in time. The only life in the dense palm jungle was around basic stilt huts clinging to the road edge. Bamboo frames held up corrugated iron roofs which acted as petrol stations. One litre of gas in a Coca Cola bottle would set you back 20p. Carabao grazed lazily in lush rice paddies; the smell of slow-cooked Lechon pig hung in the hot air.

Siargao (pronounced Shar-gow) is one of over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. Perched 448km (278 miles) off the coast of cacophonic Cebu, the teardrop-shaped isle is relatively unknown, except to the surfing community, for whom it is a mecca.

Compared to neighbouring Boracay (an island with a 5-star Shangri-La resort, full moon parties and a busy airport), Siargao is a sleepy sibling. There are no direct international flights and volatile weather makes current airline timetables chaotic.

But all this will change from 2015 as more than £400,000 is set to be spent on improving and extending Siargao’s Sayak Airport over the next three years.

I was in Siargao to visit the legendary surf at Cloud 9, a break on the east coast made famous by the World Surf League in 2011. I also had a profound urge to set foot on one of the world’s last remaining undeveloped spots.

Whilst on the island I stayed at Buddha’s, a hippie collection of thatched bungalows and hammocks just metres from the beach. I’d rise each morning at 6am and make my way through palm fronds to the sand. I’d heave my board onto a waiting bangkang (a traditional wooden outrigger used to fish) that transported surfers beyond the reef.

By the time we’d reach the swell, the sun would be high and the heat intense. There were only ever a handful of other surfers to compete with, so I’d spend two blissful hours carving watery tracks before heading back for a breakfast of eggs, bacon and fresh calamansi juice. By 6pm I’d sit and watch another sunset, convinced I’d found a personal heaven, my own Cloud 9.

This feeling resonated with many of the expatriates I met on the island, including Gerry Degan, the owner of Sagana, a resort with direct access to the Cloud 9 surf spot.

Gerry and his Filipino wife moved here from Australia in 1995, when the tourism industry was non-existent. With the help of a local, Gerry bought a plot of land and opened the resort. The airport extension makes him anxious, but he’s pragmatic.

“It’s a catch-22,” he says. “We would all like to keep the charm of the undiscovered tropical paradise, but as word leaks out of course more people will come. As a business owner it makes things much easier, but as a surfer my concern is that the waves will become overcrowded and I came here to surf a quiet break.”

The exotic of Caribbean beach

Couples looking to unplug and enjoy each other should head to Petit St. Vincent. With only one resort, boasting 22 cottages spread over 47 hectares (115 acres) of tropical woodlands and impeccable service, this place is the ultimate in seclusion. Hoist a yellow flag outside your cottage to have one of the butlers swing by and take a message, or fly a red one for “Do Not Disturb”.

Finding a private sliver of sand to picnic, swim or just relax on is easy, as the island is completely surrounded by a strip of sugar white sand, and when you’ve relaxed quite enough, find a perch at the beach bar where you’ll catch sunsets glowing fiery orange and purple whilst enjoying a cold beverage.

Need a little more than a beach to keep you entertained? St. Kitts and Nevis combines culture and relaxation brilliantly. On the island of Nevis, you’ll find the Hamilton House museum, the former residence of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the US, who was born on there in 1757. There’s also the Horatio Nelson museum commemorating the British naval hero, who got married on the island, and which houses the largest collection on memorabilia in the Americas.

Plan a visit to the many sugar plantation ruins that dot both islands to delve into their colonial past – the Eden Brown Estate is said to be haunted. If you weary of museums, Lover’s beach offers seclusion with tropical charm while Newcastle beach is ideal for a stroll.

If you’re a nature lover, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) should be at the top of your list. While it has less in way of sandy beaches, this island is overwhelmed with jungle and trekking opportunities. A fantastic amount of flora and fauna thrive on the island – you’ll encounter brightly coloured parrots and 3m- (10ft-) long boa constrictors aplenty.

Need a beach to unwind on after a day of wildlife? Try Wavine Cyrique on the east coast. You have to hike to get there, but shrouded by the low-lying fog of the surrounding jungle and black sands, it certainly feels exotic.

The best way to enjoy your summer holiday

We know what you’re thinking; Club 18-30 holidays, lager-swilling expats and tacky resorts. These preconceptions are not entirely unfounded – Tenerife was a pioneer of the “pile them high, sell them cheap” approach to package holidays – but the island has strived to shake off this reputation and attract a more salubrious clientele.

Posh new resorts, a burgeoning restaurant scene and spiritual retreats are helping Tenerife recast itself as a destination for the discerning holidaymaker, while its sandy beaches, volcanic landscapes and warm weather sell themselves. Flight time from Britain? Four hours.

Dubbed the “smiling coast of West Africa”, Gambia has long been Europe’s shortcut to the tropics. This former British colony might be the smallest nation in mainland Africa, but it punches well above its weight as a holiday destination… and it’s just five hours from London.

Most come to imbibe sunshine on sandy beaches, others to marvel at the world-renowned birdlife (Chris Packham is a regular). The more adventurous traveller can don hiking boots and trek through the jungle or cruise up the Gambia River in search of pygmy hippos and crocs.

Cape crusader: Cape Verde

Tourism is on the rise in Cape Verde, but you won’t be jostling for space on the beaches just yet. That will change, however, as holidaymakers arrive at this African archipelago in increasing numbers. Floating off the coast of Senegal, this former Portuguese colony boasts a surprising diversity of landscapes for such a small nation; sweeping sandy beaches, luscious mountain ranges and frozen lava fields are just part of the picture.

The golden beaches and limpid waters are the main draws, but the archipelago also offers excellent trekking, world-class windsurfing and a rich fusion of Portuguese and Cape Verdean culture – all within five hours of Britain.

Arabian allure: Oman

The jewel of Arabia, Oman is seven hours from London and this sunny sultanate is perfect for a midwinter getaway. With 1,700km (1,056 miles) of coastline, the country has no shortage of sandy beaches, which are glorious gateways to some of the best dive sites in the Middle East.

But sea, sun and sand are just part of the story; head inland and you can hike through verdant rainforests, camp with Bedouins and share epic vistas with mountain-dwelling shepherds. And spare a day for Muscat, the historic capital, where ancient palaces, grandiose mosques and bustling souks abound.

This is the advantage when you are a VIP on cabin

Private suites, designer furnishings, power showers….live the high life and splash out on a luxury first class airline seat for the ultimate in heavenly travel. World Travel Guide has hand picked the Top 5 first class cabins to ensure you travel in style and comfort.

Cathay Pacific Airways

Cathay Pacific serving food
Delight in the freshly prepared Asian and international cuisine
Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific Airways offers the crème de la crème of first class travel – and that’s official. The Hong Kong-based airline scooped the latest World Airlines Award title for best First Class Airline seat. And when you check out the details, it’s not difficult to see why. Among the longest and widest in the sky, the first class seat is 92cm (36 inches) across and can quickly recline into a whopping 206cm long (81 inches), 180-degree flat bed.

Private screens on the aisle help transform the ergonomically-perfect foam seat or bed into a private relaxation suite. When you’re in need of 40 winks, don your complementary sleepsuit and dive under a luxurious duvet. Feeling peckish? Indulge in the first class, made-to-order Asian and international cuisine on offer, or watch the latest movies on your own personal 43cm (17 inches) widescreen TV. Fancy some pampering? Reach for your own top range beauty kits (Acca Kappa products and Ermenegildo Zegna travel bags from Italy for him and Aesop products from Australia and Ipa-Nima travel pouches for her).

With only nine first class seats on Cathay’s Boeing 747-400s and just six seats on the Boeing 777-300ERs, you can fly smug in the knowledge that you’re one of the privileged few.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways First Class cabin
Activate the in-built massager and relax in style on Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways has rapidly built a stellar reputation since it first took to the skies in 1994, bagging the coveted title of world’s best airline in 2011.

As you might expect, you’re treated in style from the minute you clamber onboard the aircraft. The service is personable and professional, and the dining exquisite, with 10-course meals cooked to perfection by award-winning chefs. Loosen your belt and feast on caviar, lobster and Arabic specialities, before washing it down with fine wines and champagnes. Then sink into your ultra comfortable, 56cm (22 inches) wide seat and switch on the built-in massager to ease away any lingering tension. When sleep beckons, enjoy a personal turn down service and the privacy and comfort of a 200cm long (79 inches), 180-degree flat bed complete with a feather duvet.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines First Class Cabin
Travel in style and comfort in Singapore Airlines A380 suites
Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines doesn’t do things by halves, and the first class cabins on its Boeing 777-300ERs and refitted Boeing 777-300s are perfect evidence of this. Eight majestic and perfectly upholstered, fine-grained leather seats measuring 89cm across (35 inches) each transform into a 203cm long (80 inches) fully-flat bed. Each bed is complemented with luxurious soft furnishings designed exclusively by fashion house Givenchy, and you’re guaranteed maximum privacy, thanks to a fixed back shell that extends to both sides of the seat.

If that’s not enough, plug the latest noise-cancelling headphones into your personal, 58cm (23 inches), high res, LCD screen. Meanwhile, vanity mirrors and drawers and exclusively designed Givenchy slippers and sleepsuits make sure you look stylish at all times.

How to get an upgrade when you are flying

We all love the idea of getting something for nothing but the chances of getting a free flight upgrade these days are slimmer than Kate Middleton’s waist. Fluttering your eyelashes or flashing a Bond-like smile at check-in just won’t cut it. But it’s not impossible to work your way up from crushed cattle class to something a little cushier, especially if you know how to work the system.

Airlines always overbook so you may be asked at check-in if you’re willing to be bumped to another flight, and be offered cash for your trouble. If you accept the alternative flight, now is a good time to politely ask if you could possibly be upgraded as well, which sometimes works. If you don’t want to change flights however, ask if there’s any chance of an upgrade on the current flight instead.

This did the trick for Sue Jones, an office manager on her way back from vacation: “They offered me a different flight but I told them I just had to be on the one I’d booked to make a business meeting next day and they bumped me from economy to first class, which was brilliant!”

Sue’s case is rare however. I tried it once on my way to the Cannes Film Festival, having turned down the airline’s offer of around £300 compensation to fly next day. No luck. They managed to squeeze me onboard in my booked economy seat.

As with everything else, it’s often about who and not what you know and networking at 30,000 feet is no exception. If you have a family member or friend or even a friend of a friend who works for the airline, it can be worth its weight in gold so butter up those contacts.

You can also become ‘friends’ with your favourite airline. In fact, frequent flyer programmes are among your best chances of getting an upgrade, especially at check-in. Frequent flyer Richard Ellis, who’s had some success, said: “Show your frequent flyer card at check-in and politely ask if they are upgrading passengers that day. Offer to pay. Go to the business class queue. Explain that you’d like to get some work done and ask if there’s a waiting list you can go on. It helps if you are carrying a laptop.”

At the booking stage, you can often trade your reward points for a cabin upgrade – this feels like it’s free, even though it isn’t really.

Honeymooners, pregnant women, birthday celebrants are all more likely to get an upgrade if they are part of a frequent flyer programme. Having said that, some major airlines are notoriously stingy even with very loyal customers so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you commit to one airline.

Solo travellers stand the best chance of an upgrade, or couples willing to sit separately. Families with tons of kids, or groups, have less than a cat’s chance in hell.

Food flexibility also increases your chance of a move. Airline meal numbers are pretty rigid and special meal requests won’t travel with your upgrade, so fruitarians, vegans, and kosher diners are not as likely to get upgraded as omnivores. Just remember not to specify a special meal request when you book.

If you are going to get bumped up, looking the part doesn’t hurt. Bear in mind that no matter how big your Ray-Bans or your designer handbag; shorts and ripped jeans won’t wash unless you’re an internationally recognised celebrity.

Titles used to go some way towards getting an upgrade and if you’re a doctor, peer of the realm, judge or professor, it still doesn’t do any harm to list this when you book your ticket as airlines will often do a pre-flight trawl though the passenger list for suitable upgrade candidates, who would fit in with business or first-class passengers.

You won’t believed, this is airport lounges

Airport lounges offer much more than merely a chance to escape the crowds and indulge in free food and drink. These days, cinemas, spas, Jacuzzis and swimming pools ensure you can start your holiday in enviable style. Choose your pick from our top 5 guide to ultra-cool airport lounges.

London: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse

Fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from London Heathrow and you will immediately be whisked off to a separate check-in and security, meaning more time to play in Virgin’s hedonistic flagship Clubhouse.

The comfortable leather Eames chairs scattered around the lounge are perfect to conduct some last-minute business from. However, this lounge mainly belongs to the big kids. In ‘The Den’, passengers can amuse themselves with the retro video games, pool table or multi-screen cinema. For a more relaxing waiting time, you can settle yourself on a daybed underneath a dramatic skylight in the hidden loft bar or pamper yourself in the lounge’s Jacuzzi, St Tropez tanning booth or Bumble and Bumble hair salon.

The United Arab Emirates is famed for its luxury, and Etihad’s Diamond First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi Airport doesn’t let it down. Leave the children to enjoy themselves under the supervision of a nanny in the nursery, complete with beanbags, books and toys, before you go off to explore.

Enjoy a complimentary facial or massage in the Six Senses spa or relax in the cigar lounge with a specially chosen cognac or armagnac. There is a fully stocked library available for any avid bookworms, and an à la carte restaurant offering five-star dining. There are also two beds available in the lounge if you just want to catch forty winks before your flight.

Ibiza partygoers are famous for their crazy morning-to-evening revelling, and now the party doesn’t have to end at the airport. Spanish concessionaires Áreas have teamed up with dance music mogul, David Guetta, to create the ‘F*** Me I’m Famous’ club lounge in Ibiza Airport.

A vivid, fuchsia-lit walkway tempts travellers into the modern lounge where the DJ booth and dancefloor take pride of place. Live music, food and lighting have all been specially choreographed to fit the ambience of the hour. At 6am, enjoy a light breakfast in the Ibizan dawn lighting whilst settling back to ambient, chill-out music. At night, get on the dancefloor to move to some electro-house whilst sipping on a cocktail.

Awesome Airports

Most airports feel like air passenger purgatory but visit any of these five architecturally cool airports – featuring everything from an indoor urban park to award-winning structures – and you won’t want to step on the plane.

Beyond passport control at Schiphol Airport lies a sprawling space for taking in nature’s sights and sounds – Airport Park. This indoor/outdoor lounge was designed to look like an urban park with ivy-covered furniture, tree logs masquerading as seating. Travellers can relax with organic treats from Park Café at one of the picnic tables on the outdoor terrace, listening to the sounds of animals and cyclists.  Airport Park isn’t only appealing to travellers’ tired eyes, but to the eco-friendly. LED lighting and fibre optics cables powered by natural light illuminate the park. Those with mobile phones that need recharging can put their travel-stiffened legs to use by going for a spin on a bicycle that produces energy.

The architecture in the international terminal of Beijing’s airport is a mix of ultra-modern and traditional Chinese elements. Designed by London firm, Foster + Partners (architects of London’s Gherkin and the German Reichstag parliament building), construction on the terminal was completed in four years – breakneck speed – just in time to welcome the international community to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. Inside, travellers are sure to marvel at the massive, curved ceilings and a colourful Chinese pagoda. Unusually for a Foster-designed building, colour is playfully employed, with touches of red representing Chinese culture and traditions.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were going on a journey to outer space than an international flight when you arrive at Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport. The railway station at Lyon’s airport looks as though it is about to set off into outer space with its futuristic design, as the structure splits off into two identical steel arches with a triangular peak resembling more of spaceship rather than a port for high-speed trains. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the station was completed in 1994. Calatrava has won numerous awards and his designs projects include Valencia’s controversial City of Arts and Sciences, the sports complex designed for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, and another amazing airport, Sondica, in Bilbao, Spain.

The whimsical design of Barajas Airport’s Terminal Four welcomes travellers to Spain’s vibrant capital. The exterior and interior ceilings are adorned with over 200,000sq m (2,100,000sq ft) of laminated bamboo strips to create a wave-like effect but most striking is a 1 km-long (0.6 miles) row of pillars along the terminal’s central pier, each one painted a slightly different shade to form an eye-popping rainbow of graduated colour. The London-based architectural firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, designed the space by deriving inspiration from previous work at London Heathrow and in 2006 it won the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture, the only airport to do so.

At the foot of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains lies the enormous Denver International Airportwhere unusual and sustainable features make up its incredible architecture. The striking Jeppesen Terminal building designed by Curtis Fentress Architects features a canopied roof, made out of Teflon coated in fibreglass, and is structured into triangular peaks to resemble the mountaintops, Native American tepees and western settlers’ wagons that have been integral to Denver’s geography and history. The Teflon roof can withstand heavy winds and snow, but is light enough to let in 10% of solar rays and reflect 90% of radiation. And for extra eco-friendly points, Denver also has the largest airport solar panel farm in the nation.

Great styles on your suitcases

Nothing can be more embarrassing on holiday than plucking a scruffy-looking suitcase off the airport carousel. Bag one of these stylish cabin suitcases however and you’ll be the envy of your fellow passengers.

Antler’s Liquis International Cabin Suitcase may be a bit of a mouthful to say, but it’s ideal for a short-haul holiday. Weighing in at only 2kg, this lightweight item of luggage is the perfect airplane carry-on. The Liquis International looks pretty eye-catching too; we love its sculpted, waterfall-inspired exterior. And if you wish to introduce a burst of colour to your life, the suitcase is available in several bright colours including red, silver, blue and purple.

This chic, mock crock wheel tote by Jasper Conran at Tripp is extremely smart, glamorous and practical. The bag features a main compartment with a laptop sleeve and padlock, plus a handy separate section for storing files. It also has a neat front pocket for easy organisation. With its distinctly modern look and feel, this will turn heads wherever you travel.

You’ll have no trouble spotting this bold, purple-coloured Alba suitcase from Carlton amid the ubiqitious black rollers at the airport. Not only is this one stand-out accessory, but its elegant, curved shell will undoubtedly draw admirers. Perfect for a quick getaway, the Alba’s top and side carry handles and wheels have been designed to handle all urban challenges. And once you arrive at your final destination, relish the joy of unpacking thanks to Alba’s nifty interior compartments, including an integrated waterproof pouch, to keep you organised and stress-free.

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