Travel is the ultimate luxury. Why? Because you can only do it if you have lots of money or lots of time. If you have lots of both, you can go properly POSH (Port Out Starboard Home) and board an ocean liner — cruising to a dozen ports in three months has been the apogee of luxe travel since P&O began plying passenger routes in 1844.
But let’s do the time warp, and take a jump to a private jet terminal in Sydney Airport…
The twin turbines of an Embraer ERJ-135LR are preparing to generate their fearsome thrust. On board are 22 guests, one tour director, one steward and two pilots — preparing to embark on Bill Peach Journeys’ Ancient Cultures escorted private jet tour.
We’ll clock up 12 cities in just 17 days: Sydney, Darwin, Denpasar (Bali), Kuching (Malaysian Borneo), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Agra (India), Muscat (Oman), Aswan (Egypt), Santorini (Greece), Prague (Czech Republic) and London.
If the itinerary doesn’t make your head spin, try the ticket price: A$30,000 (around £16,665) per person, not including the airfare to get you to Sydney. The means of travel may have changed but the posh travellers haven’t. Alongside me in the grey leather seats, my tour companions include a retired surgeon, an oilman from Texas, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and several widows nursing fat share portfolios.
They all expect the best, which of course they’ll get: 11 five-star resorts, a monumental touring programme and enough food to sink the Queen Mary. None will lift a finger, let alone a bag, and because it’s an inaugural world air cruise, they’re promised surprises.
The first surprise is that the jet (soon to be ‘our jet’), despite being comfortable, is a long way from business class. That said, the itinerary is cleverly tailored so no single flight is longer than three hours, thus avoiding jet lag.
The second surprise is just how thrilling it is to change countries like you’d ordinarily change clothes. The jungles of Cambodia are steamy and still, the tree roots sinking deep into the blackened tissues of Angkor’s ancient temples. The Indian streets are a maelstrom of noise, dust and smoke, serving to make the serenity of the Taj Mahal even more poetic. And the domes, spires and roofs of old Bohemia illuminate sweetly as we take a sunset Champagne on the balcony of Prague’s last privately-owned palace.
The biggest privilege for me is being dropped into Egypt’s Abu Simbel to view the Temple of Ramses II. The Embraer crunches a five-hour pre-dawn drive out of Aswan into a 25-minute hop, delivering us into the site renowned for its tourist bedlam. Only, there’s not a soul here. While the rest of my party shelters inside the temple’s fragrant gloom, I’m outside watching a falcon. It hovers over a towering effigy of the sun god Ra — the deity depicted with the head of a falcon.
The contrasts are even more exaggerated by the fantasies of the resort designers. Mandarin Oriental, Prague is set within the remains of a 14th-century monastery, a thing of white tunnels and cloisters. The Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan is a Nile-side grande dame that counts Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie among its illustrious former guests. Muscat’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, meanwhile, has its own ‘lazy river’, a gushing channel on which you can float between bars and restaurants.
Overall, it’s like each resort has been requested to outdo the last in the splendour of dining. The 10-chef, flaming orgy of Thai food in the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai was a triumph; I also recommend the extraordinary bragging rights one is afforded by having a ‘lunch stop’ in Santorini. There was the spill of white houses and blue domes, the bolt of glittering Med and platters of seafood served with chilled Sauvignon Blanc.
For all its sophistication, people are people and the intensity of the travel occasionally brings out the mundane — niggles, exhaustion, mishaps. But thanks to some time out, usually spent shopping or sitting in a quiet bar, the party always re-engages with the breathless sweep of this incredible journey.
When it’s over, I’m left with a question: if I had £16k (instead of a writer’s brief and a gratis seat) would I spend it on a world air cruise? The answer is, probably not. Travel is precious, and I think we owe it to ourselves, as well as the places and people along the way, to do more than ‘drop in’. So, personally, I’d use the money to buy time.
But this is an extraordinary travelling experience that’s brilliantly coordinated. It’s also one that dovetails exactly with society’s preparedness to work harder, sacrifice leisure time and accumulate greater wealth — and for that reason I believe you’ll see much more of its ilk in the future.
Bill Peach Journeys offers luxurious, all-inclusive personalised tours aboard private aircraft, luxury ships and private trains. Destinations include the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Iceland and Greenland. billpeachjourneys.com.au
Click here to visit the website and book this great travel deal or call, quoting the correct promo code. T: 020 7644 1738. Promo code: THPMauritius
Published in the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)