Great escapes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am


WHEN TOM Cruise landed in Hong Kong for the premier of Mission: Impossible II he arrived on a private jet that he piloted. From the airport, he was whisked by chopper to the rooftop of The Peninsula where a private elevator delivered him down to a press conference. Sound tempting?

If you want a movie star experience then drop a line to Alan Rogers, of Red Carpet Enterprises ( The company specialises in holiday experiences that rival Hollywood jaunts.

There is in fact a 'Tom Cruise' package where you can fly to Cape Town, take private flight training lessons, choose a route before getting fitted for your own signature flight suit. With a pass to a military airspace in a Hawker Hunter fighter jet to thrust yourself skyward at speeds of 960km/h just 20m above the ground, you can grab the controls and try out all sorts of stomach-churning stunts. A weekend's high flying costs about HK$160,000.

But that's the tip of the ice-berg. 'A 10th birthday celebration saw us hiring a battleship where the inside was themed like a football pitch,' says Rogers. 'An ex-England footballer played five-a-side with the boys' friends, who then finally presented him with a signed shirt and ball from his favourite team. We choose very carefully the appropriate venues and hotels for each occasion. Our travels find us in some of the best villas, venues and hotels in the world, sometimes rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.'

For a more children-centric experience, Red Carpet can provide a trip to Lapland. A visit to a reindeer farm, sled rides, races with huskies, snowmobile rides across frozen lakes and a stay in a private lodge.

Let's call this the Marlon Brando experience. For the last quarter of his life, the actor lived on a private island and rarely appeared beyond the confines of his tropical paradise. Before the terms 'organic', and 'going green' entered the vernacular, Brando was doing it all.

For a private island fantasy, head to Ratua in Vanuatu (you can rent the island), a self-sufficient retreat with postcard views and luxurious villas.

Dotted with a dozen Indonesian-style villas, made with 200-year-old teakwood, the private houses are furnished with natural material - the island has a no plastic policy. The former coconut plantation gets all its consumables purchased in Indonesia and then shipped to Ratua. Most of the food is produced on the island or purchased locally, the goal of this resort is to leave a minimum carbon footprint. Spend afternoons horseback riding or canoeing, or snorkeling in the azure blue waters.

Having eaten, prayed and loved on screen for more than two decades, Julia Roberts has had many reasons to grin through an admirable career with hefty paycheques. She traipsed through Italy, India and Bali for her last film but it's hard to imagine Pretty Woman slumming it in Calcutta. Despite Roberts' legendary down-to-earth vibe, it seems impossible to envision that she stayed in a hut with nominal access to tap water.

Sher Bagh in India would be the sort of earth-friendly, animal-reserve-meets-glamorous-getaway that would suit the highest-paid actress in the world - and for those of her ilk. It's got all the ingredients the film had, but in a capsule of bug-free comfort.

Tented camps at Sher Bagh are as legendary as some of its VIP guests. Impeccable service, incredible food, a communal feel and one-ness with nature loom large. The tents are fitted with air-conditioning, a 24/7 butler service (fancy a gin-and-tonic at 4am?) and the sort of plush surroundings that reek of Passage to India cinematic charms and regalia.

Early morning scheduled safari rides to see the magnificent creatures that roam about - there are indeed tigers lurking in the distance, as the name suggests ('tiger garden' is the literal translation to Sher Bagh). As the tiger population decreases with each passing year, this reserve is the last of its kind in Asia. Conspicuous consumption meets conservation, the moment your Canon catches a yawning tiger at sunset, it'll be the experience you'll bore proceeding generations with.

Cantor and jeep rides that ferry guests to and from the resort run like clockwork. The running joke of 'IST' (Indian standard time, where things happen at their own pace) doesn't fit the whopping bill (this isn't a location for backpackers), as everything runs to precision. A cocoon of extreme comfort and luxury awaits upon your return from the safari rides in the otherwise sweltering heat of Rajasthan.

Campfire meals and drinks, tales and folklore of prince and princes, epic love stories between Mughal Kings and a Rajput princess, it's live theatre with a Bollywood twist. Sunrise and sunsets in nearby parks (in particular the expansive Ranthambhore), it's all a bucolic and beautiful adventure.

There are few people Oprah Winfrey would envy. With more than a billion dollars to spare, what could she possibly covet? Gwyneth Paltrow's holiday, apparently. When the Oscar winner last appeared on Oprah, she relayed her trip across Spain with celebrity chef Mario Batali as she ate her way through the country. 'I would love to do that,' said the talk-show host. And here's how you can.

Foodies looking for an experience in Spain should head to La Maroma. Set on a private hilltop in Andalucia, La Maroma ( enjoys grand views over almond and olive groves and the estate's private vineyard. Expectedly, fresh olives, nuts and wine from the panoramic views that you see from your own rooms are brought in. The cortijo (a Spanish farmstead) has fused the rustic-chic style to provide modern luxuries (wi-fi, broadband, sub-terrain heating and air-conditioning) and comfort, but still maintains the traditional Andalusian architecture of its heritage (Spanish antiques and locally made hand-crafted furnishings litter the grounds). Hand-stitched Suzani tapestries above the beds, private indoor and outdoor lounges, terraces and pool that face different vistas that encircle the villa, it's the sort of place a star would seek respite from the paparazzi.

But it's not just the scenic location that makes La Maroma stand out in a city teaming with grandiose holiday possibilities. It's the food. As you watch Batali and Paltrow go through an ever-changing and colourful menu, you can taste the sumptuous food shown on screen - but instead of schlepping from one location to another in the fetid heat, you can have it delivered to your table.

Guests staying at La Maroma can enjoy the 'Instant Unwind' package, which includes organic produce, including an immense fruit and vegetable box delivered to your doorstep, shopping service for any additional provisions, fresh flower arrangements and wine tasting and tapas on arrival. Private four-course gourmet dinners, by villa chef David Palacios, alongside welcome hampers with local Spanish delicacies and basic provisions, are included.

The markets of Andalucia - Marbella, Fuengirola, Coin - are all nearby, as is the village of El Rampido where the protected reserve called the Paraje Natural Marismas del Rio Piedras y Flecha del Rompido lies. With the onsite wine bodega stocked with local wines, it's a festival of fresh food and drink.

As Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and her brood found solace in Africa to escape far from the madding crowd, they hit various parts of the continent, before culminating in Namibia where Jolie gave birth to their child.

For some bush luxury, head to Camp Jabulani ( As a matter of extreme privacy, it has only six suites and its own herd of elephants. Accredited by the Relais & Chateaux, Camp Jabulani is a family-owned and managed private luxury safari lodge within the Kapama Game Reserve in Hoedspruit, South Africa (in close proximity to the Kruger National Park, and scenic Mpumalanga region). The best part is a herd of trained elephants rescued by the local endangered species centre that roam the camp. Watching the animals in their natural, protected habitat as they swim and play is the National Geographic moment aspiring photographers dream of. And to further lift your spirits, there are hot-air balloon excursions.

With never more than a dozen guests at any given time, the exclusive Zindoga Villa is suited for the family traveller. Daily elephant safaris, safari drives in the Big Five private Kapama Reserve, indulgent treatments in the outdoor Therapy Lapa, culinary delights at the hands of the masterful chefs, with all the accoutrements of a luxury holiday with an elephant stamp of approval, this one's not to be missed.