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Broadening your mind is about more than reading and learning. It’s about connecting with people who are passionate to show you how they live, what they do and who they are. To see the world through their eyes is to see the world differently.

Words: Abi Prowse

Main image: Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina

Hidden folklore gems

Rovaniemi’s landscape has otherworldly splendour, from winters with the iridescent Aurora Borealis to summer and its honeycomb yellows. A visit to this corner of Finland is made even more surreal with a stay in the sculpture-like rooms at Arctic TreeHouse Hotel.

To ground yourself in the reality of Lappish life, however, you need only visit a cherry-red cabin at the edge of the woods. It’s home to Irene Kangasniemi and her husband, who, for years, have offered up their hospitality and age-old crafting traditions from foraged objects.

Delighted to share this natural and simple way of life, they’ll show you around every room of their house before inviting you to take part in the crafts yourself. Irene has all the airs of a Lappish grandmother, making homemade cake and blueberry juice and telling tales of Rudolph, Santa and the Sámi culture.   

Fisherman and family

There are more ways than one to step back in time at the Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel.

You can relax into the old-world glamour by the panoramic pool, surrounded by lush terraced gardens or take a short drive along the emerald coastline to the fishing village of Ganzirri. Here, the saltwater lakes are famed for their clams and the best way to witness the time-honoured harvesting techniques is by joining a local fisherman at work.

You’ll feel the full energy of this family business, watching skills that have been passed from generation to generation,and even more so when you’re welcomed into their home for a delicious lunch – heavenly spaghetti alle vongole (clam spaghetti), overlooking the stunning Strait of Messina. 

Moving together as one

You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more apt representation of freedom than the wild beaches at NIHI Sumba. The powerful hooves of the island’s horses thunder across the sand, before slicing elegantly through the waves until both horse and rider are floating, suspended.

Experienced local guides at Sandalwood Stables take you across stunning Indonesian beach scenes bathed in the fiery hues of sunset or through nearby villages on a beach-to-bush trail. You can also explore a deeper connection with the inner self through reiki and meditation on horseback.

Horse whisperer Carol Sharpe shows how to become fully present in the horse’s movement and your own, bringing stillness and calm to you both. 

Voyage to the end of the world

Endless stretches of ocean punctuated by stark whiteness are what meet you on board Le Commandant Charcot for a Ponant expedition. The hypnotic landscapes of Greenland give way to peaks dusted with snow and icy fjords, normally inaccessible to traditional ships.

This is nature at its most raw and unforgiving, and at touching distance thanks to the small Zodiac® boats that make hard-to-access areas a privilege to explore. The expedition leaders are award-winning photographers, journalists, naturalist guides, conservationists and doctors of biology, each equipped with specialist knowledge.

Their nautical wisdom of flora and fauna and adventure stories will make you feel like the centuries-old explorers who have gone before.

Through the looking glass

Long tendrils of leaves snake across powdered white sand, while the shadows of tall palms break up the sunlight. A gentle breeze acts as respite from the sun’s glare, which glitters on the surface of the electric blue ocean.

he scene is set for the Shutterfish photography studio at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, where you have the chance to capture the essence of these unspoilt moments on camera.

Weekly classes with high-tech equipment  can ignite a passion from photographers of all skill levels, whether you want to perfect natural light, digital or drone photography.  A framed snapshot will be your keepsake to be immortalised on the walls of your home for years to come, and no longer will you utter the phrase “my pictures don’t do it justice”.

The key to the island

At Verdura Resort, A Rocco Forte Hotel, Pierfilippo Spoto can unlock the heart of the enchanting island of Sicily by revealing its pastoral ways of life to those who wish to see.

As a passionate native, he is a revered personal “canuscituri” or connoisseur, who knows local secrets like a sommelier knows fine wine. Delight in the slow simplicity of life here as you trek with a shepherd and taste the cheese made by hand from the milk of his flock.

Or sip on the rich wine from a family’s picturesque vineyard, and clink glasses with them at the table for lunch. The most powerful ingredient though? The tall tales of the island shared by each person you meet.

Up in the clouds

Lush greenery and rushing water characterise the urban sanctuary of Bangkok’s The Siam Hotel, which is nestled in the gardens along the river. But it’s not the only haven of tranquillity in the city.

Rise early to reach the striking dome of Wat Saket (the Golden Mount Temple) for a private blessing ceremony with the monks. Sink into the meditative atmosphere before anyone else arrives, drinking in the surrounding panoramic views.

It’s here that everyday Thailand life and Buddhist cosmology and architecture come together. And being immersed in long-standing Buddhist practices, with a sprinkling of holy water and soothing chanting for safe passage, you’ll leave prepared for any challenge ahead. 

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