Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

March 05, 2017
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters


Talk about topical - I've just spend the weekend helping my mother organise her jewellery and helping myself to some bits n' bobs. You're looking at the proud owner of a mother-of-pearl choker which I plan to wear, walk 10km, and mimic an Slowpoke cry in the hope that I'll evolve into Slowking (who else is loving Pokemon Go Gen 2?). Speaking of precious stones, this month's travel blogger linkup topic is "Hidden Gems", which I clearly jumped the gun on with this post back in October: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: 3 Hidden Gems in Petaling Street. No matter! As the sky is full of stars so is the sea brimming with pearls of inspiration, of which I present My 4 Favourite Hidden Gems In Turquoise Seas...  

The crystalline waters of Cayo Largo, a Cuban jewel in the Caribbean ocean
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Redang Island, Malaysia: 
The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort

Despite measuring in at a vast 1440 sqm, this 5-bedroom villa isn't especially visible to the average vacationer in Redang Island simply because its price tag - in the 5-digit region, per night - may seem as steep as the cliff its perched on. But if you're looking for a sprawling space - ideal for large groups or families - complete with butler service, located on one of Malaysia's most beautiful islands with the best marine life, diving, and snorkelling; with a breathtaking bird's eye-view of the South China Sea, The Taaras Villa in Redang Island is indisputably the gem to be discovered.

REDANG ISLAND, 20928 MALAYSIA

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

"Fin, noggin, duuuuuude!" Just a friendly neighbourhood sea turtle.

HOW TO GET THERE:
As if to make the place even more inaccessible and therefore ensure it remains firmly in a place of imagination and mystery, there are no more direct flights to Redang. Fly to Kuala Terengganu - an hour from Kuala Lumpur  - then schlepp 30km north to Merang Jetty and take a 40 minute speedboat or ferry to Pasir Panjang. During season (March - October) guests of The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort are served by ferries from the Shahbandar Jetty in central Kuala Terengganu to the Berjaya Jetty on the south side of the island.

FURTHER READING:


Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Oblatno, Montenegro: 
Almara Beach Club 

My rap* may get real old real fast, but seeing Montenegro's dramatic landscape laid out like a sushi platter from the best vantage point on Oblatno Beach, topped with ice-cold cocktails, thumping beats, and a seriously young & beautiful crowd? Like champagne and hedonism, it's a classic that'll never go out of style...

OBLATNO, MONTENEGRO

*The rest of it goes: "First Slavs gotta find me, what's Kosovo to a Yugoslavian to me can you please remind me? Balkan so hard, that Serb cray." Whaaaaat? It was 2013 and Jay not ready to leave, ya'll not ready to leave...
  

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

The year was 2013. True to Posh, Broke, & Bored form I was unfettered by anything so mundane as responsibility or *shudder* a job, so it made perfect sense to book a flight to country I'd never been to with a language I didn't speak, and seek out like-minded hedonists just so I could say that I had been there, done that, got the dubious tattoo on my left arse cheek. Playing golf in the mountains at some random BMW party was mildly interesting, speedboating across the Bay of Kotor while humming the James Bond theme was vaguely amusing, and tanning my tits at Purobeach had its merits, but it was at Almara Beach Club where I witnessed what Motenegro does best - party animals amongst wild nature.


From dawn to dusk I partied with sexy strangers whose names I don't remember, while endless plates of seafood circulated and Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial flowed like a river (whoever picked up the tab, cheers) as some famous DJ dropped the bass. For a beach club, there wasn't very much lying on the beach - more noshing on the beds - although a bunch of us, no doubt imbibed with the juice of the vine, swam out to the floating bar in the middle of the sea. I hopped into a kayak with a handsome Serb and paddled away toward a mountain side. We discovered a cave, I lost my bikini top and my inhibitions (wait, I left that behind hours ago on the loungers). Fun times.

HOW TO GET THERE:
I flew from London to Dubrovnik where a shiny car waiting for me drove me to Porto Montenegro, but it's rather more straightforward to fly direct to Tivat.


Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters


Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
...and while you're out there...

REPENT, AND SIN NO MORE. Or at least until your Bloody Mary dulls the throbbing in your head - hair of the dog, woof woof! Whether you're hungover and contrite, sincerely spiritual or a true believer, or just interested in seeing a curious sight; hop into a speedboat, hang on to your hats, and head over to the Island of St. Marko in Tivat Bay.

There you'll find Otok Gospe od Milosti (The Island of Lady of Mercy) which up till the 19th century was the residence of Kotor’s Catholic bishops. One half of the island is occupied by the complex of the convent, dedicated to the Virgin, also known as the Lady of Mercy. Visit the Madonna of the church - Her ancient wooden statue within is said to have miraculous powers.

HOW TO GET THERE:
Actual directions to Otok Gospe od Milosti seem to be scarce on the English-speaking internet, with even the Montenegrin tourism website offering just a short blurb about the church history. The closest I can find is this boat tour that will include the island as a destination, although taxi boats from the mainland will happily do a Hozier (take me to church).

FURTHER READING:

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Da-nana-na-da-nana-na-DA! DA! DADA! (That's the James Bond theme tune, BTW)
"Hop into a speedboat
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
If alcohol is evaporated during cooking than surely sunbathing will cure a hangover?
toward St Marko's Island, Tivat Bay...
...and you'll find the church on Otok Gospe od Milosti - The Island of The Lady of Mercy."

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

Cayo Largo Del Sur, Cuba: 
A sand bank off Playa Paraiso 

As to be expected from a natural feature whose quintessential transience inspired me to write an entire post about "letting go", this hidden gem doesn't exist according to any map. And why should it? A sandbank is the very definition of "time and tide waits for no one" yet whose impermanence is no cause for despair but rather eh, it'll be back soon enough. It's the circle of liiiiife! More poetic justice: this sand bank is off Playa Paraiso in Cayo Largo Del Sur - itself a fairly hard-to-reach island of the fairly hard-to-reach island nation of Cuba. It's a trek-and-a-half involving connecting flights (both international and domestic) then trekking waist deep out to sea just to nap on a patch of sand as its disappearing under the water. But that's the beauty of discovering a hidden gem - the moment of victory may be fleeting, but the satisfaction of conquest burns eternal...

PLAYA PARAISO, CAYO LARGO DEL SUR, CUBA

Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
HOW TO GET THERE:
Praise be to Virgin Atlantic for flying direct from London to Havana! I'd suggest spending a good few days in the capital to soak up as much of the local flavour as you can before you end up stranded in paradise with other tourists in a resort-style gilded cage. Besides, after the chaos of Havana you'll appreciate the serene respite that is Cayo Largo Del Sur and her beautiful beaches - Playa Paraiso and Playa Sirena, just to name two; as well as her neighbouring islands like Cayo Iguana (best accessed via catamaran on an island-hopping and snorkelling excursion).

Back to the sandbank: well, just keep an eye out for it during low tide. Carry your belongings over your head and wade out to it - the deepest water around the bank came up to my waist (I'm 5'6").


FURTHER READING
CAYO LARGO DEL SUR, CUBA
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters
Cuba, Malaysia, and Montenegro: 4 Hidden Gems in Turquoise Waters

...here's to Hidden Gems and to the intrepid spirit of discovery.

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