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10 March 2017

Off-the-Beaten Travel Track with Katie McKnoulty

When the grey London skies start to suppress your soul and your imagination starts to dreamily drift elsewhere, you know that it’s time to book your next exotic escape. As thoughts of you in sunglasses and designer bikinis on a paradise beach begin to take over, you realize that packing your bags and heading to faraway climes is a much more appealing situation. But sometimes the daily realities of life bring you back down to earth with a bump. This is where Katie McKnoulty’s captivating travel blog comes in; when your schedule is full to the brim with serious client meetings and your social calendar is packed for the next two months, you need a different source of escapist inspiration – think Katie’s award-winning website, ‘The Travelling Light,’ for a perfectly well-rounded answer.

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Katie is a true traveller at heart, a nomad and dreamer who loves global exploration in every authentic sense - as a source for meditation and relaxation, as a channel for self- discovery and as a way to immerse herself in the fundamental beauty of nature. This comes through instantly when you scroll through the complex web of pages on her blog, which read like a well-designed map of the world stretching every intrepid corner, from Bali and Byron Bay, to the boutique streets of Paris. She focuses on capturing her travel moments with a series of vintage-inspired photographs featuring striking sights in sublimely soft sunlight; expect the Taj Mahal bathed in zesty sunset hues and the bustling Brooklyn Bridge busy with eclectic street performers on a cool summer’s day – basically everything you need when you want 5 minutes to take some time out to plan your next perfect trip.

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This unique perspective makes her blog stand out amongst the vast archive of other travel websites offering tips on global exploration. Much in the same way as Martin Parr has showcased life in Britain through an offbeat perspective in his avant-garde photography, Katie also follows a different path by focusing on destinations from an unforeseen perspective – travelling to popular tropical locations that everyone knows, but instead focusing on the unusual, the unexplored and the unexpected. Katie’s blog has thus become a place to visit not just for a dose of other-worldly inspiration, but also as an authentic source for ‘off-the-beaten track’ travel advice. We caught up with her to get some details about some of her most poignant memories in this respect to help us learn more about escaping into the unknown in a similarly stylish way.

 

Coastal retreats: Cambodia

 

Initially, when you think of Cambodia, your mind is filled with thoughts of verdant rainforests, ‘Tomb Raider’ temple locations, the epic Angkor Wat and countless ‘Indiana Jones’ quips. But not on Katie’s blog – instead you will find a page filled with her adventures in the hidden corners of this beautiful land. The Kep National Park on Cambodia’s southern coast was one of her favourite travel haunts in this respect with its undeniable natural beauty, where beaches merge into winding nature trails ending in dramatic coastal vistas, and dirt tracks lead up to abandoned colonial churches – quite a change from fighting selfie-seeking tourists at the Bayon face temple in Siem Reap.

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We asked her for some tips on where to stay in this wonderfully remote region, and she pointed us towards the Veranda Natural Resort on the cusp of the park’s edge. She explained:

 

‘This eco-friendly abode is nestled deep in the trees, right next to the Kep National Park on a hill and built exclusively from materials that are found on the land where the resort now sits - shells, rocks and wood cover every surface.'

 

'The only sound you will hear is birdsong as you watch the sun rise and set in its lazy South East Asian way over the expansive ocean ahead.'

 

'Nature just envelopes you here; it's easy not to leave this place for the good feelings it gives you. Adventuring up into the National Park is the perfect little excursion out though - more nature, more views, more space.'

 

Sounds like the ideal destination to seek out some peace and quiet from the bustling urban centre of tourist-filled Siem Reap. Simply grab a stylish book and relax by the pool with your luxury beach towel and a delicious cocktail at hand. 

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At the River: India

 

If you need another excuse to escape into the wild, then Katie suggests India as an alternative port of call. But not the hippie-trip trail of Goa’s techno-trance scene or the ramshackle tie-dye bum-bag loop of India’s ‘Golden Triangle’ – no, Katie suggests sailing down the tranquil Narmada River in the Hindu temple-studded town of Maheshwar. Here, she enjoyed lazy days exploring the ornate riverside palaces intertwined with leisurely sunset sails on the waters. She recommends a visit to the ancient Ahliya Fort if you’re in town, which overlooks the banks of the sacred river.

 

'This incredible fort was built in the 1700's by Maharani (Queen) Ahilya Bai Holkar. Her descendant, the son of the last Maharaja (King) of Indore, converted the royal family’s centuries-old home into a one-of-a-kind guest residence in 2000, living here most of the year with his beloved pugs and supporting the local tradition of hand weaving with an ethical weaving workshop next door.'

 

‘It’s an amazing place to stay when you need to while away a peaceful afternoon. Simply book yourself into one of the lavishly furnished rooms for a taste of Old-World Maharaja decadence.’

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But if you feel like immersing yourself in an ‘Arabian Nights’ desert fantasy instead, then you simply cannot ignore the pull of Rajasthan. Home to the dusty desert citadels of Jodphur and Jaisalmer, the state frequently pops up on the trail of most tourists who visit the world-famous Rajput forts that rise up out of the sands. But head deeper into the state and you can have a fort almost to yourself – Katie suggests heading up to the sleepy town of Bundi with its hill-top ‘Star Fort’ and duck-egg blue village streets. While visiting the town, she suggests bedding down for the night at the Bundi Vilas, a charming four-storey high hotel on the edge of a small hill:

 

‘This delightful guesthouse lies in the ‘off-the-tourist radar’ town of Bundi, which receives far less visitors than its rival Rajasthani cities. It’s an old traditional haveli mansion that is run by a local family with impeccable style. Breakfast and lunch are taken in a sun-drenched room that captures the morning rays while evening drinks can be enjoyed on the roof terrace as you stare up at the incredible ruins of the colossal Garh Palace under a blanket of shimmering stars.’

 

‘The town itself is found in a pretty valley scattered with immensely blue buildings that gleam in the sunlight, while sitting proudly surrounded by rolling mountains in the distance.’

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‘Looming large overhead of the village is the eerily abandoned Garh Palace high up on the hill, which has been left untouched and unpolished since the days of the last Maharaja who lived here with its cohort in complete and utter luxury. The place is a true escape into the unknown, where you may not see another foreigner for days.’

 

With such suggestions in mind, it seems that Katie is somewhat of an expert when it comes to unearthing beauty that is overlooked and under-explored – something that will obviously come in handy for those who wish to transport themselves to somewhere just as remote, yet just as stylish. Head over to Katie’s blog, 'The Travelling Light,' for more inspiration, and make sure to pack perfectly for the proceedings if you wish to follow in her footsteps – after all, heading off into the outback can be just as glamorous as hitting the big travel hitters, as Katie proves effortlessly in every one of her blog posts.

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