After deciding that Peru was to be our honeymoon destination, the first thing we booked was (of course) a trek to Machu Picchu.

But this wasn't the usual stomp along the Inca trail. I have often said that my dream day would consist of the following key parts; a long and bracing hike somewhere beautiful, a dip in a pool or a jacuzzi to soothe those aching limbs, all topped off by a delicious meal. That dream pretty much came true for an entire week - we chose to go with Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP), a luxury travel company who took us along an alternative path to the ancient ruins, one that was conveniently furnished with high-end lodges and jacuzzis to help ease our muscles at the end of those long days of hiking.

Here's what the experience was like.

First Impressions

After an early start from our Cusco hotel, we were packed into a minivan with our fellow trekkers and driven out to the mountains beyond the city. They started us off gently; on our way to the first ascent, we paid a visit to a charity giving local crafts-women fair pay in exchange for their skills, took a brief tour of the archaeological site at Tarahuasi (where we spotted, amongst other things, bananas and pink peppercorns growing, and gargantuan spiders hiding in the flowers) and had a light snack of the freshest avocados slathered over bread high up over the scooping countryside.

The first day's hike was a gentle one whilst we acclimatised to the increased altitude. After a slow ascent, we joined the Camino Real (Royal Road), the majority of which was flat as it meandered around the side of the mountain. Views slipped in and out of view, while clouds played in shadows across the landscape. We saw cartoon-sized daisies along the track that were almost as large as our hands. At one point we heard the soft thunder of hooves from further up the bank and soon found ourselves walking alongside a string of mules.

Despite the straightforward ease of the track, we were still rewarded by so much beauty, especially when the Humantay came into sight, a colossal, snowy giant squatting at the end of the valley. Our first lodge for the night sat almost at the foot of this hulking monolith. Upon reaching the hotel, we slipped our hiking boots off and went inside to be greeted from the cold air, provided with steaming hot towels for our hands and faces, and shepherded into the lodge's bar where we caught a view of the Humantay looming over us outside, slowly turning pink in the dying sunlight.

We gathered around on that first evening to for a briefing on what the next few days would bring. It wouldn't be easy, we were told, and there was only one more acclimatisation hike before we set out on the hardest section of the track to climb up and over the Salkantay Pass itself. We could feel the mountains pressing down on us as they slipped into darkness and we wondered what trials they had in store for us.

Which brings me on to...

The Hiking

The MLP website emphasises that this is a challenging trek for which you will need to prepare. Michele and I took this quite seriously and made sure we'd been on a couple of strenuous hikes in the lead-up (we didn't get to go as often as we would have liked due to all the wedding planning). I'd also been doing HIIT workouts on an almost daily basis for a few months beforehand (as part of my efforts to make sure I didn't outgrow my wedding dress...) and we made sure that our itinerary through Peru allowed us to gently acclimatise over the preceding weeks, starting at sea level in Lima and slowly moving upwards as we visited Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca and then Cusco.

As a result, we came to the trek as two reasonably fit adults who were used to long hikes and who had spent a decent amount of time acclimatising to the altitude beforehand. The hiking therefore didn't feel particularly difficult to us - sure, we were out of breath and our legs were working hard, but it was by no means the hardest hike we'd ever done and it all felt manageable.

But that's not to say that this trek is only for people who hike all the time and who have spent weeks acclimatising - we were joined by a group of people who had arrived in Peru just a couple of days before and so hadn't had the time to get used to the altitude. Michele and I were often near the front of the group (although quite a few of our fellow hikers started to catch up with us as the week wore on) and the guides made sure that we stopped often to ensure that everyone could walk together. We were also very much a mixed group in terms of age and the amount of hiking we'd done beforehand but the important thing is that everybody managed it (with a smile).

The Landscape

On one of the nights in Cusco before the trek, as we sat drinking Pisco Sours in the courtyard of our hotel, we watched as a pack of bedraggled hikers slumped into the hotel lobby. They had just completed the same trek that we were about to set off on. We began chatting to them at breakfast the next morning and they shared some tales from the trail. The words of one guy particularly stuck with me - he told us how he had always lived in the foothills of Colorado, but that the mountains we were about to set foot on were some of the most incredible he'd ever seen.

The trek takes you up over the Salkantay Pass and then down into the cloud forest. We are both used to mountains - we've spent countless days in the Italian Alps, especially in the Dolomites region. And yet there was something spectacularly otherworldly about the peaks we passed between. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen in the air, but as we crested the Salkantay Pass itself, the mountains looming up over us appeared to have been chiselled from ice themselves, such was their perfect, crystalline splendour.

From there, the track descends slowly, winding through more mountainous landscapes that slowly become more temperate as you leave the altitude behind. As the snow recedes, the valleys open up before you and everything feels just a little more beautiful as the pain eases out of your legs.

And yet - my favourite part of the trek had to be the descent into the Cloud Forest. Not because of the downhill part (the incline is so steep during many sections that it's almost as much effort as walking up), but because it was a kind of landscape I had never seen before. Vines dripped from the trees like scenes in The Jungle Book, thick, fleshy flowers bloomed casually from impossible places, and the air was dense with the sound of birdsong and the inevitable, onward rushing of the ice melt flowing down the mountains and crashing into the Santa Teresa valley. I hung back every now and then to take some photos in the stillness and was treated to the iridescent flash of a hummingbird as it zipped above the path in front of me and painted the air emerald.

Some parts of the track here were quite frightening - it was clear that landslides were a common occurrence in these parts. One of our guides regaled us with a tale of a man who had fallen unconscious and slipped down the mountainside in these parts. He survived (minus one eye). It was enough to keep us all sticking very closely to the inside of the path.

The final part of our trek saw us joining up with the famed Inca trail. One thing that I particularly liked about joining the Inca trail was the sense that so many boots had passed along these tracks, some of which belonged to my friends who have made the same journey. Perhaps it's not so popular to admit to enjoying the well-trodden path, but I for one like the sense of connection with those who have been there before.

This section of the trail was similar to the walking we'd been doing through the cloud forest before, except that it also saw us climbing new heights again. Given that we were now back at a much lower altitude (and so had plenty more oxygen to keep us going), it's safe to say that this was hard, especially at the pace we were trying to power along at (and we'd had plenty of training, believe me - the day Peru crashed out of the World Cup, we were trying to keep up with a guide who was determined to reach the next lodge for the game!).

As we completed our final ascent, we came out onto a plane that faced Machu Picchu itself - we could just about make out the details of the ruins clinging to those famous peaks across the distance. The end was, quite literally, in sight.

The Lodges

Of course, the thing that really sets this trip apart from other treks to Machu Picchu is the fact that at night you're sleeping in a lodge and not a tent. And I really don't think there can be any better feeling than crawling into a plush, king-size bed after a day's hiking (especially when those beds have been warmed by hot water bottles).

The lodges aren't exactly the same standard as five star hotels on the ground (there's no electricity at night, the wifi can be difficult, and they can feel rather cold in the evening), but my goodness are they a welcome treat in the mountains. My favourite was the one that was waiting for us as soon as we'd crossed the Salkantay Pass, with a piping hot jacuzzi from which you can watch the mountain tops slip into darkness as the stars emerge.

Many lodges also have bars which can be handy for those late night Pisco Sour cravings.

The Experience

The Salkantay Trek is so much more than just a trek - and I mean that in the least pretentious sense. There are other activities along the way to fill the hours between the path and the pillow. These included witnessing a traditional offering ceremony to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), learning how to make Pisco Sours (and then drinking many more), cooking our lunch in a pachamanca (a traditional "underground" BBQ) and visiting a coffee plantation where we watched the beans being roasted and ground and were then plied with the most delicious coffee liquer in the world (I'm still rationing our bottle like a miser).

Overall, this has to be the easiest, most luxurious way to hike to Machu Picchu. Sure, there are a lot of early mornings (and no luxury travel company is going to be able to stop the sand flies hacking into your trousers and biting your, uh, ankles) but then trekking for a week to one of the wonders of the world was never going to be a stroll in the park. Unlike many other (more adventurous) hikers on the path, you can look forward to a delicious hot meal, a clean room (with your luggage kindly delivered by MLP's mules) and a warm bed after a day on the trail.

And if that doesn't sound like a dream day, I don't know what does.