To the Barrier … and beyond
With Sir David Attenborough espousing its delights in his latest BBC documentary series, the Great Barrier Reef – made up of the 1,400-mile string of islands, coral reefs and sand cays off the Queensland coast – is ready for the rush. One of Attenborough’s programmes features the giant manta rays of Lady Elliot Island, 50 miles from Bundaberg (a four-hour drive from Brisbane), and visitors can check them out on a stay at the island’s eco-resort (twins from £83pppn).
Another option is to nip over to Lady Musgrave Island on a new catamaran from Bundaberg (day tour £100) or pack a tent to make like a castaway on Lady Musgrave, the Whitsunday or Lizard islands (permit £3pp). Or try glam hostelRambutan, which opened recently adjacent to the reef in Townsville (dorm beds from £14, rooms from £60).
Alternatively, head for Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s north-west coast, which attracts far fewer tourists than the Great Barrier and has plenty to offer. At its southern end is the superbly remote Gnaraloo Sheep Station, where you can volunteer on operations such as protecting turtle nests, or use it as a base for fishing, surfing (some of the best breaks in the world are here) and snorkelling (camping £9, cabins from £17). Further north, in Exmouth, a number of operators offer swimming with whale sharks, but now licences have been issued for swimming with humpback whales too: around 30,000 of them annually migrate along the coast. Charter1 offers whale swim trips from £190. Tours will run from June to October. Another newcomer is a kayak trail with moorings and free campsites along the coast, with the best snorkelling sites pin-pointed. Capricorn Sea Kayaking has a three-day trip from £487.
• See our guide to visiting the Great Barrier Reef
The new world wine capital?
With its wide boulevards and neoclassical buildings on the banks of the Garonne, Bordeaux has never been short of ambition. Now the centre of the region that produces the biggest volume of fine wines in France wants to be known as the wine capital of the world. And it’s staking its claim with the opening in June of an ultra-modern museum, La Cité du Vin, “exploring the evolution of wine and honouring all vintages of the planet”.
Already dubbed the “Guggenheim of wine”, the futuristic, glass-clad, curved building was designed to evoke wine flowing through a stemmed glass, and aims to liberate wine tourism from its stuffy, elitist reputation. The 10-storey building will house an “immersive” tour of viniculture, including a “theatre of experts”, with professionals appearing as holograms dispensing advice, and “magic binoculars” for looking out over the world’s vineyards. There will be a restaurant at the top of the 55-metre viewing tower, and once visitors have had their fill of theory, boats can shuttle them to vineyards on the outskirts of Bordeaux.
• More on Bordeaux holidays
Centenary celebrations for the Republic
This year marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a crucial step towards Irish independence a few years later. Commemorative events include a major exhibition in Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland, at Collins Barracks, called: Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising (museum.ie), it opens on 3 March. Other events include a day of celebration with music, theatre and dance on 28 March and lectures and discussions at Liberty Hall on 26 April. Events come to life on a1916 Rebellion Walking Tour, which visits landmarks including Dublin Castle,Trinity College and Kilmainham Gaol. Afterwards, visit the new Teeling Whiskey Distillery, the first distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years: tours include tastings of the golden liquor, of course. And try Dublin Klaw for some of the freshest seafood in town.
Rio de Janeiro
Host of the 2016 Olympic Games
If you thought you’d seen all there was to see of the “Marvellous City” during the 2014 Brazil World Cup, think again. Rio’s stunning natural landscape should make this the most photogenic Olympics ever. The rowing will be held on the Lagoa, a natural lake ringed by imposing black mountains; the road cycling will speed through the city’s rainforested hills; and the beach volleyball will be on Copacabana beach – also the site of the Olympic fanzone. Away from sport, the new Museum of Tomorrow in the old port district, designed by Santiago Calatrava and opened last month, looks at the need for change if mankind is to avoid climate disaster. The elegant, futuristic building is already being described as one of the city’s must-see sights. Visiting Rio during the Olympics will be expensive, but at any other time your money will go a long way as the value of the real, Brazil’s currency, has fallen sharply over the past year.
A journey into Jungle Book territory
A new 3D animation movie of much-loved classic The Jungle Book, featuring the voices of Neel Sethi, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, is set to hit the big screen in April. Rudyard Kipling’s tale of Mowgli and co was inspired by the wildlife and landscapes of Madhya Pradesh, and those keen to seek out the wild Bengal tiger and other jungle animals can join a new tour in Satpura national park with Gane and Marshall, which offers camping overnight in the park for the first time (from £745 for four nights). Another new option is the Forsyth Trail, a 10-day tour from Village Ways (from £1,115), which includes time in Satpura as well as Pench Tiger Reserve. Wild Frontiers has a special Jungle Book group tour for 2016, visiting three parks – Kanha, Satpura and Tadoba (12 days from £2,795).
Ancient culture opens to the world again
There have been times in recent years when the arrival of a western tourist at an Iranian hotel attracted a crowd of sightseers and a formal welcome from management. But since the Vienna agreement on the country’s nuclear programme was reached in July and the subsequent softening of relations with the west, those rare visitors are set to grow in number. Exposure to contemporary culture from Iran has also grown this year with the film Taxi Tehran giving a snapshot of the lives of residents in the capital, while Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour’s noir vampire western A Girl Walks Home Alone At Nightbrought a transnational vision of cool to our cinema screens.
Even though truly independent travel is still not possible, more tour operators are running holidays there. With a land area almost seven times that of Britain, several climate zones and a wealth of ancient history, the country has plenty to offer.
It has bazaars, mosques and gardens galore, but the real pleasure is the people – encounters are never dull. The unmissable site is Persepolis, the seat of Darius the Great and his son Xerxes, which is astonishingly well-preserved. Also look out for the Soltaniyeh (a 14th-century mausoleum, the third-largest brick dome ever built), Takht-e Soleyman (a spiritual site celebrating fire and water) and the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan. Modern art lovers can enjoy works by Warhol, Monet and Pollock, hidden during the revolution but now on display in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
More adventurous souls might explore the Alburz mountains, where shepherds walk their flocks up to more than 4,000 metres through flower-decked meadows. Less strenuous would be a rail trip: luxury tours run from Turkey, and new deals with Austria promise further developments.
Wild Frontiers trips to Iran include a 16-day Silk Road tour around the Caspian Sea plus parts of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan (from £3,295). Travel The Unknown has launched the UK’s first dedicated Iran brochure, and Regent Holidays has a 14-day Journey from Tabriz to Shiraz (departs 26 September, from £3,495pp, including flights). Imaginative Traveller has two new trips: Iran Adventure and Iranian Days and Nights. The latter is a 15-day tour, starting and ending in Tehran, and visiting its major historic cities, as well as the desert city of Yazd. Departs 23 May (£2,100, flights not included).
New bullet train link to the north’s wide open spaces
From the end of March, a direct bullet train will link Tokyo with Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, considered to be the country’s natural adventure playground. In summer, visitors head there for hiking, climbing and camping in its vast expanse of forests, lakes, mountains and hot springs. In winter, reliable snowfall makes for great skiing, with Niseko the most famous resort.
In a recent survey, Hokkaido was Japanese travellers’ preferred region, with Hakodate, the gateway to Hokkaido, voted the country’s most attractive tourist destination, followed by Sapporo. Hakodate is celebrated for its historic buildings, landscapes including Mount Hakodate, and dishes such as ikura(salmon roe) and squid-ink ice-cream.
Sapporo, meanwhile, is styling itself as Japan’s version of US hipster city Portland. People are relocating there for its laid-back lifestyle, outdoorsy edge, winter festival, small start-up businesses and retro-styled bar scene. The Hokkaido Shinkansen route will connect Tokyo with Shin-Hakodate Hokuto in four hours, two hours less than the current journey time. A seven-day Japan Rail pass costs £157.
• More Japan holiday ideas
Art, architecture and Poldark passion
Swimming (and architecture) fans are in for a treat when the art deco Penzance Jubilee Pool – the largest surviving seawater lido in Britain – reopens in May. Built in 1935, it was damaged by storms in 2013 but has now been returned to its full glory. Stay in the newly opened Chapel House (from £150 a night), a gorgeous Georgian building with six rooms overlooking the sea. New food choices include seafood specialist The Shore from former Rick Stein chef Bruce Rennie.
Cornwall will be in the limelight once more when the second series of BBC drama Poldark airs in the autumn – and Count House Cottage, a National Trust property that appears in the show, is available for rent from £275 for three nights. This year is also the 10th anniversary of Cornwall’s mining landscapes becoming a Unesco world heritage site. To celebrate, a steam-powered cast-iron puppet of a miner, that’s 12 metres tall, will spend two weeks in late July walking across Cornwall, stopping at mining locations en route.
Foodie city becomes affordable
Food fans who have the appetite, if not the wallet, for Nordic cuisine should head to Copenhagen, where some of the city’s high-end restaurants are opening casual alternatives. While René Redzepi’s world-beating Noma relocates to Sydney from January to April, the team is opening a new spot, called 108, with more seats and a more affordable menu than the mothership.
108 will start off as a pop-up on Noma’s premises during the Australian hiatus, before moving to a permanent location. Small plates (around £10) and mains (£15) will include cured squid and bacon broth, and caramelised milk skin with veal tongue.
Kadeau, another celebrated restaurant in the canal area of Christianshavn, has also launched a more laid-back offshoot, Eldorado, with a menu featuring papadums and Thai coconut soup – signalling the city’s appreciation for a cuisine beyond foraged beach herbs and Nordic dogmas. Craft brewery Mikkeller follows this trend with recently opened Ramen to Bíiru in the bohemian Nørrebro district, serving, as the name suggests, bowls of ramen. Visitors can sample some of the city’s best restaurants in August, at the Copenhagen Cooking & Food Festival.
Cultural coup and an art show tribute to Bosch!
In February, this small Dutch town an hour south of Amsterdam by train will stage a cultural coup. Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch was born and worked in the town, and died there 500 years ago. To pay tribute, theNoordbrabants Museum is putting on an exhibition of 39 of the artist’s iconic paintings and drawings – the largest ever Bosch exhibition. The whole town is getting into the spirit of the artist’s fantastical paintings, with fringe events such as a jaunt around the city’s canals and river called the Boat Trip of Heaven and Hell, and some of Bosch’s more grotesque works projected on to walls beneath its tunnels and bridges.
History told by 1,000 actors
This summer, Bishop Auckland in County Durham will host an open-air historical theatrical spectacular called Kynren – an epic tale of England. The production was inspired by the French theme park Puy du Fou, has a cast of over 1,000 members of the local community on a seven-acre stage, and will take up to 8,000 spectators on a journey through 2,000 years of English history. Visitors to the market town can also enjoy Auckland Castle – which serves as a backdrop to the production – the National Railway Museum at Shildon, nearby Binchester Roman Fort, and the beauty of the North Pennines AONB. The city of Durham is a 20-minute drive away.
• Kynren has 14 shows from 2 July to 17 September. Booking now open: adult from £25, child from £19, kynren.co.uk
Centenary of the National Park Service
On 25 August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations”.
One hundred years later, the 84-million-plus-acre National Park Service comprises 409 sites, including 58 national and historical parks, monuments, battlefields, and seashore. In 2014, almost 293 million people visited them. The opening event of the centennial takes place on 1 January, with the enormousTournament of Roses Parade winding through the streets of Pasadena, Los Angeles – the theme is “Find Your Adventure’’ in a US national park. All national parks will waive their entrance fees on 16 special days in 2016, including during National Park Week (16-24 April), and the National Park Service Birthday (25-28 August).
American Sky has a 21-night self-driving tour through some of the most beautiful national parks in the western US. The trip begins and ends in San Francisco, with plenty of time to explore sights from the Grand Canyon to the red cliffs and Angels Landing rock formations of Zion national park. The route also takes in Mesa Verde, Canyonlands and Arches, Yellowstone, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Death Valley and Yosemite. The trips costs from £2,089pp including flights and hotels. For non-drivers, a similar 17-day tour with transport provided costs £2,209.
• More US national and state park holiday ideas
Fly direct to the Peruvian capital
Peru has long been the most popular destination in South America for British visitors, so it’s about time an airline launched a direct flight from London to Lima, as British Airways will do in May, cutting up to three hours off previous flights times via Spain.
But while most tourists are drawn by Machu Picchu and other ancient sites, the Peruvian capital continues to develop as a destination for those interested in contemporary culture. Food and drink – ceviche and pisco sours – is at the forefront of this, thanks to Virgilio Martínez, owner of Central, who opened a more casual restaurant, NOS, in upmarket Miraflores in August.
The Barranco area has more grazing spots, such as Isolina, for a modern take on earthy cuisine, and Blu for fresh ice-cream. The area also has small cafes, design shops and galleries. The art scene has also been growing: Mario Testino’s MATEmuseum opened in 2012, joining the more established Museo de Arte de Lima.
Forests, beaches, volcanoes and wildlife
Getting to Costa Rica from the UK used to involve travelling via Madrid or Miami. No more: Thomson launched the first direct flights, from Gatwick to the northern city of Liberia, in November, while BA is starting direct flights from Gatwick to the capital, San José, in April. The twice-weekly BA flights (return from £499) will cut the journey time to just under 11 hours.
The new flights have coincided with several hotel openings, from luxury resorts such as Andaz Peninsula Papagayo (doubles from $226) in the north andHacienda AltaGracia (doubles from $275) further south, to simpler properties like Nammbú Beachfront Bungalows in Playa Carrillo (doubles from $175, no website).
Holiday companies are launching tours, too, such as National Geographic and G Adventures’ 14-day Explore Costa Rica trip, which includes meeting researchers at a sea turtle conservancy and joining in reforestation projects (from £1,429pp without flights).
Costa Rica has an astonishing array of endemic species, thanks to the diverse landscape and microclimates on its two coasts (with great beaches and surfing), mountains, jungles and volcanoes. It also has pioneering sustainability policies – a quarter of the landmass is protected.
Manuel Antonio national park, 110 miles from San Jose, is one of the best places for trekking and wildlife spotting. It is home to most of the country’s native species, including howler monkeys, sloths and iguanas. The country is a year-round destination, with a dry season from November to April and a mild rainy season from May to October.
• See our guide to holidays in Costa Rica
Le Marche, Italy
Beaches and art without the crowds
Le Marche, a region halfway up the eastern side of Italy’s boot, is slowly being discovered by Brits: visitor numbers were up 24% in the year to August, though from a very low base. And tourists are staying there longer – enjoying the region’s beaches, hilltop villages, art-filled towns and great outdoors for their own sake, rather than making a quick foray from Umbria or Abruzzo.
Hospitality in Le Marche used to be in staid business hotels or pack-’em-in beachside billets, with (uninspiring) half-board compulsory in summer. But a younger generation has taken the British concept of bed-and-breakfast to their hearts.
La Maison Jujube (doubles from €69 B&B) is in a 14th-century village house in Morrovalle, between the sea and the old university city of Macerata, with two bedrooms, a walled garden and great views. Less than an hour away is one of Italy’s best beaches, spectacular Due Sorelle, beneath white cliffs and accessible by boat from the harbour at Numana.
Inland, medieval Urbino is a must-see for the renaissance art in its Palazzo Ducale, but fans of more modern art can put together a great tour of contemporary galleries, from Il Conventino in tiny Monteciccardo, to modern sculpture inside a 15th-century tower in Cagli.
Green capital hits its stride
Slovenia’s capital is the European Green Capital 2016, thanks to projects over the past decade to improve its environment – which have also made it more attractive to visitors. Large parts of Ljubljana have now been pedestrianised, existing green spaces have been restored, and new ones have been created.
Paths wind down from the castle (the main tourist attraction), huge Tivoli Parkreaches almost to the city centre, and the Library Under the Treetops initiative has brought free books and deckchairs to seven locations. Eco-friendly ways to explore include a stand-up paddleboard tour with Bananaway along the Ljubljanica river, whose embankments have also been renovated to encourage walking.
Traditional dishes and local ingredients are being revived across the city: a good place to sample them is in Spajza restaurant, which specialises in hearty home-cooking, such as smoked goose breast with truffles. There will be more green projects throughout the year, including the creation of a public orchard.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia. There will be celebrations on Slovene National Day (24 June), Sovereignty Day
(25 October), and Slovenian Independence and Unity Day (23 December) and events all through the year. See slovenia25.si.
What Ljubljana lacks in unmissable attractions it makes up for with beautiful architecture (especially Jože Plečnik’s buildings), a laid-back atmosphere and scores of riverside bars serving excellent Slovenian wines. The pick of the hotels is Vander Urbani Resort (doubles from £86), right on the river in the heart of the city: it has cutting-edge design and a tiny roof terrace with an infinity pool.
It’s been “up-and-coming” for a few years, but Sri Lanka keeps on giving, with more hotels and new trips. Catch that perfect wave and perfect your downward dog on a surfing and yoga holiday with Soul & Surf, which has just opened a permanent base on the south coast, after its success in Kerala. A week to suit all levels costs from £775pp, including surf and yoga lessons, full-board and transfers, but excluding flights.
Many of the new openings are on the luxury side – special occasion or honeymoon material. Among the most hotly anticipated is the eco boutique hotelTri Lanka (pictured, doubles from £165 half-board), a sustainable design hotel overlooking the country’s finest lake, Koggala. The Owl & the Pussycat (doubles from £199 B&B) also opened last month, in Thalpe on the south coast: it’s another boutique property with an arty vibe, created by 20 artists.
Called to the Bard
On 23 April, to mark 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, the BBC will broadcast a live tribute from the RSC theatre in Stratford. Spring is a great time to explore more of the playwright’s home county. As well as the RSC itself (which opens a new Shakespeare exhibition and the Other Place studio theatre in 2016), Shakespeare’s house, New Place, and the schoolroom he attended at King Edward VI School, both open as major attractions in April. At Shakespeare’s Globetheatre in London, Hamlet returns for a weekend of performances after a world tour on 23 and 24 April.
Fjords, foxes and hot pools
Iceland’s popularity is well-justified, but access is nearly always through Reykjavik, giving any trip a bias towards the west. In May, new direct flights from Gatwick to Egilsstaðir in the east will allow visitors to head straight to some of the wilder, more remote areas.
There are impressive drives down the east coast fjords, taking in little towns such as Seyðisfjörður, a good base for summer hiking. Other highlights are treks to Mount Snæfell or the Hafrahvammar canyon. For full immersion in Icelandic culture, head up the Fljótsdalur valley, a place inextricably linked with author Gunnar Gunnarsson, nominated six times for the Nobel prize. At the upper end of the valley, tourists can walk or ride horses into a lost wilderness inhabited by pink-footed geese, reindeer and arctic foxes. Flights to Egilsstaðir will operate twice weekly from May with Discover the World. The tour operator also offers a seven-night, tailor-made Exploring East Fjords tour (tailor-made), from £951pp, including return flights, airport taxes, car rental and accommodation. It also organises a climb of Mount Snaefell, including transfers from Egilsstadur and visits to hot pools afterwards (£216).
• More on trips to Iceland
Bourne ready in Santa Cruz
With its walking festivals and rural hotels, Tenerife has proved that there’s more to the largest Canary island than beach holidays. Its capital, Santa Cruz, has stayed off-radar, but that will change in July, with the release of the fifth Bourne movie. Much of the action was shot in the city, but while the film probably won’t linger on Santa Cruz’s emerging foodie scene, its soaring Auditorio opera house, or brightly painted historic buildings, visitors should. Those of a gastronomic persuasion will be particularly happy: El Rincon de Juan Carlos, a contemporary Spanish restaurant, has just won a Michelin star, doubling the city’s stellar dining options.
Capability Brown gardens
Northumberland and sites across the UK
Our land may have been green and pleasant before Lancelot “Capability” Brown started rearranging its hills and lakes, but the UK’s most celebrated landscape gardener was so prolific – he is associated with 260 sites in England and Wales – that many of the landscapes we think of today as typically English are, in fact, typically Lancelot. In 2016, designated the Year of the English Garden by VisitEngland, around 150 of the landscapes Brown designed will be open to the public, with organisations such as the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society contributing to a nationwide programme of events marking 300 years since his birth. Some of the sites will open specially for the occasion; others, such as Harewood House near Leeds, are upping their Capability credentials with events and exhibitions.
True Brown aficionados could start with a pilgrimage to the small village of Kirkharle in Northumberland, where he was born. Brown discovered gardening here, learning his craft via an apprenticeship with the head gardener at Kirkharle Hall. Though it’s an unassuming site today (much of the hall was demolished in the 19th century, and the remaining wing was remodelled as a farmhouse), Brown’s plans for the parkland here were finally put into action in 2010 by the estate’s owners. The landscape now includes a serpentine lake around which visitors can stroll, and a children’s play area (complete with Capability-inspired serpentine sandpit). Find out more first by visiting an exhibition on Brown’s life in the area at the Kirkharle Courtyard Coffee House and craft centre (also the hub for a Capability festival over the August bank holiday weekend), seeing the church where Brown was baptised, then carrying on north to Alnwick Castle, where he designed the landscape on its northern side.
Calling all dancing queens
Move over Scandi chic. In 2016, Stockholm is all about Abba-influenced kitsch. The Eurovision final is being held in the Swedish capital in May, and before that, on 20 January, Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus is opening Mamma Mia: The Party at a refitted restaurant in the Gröna Lund amusement park. A kind of immersive Singalongversion of the musical, the concept is part Greek taverna and part stage show, with a bit of audience participation. Tickets are available for the show with dinner (from £105) or with overnight accommodation at Pop House Hotel (from £196pp) which is also part-owned by Ulvaeus and in the same building as Abba The Museum.
• Stockholm city guide: what to do plus the best bars, restaurants and hotels
San Sebastián, Spain
Culture, food and beaches
It has long been known for gastronomy, but this year San Sebastián is tempting visitors with a packed cultural programme. As the joint European Capital of Culture 2016 (with Wrocław in Poland), its lineup of events include “guerilla lighting actions” to brighten the dark days of January; a music-box festival with gigs in unusual spaces; an art installation involving the city’s fountains; a “caravan of desires” full of erotica travelling through the streets; a Stop the War festival; and Sunday hikes.
One appealing-sounding show is a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Cristina Enea Park, with live music and contemporary dance, preceded by an alfresco feast at dusk. Culture aside, the city’s highlights include a pintxo (tapas) crawl around the bars of the old town or, at the other end of the spectrum, a Michelin-starred dinner – San Sebastián’s restaurants have 16 stars between them, including three three-star establishments – astonishing for a relatively small city. The best views are from the top of Mount Urgull. There is a fantastic city beach, Playa de la Concha, plus two surfing beaches, and the Paseo Nuevo is the place to stroll and watch the sunset.
Vive le football
More than 100,000 fans from the UK and Ireland will travel to France for Euro 2016, which kicks off on 10 June in Paris, with the host facing Romania at the Stade de France. For supporters of Wales and Northern Ireland, it will be the first opportunity to support their side in 58 and 30 years respectively. England and Wales will meet in their opening group game, in the north-eastern city of Lens, home to the minimalist Louvre-Lens, an outpost of the Paris museum. Northern Ireland’s fans will no doubt be cheered to discover that their opening game will be a chance to sun themselves on the Med, as they play Poland in Nice. The Republic of Ireland head to Paris to take on Sweden. The tournament will be spread across 10 venues (Paris’s Stade de France and Parc des Princes, Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Lens, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice and Saint-Etienne), with the final at the Stade de France on 10 July. French rail operator SNCF and the French tourist organisationAtout France have guides to the host cities and train travel to them.
• Ballots for match ticket are now open for supporters of qualifying national teams:uefa.com/uefaeuro/ticketing. Tickets are now available for domestic French trains running between Paris and the host cities for travel between 10 June and 10 July
Salt Lake City and Utah
Mountains and more
Salt Lake City has its own attractions – The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Clark Planetarium, Temple Square’s architecture and tabernacle, and many more Mormon sites – but the best thing about the first direct flights to Utah’s capital, launching on 1 May with Delta, is that the city is a leaping-off point to theWasatch mountains and national parks.
There are several stellar ski resorts in valleys within an hour or so’s drive, including Park City, which hosts the Sundance Film Festival and is newly connected this season to the resort previously known as The Canyons: together, they form the US’s largest ski resort, with nearly 300 runs. There’s also chichi celeb haunt Deer Valley, where snowboarding is banned, newly opened Cherry Peak resort, and cool, quirky little gems Solitude and Snowbird – the latter’s backcountry terrain provides a steep introduction to the famous Utah powder. A road-trip tour of them all is a true western adventure, and easy to do (Ski Safarihas packages). The snow-averse can explore the jawdropping pink-rock national parks south of the city – such as Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Zion.
Rolling hills and racing bikes
The Chianti wine region between Florence and Siena is 300 years old this year. Its wine is now regarded as Italy’s answer to bordeaux, with high-quality vintages offering spice, leather and tobacco notes. To mark three centuries of classic wines, one stage of the 2016 Giro d’Italia cycle race will take place in the Chianti hills: stage nine, on 15 May, will be a rolling 40km time trial through the region, starting in the ancient village of Radda, 29km north of Siena, and heading north to finish in Greve in Chianti. It’s a fantastically picturesque route, with, as Giro director Mauro Vegni gleefully points out, barely a metre of flat land. Make the most of it with a stay amid the vines at Podere Val delle Corti (from €120 a night self-catering), a producer of high-quality wine from 40-year-old vines, right in the chianti classico golden triangle. Owners Roberto and Lis let a beautifully restored two-bedroom cottage with fantastic views over vineyards and olive groves to the mountains. From here it’s a five-minute drive or half-hour walk into the village for the start of the race.
Capital of culture – and solidarity
Yes, Poland’s fourth-largest city is a European capital of Culture in 2016 (along with San Sebastián in Spain). But call it Rock-law, and you’re not invited to the party. It’s pronounced Vrots-waf, and you’ve got until 17 January, when the official celebrations begin, to practise.
Headline events for the city’s year in the spotlight are a series of 12 cultural weekends, starting with Awakening, a winter fiesta of exhibitions, concerts and a mass parade. The showstopper will be a performance on 23 February by prolific movie composer Ennio Morricone, with 200 choristers and musicians .
But there’s another side to the city: the former “fortress of Solidarity” and the home of the 1980s Orange Alternative underground movement can be explored at the Konspira restaurant and historical education centre, the Neon Side Gallery and Club and the former brewery Browar Mieszczanski. More pronunciations to get your head and lips around.
• The capital of culture programme can be found at wroclaw2016.pl
A Caribbean bargain to beat the post-Christmas blues
“Puerto Rico you lovely island, island of tropical breezes …” sang Rosalia in West Side Story. It’s also an island of rum, palm trees, golden beaches, and a fascinating mix of US, Caribbean and Spanish cultures. And now it’s as easy to get to as anywhere in the Caribbean (and a lot cheaper than many destinations) sinceNorwegian launched direct flights from the UK to Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.
They will run in the winter, from November to April, with returns from Gatwick from £338. Once there, visitors can explore over 500 years of history in atmospheric Old San Juan, plus nightlife as lively as anywhere in this party-loving region.
Small, family-run guesthouses all over the island have doubles from about $80 or, for a bit of glitz, Hilton group hotels in San Juan (The Caribe) and overlooking the Caribbean in the east of the island (El Conquistador) have great post-Christmas deals, with huge doubles from around $200, and all the pools, beach bars and entertainment you could wish for.
Ski jumping: US, Canada, Europe
Fly like Eddie the Eagle
Can you name a single ski jumper other than Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards? Thought not. As the first British ski jumper to take part in the winter Olympics, in Calgary in 1988, Eddie became a huge favourite with TV viewers and fans, for his determination and humour despite his relative lack of skill at the sport, glasses that fogged when he jumped, equipment that didn’t fit, and a 9kg weight disadvantage compared with the next-heaviest competitor.
Though he was Britain’s best at the time, a stunt-jumping record holder and ranked ninth in the world in amateur speed skiing, he admitted he’d entered the Olympic ski jump category because no one else was going to apply. He originally wanted to compete in downhill events but didn’t have the funds to enter.
As the worst in the competition, finishing last in the 70-metre and 90-metre events despite breaking the UK record, he became an underdog hero. Now his story will take flight on the silver screen when it is released in April: Eddie the Eagle, produced by Matthew Vaughn, has Taron Egerton in the lead role, and Hugh Jackman playing a fictional coach training him on Lake Placid.
If you’re inspired, visit Calgary’s Olympic park and adjoining ski hills (winsport.ca); or the Olympic Jumping Complex (daily tours from $11 adult, $8 junior) in Lake Placid; or the filming locations in the Bavarian ski resort of Oberstdorf. At this last location, visitors can try ski jumping at the Impulse centre(regular workshops around £117) or watch events at the Erdinger Arena. Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the east was another location: here guided tours of the ski jump cost €10 adult, €8 child. There are various ski jumping courses for beginner eaglets too, including in Saalfelden Leogang, and Obertauern in Austria, and the Lappi school in Kuusamo, Finland.
As part of its Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design, Scotland is holding a Festival of Architecture throughout 2016. Among the celebrations is the reopening of Saint Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, Argyll, in March. Despite being one of Scotland’s most significant modernist buildings, it was abandoned in 1980, but sound and light installations will bring flickers of life to its remaining concrete columns before a two-year renovation project. Snoop through other normally closed keyholes via a Doors Open Days programme.
Cape Town, South Africa
An artistic explosion
A major new gallery is opening on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town in late 2016. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will be housed in the eye-catching, nine-storey, 1920s Grain Silo. Until then, a temporary pavilion will display selected highlights from the collection. Other attractions for art lovers includeFirst Thursdays, when scores of galleries, especially those on and around Bree and Church Streets, stay open until 9pm or later on the first Thursday of the month.
Coffee Beans Routes runs guided tours, including visits to artists’ studios and a tour of street art in the Woodstock area. Bright Creative Space, also in Woodstock, holds art classes, including I Know Nothing for complete beginners. The Iziko South African National Gallery has a comprehensive collection of African art, as well as British, French and Dutch works.
Fun new activities in Cape Town include the Secret Social Club, monthly parties with a retro theme in Paarden Eiland; and beach tours by fatbike (bikes with wide tyres for cycling on sand) in De Kelders. South Beach is a new collection of nine stylish apartment suites in Camps Bay (from £103 a night, blueviews.com), or for a stay with a difference, Lungi’s B&B (doubles from £18) has recently reopened in Khayelitsha township.
Not the end of the pier show
Hastings Pier has a roller coaster history: it opened in 1872, boomed in the 1930s and hosted bands including the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and 70s. It closed in 2008 after being damaged by a storm, then was almost destroyed by fire in 2010. But it is about to get a new lease of life, reopening on 21 March after a massive transformation, thanks in part to a £11.4m Heritage Lottery grant. The new-look pier will host farmers’ markets, urban sports, outdoor cinema and gigs – plus more traditional seaside promenading. And there’ll be a grand opening party in May.
Yunnan province, China
Festivals and the ancient tea road
Continued improvements in transport infrastructure mean visitors to China in 2016 can venture into rural areas more easily. Yunnan province, in the south-west, has a compelling trio of attractions: dramatic mountain landscapes, unusually well-preserved historic towns and an exciting food culture. One way to discover it is by exploring the Tea Horse Road, or Southern Silk Road. A network of ancient paths along which caravans of traders once travelled (including, as you might have guessed, tea merchants), it snakes through spectacular landscapes, from Sichuan and Yunnan through Tibet, and south to Bengal. From Lux Resorts’hotels (doubles from about £100) in Lijiang – and later this month at Benzilan, four hours’ drive north – visitors can hike mountain trails, forage for mushrooms, cross glaciers with a guide, and listen to monks chanting. Explore’s new 14-dayFestivals of Yunnan tour (departs 14 February, from £2,119 without flights or £2,989 with) takes in temples, markets, festivals and a walk through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
New cheap flights from the UK
Getting to Toronto this year will be a bargain if you can snap up the lowest of the new low-cost flights. Icelandic airline Wow is launching flights from Gatwick to Toronto (from 20 May) and Montreal (from 12 May) from £198 return: so cheap because they go via Reykjavik. (It will also offer low-cost transatlantic flights from Gatwick to Los Angeles and San Francisco later in the summer, fares to be confirmed.)
And Canadian airline WestJet will launch its first direct flights from the UK to seven Canadian cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, St John’s) from Gatwick on 6 May, with fares from £414 return. Air Canada Rouge has a new direct route from Glasgow to Toronto between 13 June and 25 September, from £400 return, as well as seven routes from Gatwick from May. Destination Canada’s Nim Singh says 2016 will be a good year for a visit, “as air fares will be lower than they have been in a while, and the exchange rate is more favourable than in the past few years”.
For those who’ve done NYC, Toronto is a low-key alternative for a short transatlantic city break. Attractions include the expanded Pride Toronto Festival(24 June-3 July) and a new venue for the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, or Mocca, in the heritage Tower Automotive Building. The latest hip neighbourhood is The Junction , where cheap warehouse conversions are tempting artists and startups, leading to a flurry of vintage stores, pizza parlours, and organic and raw food outlets.
Go while it’s still unspoilt
History was made in Myanmar in November, when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the general elections, ending 50 years of military rule. Widespread celebrations followed and real change is now expected.
While some areas remain off-limits for tourists, Mawlamyine in the south-east has a new, daily 45-minute flight from Yangon, with Mann Yadarnapon airlines, opening up a remote area that was previously a seven-hour drive or a lengthy boat trip away from the country’s largest city. The fourth-largest town in the country, Mawlamyine has a picturesque port – the setting of George Orwell’s essay Shooting an Elephant – and is mentioned in the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Mandalay. Easier access to the south also brings the picturesque town of Hpa An and the Myeik archipelago within reach. Several operators have new itineraries, including Inside Asia Tours’ Southern Burma Uncovered, a 15-night trip with time in Mawlamyine and Macleod Island, from £2,385pp, excluding flights.
Since the collapse of the USSR 25 years ago, Georgia has emerged as a promising destination for off-the-beaten track adventure in a landscape of mountains and lakes. “Georgia is less crowded than much of Europe but offers much more bang for your buck. Flights are cheap and Pegasus’s route to Batumi makes access to the Caucasus mountains much easier,” says Imaginative Traveller’s Helen Youngman. New for 2016 is a 14-day Highlights of Georgia and Armenia tour, from £1,299pp. The capital, Tbilisi, is on a roll, with several new five-, four- and three- star hotels (the key one being a brand new Design Hotels property calledRooms), revamped restaurants and a burgeoning hip wine bar revolution with the likes of Bottle Shock and Vino Underground tasting room showcasing Georgia’s famous viticulture. For culture buffs, the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatrereopened in December, having been closed for six years for renovations.
Going la-la over Dada
The centenary of Dadaism, a radical art movement founded in Zurich in 1916, will draw art lovers to Switzerland’s principal metropolis, with a series of soirées atCabaret Voltaire (where the movement began) among the commemorations. Staying with art, the ninth Manifesta European contemporary art biennale, with seminars and exhibitions, will be held in Zurich in 2016, too. Best book early if you want to stay at hip new boutique hotel Marktgasse, (doubles from £170). Zurich is also, of course, a hit with skiers (there are 270 resorts within a three-hour drive) and, less obviously, swimmers (in summer a string of lidos open around the city’s lake).
Having just been declared a Unesco city of literature – and thereby joining 11 other cities including Edinburgh, Reykjavik, Dublin, Krakow and Melbourne – Nottingham will be a whirr of words in 2016. The city (and county) has links with DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe, as well as 1974 Booker Prize winner Stanley Middleton and playwright and TV screenwriter William Ivory. Festival of Words is in October, and the city will continue to promote its “Rebel Writers” in an Arts Council-funded project, Dawn of the Unread and new writers viaNottingham Writers’ Studio. Those who want a stroll with their literature can explore the city using an iPhone app of the Sillitoe Trail, which focuses on places mentioned in Nottingham-set 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. More events will be announced through the year. The Lace Market Hotel, in a listed Georgian townhouse, recently reopened after refurbishment (doubles from £122 B&B).
Rev up for America’s biggest race
Boston’s streets have staged plenty of history, whether it’s revolutionary riding and marching (and tea throwing) or celebrating – when the Red Sox finally won another World Series – but that may not feel like any preparation when the drivers of IndyCar take over during the first Grand Prix of Boston. Over the Labor Day weekend (2-4 September) the event will feature live bands, family-friendly attractions and driver appearances, building up to Verizon’s IndyCar Series race on the Sunday. The racecourse is centred on the city’s fast-developing South Boston waterfront (often referred to as the Seaport district, or Fort Point district), with its independent arts scene, historic warehouse buildings, and award-winning restaurants, craft breweries and museums.
The intention is for the event to run annually until 2020. Tickets have yet to go on sale, but for more information and updates see indycarboston.com.
If that’s not enough to rev your travel engines, consider the city’s famous marathon in April, the American Craft Beer fest in May, its film festivals in April and September, the seafood festival in August and its book festival in October.
And, while Boston is a city that’s relatively easy to reach, from May things will get even easier and a little more affordable. The low-cost airline Norwegian is to run flights from Gatwick to Boston four times a week, starting on 13 May. Fares on the route, which will use the 787 Dreamliner aircraft, will start from £179 one-way. It’s enough to make you spill your tea.
Knights, frights and starry nights
In July, the release of Guy Ritchie’s latest film, Knights of the Roundtable, will prompt set-jetters to visit Snowdonia, where much of the film was shot. There will be themed underground boat rides through King Arthur’s Labyrinth – at Corris, in the south of Snowdonia – and guide Amanda Whitehead will be tailor-making King Arthur tours for groups in 2016, bringing to life the locations behind both the film and the legend. Snowdonia is also great adventure territory, withEurope’s longest zipwire at Penrhyn Slate Quarry, underground trampolines at Llechwedd Caverns, and manmade waves at Surf Snowdonia. The national park has international dark sky status, too, making it a top spot for star-gazers.