Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Where to go in 2015

Málaga, Spain 

Paseo Maritimo, Málaga
Málaga’s credentials as a cultural city-break destination will get a serious boost this spring, when the Pompidou Centre opens its first outpost outside Paris there.The Cube – a striking €5m glass building on the revamped marina – will house a permanent modern art collection and run a programme of arts events from dance to video. The birthplace of Pablo Picasso is also set to be home to a branch of the St Petersburg State Russian Museum, showcasing art from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology, opening later in the year, will complete the triple whammy of new attractions. Besides museums, Málaga has plenty for the foodie traveller, plus cheap flights, great shopping and nightlife, and access to some of the Costa’s best beaches – a winning weekend break combo. The Soho Boutique hotel opened last year in the arty Soho barrio, south of the old town, with doubles from €63 room-only.

Kanazawa, Japan 

Kanazawa old town.
Kanazawa was one of the few Japanese cities to escape major destruction during the second world war. As a result, it is able to show off its heritage and traditional culture: from the Nagamachi quarter with its samurai residencies to the teahouses of Higashi Chayagai – a district with the only geisha community outside Kyoto. In March, a new high-speed train line will make the city more accessible than ever, cutting the journey time from Tokyo to Kanazawa from four hours to two-and-a-half. Inside Japan Tours offers a 14-night Traditional Japan self-guided trip from £1,360pp (based on two sharing) including 14 nights’ B&B accommodation, some meals, and all domestic transport (excludes international flights).

Yosemite, California

The view from Glacier Point down Yosemite Valley.
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” So said John Muir, the Scottish-born conservationist whose passionate and influential writing helped persuade Congress to pass a bill leading to the declaration of Yosemite as the US’s third national park, in 1890. This made the protection of 1,200 square miles of deep valleys, wild-flower meadows, giant sequoias and waterfalls a legal obligation. More than a century later, Yosemite is still one of the crown jewels of the American national parks system. Visit in summer for hiking, rafting, fishing and rock climbing; in winter, some roads and trails are closed but there is the chance to enjoy the quiet splendour of the landscape without the crowds. Several events are planned to mark the 125th anniversary on 1 October, including tours led by an actor portraying Galen Clark,who explored the park many times with Muir and was instrumental in its gaining protected status.
If you are planning to stay overnight, check out yosemitepark.com/lodging for accommodation: it lists options from permanent camps in the High Sierra to the hotel of choice for visiting dignitaries, the luxury Ahwahnee. For a longer trip, Yosemite Valley is also the start of the magnificent John Muir Trail, which passes through 211 miles of spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It makes up part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile path running from Mexico to Canada that is about to get its moment in the Hollywood limelight with the release, on 16 January in the UK, of Wild, based on a true story, in which Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a troubled woman grieving after her mother’s death, who hikes 1,100 miles of the trail alone. Despite gory close-ups of blisters, the film is likely to inspire countless journeys into the wilderness.
Over in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains national park is celebrating its centenary this year, with events from exhibitions and talks to free guided hikes.

Haiti


Haiti, Caribbean Sea, man with surfboard.
One for the adventurous traveller, Haiti is set to welcome more visitors in 2015 with several operators, from Wild Frontiers to G Adventures and Exodus, running trips for the first time. Five years on from the devastating earthquake, the country claims it is ready for tourism, offering an authentic Caribbean experience with a vibrant arts scene, the largest fortress in the Americas and distinctive Creole culture among the highlights. A 10-day trip with G Adventures costs from £1,599, excluding flights.

Cuba

Havana, Cuba.
Last month, President Obama announced that America would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba – meaning change is sure to follow, so head to Cuba sooner rather than later to enjoy its unique old-school charms. With the government slowly allowing the development of non-state-owned tourism, there’s been a growth in private enterprise recently – particularly seen in Old Havana, a thriving cultural hub, with new bars like O’Reilly 304, and recently opened stylish B&B Casa Alta (£19-25 a night) adding to the buzz.
To mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the southern city of Santiago de Cuba on 25 July, a week of partying and a carnival has been planned.
World Expeditions has a new 12-day cycling tour, exploring the country’s lesser-known spots, from £1,567pp. And Che Guevara’s son, Ernesto junior, has just launched six- and nine-day motorbike tours of the island – and leads some tours himself (from £1,999, lapoderosatours.com).

Essaouira, Morocco

Ramparts of Skala de la Ville, Essaouira.
Essaouira has always felt a little exclusive. Not because it’s expensive (it isn’t) or super-smart (it’s extremely laid-back) but because, until now, it’s been a massive hassle to get there. British travellers have had to fly to Marrakech or Agadir, before taking a two-and-a-half-hour taxi transfer. Now, with easyJet launching direct flights from Luton in May, this atmospheric Atlantic port is set to be transformed into one of Morocco’s hottest destinations. The souks are relatively hassle-free, the restaurants have fabulous views of the crashing waves and the beaches are huge. Stay in the centre of town at Dar Adul (doubles from £43 B&B), or in the countryside 15 minutes outside at the tranquil Les Jardin des Douars (doubles from £79 B&B).

Nicaragua

Concepcion volcano and Ometepe island, Nicaragua.
Though it’s been peaceful for 25 years, the largest Central American country remains one of the least-visited. It’s a land of rainforests (Indio Maíz biological reserve is the largest area of virgin rainforest north of the Amazon), lakes and volcanoes, with deserted beaches, unspoilt colonial cities and incredible wildlife. Things look set to change, though, as the country opens up – an airport opened recently on Ometepe island, a Unesco biosphere reserve known for its twin volcanoes. A bridge is being built over the San Juan river, connecting Nicaragua with Costa Rica and, most controversially, work has started on an inter-oceanic canal to rival Panama’s, cutting through Lake Nicaragua on a 173-mile journey between the Caribbean and the Pacific. There’s been a boom in luxury hotel openings, one of the latest being Mukul on the Emerald Coast. Journey Latin America has a one-off group tour in May visiting Ometepe island and the Solentiname islands in Lake Nicaragua plus a cruise on the San Juan river. The 17-day trip costs £2,098pp, excluding international flights.

Dorset, UK

Seaside Boarding House, Dorset
If hit TV drama Broadchurch, which starts a second series tomorrow, hasn’t putDorset on the map, the release of Thomas Vinterberg’s film of Far From the Madding Crowd in May should have people flocking to this rolling landscape in, well, madding crowds. A new trail map, Exploring Thomas Hardy’s West Dorset(the novelist used the ancient name Wessex for his “partly real, partly dream county”) will link places that inspired him, including his birthplace at Higher Bockhampton. Those looking for a modern billet should be able to bed down at the eagerly anticipated Seaside Boarding House , whose opening was delayed from last year. On cliffs near Lyme Bay, it is the latest venture by Mary Lou-Sturridge and Tony Mackintosh, who founded the Groucho Club in London’s Soho in 1985.

Memphis, Tennessee

Fans at Elvis's grave, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the world’s great music cities and in 2015, there’ll be even more reasons for fans of rock’n’roll, blues and soul to tune in to what’s happening. For starters, 8 January marks 80 years since the birth of the city’s most famous resident, Elvis Presley. Graceland, his home and now iconic museum, has a range of celebrations planned from 7-10 January, including an auction of memorabilia, a double-bill screening of Viva Las Vegas and Jailhouse Rock, a ceremony declaring the eighth as Elvis Presley Day, and a tribute concert. These will take place at Graceland and other venues around the city. Other highlights this year include the opening of two new music museums. The Blues Music Hall of Fame is set to open in May at 421 South Main Street, while theMemphis Music Hall of Fame will be at 126 Beale Street, in a building shared with rock-star outfitter of choice Lansky Bros.

Marseille and Lyon 

Musée des Confluences, Lyon.
The two contenders for the hotly disputed title of France’s second city will be drawn closer together and be more accessible from May, when Eurostar’s new, year-round direct service will link London with Marseille via Lyon and Avignon.
Marseille enjoyed the limelight when it was crowned European Capital of Culture 2013 – cue the largest urban renewal project in southern Europe with a budget of €7bn, including a facelift for the Vieux-Port. But the Mediterranean city will really start to see the fruits of its transformation as a major tourist destination when Eurostar starts running its 6.5-hour direct trains to Saint-Charles station on 1 May. New openings over the last year include the recently completed Les Voûtes de la Major precinct of boutiques and restaurants near the cathedral and les Halles de La Major market, underneath Cathédrale de la Major, dedicated to gourmet foods.C2 Hotel features Modernist furniture by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright (doubles from €189); and critics have given rave reviews to the tiny, 22-cover AM restaurant, owned by chef Alexandre Mazzia, which opened in June. Not new, but more reflective of the city’s diversity is La Friche Belle de Mai, a former factory converted into studios, exhibition spaces, theatres and cinemas, which often promotes the city’s rap and hip-hop heritage.
The bistros and bouchons of Lyon, the self-proclaimed French capital of gastronomy, will be just over 4.5 hours away, come May. But there’s more to the city than food – a similarly ambitious plan to renovate its former dock area on the banks of the Rhône and the Saône rivers kicked off in 2007. The latest addition to the Confluence district – with its trendy restaurants, contemporary art galleries and designer boutiques – is the Musée des Confluences, which opened in December. Conceptualised as “the Crystal and the Cloud” by its architects, because of its futuristic glass and stainless-steel construction, it stands on the headland at the confluence of the rivers and showcases the sciences and anthropology. Also in the Confluence district, La Sucrière is a new venue for the arts and music which opened last summer in a renovated sugar warehouse. It is the principal site for the Biennale of Contemporary Art (10 September-3 January 2016) and one of the venues for the annual electronic music festival Nuits-Sonores (13-17 May).

Madhya Pradesh, India

A tiger in Bandhavgarh national park, Madhya Pradesh.
A new film adaptation of the adventures of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book will hit the big screen later this year, with a stellar cast including Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray. It also happens to be 150 years since Kipling’s birth. For those inspired to seek an Indian jungle experience, Village Ways has a new trip to the central state of Madhya Pradesh, staying in village-owned accommodation in the forest community at Sakata, with wildlife walks and safaris into the Pench tiger reserve. A five-night trip costs from £561pp full-board, including internal flights and transfers.

Costa Rica 

Beach
It’s tiny, and well-known for its amazing flora and fauna – more than half of the country is covered in lush forest and there are more than 60 national parks and reserves. Then there are the beaches along its two coasts, which rival any in the Caribbean. Getting there is going to be easier from November, when Thomson Airways launches the first direct flights from the UK, flying to the northern city of Liberia from Gatwick (the usual, longer, route is via Miami or Madrid). A week at the beachfront Tamarindo Diria resort costs from £949pp B&B, including flights and transfers (thomson.co.uk).

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral.
The unassuming city of Salisbury will draw history lovers this year as it takes a central role in celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. There are just four original copies of the cornerstone for English law and first document to champion the rights and freedom of the common people – and the best preserved is in Salisbury Cathedral. Events include a week-long flower festival in September. Lincoln, too, will play a key part in the celebrations – the £22m Lincoln Castle Revealed project opens in April, with a new vault to display its own copy of the Magna Carta. Across the country, a series of trails have been developed visiting places with Magna Carta links , and the British Library in London will be staging a major exhibition from 13 March to 1 September.

Tatra mountains, Slovakia

Ski touring in the High Tatras.
For skiers seeking new terrain, the Tatra (or Tatry) mountains offer an easy getaway, thanks to recently launched direct flights with Wizz Air from Luton to Poprad-Tatry (four times a week, from €20 one-way). Skiers and snowboarders of all levels are catered for in Jasná, the best-known resort in the Low Tatras, and Tatranská Lomnica, Starý Smokovec and Strbské Pleso in the neighbouring High Tatras. More than €200m has been invested to improve infrastructure – and theFreeride World Tour and World Snowboard Tour will make stops in the Tatras this winter. There are also three new aquaparks, which are open all year. Mountain Paradise offers Thurs-Sun weekend packages at the Vila Park & Pension Paula from £499pp including flights (8 Jan-22 Mar 2015).

Cáceres, Spain

Prawn with seaweed bread at two-Michelin star Atrio in Caceres.
Move over Spanish foodie favourite San Sebastián. Gourmets in search of new delights will be heading to Cáceres, in Extremadura, western Spain, which has been named the country’s 2015 Capital of Gastronomy. The Unesco world heritage city centre is a picturesque maze of narrow, cobbled medieval streets and this year’s programme of food-focused events and festivals will shine the spotlight on this often-overlooked gem. Expect to try local specialities such asjamón ibérico, bread soup with paprika, rice with rabbit, and torta del casar, the subtly bitter local cheese made from raw sheep’s milk. Toño Pérez and José Polo are the guiding lights at Atrio, a forward-looking restaurant-with-rooms (from €250pn) in the city centre that is universally recognised as Extremadura’s best. Its wine list is also one of the best (and the longest) in Spain. Cáceres’ cheaper Parador hotel, housed in a 14th-century palace on a street at the top of the old town, emerged from a modernising refurb in 2013 as one of the finest in the luxury, state-owned chain. Spacious doubles cost from €95 a night without breakfast.

Bristol

Ashton Court bike trail, Bristol.
Bristol has always had a proud, left-field edge to it; it’s the kind of place that lets its main road be transformed into a giant waterslide – as artist Luke Jerram did, to the public’s delight, last spring. So, it should be no surprise that Bristol has become the first UK city ever to win the European Green Capital award, in recognition of its “progressive, creative and conscious approach to urban living”. This will manifest itself in a year-long programme of events and activities, including the launch of the world’s first solar-powered hot-air balloon, a 30m walk-in blue whale sculpture – to be made by locals from recycled materials – and a cultural festival that will invite writers, artists, filmmakers, poets and architects to take part. February also sees the return of Bristol’s biennial In Between Time festival, which produces dramatic urban interventions around the city, including a 10-day installation during which Peros’ Bridge in Bristol Harbourside will “disappear” behind a veil of fog – a creative celebration of the city’s new Green Capital status. One of the greenest places to stay in the city is the aptly named The Greenhouse in Southville (doubles from £105 B&B).
For more information visit bristol2015.co.uk and ibt15.co.uk.

Leipzig, Germany

The Spinnerei artists' enclave, Leipzig.
The hype around Leipzig continues apace, with its flourishing arts scene earning it the “new Berlin” tag. In 2015, the city is celebrating 1,000 years since it was founded, with events running all year. Among the highlights is a week-long festival from 31 May, with street theatre and music events, followed by theBachfest from 12-21 June and open-air concerts by the Gewandhaus Orchestra on 10-11 July. Fans of Paul Klee can catch a retrospective at the Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts (1 March-25 May). The Spinnerei, a former cotton mill that now houses an enclave of artist’s studios, celebrates a 10-year anniversary with open days in January, May and September. Stay at Meisterzimmer, which offers self-catering rooms surrounded by artists’ studios, from €75 a night.

Rugby World Cup in England and Wales

rugby
Oggy, oggy, oggy! In case you hadn’t heard – the Rugby World Cup is coming to England (and Wales) later this year. The tournament lasts six weeks (18 September-31 October) and the 10 host cities include Newcastle, Cardiff, Exeter and Brighton. The opening ceremony takes place at Twickenham, west London, on 18 September ahead of England’s first game against Fiji. But Newcastle – where New Zealand’s All Blacks will be defending their title in the group stages against Tonga on 9 October (overnight package plus match ticket and match-day transfers from £299pp with englandrugbytravel.com) – has really got into the spirit. There will be a large fan zone near St James’ Park, offering music, food, drinks and, of course, all the action on big screens.

Pilsen, Czech Republic

beer
Pilsen is known for beer, which has been brewed in the city since 1295, and a tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery is great fun. There are also several microbreweries and a beer spa. Beyond beer, Pilsen is one of two 2015 European Capitals of Culture (along with Mons; see page 9), has a charming centre, and is seeing its rundown industrial areas revitalised, with artworks popping up in unlikely spaces. An artist-in-residence will transform an abandoned public bathhouse, and a former brewery-cum-barracks, Svetovar, is being turned into a major cultural centre. The Hidden City project, a free app, takes you on unusual sightseeing tours devised by locals including a student, an immigrant and a second world war veteran. Exciting events run throughout the year: circus, theatre and light festivals; live music in baroque buildings; and exhibitions of art, architecture and puppetry. But back to beer: the four-star Hotel Rous (doubles from €75), in a grand old house in the centre, brews its own.

Faroe Islands

Faroe Islands
A tiny 18-island archipelago roughly halfway between Iceland and Scotland, with nearly twice as many sheep as people, the Faroe Islands have a romantic appeal for travellers looking for a remote, back-to-nature experience. In March, the islands will be one of only two places in the world to see the total solar eclipse (the Norwegian islands of Svalbard being the other). It’s a great reason to visit the Faroes – a magical world of waterfalls and fjords and huge bird colonies. There’s a vibrant cultural scene, too – festivals and boat races in traditional Faroese boats fill the summer months – but among the most intimate and left-field is Hoyma, a new music festival held each November, which takes place in locals’ sitting rooms. Most hotels are booked now for the eclipse, but there are still B&B and camping options: see solareclipse.fo. Flights are via Copenhagen or Oslo withAtlantic Airways.

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Jason deCaires Taylor's Isla Mujeres Underwater Art Museum.
Artist Jason deCaires Taylor is known for his underwater creations: he was behind the world’s first underwater sculpture park, off Grenada in the Caribbean; a submerged museum off the coast of Cancún, Mexico; and Ocean Atlas, the world’s largest single underwater sculpture, in the Bahamas. This year, he will debut his latest project, Museo Atlántico, off the coast of Lanzarote – Europe’s first underwater museum. The first phase will open in September and, when complete, will comprise 10 separate large-scale installations and more than 300 individual sculptures, designed to create a marine habitat for endemic species, in a sheltered bay near Playa Blanca. Visitors will be able to swim and snorkel among the sculptures or view them from a glass-bottomed boat or a submarine – a magical experience. Elsewhere in the Canaries, Tenerife hopes to attract visitors to its natural volcanic beauty with a new walking festival from 10-14 March.

Greece’s lesser-known Cyclades

Church on Milos, Greece.
New flights to the islands of Santorini and Mykonos saw visitor numbers soar last summer. This year, other central Aegean islands are likely to see the knock-on effect. Tiny, rugged Folegandros, chic Sifnos and unspoilt Milos are three islands that look set to be the subject of more attention. On the mainland, Athens continues to rise from economic downturn, with a busy start-up scene, great new restaurants and the Acropolis Museum celebrating its sixth birthday in June.Sunvil Holidays has a 10-night island-hopping trip to the lesser-known Cyclades from £850pp with flights and B&B.

Porto

Porto
We do love Lisbon, but Porto, Portugal’s second city, is going to be luring more visitors in 2015 as easyJet launches direct flights from Bristol, Luton and Manchester in April. Set on the banks of the Douro in the north of the country, Porto’s historic centre has been Unesco-listed since 1996 and is a picturesque mish-mash of medieval churches, cobbled lanes, pretty squares, steep steps and beautiful buildings tumbling down to the river. The birthplace of port, it’s a must for wine lovers, and recent years have witnessed something of a cultural renaissance with galleries, restaurants and boutiques opening – the city rebranded itself last year to convey its “youthful, cosmopolitan” side. The newly opened World of Discoveries museum and theme park is worth checking out – visitors can trace the journeys of past Portuguese explorers, with boat rides recreating their epic voyages to South America, Africa and Asia. Among new accommodation options is the 1872 River House, a cute eight-bedroom B&B in the historic Ribeira district (doubles from £126, breakfast served until 1pm, book on i-escape.com).

Rodez, France

Musée Soulages, Rodez.
The Musée Soulages opened in Rodez in May 2014. After two months, 100,000 people had visited. Suddenly this out-of-the-way town in south-central France was on the cultural map. Pierre Soulages is France’s most famous abstract artist, a sort of Gallic Mark Rothko, with the emphasis on black. The spectacular, modern cuboid steel building is home to 500 of his works gifted by the artist to his home town. A bonus for the visitor is that local award-winning chefs Sebastien and Michel Bras have opened a cafe/brasserie within the museum. Places to stay include La Ferme de Bourran, a converted 19th-century mansion with seven well-equipped, modern rooms from €89 to €200. Ryanair flies to Rodez from Stansted and Dublin.

Margate

Dreamland, Margate.
When the Turner Contemporary opened in 2011, it kick-started interest in this down-at-heel Thanet town. Visitors were drawn to the harbour-wall gallery and then across the road to the cafes and antique shops of the rebranded “Old Town”, where new ventures such as Haeckels sell beauty products made from local materials. The release of Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner last year helped maintain momentum and this year’s reopening of the Dreamland amusement park – the first phase is scheduled for March despite storm damage last month – with its grade II-listed roller coaster, will boost interest further