Travel highlights and trends
The CD-Traveller team share their favourite 2011 travel experiences and look at the top spots for 2012
2011 highlight: Nha Trang (Vietnam)
If you’ve ever wondered what Goa looked like before the hippies or Thailand before the high rise hotels, then Nha Trang could be your last chance to find out. Vietnam’s beach capital may not have previously figured on your mental map, yet when you get there it’s hard to see why not.
Let me paint the picture… the sea is the colour of Bombay sapphire, the sky is perpetually blue and the sand is platinum blonde and squeaks when you walk on it. Right now it’s warm rather than scorching, but six hours of sunshine a day is still a distinct improvement on January in Britain.
To the beach you can add cultural treasures, great surf and dive sites, good retail therapy, lively nightlife, fabulous food and everything from hostels to super swish resorts like the Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa – Nha Trang’s hot new hotel that even Clark Gable would find it impossible not to give a damn about. Pack the t shirt and sunnies and get going – before the developers move in and the spell breaks.
2012 tip: London
2012 promises to be a corker for the English capital. All eyes will be on London come the summer when the city hosts the greatest show on earth – aka the Olympic and Paralympic Games. But it’s not all about the Olympics… there’s also the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations (expect a flotilla on the Thames) to look forward to.
And for those who aren’t mad about the monarchy and/or sport, there’s a myriad of cultural events on the horizon from London Fashion Week in February, to the Mayoral election in May. It’s a cliché I know, but as Samuel Johnson once said: “You’ll find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
2011 highlight: Georgia
What I tend to remember are places I’ve not been too before. So in 2011, I was pleased to have seen parts of Georgia and in particular the Svaneti region up in the mountains. It is unspoilt; development is progressing at an astonishing pace and this is my tip for an all-round destination in the future.
I thought I knew the Blue Mountains in New South Wales (Australia) pretty well, but I saw a different side to them last year that many tourists don’t see. Sheer cliffs look down on the valley below and I saw not one person, as I trekked. In was by a four wheel vehicle and at times even that was tricky. Yet, overlooking one cliff was a homemade wooden jump for hang gliders to jump off!
As for destinations at home, the Dingle peninsular in Ireland is always a place to marvel.
2012 tip: Ukraine and Bangladesh
This year, I want to go to Ukraine. My best man has been there 11 times in the last few years and raves about this “undiscovered” country. As well as Ukraine, I will be journeying to Skomer to see the puffins, razorbills and seals in early summer – something I have wanted to do for years – so that will be part of a holiday exploring the new coastal path. Later in the year, Bangladesh beckons. Again, it’s another country largely unvisited by Britons (unless you have relatives there), but I am told the country is one I have to see.
2011 highlight: Tobago
Tobago (http://www.cd-traveller.com/2011/04/19/tobago-warm-place-warm-people/) was my 2011 travel highlight. Even with the high APD (Air Passenger Duty) tax, one can still get a week’s holiday there for £850 at the end of February: 4 Star hotel , B&B, including flights and transfers. There have been improvements in 2011: a new 178 room Magdalena Hotel opened in December on what was a derelict hotel site. Following the elections in 2011, the newly appointed Minister of Tourism, in London for the World Travel Market, spoke of more investment to come for the Island. Fingers crossed, this will include better road signs! Potential visitors should bear in mind that some safety warnings issued in the past about neighbouring Trinidad have never applied to Tobago.
2012 tip: France
The current improvement of the Pound to the Euro, makes a hop across the Channel increasingly attractive. The August Olympics are bang in the middle of the school holidays and not everyone will be flocking to London, an expensive city by any reckoning. Anecdotal research suggests that some Londoners will be getting out of town for the Olympics simply to avoid the crowds. My hunch is that France will benefit. As well as better weather, France still represents good value for quality meals out and hotels charge by the room. For families watching their purse strings, the major camp site providers continue to provide greater comfort with more cabins and mobile homes. Or, just take a tent and spend the savings on dinners out!
Frédéric Mouren de Poligny
2011 highlight:Karnataka (south west India)
For me, 2011 was the year of Karnataka temples. The discovery of one of the southern states of India where traditional agriculture meets high technology, where rice fields are so close to the Indian ‘Silicon Valley’, was nothing in comparison with the astonishing shock of Hampi temples, scattered among sun dry rocky hills. What’s my best souvenir there? Maybe when, after a long journey through these magnificent ruins and a tasty spicy meal at Mango Tree, a small restaurant directly on the riverside, I decided to go down the river on one of these small coracles, huge round reed baskets, through rapids to reach the Vitthala Temple and its Stone Chariot for sunset. During this strange half-an-hour navigation I was transported back in time, remembering that Alexander the Great himself had to use same coracles during his conquest of the Darius empire to allow his army to cross huge rivers.
2012 tip: South East Asia
South east Asia is set to become hot, in every sense of the word, thanks to the new flights programmes of Vietnam Airlines and Air Asia which help make the region much more accessible. Imagine holidays mixing a boat trip in Halong Bay, followed by a lazy stay on a fabulous Vietnamese beach before a fabulous cultural tour of the Angkor Temples in Cambodia. Or a long journey through Malaysia, with a beach rest in Langkawi Island, combined with a visit of Pagan temples in Burma. Now with these low budget connections, you should be able to return home with a good knowledge of Asian cooking and able to know your Pho from your Nem and Nasi Goreng.
2011 highlight: Edinburgh
I recently spent a wonderfully relaxing day in Edinburgh having made no plans whatsoever other than to visit Hutton’s section. It was James Hutton’s observations at Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags which provided the foundation to geology today: deposition of the sedimentary rocks and the formation of the igneous rocks must have occurred at different ages and in a different manner to the geological beliefs of that time. Hutton’s section, visible (and labelled!) in the Salisbury Crags shows clearly where magma forced its way through the sedimentary rocks to form dolerite sills. A walk up here is worth the effort simply for the views from the top.
2012 tip: Iceland (and other volcanic destinations)
There has been a lot of volcanic activity during the past couple of years, and much as it can be disruptive to travel, active volcanoes are one of the most spectacular geological events that you will ever see happening. So, my tip – and my dream, I might add – would be to pack up and visit Iceland (of course, not forgetting to add volcano disruption to your insurance!). Iceland is unique because not only does it lie between the Eurasian and North American plates, on the Mid-Atlantic Rift (where the two plates are pulling apart from each other) but it also lies above the Iceland plume (a hotspot) which causes the volcanism on the island, and results in a range of geological phenomenon, such as geysers. As such, it is an ever-changing country, of immense geological importance, and extreme beauty.
2011 highlight: Dumfries and Galloway
The lowlands of Scotland are sometimes overlooked, with the majestic scenery of the highlands attracting more attention. But with coastline reminiscent of Cornwall, historic towns and villages and a variety of visitor attractions covering outdoor activities, whisky and historic monuments, the region has plenty to offer. Truly a hidden gem. And with fuel prices remaining high, being less remote is a bonus.
2012 tip: Staycationing
Staycationing (the ‘art’ of holidaying at home) will continue to be popular as the economy struggles to grow and the threat of unemployment remains. Conversely, some of the more remote destinations in the UK may suffer as high fuel prices– and economic woes in the Euro zone – may make cheap flights abroad appear better value.