January 14, 2020
Hoping to learn something a little different this year? Set your eyes to the skies and head to the beautiful region of Luleå, Sweden, to learn about constellations with a local astronomy specialist. This four-night trip includes two guided evenings at an observatory to make the most of the dark skies and hopefully catch sight of the Northern Lights, plus other activities including an Aurora hunt by snowmobile-pulled sleigh and a visit to a traditional wood-fired sauna. The cost is from £1,575 pp (two sharing), including flights (London), transfers, four nights’ full board, guided activities and cold weather clothing. Departures until 3 April. Call AITO* member The Aurora Zone on 01670 785012 (www.theaurorazone.com).
Escape the stress of the twenty tens and journey to Bhutan in 2020 for a week of dynamic change and growth. Luxurious hot springs, fresh alpine air and the beauty of the mountainside Tiger’s Nest Temple guarantee peaceful environs. Meanwhile, the capital city of Thimphu, the magnificent Punakha Dzong temple, hiking to the renowned Buddhist ‘Tango’ College and cooking traditional cuisine with a Bhutanese family provide immersive cultural experiences. The seven-day Wellness and Hot-spring Tour costs from £1,560 pp (two sharing), including six nights’ accommodation, most meals, transfers, excursions and local guide. Flights extra. Call TravelLocal on 0117 325 7898 (www.travellocal.com).
Soak up the Greek sun with a week-long escape that truly has it all; embrace nature and creativity on foodie-favourite, Crete. Spend your mornings walking in the beautiful hills and valleys, discovering wildflowers, traditional villages and ancient sites. Then, after a delicious leisurely lunch, enjoy a painting class with a choice of mediums – pencils, pastels or acrylics. Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced, you’ll be in good hands with English artist Camille Marquand. Departing 26 May, the trip costs from £1,293 pp (two sharing), including flights (Gatwick), B&B, welcome dinner, five morning walks, four painting workshops and a painting exhibition. Call AITO* member Sunvil on 020 8758 4758 (www.sunvil.co.uk).
Durham’s five-star hotel and spa, Seaham Hall, has launched a winter wellbeing short break combining coastal splendour with Mind Calm hypnosis sessions plus the powerful healing properties of Hebridean seaweed. A one-night stay in a Junior Suite costs from £224 pp (two sharing), including breakfast, afternoon tea, a 60-minute ‘ishga in good hands’ treatment each, a Mind Calm Session with Seaham Hall’s hypnotherapy expert and unlimited access to the award-winning spa. Offer valid Monday to Thursday until 31 March. Call Seaham Hall on 0191 516 1400 (www.seaham-hall.co.uk).
Located in the lush green hills of Ubud, Hoshino Resorts’ HOSHINOYA Bali is a tranquil retreat where 30 discreet guest villas nestle amongst canal-like bathing pools. The spectacular spa offers a range of relaxing massages and body rituals, and there are daily yoga sessions, plus Balinese craft and dance workshops. Dine on delicious Japanese/Indonesian fusion cuisine at Café Gazebo, set amongst a jungle canopy in the treetops, and explore Ubud’s beguiling temples, palaces, paddy fields and monkey forest. An overnight stay costs from IDR 8,250,000/£452 per room/£226 pp per night (two sharing; room only). Contact HOSHINOYA Bali (www.hoshinoya.com/bali/en).
Veganism needs no introduction, but if it’s a new way of life, then you may need some inspiration and techniques towards a plant-based life. Our Lizzy cookery school, based in Malvern, offers day courses including vegan cheese-making, vegan baking and tasty tofu. Classes are small and spaces sell like hot cakes. Stay nearby at Pucks Hill Cottage (sleeps two), a pretty barn conversion in open countryside with circular walks available from its front door. A week’s stay costs from £162 pp (£323 total). Call holidaycottages.co.uk on 01237 459 888 (www.holidaycottages.co.uk).
Discover your creative side in 2020 and head to The Watermill at Posara, a learning retreat in rural Tuscany, for a week-long painting masterclass with expert tutor Mark Warner (11-18 July). Focusing on acrylics and watercolours, and incorporating conte, pastels and oils, the easy-going course offers beginners and experienced painters the chance to enhance their skills in an exquisite setting, while enjoying delicious local cuisine and connecting with other like-minded guests. The cost is from £1,725 pp (two sharing), including seven nights’ full board, tuition, course materials, drinks, transfers and a midweek excursion to Lucca or the Cinque Terre. Flights extra. Contact The Watermill at Posara on 020 7193 6246 (watermill.net).
Boasting a natural landscape of lush vegetation, dramatic mountains and unspoilt beaches, Andros is a walker’s dream. Visit in Spring for the ultimate revitalisation following a grey winter, with warm days, few tourists and many beautiful flowers; the two cross-island hiking paths – lined with walnut, chestnut and olive trees – lead to historical sites including the Geometric-period settlement of Zagora and the Monastery of Panachradou. Walking on Andros costs from £670 pp (two sharing), including six nights’ B&B, some meals, ferry port transfers, full Walker’s Pack and local telephone support. Flights and ferries excluded. Call AITO* member On Foot Holidays on 01722 322 652 (www.onfootholidays.co.uk).
For those whose knowledge of the ancient Romans relies on what they picked up in school, this exploration of the Italian capital promises to reignite a passion for history, with expert-guided visits to sites such as the Roman Forum, Trajan’s Market, the colossal baths of Caracalla and the Colosseum. Lose yourself in the Sistine Chapel and the wondrous collections of the Vatican Museum to understand the city’s central role in western Christendom. Exploring Rome costs from £2,795 pp (two sharing), including five nights’ B&B, four lunches, three dinners, entrance fees, tips and excursions with expert guides. Departs 31 Mar. & 10 Oct. Flights extra. Call AITO* member Peter Sommer Travels on 01600 888 220 (www.petersommer.com).
For the ultimate reset, take on an epic five-day dog-sledding adventure to experience the frozen wonderland of Finland’s Pallas-Ylläs National Park. After an initial demonstration, travellers cover daily distances of 25-40 km through snowy forests and across frozen lakes. Staying in secluded cabins along the way provides a true back-to-nature experience and offers incredible views of the night sky, for a chance to spot the Northern Lights. The cost is from £2,155 pp (two sharing), including flights (London), transfers, seven nights’ full board (three in a hotel and four in cabins on route), activity and cold weather clothing. Departures until 5 April. Call AITO* member Artisan Travel on 01670 785 085 (www.artisantravel.co.uk).
Step out of your comfort zone this year and embark on a self-driven journey through picturesque Panama. Travel from Panama City to the mountainous El Valle Region – nestled amidst jagged peaks, it’s a hiker’s paradise. Witness abundant wildlife in the tropical rainforests of the Azuero Peninsula, discover the stunning mountain village of Boquete and learn about coffee at the Finca Lerida plantation. Finally, take time for yourself on the serene beaches of Boca Chica and swim amongst coral reefs, sea turtles and giant manta rays. The trip costs from £2,925 pp (two sharing), including KLM flights (Heathrow) via Amsterdam, car hire, 14 nights’ B&B and excursions. Call AITO* member Sunvil on 020 8758 4774 (www.sunvil.co.uk).
*AITO is The Specialist Travel Association: more than 120 specialist travel companies providing an unrivalled collection of holiday ideas that cover every corner of the world. Consumers booking with AITO can be assured of high-quality holidays and excellent personal service. Visit www.aito.com for further information.