December 20, 2017
Reasoning: Scotland has been voted the most beautiful country in the world in a Rough Guide poll. In particular, the Scottish Highlands’ wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles are among the most beautiful spectacles. Additionally, new Caledonian Sleeper trains being introduced in 2018 (initially from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow) will offer a hotel-style experience with key card access, double beds and en-suite bathrooms.
Sample trip: McKinlay Kidd* (0141 308 8009; www.mckinlaykidd.com) offers a North Coast 500 self-drive trip through the Scottish Highlands from £770 pp (two sharing) including eight nights’ B&B and tailor-made recommendations. Highlights include plenty of wild beaches (Oldshoremore near Kinlochbervie & Balnakiel near Durness), deep lochs (Loch Maree with its island of Scots Pine & fjord-like Loch Eriboll) and the castle ruins of Ardvreck. A Premier North Coast 500 trip is also available.
Reasoning: Heighten your chances of seeing the Northern Lights on a two-centre trip to the Arctic Circle. The new, one and only, direct flight (3 per week) with Arctic Airlink now connects Tromsø in Norway to Lulea in Sweden – a route normally only accessible via a nine-hour drive. Combine aurora hunting in two diverse environments with Norwegian wildlife; whale watching (15 Dec-25 Jan) and a wildlife safari via RIB boat thereafter. In Sweden, experience snowshoeing, Northern Lights hunts, snowmobiling, husky sledding and an optional hovercraft tour on the sea ice or Aurora photography workshop.
Sample package: Norway and Sweden – Nordic Northern Lights with The Aurora Zone* (01670 785012; www.theaurorazone.com) costs from £1,995 pp (two sharing) and includes the Tromso to Lulea flight (international flights extra), transfers, five nights’ B&B, two lunches, five dinners, guided activities and cold-weather clothing. Departures until 28 March 2018.
Reasoning: Renowned for its extraordinary cultural history with great classical music and world class opera, 2018 will be a landmark year when Vienna focuses on her fine art – with exhibitions celebrating the great Imperial collections, and the innovative artists of the Viennese Secession – a creative crescendo in the early 20th century that spawned the modernist movement in art and design. Key protagonists such as Klimt, Schiele, Wagner and Moser all died in 1918, and a series of new exhibitions, such as ‘The naked Truth. Klimt confronted.’ (March – September), will mark the anniversary.
Sample trip: Kirker Holidays* (020 7593 2283; www.kirkerholidays.com) offers three nights at the four-star Hotel Altstadt from £598 pp (two sharing) including flights (London), private car transfers, B&B, Vienna Masterticket (Leopold & Kunsthistoriches Museum entrance), Kirker’s Guide Notes to restaurants, museums and sightseeing, and the services of the Kirker Concierge. Escorted cultural tours including Opera & Art in Vienna start from £1,996 pp.
Reasoning: Newly launched, there is now the chance to undertake a polar expedition into the icy Bothnian Sea, Swedish Lapland’s frosty wilderness, with the Icebreaker activity. Aboard the Arctic Explorer, beginning in Pitsundskanalen, where the mouth of the river Piteälven meets the open sea, cut through the ice and discover a frozen paradise where there is the chance to bathe in and walk on the frozen waters. Survival suits are provided, giving full protection, and the hot drink served will ensure explorers are fully warmed.
Sample package: Brändön Lodge – Pick and Mix with Activities Abroad* (01670 789 991; www.activitiesabroad.com) costs from £920 per adult / £635 per child (age 6-14) and includes transfers, three nights’ full board winter cottage accommodation, Icebreaker activity, cold-weather clothing, and expert guides. Additional activities and flights extra. Departures from January to March 2018.
Reasoning: This autumn’s centenary of the Russian Revolution and BBC Two’s latest travelogue ‘Russia with Simon Reeve’ combine to push this fascinating destination centre stage as 2018 approaches, inspiring many to plan their own visit in the new year.
Sample trip: Jules Verne (020 3553 3722; www.vjv.com) offers a selection of escorted tours to Russia, ranging from a seven-night itinerary combining the Russian Capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow (from £1,175 pp) and a special four-night Russian Revolution departure of its Treasures of the Hermitage tour (from £895 pp), to Russia Revealed, a ten night, full-board cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow, visiting historic cities such as Uglich and Yaroslavl en route (from £1,554 pp). Prices include flights (London), transfers, B&B, other meals and excursions as per the itinerary, and the services of guides and local representatives.
Reasoning: Well established as a tourism destination for the luxury market, the distant islands of the Seychelles offer a balmy climate and pristine beaches. To date flights have operated mainly via the UAE, but from 24 March 2018, British Airways will be operating a twice-weekly direct flight to Seychelles International Airport on the island of Mahé. What’s less well known about the Seychelles is that this 115-island country represents something of a success story when it comes to the protection of its flora and fauna.
Sample Trip: Naturetrek* (01962 733051; www.naturetrek.co.uk) offers a 14-day holiday in search of the unique birdlife and natural history of the mountains, forests and islands of the Seychelles. This multi-centre itinerary takes in stunning bird life, the curious flora (including the famous Coco de Mer palm), opportunities to see the Seychelles Giant Tortoise and ample snorkelling and swimming. Priced at £5,295 pp, this trip departs on 23 September 2018 and includes international flights, transfers, accommodation with all meals and the expert services of a Naturetrek naturalist guide.
Reasoning: Recently recognised as South America’s leading culinary destination at the World Travel Awards, Argentina is rapidly establishing itself as a foodie favourite. With visitor numbers increasing – TravelLocal enquiries have tripled in the past six months – there’s never been a better time to take in Argentina’s culture, food and landscapes. As of February 2018, it will be possible to fly directly to Buenos Aires from London Gatwick with Norwegian Air from £299 pp one way. This new flight, the first budget airline connection between the UK and South America, makes Argentina more accessible and affordable than ever before.
Sample package: TravelLocal (0117 342 7898; www.travellocal.com) offers the nine-day Taste of Argentina tour, which takes visitors from the wineries of Mendoza to the street food scene of Buenos Aires. Prices start from £2,300 pp (two sharing) and includes accommodation, internal flights and all excursions, as well as some meals. International flights excluded.
Reasoning: Following the success of ITV’s ‘Joanna Lumley’s India’ earlier this year, Michael Portillo’s new BBC Two series, ‘Great Indian Railway Journeys’ looks certain to further whet travellers’ appetite for India. Accompanied by a copy of Bradshaw’s ‘Handbook of Indian, Foreign and Colonial Travel’, first published in 1913 at the height of the British Raj, Portillo learns more about the history of India’s imperial railways and their impressive legacy.
Sample trip: Ffestiniog Travel* (01766 772 030; www.ffestiniogtravel.com) offers Indian Hill Railways, a 21-day escorted tour of the three magnificent UNESCO-listed railways that served the former British Hill Stations: the Kalka Shimla Railway, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilgiri Rack Railway. Departing 18 February 2018, the price is from £4,995 pp (two sharing) including flights (London), 19 nights’ B&B, 16 lunches and 12 dinners, all rail journeys, transfers and excursions as per the itinerary, and the services of a tour leader from London and throughout the holiday.
Reasoning: Sihanoukville is already Cambodia’s most popular beach destination, situated in the south of the country and welcoming many tourists to its shores. 2018 will see the islands off its coast grow in popularity, with the opening of a number of luxury hotels, creating a new high-end enclave that will combine elegant accommodation with beautiful surroundings. Royal Sands Koh Rong, opening soon, will be a new five-star property situated on the southern end of the stunning Sok San beach and boasting individual ocean view or beach front villas. Six Senses Koh Krabey is set to open by spring 2018, an eco ‘hideaway’ of 40 private pool villas, 10 minutes by private speedboat from the mainland.
Sample package: Cambodia in Style from InsideAsia Tours* (0117 244 3380; www.insideasiatours.com) includes four nights at Royal Sands, and stops in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The 10-night itinerary costs from £3,170 pp (two sharing) and includes 10 nights’ B&B accommodation, transfers, one dinner, activities as per the itinerary and the services of a local guide. International flights extra.
Reasoning: With Robert Mugabe finally out of power we expect attitudes to Zimbabwe to be more positive across the board. Even before this happened, although the parks were still quiet in terms of visitors, travel to Zimbabwe had started to increase rapidly; Expert Africa’s bookings to the country increased by 46% between 2016 and 2017. In 2018, it will be possible to fly to Zimbabwe with Emirates for under £700 pp, making it one of the most cost-effective countries to get to in southern Africa. What’s more, several new camps are opening in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools – a national park with some of the best guides in Africa and amazing on-foot, up-close wildlife opportunities.
Sample trip: Expert Africa* (020 3405 6666; www.expertafrica.com) offers the seven-day Buffalo Safari – taking in Mana Pools and Hwange National Park – from £2,565 pp (based on two sharing) including full-board accommodation for six nights, all safari activities, all transfers and park fees. International flights extra.
*AITO is the Association of Independent Tour Operators: 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.