From Cancun to the Costa Navarino, here we tip ten of the top destinations to visit this year. And it’s not all armchair travel, either...
Everybody loves anniversaries, and Amsterdam has a sluice of them in 2013. In the coming 12 months, the Venice of the North will see its canal ring celebrate 400 years, the Rijksmuseum re-opens after a 10-year renovation, and the Van Gogh Museum blows out 40 candles on its latest birthday cake (it’s the 160th anniversary of Vincent’s birth, too).
Throughout 2013, the city’s canals will be a hotspot for concerts, art and festivals, the Rijksmuseum will reveal an amazing 1.5 kilometres of world-class art, and the Frans Hals Museum celebrates 100 years to boot. Check iamsterdam.com for more.
Get there: Lastminute.com (1800 947 523) has two nights in a four-star hotel in February, including flights and room-only accommodation, from €202pp.
Since the tourism boycott ended in November 2010, Burma has emerged from its shell to become Asia’s must-see destination. President Obama’s visit was the latest to legitimise travel in a country that for years struggled under a military dictatorship, and since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, thousands of others have followed.
Burma is open for business, in other words. And with just 25,000 hotel beds, the race is on for intrepid travellers to get a glimpse of its misty mountains, Buddhist monasteries and the gateway city of Rangoon (Yangon) before the crowds come calling.
Go, before it becomes the new Thailand.
Get there: Explore.co.uk (+44 1252 37959) has an eight-day Burma tour including Rangoon and Inle Lake from €2,201pp, including flights from London.
Aldeia da Pedralva, Portugal
We’ve all heard of the Costa del Sol. But what about the Costa Vincentina?
The western coast of the Algarve hinges around Cape St. Vincent, Europe’s south-westernmost corner, and it’s as far from high-rise holiday resorts as you can imagine. Rugged coastline, desolate beaches, clear night skies, a 70,000-hectare Natural Park and phone reception in just one corner of the village — it’s a secret spot beloved of intrepid surfers and paragliders.
The Costa Vincentina is also where you’ll find Aldeia da Pedralva, a village that had been falling into ruin before a dynamic young couple from Lisbon rebuilt it as a tourism project. You can stay in restored houses in the ghost-town-cum-eco-getaway today, catching waves on some of Portugal’s best beaches (some accessible only by 4WD).
Get there: Surfholidays.com (01 482-2828) has seven nights in Aldeia da Pedralva from €602pp in May, with five surf lessons from €125pp. Flights extra.
You know a country is on a roll when its chief airline signs Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant to star in a commercial. The Turkish Airlines ad — in which the stars compete to win a little boy’s attention — bagged 25 million views within a single week of its launch a month ago.
Turkey’s going viral too. As of this March, Turkish Airlines will increase the frequency of its Dublin to Istanbul route to ten flights weekly, further opening up the country beyond resorts like Bodrum and Kusadasi, which have already won over Irish holidaymakers.
Turkey will be big in 2013 for the same reasons it was big in 2012 — sizzling sunshine, great beaches, and better value than competing (albeit closer) destinations in the Med.
Get there: Wings Abroad (01 871-9444) has seven nights for a family of five in a three-bed villa with private pool in May from €1,540.
Pirates’ Village, Majorca
Shiver me timbers! You don’t have to sail the high seas to reach one of this year’s hottest new openings (for swashbuckling families, at least). Pirates’ Village opens in Majorca this summer, and is exclusive to Falcon in Ireland. Set in Gran Santa Ponsa, the resort includes a splash pool with fortress, galleons, waterfall, water cannons and a lighthouse, as well as the usual kids’ club, and guests also get a one-day entrance pass to Katmandu Theme Park.
Get there: Falcon (1850 453545; falconholidays.ie) has seven nights at Pirates’ Village in May from €1,650 a family of four. See also piratesvillage.com.
Every year, Lonely Planet trumpets its Top 10 countries to visit in the 12 months to come. In 2012, it was Uganda. The year before that, Albania. In 2013, it’s Sri Lanka’s turn.
“Now the bitter conflict is over, investment is fuelling the tourism industry, and visitor numbers are steadily increasing,” says the most talked-about guide in travel. Affordable prices, 2,000 years of culture and fab beaches make the Indian Ocean oasis a great value long-haul bet, and British Airways is launching a new route from London Gatwick from March 31st.
Prices are low in May and June for a reason, mind you — namely, the monsoon.
Get there: Sunway (sunway.ie) has eight nights at the five-star Vivanta by Taj Bentota from €895 including flights, in low season — i.e. May and June.
Costa Navarino, Greece
Think Greece is all about austerity? Think again. Though the country is undoubtedly in dire straits, its National Tourism Organisation insists Greece is more welcoming (and better value) than ever with its ‘True Greece’ (truegreece.org) campaign.
Zeus, after all, was also the god of hospitality. And a brand of hospitality you’re likely to hear a lot more about in 2013 is that provided on the Costa Navarino, a clutch of luxury tourism resorts blossoming in Messenia in the southwest Peloponnese.
Ionian Sea views, ancient history and five-star accommodation at Westin and Romanos resorts are all on offer, with great food, water sports and golf to boot.
Get there: The Westin Resort (starwoodhotels.com) has rooms from €140 per night in 2013. See costanavarino.com for more, and easyjet.com for flights from Gatwick.
Forget Bratislava. Slovakia’s second city is on the hot list for 2013 not only because it’s the European Capital of Culture (along with Marseilles), but because it’s a lovely, off-radar charmer, period. Set in the far east of a country better known to travelling soccer fans than tourists, Košice boasts Slovakia’s biggest church (St. Elizabeth’s), a buzzing Old Town, an underground museum showcasing the original city gate, and a lively cafe culture. Andy Warhol’s parents emigrated from here too — you can catch some of his work at the Mihal Gallery.
Get there: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly from Dublin to Budapest, a 3.5 hour transfer from Košice. See kosice2013.sk/en for more on the 2013 cultural programme.
The Land of the Rings is back. After a lengthy interlude following the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit has returned the spotlight to Middle Earth.
The original trilogy wrote the book when it comes to modern-day movie tourism (for a while, New Zealand even had its own ‘Minister for Middle Earth’), with visitors flocking to see the real-life locations of Mordor, Hobbiton and Rohan.
Meanwhile, Christchurch continues to claw itself back from the devastating earthquakes of 2011, with a new and reinvigorated city centre rising from the rubble.
Check out the next generation of cafes, restaurants and shops on popupcity.co.nz: it’s “creativity with what we have at hand,” they say... “often referred to as ‘the No.8 wire attitude’.”
Get there: Joe Walsh Tours (021 427-7120; joewalshtours.ie) has a 15-day tour of New Zealand including flights, hotels, guides, several meals and transfers from €4,995pp.
Mexico City & Cancun
All-inclusive holidays to Cancun have been doing well of late — giving holidaymakers a blast of sunshine and a party lifestyle combined with control over their costs.
It’s Mexico City that has taken everybody by surprise, however — with a cleaned-up Centro Histórico, the hip Coyoacán neighbourhood (where Frida Kahlo lived, and whose Casa Azul you can visit), the Templo Mayor, and of course the tamales... and tequila.
Given Mexico’s crime levels, travellers should take security seriously, but most visits are trouble-free and the DFA (dfa.ie) has no travel warnings in effect.
Return flights from Cancun to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking city start from around €210 next September.
Get there: Cassidy Travel (0818 332500; cassidytravel.ie) has 11 nights in a four-star resort in Cancun from €1,221pp, departing Cork on September 8th.
nNB: All prices and availability correct going to press, but subject to change. Prices include flights, accommodation and taxes except where stated otherwise.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved