City Slickers: The Wish List

Where should you hit the streets this year? You could join the weekend explorers on new flights into eastern Europe. Or follow your sporting heroes to Germany and Australia. Mark Rowe offers some suggestions
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The Independent Travel

You wouldn't bet a budget airline ticket against the most popular cities to visit in 2006 being Paris, Barcelona, Rome and New York. Yet beyond these hardy perennials, the new "in" destinations can typically be measured by where the airlines open up their new routes. So, expect to see the hotel construction industry enjoying a boost in Vitoria in Spain, which boasts a high concentration of Renaissance palaces and fine churches, and Lamezia and Parma in Italy. All are new Ryanair routes this year. Meanwhile, tourist boards from Cape Finistère to the Black Sea will no doubt be waiting anxiously for easyJet's announcements of new routes in the New Year.

New destinations ordinarily take some time to bed in, so to see what cities may prove popular in 2006 we need to glance back a couple of months to Ryanair's launch of a wave of new routes to Poland. "Krakow and Gdansk look particularly attractive," said a spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta). "The Baltic capitals have been done to death, but Gdansk is arguably the most attractive of all the cities in that region. People think of it as the place of Solidarity and assume it is an industrial wasteland - but that's the opposite of the truth. It's a wonderful Hanseatic port."

Other eastern European cities from countries that have recently joined or are about to join the EU, such as Ljubljana in Slovenia, and Sofia in Bulgaria, are also likely to attract more visitors. "We'll see a growing popularity in eastern European cities," said Louise Clark of Opodo, the online travel company. "It's a natural progression for the new EU countries to become popular city-break destinations. They are becoming more accessible and offer plenty of culture and great nightlife. As with Prague five years ago, they are good value for money."

The experience of Prague, where prices have risen dramatically in recent years, will also encourage visitors to travel to other eastern European cities. "The key is to visit these places now," said the Abta spokesman. "After these countries join the EU, living standards go up and in 10 years' time they are not as cheap to visit."

British Airways Holidays, which will launch packages off the back of the airline's new route to the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Varna in March, is placing its bets with eastern Europe. "People are taking two or three city breaks a year and looking to go a little more off the beaten track - and eastern Europe is intriguing," said Lesley Harvey, BA's products manager. "People have been to Prague and are aware that other beautiful cities exist in the region." The company also expects interest in its new route to Reykjavik in March.

Cultural events will determine just which city's hotel rooms enjoy full occupancy. Aix in France, which has seen a modest dip in popularity after travellers wearied of the repetitive and increasingly derivative A Year in Provence theme, can expect a healthy shot in the arm with the centenary of the death of Cézanne, whose former studio is a short walk from the city centre. Patras, the European city of culture for 2006, will attract the inquisitive: Greece's third largest city has several attractions, including a Roman theatre and a 6th-century fortress.

The rise of living standards in the UK means Scandinavia appears more affordable than ever. Even Norway need not break the bank: the cost of alcohol there is sometimes cited as a deterrent by would-be visitors, who forget that a small bottle of beer in a London bar costing £3.50 is slightly pricier than a half litre of lager in Oslo. The Norwegian capital is one of Europe's most vibrant cities, with a magnificent setting on the Oslofjord, beautiful parks and a large number of top museums.

The Swedish city of Gothenburg has worked hard to market itself as a gourmet restaurant location; four of its restaurants have earned a star in the Michelin Guide. The city is divided by two canals, and Haga, a culturally listed 19th-century district of cobbled streets, is full of curio shops, snug cafés and bars.

Sport is likely to influence the popularity of certain cities. Germany, which hosts the World Cup in June, will naturally see a huge rise in the number of visitors during the tournament. But German tourist authorities hope the tournament will showcase a number of cities that enjoy good connections to the UK but remain undiscovered by the British weekend-away crowd.

Regular visitors to Germany will be aware that the country remains one of Europe's best-kept holiday secrets. Its cities seem to be universally appealing, well endowed with cultural attractions and typically offer extremely good value for money.

Leipzig, once locked behind the Iron Curtain, is one of Germany's most culturally blessed cities and has undergone a remarkable transformation since reunification. Some communist concrete remains but an urban renaissance is providing the city's architecture with a facelift. Hamburg, although one of Germany's largest cities, is a handsome destination, distinguished by parks, large lakes and tree-lined canals. And the city's Reeperbahn, the sex strip, remains reassuringly seedy even though the ghosts of the Beatles have long moved on.

Rocco Forte Hotels (roccofortehotels.com) will open two new hotels in Germany this year. Villa Kennedy will open in Frankfurt in March, built around an early 20th-century villa. Meanwhile, the Hotel de Rome, which will open in Berlin in September, has involved the conversion of the former 1890s Dresdner Bank building: the integration includes the conversion of the bank vaults into a spa pool.

Valencia's tourism authorities can be expected to seize upon a recent survey in Spain that found that Spaniards considered it to be the country's most attractive city to live in. The city has a captivating old quarter, with idiosyncratic features such as high doorknockers for the convenience of horse-borne gentlemen, and it hosts several festivals and symbolic processions.

Further afield, the appetite for long-haul short breaks may lead to a rise in tourists to South American cities that are "not Rio". Salvador, in Brazil's relatively unexplored north-east, has also been identified as a city that can expect more visitors, according to Journey Latin America. Salvador's "alternative" carnival is regarded by specialists as the more authentic, "dancing-in-the-streets" cousin of Rio. Its first boutique hotel, Convento do Carmo (pousadasofportugal. com/portugal/salvador.html) recently opened, providing luxury colonial accommodation in a 16th-century former convent.

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is anticipating a boom in tourism. England play Australia there in what may prove to be a crucial third Ashes Test in mid-December. The city enjoys an ideal climate, with sunny weather and an outdoor lifestyle. Nearby Fremantle offers a cappuccino culture, sailing and harbour restaurants - a suitable backdrop, hopefully, for another Ashes victory.

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