The hot list: This year's greatest escapes

The best way to beat the big chill? Book a holiday under the sun. Mark MacKenzie rounds up this season's top destinations
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The Independent Travel

1 Oman, the chic option

The latest Middle Eastern state with an eye on tourism, Oman is fast becoming a chic option to couple with Dubai for a two-centre holiday in the region. Visitors come here to see Muscat, the sandcastle-style forts, and to explore the desert. Boats wend their way along the coast, visiting whitewashed villages, some of which are inhabited only in the cooler months, and the seas teem with wildlife. The Al Bustan Palace hotel is regularly voted the region's best, but now it has sharp competition from The Chedi and Shangri-La Palace.

The essential view: From the 1,000ft-high cliffs that make up the walls of the Musandam Peninsula's vast desert fjords.

The essential stop: The white sands near Ras al-Jinz are nesting sites for endangered green turtles. The package: Tropical Locations (020-7229 9199; tropical-locations.com) is offering five nights at The Chedi from £799 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights private transfers and b&b, if you book by 30 November.

2 Dream days in the Seychelles

It's long been the dream destination and over the past few years, ever more gorgeous resorts have sprung up- North Island and Banyan Tree to name just two. People come for the beaches: sweeping white sands scattered withbizarre pink and black granite boulders, and lapped by the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.

The essential view: Anse Source d'Argent on La Digue, possibly the most perfect beach in the world, the star of TV adverts.

The essential stop: The Vallée de Mai nature reserve, a dark and steamy Unesco World Heritage site and home to the erotically shaped coco de mer nut and the rare black parrot.

The package: Scott Dunn (020-8682 5010; scottdunn.com) offers seven nights at the Lemuria on Praslin from £2,200 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and b&b.

3 Hip in hippy Morocco

Marrakech? Last year's news. The latest hip destination for the independently minded souk browser is Essaouira. This relaxed town at the end of one of the straightest roads in Africa was a popular stop on the Sixties hippy trail - well, it is home to the fortifications that feature in Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand". The exotic old town, with its whitewashed walls and distinctive turquoise window frames, is a Unesco World Heritage site. Its labyrinth of primitive workshops and architectural curiosities and the cries of street hawkers mingle with the scents of fresh cinnamon and jasmine.

The essential view: Gazing down from the city's ramparts and imagining the fleets of pirate ships that once lined these shores.

The essential stop: Order bouillabaisse at the beachfront Chalet de la Plage (00 212 44 47 59 72), just outside the city walls, a favourite place to eat in Essaouira for 100 years.

The package: Abercrombie & Kent (0845 070 0612; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers three nights at Dar Mimosas from £899 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, private transfers from Marrakech and b&b.

4 Vietnam goes mainstream

Forget Thailand. Vietnam is the place to go this winter, and no longer just for backpackers. Tour operators are offering exciting itineraries to take advantage of its various highlights, from the coast to the interior. While Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City is a foodie heaven, history buffs might prefer a cruise on the Perfume River, visiting the elaborate tombs of the Nguyen emperors. And there's 2,000km of glorious beaches.

The essential view: From the Hai Van coastal pass on the road from Danang to Hue. Hai Van means sea clouds.

The essential stop: The old imperial city of Hue. Marvel at the ruined palaces and pagodas dating back to the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th century.

The package: Guerba (01373 826 611; guerba.com) offers a guided 10-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi for £395, based on two sharing. British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com) offers flights from Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City from £652.

5 Return of the Maldives

The ultimate fly-and-flop location brings a new crop of super-luxe resorts every year. The devastation wreaked by the tsunami was only matched by a mistaken perception that the country was off the tourist agenda. But the Maldives has a beauty to rival the Seychelles. Even if it is quite different, in that all the hotel resorts are contained on individual islands, so as not to impinge on local life.

The essential view: Through a snorkel mask. The sheltered reefs around the Maldives boast 31 species of tropical butterfly fish.

The essential stop: A trip to a nearby island. You may not be able to stay with the locals, but most resorts offer day trips to a nearby community.

The package: Best at Travel (0870 709 3082; bestattravel.co.uk) offers seven nights at the recently reopened Taj Exotica for £1,365, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and b&b.

6 Tee off in Bermuda

You thought golf was for squares? Get with it. It's the trendsetters' game. And where better to practice the art than in Bermuda, which has more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else. In fact, the beautiful course at the Fairmont Southampton is regarded as the best par three in the world.

The essential view: The South Shore from the Alfred Blackburn Smith Nature Reserve - see rare indigenous upland forest.

The essential stop: At low tide in calm seas, coral reef formations on the island's South Shore beaches are visible.

The package: A seven-night stay at the Fairmont Southampton starts at £1,055 per person, based on two sharing, with the North America Travel Service (0845 122 8899; nats-uk.com), including return flights and room-only accommodation.

7 Cape Verde, music central

The winter swells that break on the shores of this former Portuguese archipelago are fast turning it into a major draw for surfers. Music fans and adventurous holidaymakers are also making a beeline for these nine islands off the west coast of Africa. Sal is particularly popular, with its near-lunar landscape providing seemingly endless beaches. When you've got over the all-night partying, go for a guided walk in the mountains or take a spin on a bike.

The essential view: Looking into the main crater of the Mount Pico volcano on Fogo island.

The essential stop: On Friday nights, well-known musicians perform at Le Café Musique, in Mindelo on the neighbouring island of Sao Vicente.

The package: Cape Verde and Eastgate Travel (01964 536191; capeverdetravelcom) offers 11 nights at the Hotel Morabeza, on Sal, from £984 per person, with return flights, transfers and b&b.

8 Go wild in Kerala

Best known for the kettuvalloms or houseboats that line its lakes and waterways, the southern Indian state of Kerala also offers plantation-clad hills and palm-fringed beaches. It is famous, too, for its fine cuisine, as well as being a great place for wildlife watching.

The essential view: From the top of the Nilgiri range towards Kodaikanal.

The essential stop: From 9 to 12 January, a procession of 101 exquisitely decorated elephants parades through the streets of Thrissur.

The package: Inspiration Kerala (inspiration kerala.com) offers a seven-day Beach, Backwater, Jungle and Hills package, staying on a deluxe houseboat and in a tree-top resort, from £260 for two sharing,including transfers and meals. Sri Lankan Airlines (020-8538 2001; srilankan.aero) offers return flights from London to Trivandrum from £320 return.

9 Boys, and girls, in Brazil

Get out of the city and up Brazil's coast to Buzios. This old fishing village, just four hours drive from Rio, was put on the map when Brigitte Bardot visited in the 1960s. (There's even a little statue of her on the waterfront.) Yet, it has managed to escape large-scale development, with tourists booking into charming posadas and b&bs instead. There's fantastic fishing and cheap but chic shopping.

The essential view: From Ferradura, a horseshoe-shaped bay from which to watch fleets of multicoloured fishing boats return at dusk.

The essential stop: Rua das Pedras (Street of Stones) is where you can experience Buzios's vibrant nightlife.

The package: Journey Latin America (020-8747 3108; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers holidays to Brazil which include three nights in Buzios from £160 per person, based on two sharing, staying at the boutique hotel, Casas Brancas.

10 Sunshine and shops in Dubai

From luxurious beachfront hotels to indoor ski resorts, a winter break in Dubai certainly promises to be varied. And sunshine and great shopping is, of course, guaranteed. The beaches of the Arabian Gulf offer miles of white sand to laze about on. But don't miss out on the chance to take a trip to the desert in a 4WD and camp out under the glittering stars.

The essential view: Across the desert flats from the roof of the Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the world.

The essential stop: The Dubai Racing Club hosts racing at Nad Al Sheba from November through to the end of March. Evening meetings start at 7pm.

The package: Travel Dubai (0845 6128 777; traveldubai.co.uk) offers three nights at the five-star Taj Palace for £640 per person, based on two sharing, withreturn flights, transfers and b&b accommodation. An overnight desert safari costs from £70.

Animal magic: So safari, so good

For your first safari, the Kruger National Park is a great place to experience the wild. But novices might benefit more from a trip to a private game reserve on its border, where informative guides will do their best to ensure you see as many of Africa's big five- lion, leopard, buffalo elephant and rhino - as possible. Rainbow Tours (020-7226 1004; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers a week-long Bush & Beach experience from £1,195, with return flights.

Nature in the raw: In a world of its own

There's more to Hawaii than beach bums and heinous shirts. It's home to 11 of the world's 13 climatic zones. On one side of the island there are waterfalls and lush vegetation, on the other, lava fields - don't miss the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Down at the coastline, Lanikai Beach is great for swimming, but if you can't resist the lure of the waves, head for Waikiki beach. Jetsave (0870 060 1220; jetsavetailormade.co.uk) offers 10 nights for £1,999, with return flights.

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