The year starts here: With new heights, new horizons and even new nations to explore, take the plunge into 2010
Adventure, culture or indulgence: whatever you seek in the coming year, let James Tennet, Ben Ross and Simon Calder inspire you.
Saturday 26 December 2009
New" countries are all the rage as the year turns, but for once we can report a genuinely new nation: on 10/10/10, the Dutch Antilles will be dissolved, and Curacao and Sint Maarten will become autonomous; two new nations for the list-tickers.
Over the coming year there are plenty more inspirational opportunities for travellers – from a total eclipse in one of the world's most beautiful islands, to the once-in-a-decade chance to attend the Oberammagau Passion Play. Your year of living dreamily starts here.
First, we take Berlin. The New Year's Run in the German capital is the ideal way to fulfil your resolution to keep fit, with a 4km jog that starts at the Brandenburg Gate and leads you past many Berlin sights. You could usefully book a return trip for the end of the month, because on 26 January the Long Night of Museums takes place: more than 100 museums and cultural institutions are giving access to their exhibitions, collections and art objects throughout the night, enriched by a variety of events. There will be concerts, readings, theatricals and much more. You can travel by train from London to Berlin from as little as €49 each way. (bahn.de)
All eyes will be on Dubai on 4 January for the official opening of the Burj Dubai, which has been unkindly described as the tallest white elephant in the world: 818m high, outdoing the nearest completed competitor as tallest building (Taipei 101) by 60 per cent. At the heart of the Burj Dubai tower will be the world's first Armani hotel, scheduled to open in early 2010. (burjdubai.com)
The first significant astronomical event of the year takes place on 15 January, when an annular eclipse occurs over Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean. An annular eclipse is one in which the Moon does not completely obscure the Sun and a thin ring of sunlight remains visible. Annular eclipses occur when the Moon is at its farthest point from the Earth. It can be seen in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Maldives, south-eastern India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and central China, and will last between eight and 11 minutes, depending on location. This duration will not be exceeded again until the year 3043.
The ideal place to be is the Maldives (where it will last 10 minutes and 45 seconds). First Choice has a week all-inclusive at the Gasfinolhu Island Resort on North Male Atoll with return flights from London Gatwick, leaving on 10 January, for £1,251. (firstchoice.co.uk). And Astro Expeditions is running a special one-week trip to Kenya, taking in an eight-minute viewing and time in the Masai Mara game reserve for £1,395 including flights, accommodation and most meals. (astro-expeditions.com/kenya).
As Simon O'Hagan wrote in The Independent Traveller earlier this month, Venice is at its most atmospheric in winter, when gentle mist from the canals softens the focus and lifts the spirits. In addition, air fares and hotel rates tumble – though during the Venice Carnival, 6-16 February, the crowds arrive for processions, masquerades and music in the canals, squares and palaces of this ancient city. Carnival adopts a new theme each year: in 2010 the theme is "Sensation". Inspired by the senses, this edition invites visitors to discover, see, feel, touch, smell and taste the city and its six districts. Great Rail Journeys offers a 10-day tour (by train, of course) from London, taking in the Carnival, and paying a visit to beautiful Lake Bled in Slovenia, before returning to St Pancras: £1,600 including hotel accommodation, all breakfasts and eight dinners. (greatrail.com)
The German version of carnival will overturn your preconceptions about the national psyche. From 11-17 February the Cologne Carnival is one of the biggest street parties in Europe, with more than one million people descending on the city for a week of parades and partying. Lufthansa offers returns from Heathrow starting at £100. (lufthansa.com)
The big sporting event of the year is the World Cup in South Africa (see June), but a creditable Silver goes to the Winter Olympics, 12-28 February, in Vancouver and Whistler in Southern British Columbia. Sportsworld is offering a variety of packages in Vancouver during the Winter Olympics, from £1,335 for five nights, including airport transfers, accommodation and breakfast. Tickets for specific events at the games can be requested at the time of booking. (vancouver2010. sportsworld.co.uk).
Through ebookers.com, you can fly from London to Vancouver and back on United Airlines (via LA) from £600.
The closest European capital accessible by rail, Brussels, is the venue for "Museum Night Fever" on 6 March. This is an evening of music, fashion, and guided workshop visits that lasts until 3am. Buy a Eurostar ticket from London St Pancras and you can combine it with a side-trip to Antwerp, Bruges, Liège or any other station in Belgium. Fares from £59 return. (eurostar.co.uk)
On St Patrick's Day, 17 March, go west – but fly over Ireland to the city where the saint has been celebrated with a parade since 1762; New York's St Patrick's Day Parade is the oldest in the world. There are no floats or vehicles but more than 150,000 marchers, bands and dancers, dressed in Irish finery traverse the parade route and several hundred thousand more people line the streets to watch the spectacle. Expedia has a week in the five-star standard Peninsula Hotel during St Patrick's week for £1,129, including BA flights from Heathrow. (expedia.co.uk)
In Japan, the flowering of the country's official tree – the delicate cherry blossoms – is awaited with great excitement. Japanese television crews track the flowering of the blossom as it moves its way northwards up the country. With picnics and plenty of alcohol, this is one of the biggest and most public social outings in the country. If you want to be part of this magical event, be warned it can be an inexact science: the official flowering period is between March and April. Opodo has return flights in late March from Heathrow to Tokyo (via Helsinki) on Finnair from £500 return. (opodo.co.uk)
The big cruise news in the spring is the 12 April launch of Azura, P&O Cruises' latest vessel. The maiden voyage from Southampton is a 16-night tour, taking in Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice and Gibraltar. Iglu Cruise is currently offering the trip for £1,560pp. (iglucruise.com)
On 26 April, the inaugural short-break cruise on the new Celebrity Eclipse departs from Southampton to Le Havre; from £399. (celebritycruises.co.uk)
One of the most sacred of all Hindu pilgrimages, the Kumbha Mela – which occurs four times every 12 years and rotates among four locations – is on the calendar at Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh. Millions attend each day, taking a ritual bath in the Ganges. The whole event begins on 14 January and lasts until the end of April, but the main royal bath takes place on 14 April. Abercrombie & Kent can provide a week at "Ananda in the Himalayas", with full board and a night in Delhi, for £2,595. (abercrombiekent.co.uk, anandaspa.com)
Also starting on 14 April, Martin Randall Travel has a new six-day tour, with a thematic focus on Spanish opera: performances at the Liceu, and at Calatrava's stunning new opera house in Valencia interspersed with talks on music by the cultural historian Daniel Snowman, and wine tastings introduced by the Catalan wine expert Linda Hanks. The price of £2,580 includes BA return flights from Heathrow, two meals a day, first-class rail travel between Barcelona and Valencia, wine tastings, admission fees and lectures. (martinrandall.com)
Shanghai hosts Expo 2010. This spectacle will spread over both sides of the Huangpu river. The 12 pavilion groups will showcase countries from around the world; the UK is planning a huge "light box" for its pavilion. With a slogan of "Better City, Better Life", Shanghai hopes to make the Expo "a powerful and lasting example of sustainable and harmonious urban living". It runs from 1 May to 31 October. For an extravagant short break, Bales' four-day Shanghai Expo Weekend includes a full day at the Expo, as well as a day exploring the sights of Shanghai . The price of £899 includes flights, transfers (including a ride aboard the world's fastest train, the 350km/h Maglev train to and from Shanghai airport), accommodation, breakfast, Expo day ticket, and a half-day Shanghai sightseeing tour.
May also marks the beginning of the main Mediterranean package holiday season; after 2009's dismal summer, the big tour operators are expecting a lot of interest in short-haul destinations, and a continued resurgence in the former Yugoslavia. On 5 May, Thomson starts trips to Montenegro, which won independence from Serbia only in 2006. Travel in mid-May, when prices are lowest, and you can get a fortnight full board for £590. (thomson.co.uk) You can explore the high peaks and rugged terrain in the Montenegrin mountains, and the scores of beachfront fishing villages scattered along the coast.
Far further east, the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival takes place 5-9 May in Thailand's Yasothon Province. For the duration of the festival, teams launch their massive rockets into the skies in an effort to reach the greatest height.V C The festival originated as a ceremony to encourage auspicious circumstances for the rice-planting season. The rockets were thought to "stimulate" the rain clouds and encourage the rain gods to provide a plentiful watering for the newly planted crops.
Overnight buses from Bangkok-Yasothon depart from Bangkok's Mochit Bus Terminal every day. Alternatively, visitors can take a train or plane to Ubon Ratchathani, then complete the last four hours by bus. Gulf Air has return flights in early May from Heathrow to Bangkok (via Bahrain) from £380. (gulfair.com)
A once-in-a-decade opportunity begins on 15 May, through to 3 October: the Oberammergau Passion Plays. Staged every 10 years in the picturesque German town of Oberammergau, they are a series of powerful and inspirational performances that pay tribute to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
About half the inhabitants of Oberammergau are expected to take part: over 2,000 villagers will bring the story of Jesus to life in a five-hour epic that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the world. Riviera Travel has regular one-week tours, taking in Salzburg, Lake Constance and Innsbruck, including a category 1 ticket for the passion play, four-star half-board accommodation, city tours, all transfers, and return flights from the UK, from £1,299. rivieratravel.co.uk
As the World Cup gets under way, this is a good time to escape to the great outdoors – demand, prices and crowds will shrink while the football is on. A 17-day holiday in the Russian Far-East, including a 12-night voyage to the spectacular landscape of Kamchatka, the volcanic Kuril Islands and the remote Commander Islands, costs £5,995 including flights and full-board and accommodation, 20 June to 5 July. For something much closer to home and substantially easier on the pocket, spend three days exploring the botanical attractions on the Hampshire Downs: £265pp including meals and accommodation. (naturetrek.co.uk)
Or distract yourself with a luxury tour from Journeys of Distinction: 18-days, exploring Canada, taking in Niagara Falls and the Rockies – departing on 11 June (the same date World Cup 2010 kicks off). The price of £3,585 includes Air Canada flights from Heathrow, some meals and all accommodation. (jod.uk.com)
On 24 June, the French celebrate the shortest night of the year with a huge firework display held right in the middle of Paris. The "Midsummer Fireworks" is a free event, with thousands of pyrotechnics launched from the top of Ile Saint-Louis while spectators observe from the Quai Saint-Bernard. Eurostar has returns to Paris from £59. (eurostar.co.uk)
By now the sun may be well and truly shining in the UK, but on 11 July it gets awfully dark over parts of the southern hemisphere. Next year's solar eclipse is remarkable because there are very few accessible observation points from which the total eclipse will be visible. Destinations include the remote Cook Islands and French Polynesia. However, the path of the Moon's shadow – with totality lasting an impressive four minutes 39 seconds – passes directly over the tiny Easter Island, 3,800km off the coast of Chile. Explore (explore.co.uk) offers a 15-day Easter Island and Chilean highlights tour for £4,845, departing 5 July, including flights from Heathrow, accommodation (some camping) and most meals.
Closer to home, the 2010 Tour de France begins its 2,000 mile-long test of endurance in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on 3 July, then moves on to Belgium before continuing through France and coming to an exhausted halt in Paris on 25 July.
You can catch the Rotterdam prologue over a long weekend in the city. Expedia (expedia.co.uk) offers three nights' B&B in the centrally located four-star Eden Savoy Hotel, plus return VLM flights from London City departing 2 July for £558.75 per person.
Still in the sporting arena, from 15-18 July, the British Open Championship returns to St Andrews for the 150th anniversary of the oldest major championship in professional golf. See the official Open Golf Hospitality site for hospitality packages (opengolfofficialhospitality.com).
On 15 July the International Carthage festival is held in the Tunisian town of Carthage, 10 miles from the capital, Tunis. The country's biggest arts event mixes a programme of local and international music, and performances take place in Carthage's Roman amphitheatre. Opodo (opodo.co.uk) is offering a week's B&B accommodation in the four-star Hotel Diplomat in Tunis in July 2010 for around £420 per person, including return BA flights from Gatwick. The festival runs until 15 September.
July is also the month of the Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive, recreating the pioneering cattle drives along the 515km Oodnadatta Track in South Australia. The drive is led by some of Australia's most experienced drovers and usually involves around 500 head of cattle and 120 horses.
Departing on 30 July (and until 29 August), Bales is offering a 10-day holiday that includes five days on horseback on the Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive. The trip also includes two nights in Adelaide and four nights in Sydney. It costs £3,625, including flights, transfers, accommodation, most meals, horse riding equipment, and sightseeing. (balesworldwide.com)
And 20 July is the 200th anniversary of Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain; see The Independent Traveller next Saturday for inspiration.
The 40th anniversary of the Isle of Wight pop festival (the huge 1970 event, not the various pretenders before and since) is bound to cause some stirrings in the collective musical loins of middle-aged folk. Those who have outlived Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon and Jim Morrison – all of whom featured at the greatest line-up ever assembled – can make a pilgrimage to Freshwater, where the bands played on, and on, and on, for five days over the August Bank Holiday in 1970. And you can even get there by Greyhound: buses from Victoria in London (bookable at greyhounduk.com, from £2.50 return). These terminate at the Southampton terminus of Red Funnel Ferries (01703 220099), the company which transported many of the half-million fans over to Cowes. Stay at the Albion Hotel in Freshwater Bay (01983 755 755; sandringhamhotel. co.uk), close to the festival site. The hotel offers free ferry crossings when you book a holiday through it.
If you have a more youthful approach to celebrations, do your bit to alleviate Common Agricultural Policy surpluses by putting your worst clothes and heading for La Tomatina in the town of Buñol, close to Valencia, on 25 August. This is the annual tomato-throwing festival where thousands of people from around the world descend on the town to throw 100 tons of over-ripe tomatoes at each other. Ryanair has return flights that week from Stansted to Valencia starting from around £122. (ryanair.com) Pillow Tours and PP Travel both offer three-day tours taking in the festival and other local attractions including transfers to and from Valencia and two nights' accommodation, with breakfast, for around £150. (pillow.co.uk, pptravel.com)
The end of Ramadan is expected to be 9 September: a splendid time to visit the Islamic world, for both the festivities that surround the end of the month of fasting, and the fact that the summer heat has eased in the Holy Land, notably Jordan and Syria. These countries, and in particular the cities of Petra and Palmyra, are featured on an Exodus tour departing on 25 September for 16 nights, for £1,459 including flights, local transportation, a guide, and accommodation. (exodus.co.uk)
Scotland is the most beautiful country in the world when the sun shines, and September can enjoy some splendid weather. (Up until the autumnal equinox on 21 September, you can also feel smug about the fact that Scotland enjoys more daylight than any other part of the UK.)
The optimum way to carve a course through the Great Glen from Inverness to Fort William is aboard Fingal of Caledonia (01397 772167; fingal-cruising.co.uk), a Flemish barge converted into a floating multi-activity centre. From 11 September, a six-day "Music on a Classic Cruise" itinerary features a guest musician; £725 per person.
By 24 September, the last celebrating football fan should have returned from South Africa – which means that it's a good week to head for the seaside town of Hermanus, about an hour from Cape Town, which comes alive for the Whale Festival. The festival is organised to coincide with the arrival of the whales in Walker Bay, and the cliffs surrounding the bay provide spectacular views of the cheerful cetaceans. Etihad is offering return flights from Heathrow to Cape Town via Abu Dhabi in late September 2010 from £600. (etihadairways.com)
The first day of the month marks the 50th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from Britain, with a carnival planned in the nation's capital, Lagos. Virgin Atlantic (virgin-atlantic.com) and British Airways (ba.com) both operate direct services from Heathrow to Lagos, with flights in late September selling for around £520 (BA) and £565 (Virgin Atlantic) at the moment. Meanwhile, the 2010 Commonwealth Games run from 3-14 October in Delhi. Jet Airways (jetairways.com) is offering direct flights from Heathrow to Delhi in early October 2010 from £400 per person.
The big news on 10 October is the emergence of two "new" countries, when the Dutch Antilles are dissolved and Curacao and Sint Maarten become autonomous. Neighbouring Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, on the other hand, will become a direct part of the Netherlands as special municipalities. UK holidaymakers to the region tend to make for Aruba, once also part of the Dutch Antilles. Thomson (thomson.co.uk) offers seven-day packages in October 2010 from £1,054 per person.
From 8-23 October, head for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, an event which attracts over half a million visitors annually. See melbournefestival.com.au for more details.
Alternatively, the Queen Elizabeth begins scheduled service on 12 October. The new cruise ship from Cunard (cunard.co.uk) weighs in at over 92,000 tons and can carry 2,092 passengers. It took just 29 minutes for the maiden voyage to sell out, but the "Mediterranean Premiere" 14-night cruise (taking in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Naples and Gibraltar) embarks on 25 October, with balcony rooms still available from £2,231 per person.
Flying in to Ecuador gets easier this month, not because of new flight connections from the UK, but because a new international airport is scheduled to open in the capital, Quito. Once the new airport opens its doors, the current airfield will be converted into a park. (quiport.com)
The 11th month is the ideal time for a long-haul trip, and they don't come more distant than New Zealand. Besides low fares (no school holidays to drive up demand) and uncrowded roads, you can explore North and South Islands in the benign, blossoming southern-hemisphere spring. But don't just sit there: be one of the first to ride the Waikato River Trail, which is expected to be completed in the central North Island. It is part of the exciting the NZ Cycle Trail project, championed by the prime minister, John Key. (www.bit.ly/NZBikeTrail)
Mexico will be in rebellious mood all year; in September it celebrates the 200th anniversary of independence from Spain, and 20 November will mark the 100th anniversary of its Revolution. This was when Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Pascual Orozco led the first insurrectionist attack. Expect new exhibits of pre-Hispanic, Spanish, modern and contemporary Mexican art, historic routes, shows, publications and seminars. The entire year has been proclaimed by President Felipe Calderó*as the "Year of the Nation". BA has direct return flights from Heathrow to Mexico City in November 2010 from £666 (ba.com). Journey Latin America can put together various tailor-made Mexican itineraries to coincide with these dates. (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
Further south, First Choice is starting package holidays to Costa Rica this month; you can stay for two weeks, all inclusive, at the five-star Paradisus Playa Conchal resort from £1,876 including flights from Gatwick. (firstchoice.co.uk)
Fine Art Travel has a new five-day trip to Florence departing 5 November, when the city will be empty and alluring. It is tied in with the recent publication of a new guide book to Renaissance Florence by Charles Fitzroy – who will be accompanying the tour. The price is £2,400 including most meals, five-star accommodation, transfers, lectures and entry fees - but not flights. (finearttravel.co.uk)
Closer to home, Guy Fawkes is commemorated on 6-7 at Leeds Castle, when 7,000 people are expected to gather for two afternoons of entertainment in the castle grounds followed by a firework finale. The nearest train station is Bearsted, which has frequent Southeastern services from London, and then a coach shuttle service connects to the castle. (leeds-castle.com)
Will Christmas 2010 be the first "festation" for many beleaguered Brits? The travel chaos in the build up to 25 December this year may have been partly caused by the wrong kind of snow, but it was intensified by it being the wrong time of year to travel: demand for flights, trains, ferries and package holidays goes sky-high, and any kind of disruption can soon turn from ripples into tidal waves of travel turmoil.
Indeed, the only sensible time to travel in December is during the first couple of weeks: the highest of peak seasons is always preceded by the lowest of lows. This is the ideal time to fly down to Rio, where it is early summer; take off on 30 November, so you are ready for the beach on the first day of December, and you pay less than £700 from London via Paris. (airfrance.co.uk)
Alternatively stay to the last day of the year. Various curious seaside rituals on 31 January are dedicated to Iemanja – Goddess of the Sea and Carnal Pleasure – during the day, with wild parties on the beaches accompanied by samba bands at night. Packages from around £1,400 including flights from London are available through brazilbookers.com.
With capacity still constrained by the beleagured airlines, if you plan a long-haul trip next Christmas you should book flights as soon as they become available in mid-January. And then keep your fingers crossed.
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