Top of the hops: 10 great long-haul short breaks
Quit the rat race for a day or two to brush up your Egyptology, follow the wildebeest trail or just samba the night away
1. On safari in Kenya
You only need to take one day off work to venture into the heart of the African bush with a safari weekend in Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve. Leave London on a Thursday night bound for Nairobi and you can be ensconced in the Rekero Tented Camp at the confluence of the Talek and Mara rivers in the southern Masai Mara by 11am on Friday morning. Spend the ensuing two and a half days in the company of the camp's Masai guides on game drives viewing the region's spectacular wildlife, including buffalo, hippos, antelope, giraffe, leopards and cheetahs. This is also a good location from which to see the annual wildebeest migration, which takes place from mid-July to early October. By Monday morning, you will be back at your desk regaling your colleagues with tales of your adventures in the African wilderness.
Aardvark Safaris (01980 849160; www.aardvarksafaris.com) offers the safari from £1,125 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London, transfers, two nights' full-board accommodation with drinks, entrance fees, all game drives and activities.
2. City living in Chicago
The home of America's tallest building - the 110-storey Sears Tower - reinforced its architectural credentials last year with the opening of a Millennium Park. At its centre is a Frank Gehry-designed pavilion, which seats up to 4,000 people. While another major feature is an outdoor sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor, one of the largest of its kind in the world, made from stainless steel and polished like a mirror to reflect the lights and activity of the park and the surrounding skyline. Shoppers can take advantage of the favourable exchange rates on the city's Magnificent Mile, a long expanse of North Michigan Avenue containing more than 450 shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants.
Funway Holidays (0870-220 0626; www.funway.co.uk) offers three-night city breaks from £420 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and b&b accommodation at three- or four-star hotels in the city centre (0870-220 0626; www.funway.co.uk). For more information, contact Chicago & Illinois Tourism (0870-050 3410 and www.gochicago.com).
3. Chill out in Dubai
The Middle East's answer to Miami, Dubai has long sandy beaches, guaranteed sunshine and abundant shopping opportunities. And there's always something new on the cards: a ski slope is scheduled to open in September, and the world's highest skyscraper, the Burj Dubai (its exact height is still under wraps), will open in the Emirate in 2008. But what Dubai really excels in is accommodation of the luxurious variety. Hotels and developments are sprouting like mushrooms, each more fabulous than the next, with no fewer than 12 new hotels and resorts due to open by the end of the year. The paint has just about dried on Le Meridien's Grosvenor House (0800 282840; www.lemeridien.com), which opened its shiny new doors in the West Marina two weeks ago. In July, rates start from £195 per room per night, with breakfast.
Airline Network (0870-234 9913; www.airlinenetwork.co.uk) offers a three-night package from £495 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick, transfers and b&b accommodation at Le Meridien's Grosvenor House until 15 August.
4. Colonial splendour in Havana
Virgin Atlantic's direct flights to Havana take to the skies this Thursday, making the colonial splendour of the Cuban capital more accessible to adventurous weekenders. By the afternoon of your day of departure, you could be strolling along the Calle Obispo, enjoying the architectural heritage of this restored corner of La Habana Vieja. You then have until Sunday to soak up the Cuban way of life; sip daiquiris in the Floradita bar à la Ernest Hemingway and take to the dance floor in the district of Vedada and learn to dance to son (a slower form of salsa). Visit one of the famous cigar factories to see Montecristos being hand-rolled, or hire one of the ubiquitous vintage Chevrolets with driver and spend an afternoon soaking up the Caribbean sun on the beaches of Playa d'Este, a 20-minute drive from downtown Havana.
Virgin Atlantic (0871-222 0304; www.virgin.com/holidays) offers three nights in Havana from £499 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and three nights' b&b at the Hotel Telegrafo.
5. Beach chic in Miami
If sun, sand, pastel-hued Art Deco buildings (South Beach alone has more than 800 examples) and lots of people-watching are your idea of a great weekend, then look no further than Miami. Needless to say, this combination has not gone unnoticed by hoteliers, who can't seem to stop opening new hotels there. Two of the latest arrivals on South Beach are the decidedly maximalist Hotel Victor at 114 Ocean Drive (001 305 428 1234; www.hotelvictorsouthbeach.com), in an Art Deco building, and the super-sleek Setai, South Beach, at 2001 Collins Avenue (001 305 520 6000; www.setai.com), which is based on the 1930s Dempsey Vanderbilt Hotel. And trendy hotelier André Balazs will undoubtedly succeed in recreating the success of his two Standard Hotel properties in Los Angeles with the opening of The Standard Miami, at 40 Island Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida (001 305 673 1717l; www.standardhotel.com), which opens in August.
British Airways (0870-8509 850; www.ba.com) offers return flights from around £600. Latitude (0870-443 4483; www.latitude-online.co.uk) offers three nights at The Setai from £1,160 per person, including return flights, transfers and room-only accommodation.
6. Nightlife in Saõ Paulo
Saõ Paulo may not share the jaw-dropping natural location of Brazil's most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, but the country's financial capital is a direct flight from London and, as South America's largest city, has an atmosphere all of its own. Home to around 20 million souls and a Gotham-like jumble of skyscrapers, Saõ Paulo may seem like a daunting prospect for a long weekend, but stick to the pedestrianised centre and you won't need to stray too far. Saõ Paulo is also at the centre of the burgeoning Brazilian art and fashion scenes and plays host to the Saõ Paulo Biennale each March. It is also chock-full of sleek designer hotels, such as the super-trendy Fasano, and a growing number of restaurants and bars so you are guaranteed a good introduction to the legendary Brazilian nightlife surrounded by Saõ Paulo's smart set.
South American Experience (020-7976 5511; www.southamericanexperience.co.uk) offers four nights in Saõ Paulo from £937 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from London, transfers, b&b accommodation at the Sofitel Saõ Paulo, a half-day city tour and a half-day museum tour. Four nights at the Fasano Hotel start from £1,266 on the same basis.
7. High life in Hong Kong
Stave off the jet lag in this 24-hour city. Conveniently compact with most of the sights either on Hong Kong island or the neighbouring Kowloon Peninsula, all the must-dos and must-sees are within easy reach. Catch the historic Star Ferry across the bay, and for spectacular views take the vertiginous tram ride up to Victoria Peak. Endless eating and drinking and shopping options abound: at the last count there were more than 10,000 restaurants to choose from, including the newly opened Kou, a large duplex apartment-cum-lifestyle-boutique on Connaught Road in Central. The jaw-dropping view of Hong Kong's skyscrapers lit up at night across Victoria Harbour is reason enough to check into the Intercontinental Hotel on Kowloon.
Return flights from London to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; www.cathaypacific.com) cost from £730. Double rooms at the Intercontinental Hotel (00 852 2721 1211; www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com) cost from £235 per night.
8. Old and new in Beirut
Beirut is successfully shaking off its wartorn image and is painstakingly renovating the beautiful, historic architecture for which it was once known. It's also successfully reviving its reputation as the playground of the rich, famous and beautiful people of Europe. Hence, tourists have begun to trickle back to Beirut, which sits on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. But they're not just here for the city: two hours from Beirut you can visit the extensive archaeological site of Baalbeck, spectacular Roman ruins dating from AD60 which include the imposing towers of the 66ft Temple of Jupiter. What a weekend.
Original Travel (020-7978 7333; www.originaltravel.co.uk) offers trips to Beirut from £745 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers and three nights' b&b at the Mövenpick Hotel.
9. The pyramids of Egypt
A long weekend is all you need to experience one of the ancient wonders of the world - the Pyramids at Giza. On the opposite bank of the river from Cairo, the pyramids are the largest and best preserved in the world. The oldest is the Great Pyramid of Cheops, believed by archaeologists to have been built between 2589BC and 2566BC and flanked by Chephren's Pyramid and the Pyramid of Mycerinus. All three pyramids are accessible to visitors but in order to see every secretive chamber, a visit may involve Indiana Jones-style crouching, climbing and crawling. For an equally historical but less strenuous tour, visit The Egyptian Museum in the centre of Cairo, one of the greatest museums on earth. It was built in 1897 and has 107 halls, some of which house its acclaimed collections of mummies and artefacts excavated from the sites including the famed boy king Tutankhamun.
British Airways Holidays (0870-243 3407; www.britishairways.com) offers packages for three nights from £542 per person or four nights for £562 per person. The price includes all transfers to and from the airport and five-star b&b accommodation.
10. Culture in Georgia
Just over five hours' flying time from the UK, Georgia is being tipped as the next big destination. And it just got easier, thanks to a relaxation of visa requirements for visitors from the UK and other EU countries. The capital, Tbilisi, has more than enough to keep weekenders busy; its cultural diversity down the centuries is evident in the narrow streets of the old town, dotted with Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and Georgian Metekhi churches, mosques and synagogues. Dodge the suckling pigs for sale in the daily central market or spend a few hours bobbing in the city sulphur baths, immortalised in the writings of Dumas and Tolstoy. Ride the Art Deco funicular - one of the longest and steepest in the world - to the top of Mount Mtatsminda for panoramic views of the city and the mountains beyond. And don't miss the stunning Central Botanical Gardens of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, and the Unesco World Heritage site of Mtskheta, a short drive outside the city.
Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711; www.regent-holidays.co.uk) offers three-night breaks in Tbilisi from £530 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow, transfers and three nights' b&b.
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