World cup of travel: In with a good chance of delivering a striking trip
They might not be in the premier league of holiday destinations for Brits, but plenty of the other 2014 qualifiers will offer intriguing options over the coming year ...
Chris Leadbeater is a full-time travel journalist who has written for The Independent since 2009. He specialises in the USA, South America and Europe, but has covered destinations as varied as Mozambique, New Zealand, Indonesia and Lebanon. Prior to becoming a travel journalist, he worked as a music writer and for men's magazines.
Saturday 28 December 2013
A different corner of a Latin classic
Argentina can boast arguably the world's best footballer in Lionel Messi and one of its best-loved capitals in Buenos Aires. But those seeking to glimpse a less-seen part of this vast state may be drawn to the 16-day option offered by Steppes Travel (01285 880 980; steppestravel.co.uk). The “North-West Argentina Self-Drive Holiday” lets intrepid souls venture up-country to enjoy the colonial splendour of Salta, the Unesco-listed rock formations of Humahuaca Gorge, and the wineries of Cafayate. Prices start at £3,995pp, including all flights, car hire and boutique hotel accommodation.
A different corner of a Latin classic
Argentina can boast arguably the world’s best footballer in Lionel Messi and one of its best-loved capitals in Buenos Aires. But those seeking to glimpse a less-seen part of this vast state may be drawn to the 16-day option offered by Steppes Travel (01285 880 980; steppestravel.co.uk). The “North-West Argentina Self-Drive Holiday” lets intrepid souls venture up-country to enjoy the colonial splendour of Salta, the Unesco-listed rock formations of Humahuaca Gorge, and the wineries of Cafayate. Prices start at £3,995pp, including all flights, car hire and boutique hotel accommodation.
Escaping it all on an Australian outpost
The Great Barrier Reef hardly needs any assistance when it comes to delighting visitors, but it will have a luxury ally as of July when Hayman – the private island that is the northernmost of Australia’s Whitsundays archipelago – reappears as a One&Only resort after a far-reaching refit (hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com). Guests can expect expert dive packages that explore the reef, and spa treatments on return. Trailfinders can arrange a week’s trip that combines four nights at the resort with three nights in five-star accommodation in Sydney – from £2,099pp, including all flights (020 7368 1200; trailfinders.com).
Echoes of artillery in lovely Liège
As one of the heartlands of the conflict, Belgium will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014. There will be added poignancy to these glances backwards in Liège, which witnessed the opening battle. It took German guns 12 days (5-16 August 1914) to quell the dozen forts on the outskirts. The last to fall, Fort de Boncelles, is still visible (latourdairboncelles.be), just south of this pretty city. Returns from London via Brussels start at £79 with Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com). Doubles at the Crowne Plaza (00 32 4 2229494; www.crowneplazaliege.be) start at €116 (£97), room only.
A glorious ghost on the Chilean coast
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 was great news for international trade, but a blow to Valparaíso, Chile’s key port, which had grown rich on ships having to sail around South America. This coming year – a century on from its “death” – is an ideal time to visit a city that has settled into arty retirement, with galleries, restaurants and a fine museum of Pablo Neruda (00 56 32 225 6606; fundacionneruda.org) in the poet’s former home, La Sebastiana. Veloso (020 8762 0616; veloso.com) sells a 14-day self-drive “Villarica Tour” of central Chile that spends two nights in Valparaíso, from £2,580pp, including flights.
Up-and-coming Colombia is cool for kids
A possible long-shot for the World Cup due to the genius of star striker Radamel Falcao, Colombia is also increasingly feasible as a holiday option. Evidence of its transformation from pariah state to travel hotspot is provided by the decision of Families Worldwide (01962 737 606; familiesworldwide.co.uk) to offer its first tour of the country – a group trip which is aimed at parents with active children aged 10 and up. The 12-day “Journey to Colombia” is planned for 9 August, and will tick off landmark sights in Bogota and Cartagena, as well as pitching up on the beaches of the north coast. From £3,099 per adult, £2,949 per child, with flights.
School’s in for summer in Costa Rica
England’s fixture with Costa Rica on 24 June will see this Central American nation come into focus in 2014. Those who would like to glimpse it at closer quarters may be drawn to the voluntourism project that will be run by Global Vision International (01727 250 250; gvi.co.uk), starting on 16 August. A triple process that will also take place in Thailand and South Africa, “Global Initiative 2014” will construct schools on Costa Rica’s Pacific shore. Volunteers can do one week (£795) or two (£1,295), full board. American Airlines (0844 499 7300; aa.com) flies to San José from Heathrow via Miami.
An Adriatic escape in classy Croatia
Croatia’s football team has been a stalwart of the international arena for 15 years now – and the country’s sporting ascent is mirrored by its elevation into the holiday mainstream. This will be apparent in 2014 with the addition of Kolocep – a sun-kissed isle some two miles west of Dubrovnik – to the Thomson (0871 230 2555; thomson.co.uk) portfolio. The package giant will be offering adult-only getaways to the four-star Kalamota Island Resort, which will reopen in the summer after considerable refurbishment. An all-inclusive week for two, flying from Birmingham on 15 June, will cost £948pp.
Off the beaten track in unseen Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands are Ecuador’s headline travel act – but there is more to this high-altitude nation than its wildlife wonders. Those who want to peer inland rather than at the ocean can do so on the “Ecuador Explorer Private Tour” sold by Rainbow Tours (020 7666 1250; rainbowtours.co.uk). The 12-day odyssey ticks off the capital Quito and its city compatriot Cuenca (both on the Unesco World Heritage list thanks to their colonial architecture), the fabled “Avenue of the Volcanoes” and Yasuni National Park – which lies near the Peruvian border in the Amazon Rainforest. From £3,550pp, with flights.
Return of the king in historic Hanover
Always among the front-runners for the World Cup, Germany will hope to be a favourite with UK holidaymakers next year due to a royal connection. It will be 300 years in 2014 since the accession of George I and the House of Hanover to the British throne – and the anniversary will be saluted in the city in question, where the Herrenhausen Gardens gaze at 1714 with nostalgic eyes. A three-night stay in May at the Mercure Hotel Hanover Mitte costs about £167pp, with flights, through Expedia (020 3564 3904; expedia.co.uk). More on the Germany-wide “Royal Heritage Route” via germany.travel.
In training for a high-speed Japanese holiday
One of the symbols of Japan’s modernity, the Shinkansen (bullet train) turns 50 in 2014. Those in awe of its speed (up to 199mph) can hop aboard by booking the rail journey which is being launched by Inside Japan Tours (0117 370 9751; insidejapantours.com). This 15-day break will travel every Shinkansen line in the country, visiting cities as disparate as Akita in the north of Honshu and Kagoshima in the south of Kyushu – plus Nagoya, Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. From £1,994pp, including most meals, but not flights. ANA, BA, Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic compete between Heathrow and Tokyo.
Celebrity cuisine in mouth-watering Mexico
For those gripped by Britain’s biggest annual culinary battle, the birth of MasterChef Travel (020 7873 5005; mastercheftravel.com) will be one of 2014’s happy arrivals. This tie-in with holiday operator Cox & Kings will see group breaks on offer to 11 countries, with former MasterChef contestants dropping by for two-day periods to give matters a foodie vibe. The “Flavours of a Vibrant Land” trip will visit Mexico three times in November, with 2010 champion Dhruv Baker appearing in Oaxaca for market tours and cooking classes. This 12-day jaunt also calls at Mexico City and Mérida, priced from £3,225pp, with flights.
Bridging the gap in wartime Holland
The 70th anniversary of Second World War events rolls around to 1944 in the coming months – and Arnhem will drop into the spotlight in September (17-25) as the scene of the British First Airborne Division’s valiant (but unsuccessful) bid to secure the Dutch city’s key bridge over the Rhine as part of Operation Market Garden – an assault recalled in the 1977 movie A Bridge Too Far. Coach-travel specialists Leger Holidays (0844 846 0808; leger.co.uk) will run four-day breaks (19-22 September), which will take in relevant sites in Arnhem and Nijmegen – from £339pp, including accommodation with breakfast.
Cold comforts on Russia’s Olympic slopes
Not to be outdone by the Fifa World Cup, the Olympics will have its moment in 2014 when its winter edition sets up camp in and around the Black Sea city of Sochi in Russia (7-23 Feb; sochi2014.com/en). This has caused heightened demand for breaks to the resort of Rosa Khutor, where most of the skiing events will be held: holidays cannot currently be booked until the Games are over. If you wait until next season, you can expect to pay from about £1,099pp for a basic seven-night package with flights and accommodation at the four-star Park Inn via Crystal Ski (0871 236 6535; crystalski.co.uk).
Double the skiing fun in Graubünden
The decision to seed Switzerland has been one of the World Cup’s early surprises, but it is less of a shock that one of this mountain nation’s travel developments for 2014 involves skiing. A new one-mile cable car is set to open in January, linking Arosa (00 41 81 378 70 20; arosa.ch) with Lenzerheide (00 41 81 385 57 00; lenzerheide.com) – thereby turning these two formerly self-contained resorts into a conjoined ski zone of 42 lifts and some 140 miles of pistes. A half-board week in February at the four-star Parkhotel Arosa costs from £1,565pp, including flights and transfers, via Ski Solutions (020 7471 7786; skisolutions.com).
Out to explore in unknown Uruguay
Uruguay play England at the World Cup on 19 June. But beyond the antics of star man Luis Suárez, few know much of this small nation. squeezed between Brazil and Argentina. Latin specialists Last Frontiers (01296 653 000; lastfrontiers.com) offers a 10-day taster tour that takes in the westerly town of Fray Bentos, the resort enclave of Punta del Este and the arty capital, Montevideo, from £2,783pp, including flights. A trip to the capital could also mean a chance to stay at the Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco, a grand 1920s pile which will reopen in 2014 after restoration. Doubles from US$292 (£195), room only (00 598 26 046 060; sofitel.com).
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