World cup of travel: The nations most likely to score with travellers
In tourist terms, these are the seeded countries – tried and tested destinations that draw British visitors back again and again. Here's some of what they have to offer in 2014 ...
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
Even the most fervent of supporters are pessimistic about England's chances in Brazil, so those hoping for triumphs in 2014 may have to look to other sports. Not least cycling. With two British winners in the past two years, the Tour de France will be a hot ticket when it begins in Yorkshire (letour.yorkshire.com) on 5 July with a 119-mile first stage. Swinton Park (01765 680 900; swintonpark.com), a luxurious country hotel (right) which sits just off the stage route at Masham, has concocted a "Tour de Yorkshire" package: a one-night stay with breakfast, dinner and use of bikes (pedal or electric) to cycle the Tour roads, plus a half-hour warm-down massage on return, from £190pp.
If that does not allow a glimpse of glory, the view may be clearer from the ArcelorMittal Orbit (0333 300 3099; arcelormittalorbit.com), the 376ft red sculpture that was one of the symbols of the 2012 Olympics. It will reopen in London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in April (adults £15). If you squint, you may be able to see back to that glorious summer.
Greece wears its past proudly, but 2014 will see the present daubed across Athens when the National Museum of Contemporary Art (00 30 210 924 2111; bit.ly/EmstGreece) reopens in spring after a 10-year expansion. Based in a former brewery, it will display modern Greek artists such as Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali and Stephen Antonakos. A three-night B&B stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne with flights, costs £591pp via Parnassus Travel (020 3417 9839; parnassustravel.com).
Holiday retreats are springing up in the Ionian Islands, too. The Thinking Traveller (020 7377 8518; thinkionianislands.com) has 11 new villas, including Maristella (above), on Lefkada, which sleeps four. A seven-night stay in May costs £1,540. Thomas Cook (0844 855 0515; flythomascook.com) flies into Preveza from Manchester and Gatwick.
Most Americans never quite understands "The Beautiful Game" – but there is little doubting the beauty of its jagged west. In 2014, the limelight will pick out the Colorado section of this dusty tapestry – specifically Rocky Mountain National Park, which will begin a year-long celebration of its centenary on 4 September (001 970 586 1206; nps.gov/romo). The key allure of the park, which is dissected by the Continental Divide, is, of course, its terrain – 300 miles of trails and some 150 lakes. It features on the 15-night "Colorado As You Like It" itinerary from America As You Like it (020 8742 8299; americaasyoulikeit.com) – a self-drive tour that also calls at Denver and Durango. From £1,085pp, with flights.
Developments in Florida are less rugged. March sees the opening of the new Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando (universalorlando.com), a retro take on a Fifties motel with bowling alleys and water slides. A week in May (room only), including flights, costs from £1,099pp with Dial A Flight (0844 811 4444; dialaflight.com).
France tends to gaze backwards to its great football hurrah, the 1998 World Cup. But two new French attractions look to the future. The Musée des Confluences (www.museedesconfluences.fr), a museum of science and natural history at the point where the Rhône and Saône meet in Lyon, opens in November. Doubles at the Cour des Loges (00 33 4 57 74 74 74; courdesloges.com) cost from €200, room only. Returns to Lyon from London via Paris or Lille cost as little as £109 from Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com).
No less cutting-edge is the Aiguille de Midi Skywalk (compagniedumontblanc.co.uk) – a "glass room" which launched last week, jutting out at 12,605ft above Chamonix, it gives you unnerving Alpine views. A seven-night stay in February at Frasserands – a two-bedroom apartment near Argentière – costs from £323pp (with four sharing) through High Mountain Holidays (01993 775540; highmountain.co.uk), including return transfers to Geneva – which can be reached on easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick.
Italy's national team has long played with a neat mixture of flowing elegance and tough tackling – and this division of styles continues with two of its travel debutantes for 2014.
The chic version of tourism is represented by Portrait Firenze, a boutique hotel which is set to open in Florence in spring (00 39 55 2726 4000; portraitfirenze.com). This discreet 34-suite hideaway will occupy an enviable location – on the north bank of the River Arno, immediately adjacent to the Ponte Vecchio. Double rooms start from €450, with breakfast. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) launches flights from London City to Florence on 31 March.
The more energetic side of Italy is covered by a new "Cycling In Sicily" trip offered by Exodus (0845 287 2720; exodus.co.uk). This eight-day group jaunt will chart the south-east of the island by pedal power, ticking off the ancient city of Syracuse, Sicily's southernmost tip at Capo Passero, and Noto, with its Unesco-listed Baroque cathedral. The next departure is scheduled for 5 April. Prices start at £1,149pp, with flights.
It is a fact often forgotten, but Portugal spent almost half of the 20th century under a far-right dictatorship. So expect jubilation on 25 April, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution – the peaceful uprising that toppled the Estado Novo in 1974. The date is now a national holiday and makes a fine moment to visit Lisbon in 2014. The bars of the Bairro Alto will ring with weekend joy (this year, 25 April falls on a Friday), while "Freedom Day" also overlaps with the IndieLisboa independent film festival (24 April-4 May; indielisboa.com). Three nights at the five-star Tiara Park Atlantic, flying from Luton on 24 April, cost around £207pp, with Travelocity (0871 472 5116; travelocity.co.uk).
The Azores exist at a rather more sedate pace than the capital. But a new seven-night "Sao Miguel Active Holiday" sold by Sunvil Discovery (020 8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk) is set to use the biggest island of the mid-Atlantic chain as a volcanic venue for climbing, biking and canoeing. From £1,003pp including self-catering accommodation and flights.
Spain fly to Brazil as world champions. But at home, the focus will be on El Greco. This Crete-born adopted-Spaniard will be eulogised in 2014, the 400th anniversary of his death (elgreco2014.com), especially in Toledo, where he spent his final 37 years. The Museo de Santa Cruz (00 34 925 221 402; bit.ly/Greco2014) will host "El Greco: Arts and Crafts" between September and December. A three-night B&B stay at the Eugenia de Montijo, including flights and transfers costs from £598pp with Kirker (020 7593 1899; kirkerholidays.com).
The same company asks from £718pp for three nights in Madrid at the Hotel Ritz. This gilded dame sits next to the Museo Nacional del Prado (00 34 91 330 2800; museodelprado.es), where El Greco and Modern Painting – an exhibition studying his influence on such luminaries as Picasso – runs from June to October.
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