The best destinations to travel to in 2023

The Independent’s travel team shares the hotspots they’re hoping to head to in the year ahead

Friday 06 January 2023 11:54 GMT
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<p>Sri Lanka is back on our travel radar</p>

Sri Lanka is back on our travel radar

A new year can only mean one thing for The Independent’s travel desk: a new list of dream destinations that we’re planning trips to. After years of pandemic-related restrictions, it’s hopefully the first year that travel should be broadly back to “normal”, with most countries having opened back up to tourists, without the need for extra testing and paperwork.

With so much pent-up demand for the itchy-footed among us, it’s hard to narrow it down – but we’ve done our best. Here are the places that are top of our holiday wishlists for the year ahead.

English coast

I’m a sucker for the British seaside, and this year the coast is stepping into the spotlight thanks to a host of new openings, trails and events. The South West Coast Path will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a new passport scheme, allowing walkers to record their journey along the 630-mile route by collecting stamps as they pass certain landmarks. Then there’s Somerset’s new Pier to Pier Way, a 13-mile route linking Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon, and the North Downs Way Art Trail, featuring nine new works of art on the route between Dover and Farnham. “Deep Time” also brings six permanent art installations to the Lake District’s coast come summertime.

The South West Coast Path celebrates 50 years

Openings-wise, new hotels include Margate’s No.42 and Blackpool’s Sands Venue Resort Hotel and Spa. The latter town also welcomes a new museum of showbiz, Showtown, while Brighton is set to cut the ribbon on Sea Lanes swimming pool in spring. Described as “the UK’s first national open water swimming centre of excellence”, it will include a heated 50m outdoor swimming pool and an endless pool training facility. Helen Coffey

Sri Lanka

Previously on the up as a seemingly universally loved travel destination, this Indian Ocean island has had a tough few years, with political protests prompted by an economic crisis, Covid-19 shutting down tourism and a 2019 bomb attack. But despite all this, there remains lush natural beauty, diverse wildlife to see and a delightful independent hotel and tourism scene to explore. It feels like 2023 is the time to return, with the historic Galle Fort Hotel, set in a 300-year-old Dutch mansion, reopening after a major restoration, plus the nation is celebrating 75 years of independence in February. This year also saw the Uga Elephant Research Centre open at Ulagalla, with the first tourists visiting to learn about the island’s 6,000 (remaining but endangered) elephants this winter. And it’s worth checking out the Tea Country Trail, a 22-day, 200-mile network of hiking trails through verdant Sri Lankan tea fields. Lucy Thackray

Pyrenees, France/Spain/Andorra

Swap the Alps for the Pyrenees

The Alps may score higher in the altitude stakes than the range that separates Spain from France, but the Pyrenees has a winning touch: you can start and end most days in a small town or village that meets most Britons’ idealised version of France. The best way to experience the crumpled mountains that separate the Iberian peninsula from the rest of Europe is along the GR10. This near-miraculous long-distance footpath runs from Hendaye on the Atlantic to Banyuls on the Mediterranean, covering 500 miles in the process. Some nights you must sleep in high-altitude refuges, but mostly you can find a village with a cheerful one-star hotel, a restaurant devoted to good local food and drink, and a boulangerie to provide the essential baguettes to fuel the next day’s hike. Sounds a bit daunting? Fortunately, there is an excellent entry-level taster, the GR101, which runs from Lourdes south into the mountains, becoming more majestic with every step. Simon Calder

Halkidiki, Greece

Named by Lonely Planet as one of the top places to visit in 2023, Halkidiki in northern Greece is a region well known for its stunning seafront and three peninsulas. I visited the Miraggio Thermal Spa resort in Halkidiki five years ago, and this mainland area has topped my list of places to return to ever since. From this luxurious resort – which is located on the Kassandra peninsula – I marvelled at the seemingly endless turquoise ocean views and Mediterranean forest greenery. Nearby Kassandra town is known for its eclectic nightlife too. While you’re in Halkidiki, make a note to visit the Mount Athos monasteries and Aristotle’s birthplace in Stagira to soak up some cultural sights. On more relaxed days, you can swim, snorkel and sunbathe at Kalamitsi Beach. Plus, the Koutsoupia to Siviri hiking trail offers a chance to look at some local wildlife while marvelling at the sea below. Helen Wilson-Beevers

Hauts-de-France

Le Touquet in Hauts-de-France

The northernmost region of France, running from Calais to the edge of Paris, often gets overlooked, but it includes plenty of attractive destinations to explore, from the pretty seaside resort of Le Touquet to the cultural hub of Lille. In 2023 there’s extra incentive to visit as Hauts-de-France takes the title of European Region of Gastronomy. The designation will give the region a chance to showcase its foodie credentials, with a focus on fresh muscles, smoked herring, local produce, Flanders-inspired dishes and a staggering array of cheeses (it has the largest number of types of cheese of any region in France). To celebrate, there’s a full programme of culinary events throughout the year, from markets and foodtrucks to beer festivals, chefs’ picnics and gourmet walks. Find out more at gastronomy.hautsdefrance.fr.

Aside from eating, there’s a brand new cycle path called Vélomaritime, stretching all the way from Dunkirk on the Belgian border to Roscoff in the far west of Brittany. The section that runs through Hauts-de-France (Dunkirk to Le Tréport) features three spots that have been designated Grands Sites de France, a title that highlights the country’s best and most important landscapes: the Bay of Somme, Site-des-Deux-Caps cliffs and Dunes de Flandre. HC

Islay, Scotland

Islay has beautiful landscapes (and plentiful distilleries)

A “Highlands and Islands” Scotland trip is definitely on the cards for me in 2023 – I’m dying to take one of Belmond’s Royal Scotsman luxury train rides, complete with lashings of best-of-Scottish produce and whiskies. And speaking of drams, the new Elixir distillery, Portintruan (meaning “place of the stream”) will open on the island of Islay; the £30m project will join distilleries from the likes of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. This island is already a foodie’s dream, or so I hear, with The Machrie restaurant an established pilgrimage site and rugged coastal hikes for clearing your head the next morning. The Islay Hotel has also been bought by The Glenmorangie Company, owned by the prestigious LVMH, and is set to become even more luxurious. LT

Cycling the Oder, Germany/Poland

A highlight of last year was cycling beside the beautiful Elbe river – much more of an artery through Germany than the Rhine or Danube. In 2023 I hope to meet you beside the Oder, the river that was deemed in post-war Europe to mark the border between Germany and Poland. I relish the chance to switch effortlessly from one nation to the other (tending towards the latter for the purposes of travel economy); marvelling at the gothic ambition of Gorlitz and Szczecin; visiting Eisenhuttenstadt, a bizarre new town formerly known as Stalinstadt that had the honour of being twinned with Crawley during the Cold War; and meandering to the Baltic to cool off on one of the excellent beaches on either side of the river’s mouth. SC

Alentejo region, Portugal

Melides is an up-and-coming destination

Anyone who follows the style set’s movements around Europe will have had their eye on the beach town of Comporta for a while. Set on a wisp of sand an hour and a half’s drive from Lisbon, this coastal hangout has some seriously stylish boutique hotels and rentals to drop by, not to mention seafood restaurants, horseback riding and places to buy stylish homewares. But we’d also keep an eye on the town of Melides: fashion designer Christian Louboutin counts it among his favourite places in the world, and will seal that claim by opening the swish Hotel Vermelho there in 2023. Another fab-looking 2023 opening is Spatia Melides (there’s already one in Comporta), with its own beach club, but really you go to Alentejo to roam and explore: taking in dune-backed beaches, rice paddies and lovely vineyards. Although the hedonism continues there, too, at stops such as L’And, with a must-pause restaurant and spa. LT

Arran, Scotland

Another Scottish entry, this scenic island is located on the west coast of Scotland, accessible by ferry from Ardrossan in Ayrshire. The 55-minute journey across the sea offers a taster of the picturesque views and shades of ocean blue you’ll soak up while staying on the island. National Trust property Brodick Castle is located a five-minute drive from where the ferry docks, and boasts a walled garden, stately home rooms and a sprawling treehouse adventure playpark. Meanwhile, Arran Adventure Centre offers everything from bike hire and archery to Segway tours and gorge walking. Lochranza and Lagg whisky distilleries are on hand for both tours and tasters. On the foodie front, Corrie is a village in the northeast where you’ll find delicious deli Mara fish bar during the summer season. While you’re there, the Corrie Hotel is a cosy, dog-friendly destination, enjoyed by cyclists, families on holiday and locals popping in for a pint. As Arran is on the Gulf Stream, there’s gorgeous, lush greenery and the sea is that bit warmer than the rest of the Scottish coast. Other must-visits include glorious blue “fairy pools” set in the mountains. HWB

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