As we start 2012, I can see your drive and steely determination are well and truly on the year ahead: resolutions to keep, targets to hit and achievements to make. However, you know that January is a tough month and by the time you get to the end of it, your determination will be waning and your minds will be straying to more enjoyable things like holidays!
From the interest I’ve had already from clients, here are 3 places I think should be on your Hot List for 2012.
Far flung and exotic - Sri Lanka
It’s been 2½ years since the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka and over that time the country has awakened with new vigour in terms of tourism - beautiful boutique hotels are sprouting up all over and just opened is the new motorway which will cut the journey time from the capital Colombo to Galle from over 4 hours to 2. However, despite this renaissance it’s the culture that really makes Sri Lanka stand out and this hasn’t changed in decades.
The north of the country is sprinkled with historic sites such as the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the mighty Lions Rock at Sigiriya and the Kandy, the former capital with its Temple of the Tooth. All are star attractions in their own right and offer an insight into Sri Lanka’s long history.
Then there’s the hill country with its lush tea plantations and its towns such as Nuwara Eliya which makes you feel you’re in good ole Blighty - as a former British colony we left our mark with tea on the terrace and cricket on the green.
As you head out to the coast, a different story unfolds with the remnants of Dutch life; the Dutch also colonised the country. Once of the loveliest places to visit it the World Heritage Site of Galle. This is a walled city dominated by its huge ramparts, so mighty that they withstood the ravages of the Tsunami protecting the town with minimal damage. There’s a thriving local community, stunning colonial hotels and bijou shops. And least we forget the stunning beaches backed by swaying palm trees and interspersed with traditional stilt fishermen going about daily life.
Sri Lanka is one of my favourite places - it's a smaller version of India; full of culture, happy people, diverse landscapes and all delightfully packaged and easily accessible in a 2 week trip, but do expect a few long drives.
Best time to go
November to April is the best time to visit the south west and interior. The east coast is driest from May to September.
From Manchester you can fly with Emirate (via Dubai), Etihad (via Doha) or via London with Sri Lankan Airways.
Something for the weekend - Istanbul
For a short break, Istanbul really does pack a punch. A fabulous location on the banks of the Bhospherous; on one side you’re in Asia and on the other you’re in Europe. It’s this heady mix that makes Istanbul so captivating and a really interesting place to visit.
As you arrive, you’re struck by the contrasts; a mesmerising mixture of past and future, ancient and modern. Starting at the old, you have some stunning sights from the Blue Mosque to the flawless Hagia Sophia with its Byzantine frescoes and the regal Topkapi Palace. Then there’s the new city with its modern shops, high rise glass monoliths and a very happening restaurant and bar scene; there’s some innovative dining on offer in stunningly designed restaurants and funky bars with amazing vistas.
The best way to experience Istanbul is to stroll along the serpentine streets, maybe stopping at a small café to watch life go by. Istanbul is a city of sights, sounds and smells; the wind tastes of salt, the mass of people chat in a myriad of languages, children laugh loudly as they play games and fisherman wait patiently for their next catch on the Galata Bridge.
When you’ve mustered up your bargaining stamina, head to the noisy and chaotic Grand Bazaar, which is one of the oldest closed markets in the world with 5,000 shops, 60 streets and eager shop sellers waiting to part you from your Lira. For a more sedate shopping experience you must peruse the myriad of antique shops in the bohemian Cukurcuma area.
Best time to go
Winter can be cold and snowy and summer very humid. I prefer autumn or spring when it’s still warm enough to eat outside.
There are daily flights from Manchester with Turkish Airlines. Jet2 also offers the route but only on certain days of the week.
The family way - Sicily
Everyone knows about the joys of Italy but they seem to miss the delightful bounty that Sicily has to offer. Sitting at the foot of Italy’s mainland, this pine-scented island is rugged with a hulking great volcano in the middle. However, it has a softer side with plenty of outstanding Baroque towns and a never ending coastline that edges onto inky-blue waters. Things start hotting up in Spring and the sea temperatures stay into the 70’s through to November, making this a great place for a half term holiday.
One resort doing wonders for the island is Rocco Fore’s Verdura Golf Resort and Spa. Set on a mile-long stretch of coastline, with the historic fishing port of Sciacca and its astonishing Greek temples just a short drive away, this is a seriously stylish place for adults but also, fairly and squarely, has got the interest of families at its heart.
The design is modern contemporary with rooms laid out in boxy cubes made from local ochre sandstone set against verdant fairways. Inside there’s a nod to seaside chic; the rooms are gorgeously designed by Forte’s sister, Olga Polizzi. My clients who travelled there last year loved the fact that they got upscale grown up chic but didn’t have to worry about the little ones spilling things and making a mess - the Italians know how to mix style and children. They also loved the low level layout and the fact that despite being a fairly big resort it still felt intimate.
There are interconnecting rooms (and you don’t have to pay extra for a sea view - yes, really!); those with under 4s have their rooms specially childproofed on arrival; the pool and beach areas are supervised and an even bigger hit is that the resort can supply everything your little ones need from high chairs to NINTENDO WII consoles so you can travel a little lighter.
There’s a raft of activities on offer including 3 swimming pools (with instructors on call), floodlight tennis courts, bikes to borrow and a free kids clubs where even teenagers are catered for with cinema nights and a weekly beach party. There’s also a fabulously indulgent spa and two 18-hole championship golf courses that weave their way between orange groves and the sparkling sea.
With its array of facilities, hectares of wide, open countryside and idyllic climate, Verdura makes the perfect destination for a family holiday.
Best time to go
Summer is dry and hot but tempered by soothing sea breezes. September and October are great months when the maddening heat has gone but the sea still retains its warmth.
From Manchester, Thomson flies to Catania airport on Saturdays and Sundays. Catania is about 2 ½ hours drive from Verdura.
If you would like more ideas on the places featured or would like me to put together a bespoke itinerary for a trip to a different location you're considering, then please do get in touch.
(Images: Lesley-Ann Birley, the Hubby, Hotel’s own)