The Telegraph of the United Kingdom, has listed three African countries, Kenya, South Africa and Morocco among its top 20 destinations for the year 2023.
According to telegraph.co.uk, with most countries having now removed any lingering pandemic restrictions, there are pretty much no limits to where your travel plans for 2023 could take you. But with almost the entire globe open for business, choosing where to go might prove tricky.
So here is our curated collection of the 20 top destinations to visit this year, from the places where a much-pummelled pound stretches further to long-overlooked corners of south-east Asia and South America.
Back on home turf, developments on the coast and in the capital prove that Britain more than deserves a look-in too. Whatever you’re after, be it a long-haul adventure somewhere totally new or a classic summer holiday that will tick all the boxes, we have you covered.
‘With the Turkish lira so weak, 2023 looks set to see even more Brits enjoying the superb beaches’
Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coastline is sublimely beautiful. Liberally dotted with attractive resort towns such as Bodrum, Antalya and Kalkan, and generously dashed with marvellously preserved ancient sites such as Unesco world heritage-listed Troy, Ephesus and Pergamon, it has long exerted a pull on British holidaymakers.
With the pound stretching further than ever because the Turkish lira (in steady decline since 2013 and plummeting over the past year) is so weak, 2023 looks set to see even more Brits than usual enjoying the country’s superb beaches.
Turkey is more than sun, sea and sand, of course. The continent-straddling metropolis of Istanbul is a major destination. One prime attraction long closed for renovation, the 1,500-year-old Basilica Cistern, has recently reopened and looks breathtaking. New on the scene in 2022 were the state-of-the-art cruise terminal, Galataport, complete with promenade, shops and restaurants, and the Museum of Islamic Civilisations in the monumental Çamlica Mosque. This year will see the rebirth of Istanbul Modern contemporary art gallery in a stylish new home designed by architect Renzo Piano.
In contrast to restless Istanbul, the timeless wonders of Cappadocia, all rock-cut churches, bizarrely beautiful rock formations and hot air balloons, are more popular than ever – especially with Instagrammers. Even the country’s little-known southeast is attracting numerous visitors, drawn by the staggering 12,000-year-old megalithic sites of Gobekli Tepe and newly accessible Karahantepe, both near the atmospheric, upper Mesopotamian city of Sanliurfa. As a bonus, with 2023 being the centenary of the Republic of Turkey, a festive air is sure to permeate this entrancing country.
How to do it
Flights to Antalya cost from £59 return with Wizz Air (wizzair.com), car hire at the airport from £46 per week. Exodus (020 3131 2007; exodus.co.uk) offers a Highlights of Turkey tour, taking in Istanbul, Cappadocia plus Aegean and Mediterranean sights, from £1,949 excluding flights.
‘In 2023 the country joins a celebration marking 50 years since the death of Picasso’
It is always a good time to (re)visit Spain, and in 2023 the country joins a sweeping international celebration marking 50 years since the death of the great Pablo Picasso.
The Malaga-born artist’s legacy will be explored with 16 fresh exhibitions across Spain.
Madrid highlights include Picasso-El Greco at the Museo del Prado, Picasso vs Velázquez at the Casa de Velázquez and Picasso/Chanel at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, while the unmissable Museu Picasso in Barcelona pays homage with a collection of shows including Miró-Picasso.
At Malaga’s unmatched Museo Picasso, which celebrates its own 20th anniversary in 2023, exhibitions will take in Picasso: Matter and Body and Echo of Picasso. A Coruña and Bilbao (with its ground-breaking Guggenheim Museum) will also star in the line-up.
Elsewhere, responsible wildlife tourism is blossoming. Now, you can trail the elusive Iberian lynx in Andalucia’s wild Sierra de Andújar and Parque Nacional de Doñana, or join a team of local mountain guides to look for rare brown bears in the remote Parque Natural de Somiedo in Asturias.
Spain’s hotel scene continues to dazzle, too, from hotly awaited luxury launches such as La Zambra (which opened on the Costa del Sol in late 2022) and Nobu outposts in Madrid and San Sebastián (both due in 2023), to creative arrivals including the buzzy Hoxton, which opened its doors in Barcelona’s Poblenou earlier this year.
More and more hotels are staying open year-round, upping the allure of a low-season Spanish break, which might involve anything from tapas-touring in Seville to hiking around the blissful Balearic Islands.
And for anyone keen to spend a few months working remotely from lively Valencia, sunny Tenerife or even a whitewashed Andalucian village, Spain is expected to introduce its new digital nomad visa this January. Salud!
How to do it
Intrepid Travel (020 3308 9757; intrepidtravel.com) offers a 15-day Best of Spain group tour taking in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Valencia, with the option to add on Malaga; from £2,660pp based on two sharing, including accommodation, activities, transport and some meals.
‘Heralding a new era of modern safaris, camp designers have also switched tack’
Turning 60 is a diamond-studded milestone. For a country, it is a young birthday – but after six decades of independence from Britain (celebrated on December 12 2023), Kenya is entering its prime.
Once regarded as a stopover destination, Nairobi is now booming. At offbeat restaurant Cultiva, Ecuadorian chef Ariel Moscardi combines fine farm-to-fork dining with social enterprise, training local staff from scratch.
In 2023, a new chef’s table dining experience, Aya, will open next to the greenhouses and hay bales in his multicultural venue in Karen. On the other side of town, in Westlands, trendy hotels such as the Social House (which opened in 2020) are a hangout for a growing middle class; nearby, the Village Market and Craft Centre stocks emerging “Made in Kenya” fashion brands such as Hamaji and Lilabare.
Heralding a new era of modern safaris, camp designers have also switched tack, ditching pith helmets and traveller trunks in favour of more refreshing looks. New camps on the block include Ishara and carbon-neutral Emboo River Camp – both in the Mara, and both Kenyan-owned. Big brands are getting in on the action too; next year, JW Marriott launches its first safari lodge, with 20 riverside tents and a spa.
Shifting the spotlight elsewhere, Angama Amboseli opens in November on the community-owned Kimana Sanctuary, along one of Africa’s last great elephant migration corridors. The 10-suite tented camp will have no drive-time restrictions, giving flexibility for early starts and pyjama safaris. All in all, it is a sparkling year ahead.
How to do it
Aardvark Safaris (01980 849 160; aardvarksafaris.co.uk) offers six nights in Kenya combining the Social House in Nairobi (B&B), Emboo Camp in the Maasai Mara and Angama’s new Amboseli camp from £4,915pp, based on two sharing. The price includes all transfers, full board on safari and park fees. Flights cost extra.
England coast path
‘A 2,700-mile waymarked route that will include public access to places not visited before’
Our coastline is a geological wonder. From white Cornish beaches and the fossil-stippled shingle of the Jurassic Coast to the mineral-rich mudflats of the Cumbrian Coast and the estuaries of Suffolk, there is beauty and diversity on our doorstep. The England Coast Path, a 2,700-mile waymarked route being developed by Natural England, has made parts of our coast far more accessible and, more exciting still, includes public access to places not visited before.
On completion, in late 2023/early 2024, it will be England’s newest National Trail and the longest managed coastal walking route in the world. To mark the opening, Natural England has declared 2023 the Year of the Coast. In September a celebratory event will take place on the East Sussex coast, around Cuckmere Haven, Seaford Head and the dramatic cliff tops of the Seven Sisters which rise and dip between Cuckmere and Eastbourne.
Showcasing the geology, flora and fauna and history of the area, “Walk the Chalk” will feature art installations, guided walks, storytelling, performance art and smuggling re-enactments. The Cuckmere Valley’s iconic Coastguard Cottages, which have appeared in countless TV dramas and films, were built to house guards who watched over the bay beneath the famous Sisters.
The newest stretch of the England Coast Path opened in Kent in October. The 29-mile route from Whitstable Harbour to the village of Iwade takes in beaches, dunes, Faversham Creek and Kent Wildlife Trust’s Oare Marshes Nature Reserve – a rich habitat for wintering birds. How better to appreciate our magnificent coast than by getting on it?
How to do it
Stay at the seafront Port Hotel Eastbourne (01323 438526; porthotel.co.uk) from £140 per night, or the Belle Tout Lighthouse at Beachy Head (01323 423185; belletout.co.uk). Travel to Eastbourne, Lewes and Seaford from London Victoria (southernrailway.com). Walk the Chalk will take place during the third week of September in 2023; electric buses will run from Newhaven, Seaford and Lewes railway stations. For more information on the England Coast Path, see nationaltrail.co.uk.
‘It’s Italy, but the lifts work. It’s Austria, without the schmaltz’
The coral-tinged mountains of northern Italy are not only blessed with glittering Crayola-box beauty, but also deliver an affordable glamour that puts Courchevel and St Moritz to shame. This cost-effective ski destination – actually 15 ski resorts on one Dolomiti Superski pass – gives us 1,246km of intermediate-friendly pistes, the length of Italy itself. The real triumph? You are never more than a fork-stab away from 400 smart huts, a dozen well-polished Michelin-star chefs, and superb regional wines that are a joy to discover.
Much of the Dolomites is a sort of cocktail of Teutonic efficiency and Italian flair. The hard-fought Austro-Hungarian front line was ceded to Italy in 1918 and, today, there is much of interest in its super-culture reinvention. It’s Italy, but the lifts work. It’s Austria, without the schmaltz. Good taste is to the fore, with loads of budget-friendly ways to join in.
These include Alta Badia’s winter-long Taste for Skiing celebration; ski hut to hut for a different Michelin-starred signature dish at each, most costing around £13. For oenophiles, the magical Sommelier on the Slopes is a wine-tasting tour on skis, led by a professional sommelier and ski guide for £35 per person.
Ever keen to make a good impression, upgrades for the Milano-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympic Games are also on the up. Two new lifts link Cortina with Alta Badia and the Sella Ronda ski circuit – the classic, five-hour signposted loop rife with possibilities for panorama-gazing and quality bombardino breaks (egg liqueur, brandy, whipped cream – a breakfast shot for grown-ups).
One connection we hope never to see modernised is the iconic 10km run down from Lagazuoi. From the top gondola station at 2,800m – you may recognise the stomach-flipping drop from the film Cliffhanger – the twisting, rather sporty descent is an adventure encompassing limestone crags and icy waterfalls. At the bottom, a rope-rigged horse drags too-posh-to-push skiers along the final flats for a value-filled £2.60. It’s another sweet way to experience la dolce vita.
How to do it
Ski Solutions (020 3627 3779; skisolutions.com) offers a seven-night holiday to La Perla, Alta Badia (altabadia.org) from £2,795pp, based on two sharing on a half-board basis. The price includes flights between London and Venice and transfers to and from Alta Badia.
‘A country largely overlooked by non-cricketing Brits’
Intriguingly, the most “exotic” country in South America is the one where they speak English. Guyana shook off the imperial yoke in 1966, since when it has been largely overlooked by non-cricketing Brits. A new British Airways service out of London Gatwick, with a stop in St Lucia, starts in March 2023, making it more accessible – but will it take it into the mainstream? Maybe not, and that is perhaps to the good, for Guyana’s chief selling point is its gloriously unspoiled, natural beauty.
Expertly managed lodges such as Iwokrama, Atta and Rewa in the rainforest, and Karanambu and Caiman House in the savannah, allow “soft adventure” types who expect some home comforts to access out-there wildernesses that were once the preserve of documentary makers, scientists and drug-runners. In these biodiversity hotspots, you can see anteaters and giant river otters, armadillos and capybaras, and even jaguars; twitcher highlights include the crested doradito, Rio Branco antbird and fiery orange Guianan cock-of-the-rock.
New hiking routes allow visitors to meet the indigenous community of Paruima, the only Arecuna settlement in Guyana. Those after a serious physical challenge can undertake a 23-mile trekking and rafting trip through dense forests up to the highlands, visiting along the way three spectacular waterfalls.
In the capital Georgetown, the Taste of Freedom Tour explores the history, culture and cuisine of emancipated slaves, taking in historic sites, monuments and the first village in Guyana to be purchased by freed ex-slaves.
How to do it
Wilderness Explorers (00 592 226 2085; wilderness-explorers.com) has a six-day trekking tour from Georgetown to Paruima Village and the Kamarang Falls. From £2,663 per person, including all local transport, accommodation in guest houses and hammock camps, guided activities and meals. International flights cost extra.
From March 27 2023, British Airways (ba.com) will operate two flights per week to Guyana via St Lucia; from £524 return.
‘Take a look at the pound to rand rate. We’ve got a KO right there!’
I’m not one to denigrate others, especially my esteemed colleagues and the destinations they have selected. But honestly, readers, when it comes to choosing your 2023 holiday, South Africa is not a contender. She is not even a runner-up. She is a winner, and most of you know why.
In terms of geographic splendour and variety, she packs a similar punch to the United States. But take a look at the pound to dollar rate, then the pound to rand exchange. Before we have even looked at the wildlife situation, we’ve got a KO right there! No jetlag either (and British Airways and now Virgin connect London to Cape Town in under 12 hours).
European comparisons are trickier. The Castle of Good Hope is no Neuschwanstein. Sure, we are proud to be the oldest wine-producing region in the New World – after more than 300 years, practice makes perfect – but real antiquity? Do the 250,000-year-old hominid remains in the Cradle of Humankind count? The West Coast’s 117,000-year-old fossilised footsteps? Our cave art, the oldest dated to 73,000 years ago?
Okay, we don’t have snow – or not enough to crow about it – but have you ever seen a million white butterflies drifting across an emerald landscape?
And when you watch that great glowing orb sink into an untamed land; smell fresh rain on hot, dry soil; wild aniseed crushed underfoot … that is when it hits you: this is where you are meant to be, and there has never been a better time to be alive.
How to do it
Timbuktu (020 3808 3860; timbuktu.com) offers The Road Less Travelled, a 10-night self-drive tour from £3,100pp sharing, including handpicked accommodation, breakfast, car hire and standard activities. International flights are not included.
‘Streets fizzing with life and epic landscapes are closer than ever’
You might have thought Buenos Aires had finally simmered down after Argentina’s recent World Cup victory, but the capital is always fizzing with life. You could stumble across a political rally on your way to a gallery opening, watch life go by as you sip malbec on a kerbside terrace, or find yourself spilling out of a club at 7am.
In 2023, those streets are closer than ever, as British Airways has just resumed non-stop flights from Heathrow. What’s more, your pound will now go further: the peso has plummeted and a pound sterling will buy nine times as much as it did five years ago.
If you are called to the nomadic lifestyle, the Argentine government recently announced a digital nomad visa which grants remote workers temporary residence for 180 days, and comes with a benefits package including airport shuttles and hotel discounts.
In the capital’s chic Palermo neighbourhood, head to the hotly anticipated new bar CoChinChina (instagram.com/cochinchina.bar; cocktails from £5.40) and sample Asian-influenced dishes and cocktails by mixologist Inés de los Santos. Alternatively, Don Julio serves the finest ojo de bife (rib-eye) under an award-winning sommelier.
(parilladonjulio.com; steaks from £38). The newly opened, centrally located Gardi Hotel & Suites offers affordable luxury (gardihotel.com; junior suites from £84 per night).
Argentina is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, from the glaciers of Patagonia to the Andean salt flats. In 2023, deciding which epic terrain to traverse will be easier thanks to La Ruta Natural (larutanatural.gob.ar/en), a new site helping tourists plan responsible travel by way of 17 themed routes. Spot river otters and albatrosses in the southern fjords, go whitewater rafting in the Cañon del Atuel or stargaze in El Leoncito National Park – all without breaking the bank.
How to do it
British Airways (ba.com) operates three non-stop flights each week between London Heathrow and Buenos Aires. Return economy flights cost from around £1,000.
‘Our capital’s bounce back from the shuttered, desolate days of the pandemic has been swift and consummate’
If recession, train strikes and political upheaval have made you think only of escaping abroad next year, think again and consider allowing London to work its magic as a world city. Among its colourful and diverse patchwork of villages and boroughs, monuments and parks, you will find enough glamour, confidence and charisma to sweep you through the coming year.
Our capital’s bounce back from the shuttered, desolate days of the pandemic has been swift and consummate. Long-standing Londoners have to pause and recalibrate when gazing at the soaring, ever-changing skyline as lavish redevelopments such as King’s Cross, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station continue to multiply. Theatres are full, restaurants buzzing and in 2023 a slew of new world-class hotels will be revealed.
Even Claridge’s, which has unveiled five new subterranean storeys and a Japanese-inspired spa, may feel eclipsed by the advent, in spring, of Raffles London at the OWO, set in the landmark Old War Office on Whitehall, with a Guerlain spa and nine restaurants and bars, including a rooftop with panoramic views. It is set to open before the Peninsula London, newly constructed on Hyde Park Corner where, reflecting the stately grandeur of Belgravia, guests will be ushered into a grand colonnaded courtyard lobby.
Also opening this spring: Mandarin Oriental Mayfair, MO’s second London property, more intimate than its Hyde Park sister. Look out, too, for the Chelsea Townhouse from the owners of Chewton Glen and Cliveden, and Broadwick Soho: “Your eccentric godmother’s Soho townhouse,” according to its celebrated designer Martin Brudnizki.
And what of London’s latest developments, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station? Of course, they include luxury hotels. At the Power Station, it is art’otel, fusing art, design and hospitality; at Nine Elms, right on the river, it is Park Hyatt London River Thames.
How to do it
Double rooms at the art’otel (artotellondonbattersea.com), which is now open, cost from £359 per night. Websites and booking details for all the other hotels will be announced in the new year. Double rooms at Raffles London at the OWO will cost from £1,100.
‘Creatives have been rediscovering Tangier, attracted by its cultural mix’
Known as the gateway to Africa and overlooking the spot where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean mingle, the Moroccan port city of Tangier has been attracting writers, bohemians and dreamers for decades. Henri Matisse, Tennessee Williams and William H ¬Burroughs were just a few seduced by its part-Europe, part-Africa ramshackle charm, tempered by Moroccan, Spanish and French influences. But after the 1950s, its popularity waned, and the beautiful people decamped to -Marrakech and beyond.
But as Marrakech attracts growing numbers of developers and large-scale tourism, Tangier is also on the turnaround. The creative crowd have been rediscovering the White City, attracted by its old and new faces, elegant neighbourhoods and an increasingly diverse cultural mélange. French, English, -Arabic and Berber languages ring out through the labyrinthine streets of its medina and kasbah, and there are classic draws such as iconic cafés, art deco and art nouveau buildings as well as several -monuments that are in the process of been zhuzhed up, such as the new ¬Kasbah Museum.
Next year, another undoubted draw will be a destination hotel bound for the lust lists of style-conscious travellers in the shape of Jasper Conran’s buzzed-about Villa Mabrouka. Conran already owns the elegant L’Hôtel Marrakech, the go-to for discreetly stylish stays in ¬Marrakech’s medina and this spring debut promises to enchant.
The former home of Pierre Bergé and iconic designer Yves Saint Laurent, its name translates as “The House of Luck”.It is a 1940s Moroccan modern stunner set on a clifftop just uphill from the ¬kasbah, with dreamy views of the Strait of Gibraltar towards Andalucia. Details are tightly under wraps, but Conran has wisely retained the luxuriant gardens, laid out for its former owners by American garden designer, Madison Cox, which spill over with palms, vines, hydrangeas, citrus trees, agapanthus and bougainvillea, revealing a pool with a view carved out of the rock.
How to do it
Original Travel (original¬travel.co.uk) offers a four-night stay in Tangier from £1,370pp. The price includes flights, B&B accommodation, transfers and excursions. For more information on Villa Mabrouka, see villamabrouka.com. Rates still to be confirmed.
‘Those seeking a dose of post-pandemic nature are spoilt for choice’
Say hello again to sushi and skyscrapers, high-speed rail and robots, temples and tea ceremonies: after two pandemic years of being strictly off the travel map, Japan is likely to be ablaze with tourism in 2023. Not only is it awash with too-many-to-count new and soon-to-open hotels, but the nation is also counting down to its first cherry blossom season open to international tourists since 2019.
Among many new highlights due to make their mark on Tokyo’s hyperactive skyline is the Tokyo Edition Ginza (editionhotels.com), a bold corner structure with 86 guest rooms and a rooftop bar in retail hub Ginza, designed by architect Kengo Kuma; plus Aman’s sister brand Janu Tokyo (janu.com), which debuts in the heart of a pioneering new city development in Toranomon-Azabudai.
Kyoto, already in the grip of an ongoing contemporary creative wave, is also joining the post-pandemic tourism party. Travellers from overseas will finally be able to check into numerous properties which opened during the pandemic: the Shinmonzen (theshinmonzen.com), an intimately luxurious Tadao Ando-designed retreat in the heart of Gion, where Jean-Georges Vongerichten will soon open a restaurant; Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto (hotelthemitsui.com) near Nijo Castle, with its André Fu guest rooms and sultry basement thermal springs; plus hipster haven Ace Kyoto (acehotel.com), which will draw even more crowds in the spring when it hosts a Noma Kyoto pop-up.
But it’s not just about cities in 2023. Some of Japan’s most memorable experiences are far from the neon-lit worlds of skyscrapers and all-night karaoke. Those seeking a dose of post-pandemic nature, with an added layer of Japanese serenity, are spoilt for choice – from Treeful Treehouse (treeful.net), a sustainable resort in southernmost Okinawa, where treetop escapes are cocooned in jungle, to Kai Yufuin (hoshinoresorts.com), a sleek modern hot spring resort, also designed by Kengo Kuma, wrapped in the tiered green rice fields and volcanic peaks of southern Kyushu island.
A word of advice to those hoping to catch a glimpse of the cherry blossoms, which tend to peak in Tokyo and Kyoto around late March, early April – if you wish to avoid the heaving crowds, skip the big cities and go off the beaten track, visiting cherry blossom nature spots either slightly earlier in southern Japan, or later in northern regions.
How to do it
InsideJapan (0117 244 3380; insidejapantours.com) offers a 14-night Traditional Japan self-guided cultural adventure from £2,182pp based on two sharing, travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto via the Japanese Alps. The price includes accommodation, breakfast and transport across Japan, plus some guiding and cultural experiences. International flights cost extra.
‘The GoldenPass Express is the latest retina-filling ride in a country known to celebrate taking to the rails’
Getting around in Switzerland is a symptom of the Alps’ topography of fractured mountains, cul-de-sac valleys and wiggly lakes, but this year there are more exciting new ways to explore the country than in most. The GoldenPass Express from Montreux to Interlaken is the latest retina-filling ride in a country known to celebrate taking to the rails.
The train has swish Italian design, but Swiss engineering wizardry, and was first dreamt up 150 years ago as a belle époque-era showpiece to shuttle passengers on Pan-European Grand Tours from the Vaud Riviera to the Bernese Alps. Now, it’s here at last and with some nifty tech: Prestige Class seat consoles have nearly as many buttons as a TV remote and the observation carriages put a magnifying glass on Pays-d’Enhaut and the uber-swank of Gstaad.
If your wallet can take more this winter, there are other travel capers to be had in Zermatt. The glacier-viewing Gornergrat Bahn turns 125, while up at 3,883m (12,740ft), beside Switzerland’s titanic Toblerone of rock and ice, you will soon be able to ride the Matterhorn Alpine Crossing cable car right into Cervinia, Italy. The idea is that the new border connection will broaden the appeal of the Alps’ highest restaurant, ice caves and gift shop atop the Klein Matterhorn, but also that the snow-swirled mountains of Valais aren’t just for those in ski boots and goggles.
How to do it
Tickets on the GoldenPass Express (gpx.swiss) cost from £64 one way including seat reservation; Prestige Class costs £112. The Gornergrat Bahn (gornergrat.ch) costs from £88, while tickets for the Matterhorn Alpine Crossing start at £83 (matterhornparadise.ch). Fly to Geneva, Basel or Zurich with easyJet (easyjet.com), from £22.99 each way.
‘Head for the Stade de France, perhaps praying beforehand in the nearby Basilica de Saint-Denis’
Now that the dress rehearsal in the desert is over and Les Bleus have mopped up their tears, it’s time to contemplate the real thing. I refer, obviously, to the Rugby World Cup due next year in the closer, more alcohol-savvy surroundings of France. The major international sporting event of 2023 kicks off on September 8 as the hosts take on the All Blacks at the Stade de France.
Thus do we see two of the favourites slugging it out right from the off. British Isles nations ruck into action the following weekend, England travelling to Marseille to tackle Argentina – who are, for the first time, bringing two neighbours with them: both Uruguay and newcomers Chile have made it through to the World Cup mix.
It is all, in short, terribly exciting. Then again, there is plenty going on in the interim to leaven the wait. France is never short of cultural events, or an excuse to celebrate itself. In spring, the royal château in the little northern town of Villers-Cotterêts opens up the Cité Internationale de la Langue Française. This both retraces, and glories in, the French language in the exact spot where, in 1539, French was imposed as France’s official language, supplanting Latin.
Elsewhere, France will be joining Spain in fêting the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death with exhibitions all over the place, not least at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. There, from February 8 to June 12, they will be examining how pre-historic themes filtered into the artist’s work. Meanwhile, March sees the opening of the revised, vastly expanded D-Day museum at Arromanches – from where you can see what’s left of the Mulberry harbour so vital to the 1944 invasion. Three months later, Le Mans celebrates the 100th anniversary of its 24-hour race, with a special exhibition to motoring tenacity at the circuit’s museum.
Later, the summer festivals roll along – Avignon, Aix, Orange and the rest – and then, at last, its time for the rugby. Nine cities across the land are involved. So you will maybe find yourself at the brand new Stade de Bordeaux, or eating carbonnade while waiting in Lille.
Marseille’s Vélodrome adapts pretty well from soccer to rugby, as do the stadia in Nantes, Lyon and St Etienne. In Nice, you will be handy for next-door Menton, in whose hill-topping cemetery is buried William Webb-Ellis (and if you don’t know who he is, you don’t qualify for the World Cup). Take the train to pay your respects. Toulouse is maybe the most rugby-consumed city in France (Europe?). Finally – and let’s hope at least one British Isles team makes it – you might head for the Stade de France, perhaps praying beforehand in the nearby Basilica de Saint-Denis, where most French monarchs were buried. They’ll not be on your side, of course.
How to do it
Try it independently. The Rugby World Cup’s ticket platform will open for sales on January 24 2023 (rugbyworldcup.com). Otherwise, four agencies have official status to sell packages from around £450.
‘One of the best places on Earth to observe the total eclipse’
While it seems the sun continually shines on Australia, come April 20 its rays will be blocked by the moon, throwing the day into darkness. Exmouth is among the best places on Earth to observe the total solar eclipse. It’s a bubbly coastal town facing a Unesco world heritage listed coral reef visited by harmless whale sharks – snorkel with them between planetary alignments.
The holiday hamlet is halfway up Western Australia’s lengthy coastline, a beauty kept from the rest of the globe for a staggering 697 days. Because of Covid, the state’s international border was shut tight and its domestic frontier mostly sealed, allowing locals to roam freely within their giant fortress (that’s 2.6 million people with the equivalent of 10 United Kingdoms at their fingertips; many residents were overjoyed).
As one of the final places to open up to post-lockdown travel, WA – and indeed, Australia itself – is ripe for exploring in 2023. Not only are wishes met for untethered wilderness walks, footprint-free beaches and authentic connections with the world’s oldest living culture, but oodles of new fun has been devised during the incubation period Down Under.
Tiny cabins have multiplied across WA, allowing for off-grid ecotherapy escapes on farms, vineyards and bushland not usually accessible to travellers; look up Heyscape and Hidden Cabins for joy in 160 sq ft. Access to the outback comes via far-flung safari tents at Karijini’s 2.5 billion-year-old, crepe-stacked rock gorges and Cygnet Bay’s Kimberley pearl farm, which is lapped by some of the globe’s biggest tropical tides. Meanwhile, Aboriginal culture is shared in a new 4WD tagalong tour at Coral Bay, just south of Exmouth. With Baiyungu Dreaming, learn how to dig for fresh water in the sand, observe endangered sea turtles and witness culturally significant hideaways while being captivated by First Nations dreaming stories.
How to do it
Qantas (qantas.com) resumed direct flights between London and Perth in May 2022; the trip takes about 17 hours. A non-stop London-
Sydney route is planned for 2025, becoming the world’s longest commercial flight.
‘Culture, beaches, warm water and wine – all at a bargain price’
While the British pound limbo-dances its way lower and lower in the currency markets, there aren’t many places where your cash will stretch further than it did pre-pandemic.
But Hungary is one of them. The Hungarian forint is weaker than it has been for decades – nearly 40 per cent weaker than in 2020, which means you will pay a lot less for your strings of dried paprika, bottles of Tokaj and bowls of gulyás soup. The country also contains a European Capital of Culture for 2023, which is a compelling reason to combine a Budapest break with a foray into the countryside beyond.
The city of Veszprém (90 minutes from the capital) is an atmospheric spot with a walled old town and real historical pedigree: for centuries, Hungary’s queens were crowned in its cathedral.
A colourful programme of events and exhibitions in 2023 will include everything from blues music and celebrations of comic illustration to family fairytale parties and art inspired by the surrounding Balaton region.
And Veszprém is a great base for exploring that region. Lake Balaton is a vast freshwater lake – so big, it is known as the Hungarian Sea – and beaches and resorts are dotted around its shores.
Volcanic hills to the north have hiking and cycling trails, the famous Herend Porcelain Manufactory is nearby (Queen Victoria was a fan), you can wallow in thermal waters at the spa town of Hévíz, and vineyards galore offer the chance to sample excellent wines from local producers. Culture, beaches, warm water and wine, all at a bargain price – what’s not to like?
How to do it
Expressions Holidays (01392 441250; expressionsholidays.co.uk) offers a seven-night trip (four nights in Budapest and three nights in Veszprém) from £1,990pp, including four-star accommodation, flights with British Airways, and return rail travel from Budapest to Veszprém.
‘Las Vegas, meet Formula One. Why haven’t we done this before?’
Take a city known for its love of bright lights, loud noises, expensive things and thrills. Then add in a sport that delights in all four, at speed, in a haze of jet-set extravagance. Las Vegas, meet Formula One. Formula One, meet Las Vegas. Why on earth haven’t we done this before?
Actually, you have – in 1981 and 1982, when the Caesars Palace Grand Prix made two appearances in the calendar of the foremost version of motor-racing. After the second, F1 vanished from Nevada. Its return after 41 years is part of a bid to gain a firmer footing in a country where Nascar and IndyCar are still the dominant forms of petrol-sport; the Las Vegas Grand Prix, slated for November 18, will be the third of three F1 races on US soil next season.
It is sure to be the blockbuster of the trilogy; a Saturday-night battle that will use “Sin City” as a neon playground – the likes of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton tussling on a four-mile street circuit that will incorporate “the Strip”.
In other words, if you book a room with a front-facing view at the likes of Caesars, Wynn, Paris, the Bellagio, Treasure Island or the Venetian, you can watch the action from your own “private box”.
How to do it
Official race tickets are available at f1lasvegasgp.com/tickets. A one-week getaway to Treasure Island, flying from Heathrow on November 14, costs from £3,119pp through Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9646; virginholidays.co.uk). A little pricier, Ultimate Driving Tours (0800 098 8175; ultimatedrivingtours.com) is offering packages featuring hospitality access to all three days of racing, from £21,000pp.
‘Go to those beaches; go to those temples; go to see elephants in the wild’
Whisper it softly, but 2023, surely, is the year that Sri Lanka will reclaim its place in the Premier League of holiday destinations. Heaven knows that, with its lush, palm-fringed vegetation, sweeping white sand beaches, exotic birdsong and colours, Buddhist and Hindu traditions – and the many traces (including cricket) of rule under the British, Dutch and Portuguese – this gorgeous Indian Ocean island deserves to be there. There are the people too: ever eager to engage, share and make you feel good no matter how challenging the situation. A favourable exchange rate means it is good value, too.
The past four years have been harsh for Sri Lankans. Instead of continuing to build on post-civil war peace, they have been subjected to terrorist bombings in 2019, Covid and the last year’s political and economic turmoil. All have exacted a heavy toll, particularly on the tourist industry, as visitors have stayed away – but the country is moving on.
I have just returned from a trip there and can truthfully say that, in addition to rekindling all the passion I have always had for the place, Sri Lanka felt both safe and right – sentiments echoed by other travellers I encountered.
Go to those beaches; go to those temples; go to see elephants in the wild. If you want fresh discoveries, take the recently upgraded train to Kandy and beyond for the Pekoe Trail – a string of newly curated walks through the spectacular hills of the tea country.
Go – and be generous. Sri Lanka will repay you in more ways than you know.
How to do it
Experience Travel Group (020 7924 7133; experiencetravelgroup.com) offers a 13-day trip involving boutique B&B stays, a train ride, a Pekoe Trail hike, a tuk-tuk tour of Kandy, a bike ride in Galle, a safari in Udawalawe National Park – and time on the beach; from £3,595pp, including flights and private chauffeur guide.
‘Nothing will prepare you for that first hold-your-breath glimpse of a polar bear’
If you think Arctic Norway is a looker, Svalbard is off the charts. At 78° north, this is Europe’s largest continuous wilderness and the final frontier before the North Pole.
Cloaked in snow and ice for much of the year, this savagely beautiful archipelago is determined by lights being flicked on and off: the dazzling 24-hour light of the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights raving during the dark, brutally cold months of winter.
The BBC’s Frozen Planet II hints at the wonder of its icy wilderness. But you can watch every David Attenborough documentary going and nothing will prepare you for the sight of its bare mountains rolling in great waves, or that first hold-your-breath glimpse of a polar bear.
In summer, the only way to get a real sense of Svalbard’s scope is on a voyage. And in 2023, you can go further north than ever, as Hurtigruten celebrates its 130th anniversary by launching new 16-day cruises on the Svalbard Express, from the fjords of Bergen right up to Kongsfjorden on Spitsbergen’s west coast, where nunataks rise like daggers and glaciers crash into a piercing-blue fjord. You will get astonishingly close to wildlife: polar bears prowling the forlorn coast for bearded and ringed seals and, if you are lucky, the rare white beluga whale, but also walrus, Arctic foxes and Svalbard reindeer on land, and migrating birds such as puffins and king eiders.
How to do it
Hurtigruten (020 3603 7112; hurtigruten.co.uk) is offering a 16-day Svalbard Express voyage on board the MS Trollfjord from Bergen in Norway to Svalbard and back from £3,640, based on two people sharing, including return flights, accommodation in a polar inside cabin, transfers and full board. Excursions – from fishing and kayaking on Lofoten to birdwatching in the Gjesvaerstappan Nature Reserve – cost extra. There are eight departures between June and early September in 2023.
‘This small but proud country makes for a glamorous yet discreet escape’
Seen from above, inland Montenegro is a wild expanse of rocky peaks, glacial lakes and gaping gorges. To the southwest, the rugged Dinaric Alps meet the ¬glistening blue Adriatic – and here lies the country’s most remarkable ¬feature, the 17-mile-long Unesco-listed Kotor Bay, often referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord.
For millennia, ships have taken ¬refuge here from storms and pirates. Sheltered by soaring mountains, and out of sight from the open sea, Kotor Bay’s shores are dotted with a succession of historic settlements. In Risan, you can see the remains of 1st-century Roman mosaic floors; in Kotor Town, there is the romanesque cathedral, built under Byzantium; and in Dobrota and Perast you’ll find baroque villas built by wealthy sea captains, set in gardens with exotic planting. At its peak, in the 18th century, Kotor Bay had a fleet of some 300 merchant ships, and was renowned for its skilled stonemasons, icon-painters and goldsmiths.
In the 19th century, the Austro-Hungarians made Kotor Bay their military harbour, and built a string of fortresses to guard it. Claiming the most extraordinary location, on a tiny rocky islet at the very mouth of the bay, is a fort built by general Lazar Mamula in 1852.
Abandoned for decades, it has been carefully renovated to create a unique luxury escape, the Mamula Island Hotel. Designer Piotr Wisniewksi has reimagined this sturdy stone ¬edifice, with courtyards, arches, parapets and sweeping panoramic sea views, to have 32 rooms and suites, -discretely furnished in contemporary style. Guests will have the use of a beach, three outdoor pools and a spa. In the kitchen, Michelin-starred French-Canadian chef Erica Archambault will create dishes inspired by local Montenegrin cuisine with a ¬Cordon Bleu twist.
This small but proud Balkan country is much loved by super-yachters, adventure-sports enthusiasts, and those in search of a glamorous yet discreet escape. Mamula Island Hotel is their next go-to destination.
How to do it
Mamula Island Hotel (mamulaisland.com) will open in March 2023, with double rooms from £615, including breakfast. Fly to Tivat from London Gatwick or Manchester with easyJet (easyjet.com), or from ¬London Stansted or Manchester with jet2.com; or to the capital, Podgorica, from Heathrow with BA (ba.com). Mamula Island Hotel can arrange transfers by boat from various locations in Kotor Bay, including direct from Tivat airport.
‘The train zips north at 99mph, about 92?mph faster than an Asian elephant’
The shot came layered in the colours of the national flag – ruby-red Grenadine at the top, Curaçao blue at the bottom and, centre, a creamy dollop of Baileys.
I was drinking in a cocktail bar on Laos’s National Day holiday weekend. It was a fitting send-off the night before I boarded the new Lao railway, a sleek, white-nosed high-speed train also wearing the national stripe. It slices through the northern mountains from capital Vientiane, curving along the north bank of the Mekong River to Vang Vieng, where the sugarloaf mountains tower over the ragtag settlement on the banks of the Song River. From there, pinch yourself.
A journey that takes four to five hours by road on bum-numbing buses now reaches the fabled Unesco-protected temple town of Luang Prabang in 55 minutes. Further north is Muang Xai, the alighting point for sky-high ethnic minority villages, waterfalls, and a riverfront retreat in the jungle.
The train, named Lane Xang – which means “Kingdom of the Million Elephants” – zips north at 99mph. That is about 92mph faster than an Asian elephant, the country’s transport of old.
This new Laos-China Railway is a bit Pyongyang, with megaphones and barked instructions and stations so large that, like the Great Wall of China, they can probably be seen from space. But British-style scrum there is not. Boarding is orderly and marshalled. Delays? It leaves minutes early. Strikes? Comrades, no. Communism does not permit such a thing!
How to do it
InsideAsia (0117 244 3380; insideasiatours.com) offers an 11-day Laos by Rail cultural adventure travelling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and costing from £2,051pp, based on two people travelling. The price includes all accommodation, transport and transfers across the country, some private guiding, breakfast every day, some other meals, a tour by 4×4 of the Muang La region, and a visit to the Mandalao elephant sanctuary. International flights to Vientiane are not included.