Hot European destinations for 2015
Reasoning: The hotly-anticipated BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Carey Mulligan and with a script written by One Day author David Nicholls, is set for cinema release in May 2015. The film will showcase Dorset’s many virtues, including scenic rural countryside, pretty Saxon villages and the stunning UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast, doubtless with a subsequent film tourism boost drawing holidaymakers to this beautiful county.
Sample package: Step out amid Thomas Hardy country in pastoral Dorset on a self-guided walk with On Foot Holidays* (01722 322 652, www.onfootholidays.co.uk), which will be peppered with pretty villages and old inns and will culminate in a day’s exploration of the dramatic Jurassic Coast. The cost is from £740 pp (two sharing) including seven nights’ B&B, luggage transfer between hotels and detailed route information. The walk is graded medium.
Reasoning: Ironically, a total blackout will indeed shine a light on this tiny 18-island archipelago. It will be one of only two places in the world where a total solar eclipse will be visible from land on 20 March 2015 (the other is Svalbard). If you like a quirky destination, head to these isles for lush green hills, waterfalls and fjords, multi-coloured houses, an array of artistic talent, huge bird colonies (puffins, storm petrels and many more) and almost twice as many sheep as humans (70,000 sheep to 42,000 people)!
Sample trip: Bed and breakfast accommodation or camping-only options are currently available during the eclipse – see www.solareclipse.fo. At other times of the year, one night’s accommodation costs from £55 pp at www.hotelstreym.com (B&B). Flights via Copenhagen or Oslo with Atlantic Airways.
Reasoning: Finland is often overlooked in favour of Norway and Iceland for spotting the Northern Lights. Harriniva in northern Finland is, however, a Northern Lights hotspot, and is now much more accessible with the launch of new direct flights from London to Enontekiö. The Aurora Zone’s Aurora hunting trips in Harriniva include many activities – snowmobile safaris, snowshoe Aurora searches, husky safaris, reindeer visits, Aurora Lights workshops, and Aurora hunting by minibus.
Sample package: The active Northern Lights Quest in Harriniva with The Aurora Zone (01670 785 012, www.theaurorazone.com) costs from £1,397 pp (two sharing) and includes direct flights (London), transfers, four nights’ full-board accommodation, all activities and full cold-weather clothing. Departures from December to April 2015.
Reasoning: As Greece moves away from its recent financial meltdown, its capital is experiencing a magnificent cultural and economic renaissance. Enterprising Athenians are creating a thriving start-up scene, with independent shops and fantastic eateries opening at a rate of knots. In addition, the renowned Acropolis Museum had its fifth birthday in June, and celebrated by unveiling a highly significant project: the Caryatid statues have been painstakingly restored, and their centuries’ worth of grime has been meticulously removed using cutting-edge laser technology.
Sample package: Peter Sommer Travels* (01600 888 220, www.petersommer.com) has an eight-day tour of Athens, led by two expert archaeologists (also local residents) who use their expertise and native knowledge to get under the skin of the city, with a real focus on its food and drink alongside the city’s cultural treasures. Departing 8 May, the cost of £2,375 pp (two sharing) includes five-star accommodation, expert guiding, entrance fees, airport transfers and all meals. Flights extra.
Reasoning: Overcrowding in Santorini and Mykonos, with both islands’ infrastructures struggling to cope with the volume of visitors, will see holidaymakers keen to visit the ever-popular Cyclades seek out quieter, more authentic alternatives. Leading Greece specialist Sunvil Holidays has added some appealing, lesser-known options to its 2015 programme, including Folegandros, fashionable Santorini’s neighbour (day trips possible), offering whitewashed villages, pristine beaches and dramatic cliffs that turn a fiery red at sunset; upmarket Sifnos, with its impressive cuisine and restaurant scene, and fascinating Milos, boasting azure waters and striking geology.
Sample package: Sunvil Holidays* (020 8758 4758, www.sunvil.co.uk) offers a 10-night island-hopping itinerary to Sifnos, Milos and Folegandros from approximately £850 pp (two sharing) including B&B accommodation (includes a night in Athens), flights (Gatwick), ferry crossings and transfers.
Reasoning: Renowned internationally for its reputation as the style capital of the world, Milan’s gastronomic credentials look set to take their turn in the spotlight as Expo Milano (1 May – 31 October 2015) uses its foodie theme to highlight the region’s delicious produce and impressive restaurants. The arrival of a new Music Director at La Scala and a major Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition in Palazzo Real – the largest ever organised in Italy (15 April – 19 July) – also make Milan a ‘must-visit’ destination for 2015, whether for a cultural city break or in combination with the Italian Lakes on a multi-centre itinerary.
Sample trip: Kirker Holidays* (020 7593 2283, www.kirkerholidays.com) offers short breaks and longer tailor-made holidays to Milan and the Italian Lakes. Price is from £698 pp (two sharing) for a three-night stay in Milan, including flights (London), return private car transfers, accommodation with breakfast, Kirker Guide Notes and Kirker Concierge Service to book opera tickets, expert local guides or a table for dinner.
Reasoning: With Romania to its west and Ukraine to its north, east and south, the Republic of Moldova packs a punch – in terms of the amazing diversity of its culture and political outlook – that belies its diminutive size. This is a beguiling country, as yet untouched by mass tourism, where the ideologies of Lenin and the democracies of Western Europe still face each other across the Dniester River, and where – for rail travel enthusiasts – the standard gauge trains of the west meet the broad gauge of the east.
Sample trip: Ffestiniog Travel* (01766 772030, www.ffestiniogtravel.com) offers ‘Moldova & Eastern Romania’, a new 12-day escorted tour that costs from £1,995 pp (two sharing) including flights, all rail and minibus travel as per the itinerary, B&B in hotels, guest houses and family home stays, four lunches, six evening meals, excursions, the services of a tour leader from London and throughout, and a local professional guide.
Reasoning: Malaga already boasts iconic street art by D*FACE and OBEY in the city’s hip SOHO area. However, the opening of the Centro Pompidou de Málaga in 2015 will seriously ramp up the city’s arts scene. Housed in a large glass cube in the newly-renovated port area, the museum will showcase creations by Malaga-born Picasso as well as a wide range of sculptures, self-portraits, film screenings, workshops and video installations.
Sample trip: Spain-holiday.com (020 3384 7066, www.spain-holiday.com) has 75 properties in Malaga with prices for a three-night stay in a one-bedroom apartment (property ref – 16780) starting from £114 total / £57 pp (two sharing). Flights extra.
Reasoning: Swedish Lapland is a fast-developing tourist destination – fast by Lappish standards anyway, where things happen at a relatively homely pace. Small family-run businesses are popping up, providing wonderfully Swedish, small-scale places to stay, operated by people dedicated to the region and the culture therein. Communities get behind each project to deliver truly authentic experiences, where the food can be astonishingly good and the outdoor activities exciting and varied. You could enjoy a sauna by a frozen river, Northern Lights hunting, dining out on the ice, husky safaris and even a hovercraft trip across the frozen sea, on pack-ice.
Sample package: A Lappish Retreat in Luleå with Artisan Travel (01670 785 085, www.artisantravel.co.uk) costs from £2,081 pp (two sharing) including flights (Gatwick), transfers, four nights’ full board at Sörbyn Lodge, all cold-weather clothing and activities: a snowmobile moose safari, snowshoe trek, ice fishing, visit to the wood-fired hotel sauna, a husky safari and a visit to a Sámi family. Departures from 5 January to 30 March 2015.