Some places have that elusive ‘wow’ factor – others don’t. The Seychelles has it in spades. Silky beaches, tropical forests, the super deluxe hotels. Swim with turtles in the morning, spend an afternoon unwinding in the spa then dress for cocktails at sunset. Perfect? You bet.
The beauty of Sri Lanka lies in the easy proximity of cultural treasures and world-class beaches. Take a tour of magnificent temples and national parks, stay in boutique hotels then relax on the beach. You’ll find a rich seam of experiences with friendly people, excellent food – and nonstop flights from the UK.
It’s amazing to think that only 30 years ago Cambodia was torn apart by civil war and genocide. Today it’s one of Asia’s most exciting destinations, from the jungle-clad temple complex of Angkor to the vibrant capital, Phnom Penh. Throw in sensational food, great hotels and world-class beaches for an unmissable travel experience.
Namibia is Africa at its most starkly beautiful. Think vast sand dunes, endless deserts and the shipwreck-strewn Skeleton Coast and velvety night skies. You can sleep under the stars or in superb lodges, while in the game parks you can track rhino, leopard and cheetah. Namibia is clean and safe and from the UK there’s no jetlag.
Most destinations fail to live up to the glossy brochure hype. The Maldives is an exception. No photographer can do justice to the splendid natural colours – the cobalt seas, the turquoise lagoons, the fiery orange sunsets. The standards of hospitality are outstanding and the modern world is a million miles away.
Burma is one of the world’s most fascinating and beautiful destinations, its people gentle, warm and genuinely friendly. Although Burma is ruled by a brutal military dictatorship, the release from house arrest of the democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi makes us believe that now is the right time for tourists to discover this hidden gem.
With its diverse mix of habitats, from the doily of waterways and lagoons of the Okavango Delta to the salt pans of Nxai and the sands of the Kalahari, Botswana is a supreme safari destination. Explore it in an amazing variety of transport: elephant and horseback, mountain and quad bike, dug-out canoe and camel, as well as the more familiar 4WD vehicles.
Anguilla is a tiny low-lying Caribbean island that offers a real sense of escape. It’s a coral island, so the beaches are powdery and white, and you can only get there by ferry or a short flight from one of the bigger islands. The hotels and villas are outstanding, and the food is out of this world.
Cuba is the ideal combination of city and beach, culture and indolence. Spend a few days strolling the streets of Old Havana, visiting cigar factories, drinking mojitos and dancing in salsa bars. Explore the colonial city of Trinidad then kick back on one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful beaches.
There’s more to Spain than big cities and crowded costas. The north-west regions of Cantabria, Galicia and Asturias offer character and authenticity, friendly people and delicious food. You’ll find unspoilt sandy beaches, wild mountains, beautiful medieval towns and plenty of outdoor activities. It’s great value whether you fly or travel by overnight ferry.
With the new political entente cordiale between the west and Iran, now is the time to travel to this culturally-rich and friendly country, either independently or on an escorted tour. With 700 years of history, attractions include jewels of Islamic architecture, old bazaars and stunning landscapes.
Few animals are as beautiful and elusive as the Indian tiger. At Bandhavgarh National Park the chances are high of a close encounter, particularly if you stay a few nights and take dawn and dusk safaris in your own private jeep. Combine it with the best bits of Delhi and Agra, including the Taj Mahal.
Ecuador offers a potted version of the entire South American continent. Join a tour to take in jungle, Andean peaks, exquisite Spanish colonial architecture, nights in haciendas, Indian markets and Inca ruins, with the added bonus of a guided cruise to the Galapagos, Darwin’s own laboratory.
Goa is one of the most exciting winter sun destinations – and among the cheapest. A combination of world-class beaches, superb food – including plentiful fresh fish and seafood – and friendly people are the basic ingredients. Add in markets, waterfalls, historical sites and some of the world’s most beautiful sunsets, and you have a clear winner.
Most visitors to Malaysia head for the resorts on the west coast but for unspoilt beaches, lush countryside and fascinating local culture we recommend a visit to the quieter east coast of the peninsular. You’ll find jungle treks, authentic fishing villages, rivers and islands to explore and some gorgeous hotels.
In the unspoilt Greek region of Halkidiki, Sani is one of Europe’s most attractive family resorts set on an eco-reserve of pine forests, jagged cliffs and superb sandy beaches. In addition to a choice of hotels within the resort, there is a marina stuffed with posh yachts, authentic tavernas, a crèche, tennis centre and outdoor cinema.
As well as those familiar Greek island assets of blue seas, delicious swimming, jaunts by boat and long, lazy lunches in waterfront tavernas, Paxos is an island of silvery-leafed olive groves, a legacy of the 14th century Venetian occupation. With no airport – and not even a single traffic light – it’s a perfect place to escape the crowds.
Koh Samui has moved upmarket from its backpacking heyday but lost little of its natural charm. Amid the coconut groves and palm trees you’ll find gorgeous luxury hotels and spas, plus countless beaches where you can swim, chill, party and dine under the moonlight with your toes in the sand.
A Caribbean villa holiday has little to do with self-catering. Even the smallest properties have a daily maid who may also do your cooking, while larger houses come with a full brigade of staff to shop, cook, launder and even fix your favourite cocktail. It makes the holiday surprisingly affordable, especially if you avoid the peak season.
Draw up a list of all the wonderful reasons for going to Italy – Blue Flag beaches, medieval hill towns, historic palaces, nights at the opera and galleries full of Renaissance masterpieces – and you’ll find them in abundance in Le Marche, the barely-known back garden of Italy, sandwiched between the Apennines and the Adriatic.
Mallorca leads a double life. Parts of the island are overwhelmed by cheap package tourism but vast swathes remain untouched, from the mountains of the west to the “secret” sandy coves in the east. Throw in outstanding cuisine and some of Europe’s most elegant villas with private pools and you’re in paradise.
As well as tropical beaches and top hotels, your memories will be shaped as much by the Balinese countryside. You’ll see emerald rice paddies one minute, immense volcanoes the next. Bali is a spiritual place where daily life embraces ceremony and ritual, temples and stone gods. And Balinese craftsmen are amazing, so take an extra suitcase.
Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot. With 500 miles of beaches, the magnificent baroque city of Lecce and distinctive whitewashed trullo houses, it is one of Europe’s most appealing holiday regions. The food and wine are terrific and nowhere is more than 15 miles from the coast.
With more protected land than any other country in the world, more bird species than the whole of North America and more butterflies than Africa, Costa Rica could have been put on the planet as a living classroom for natural historians. Enjoy rainforests and river rafting, volcanoes and cloud forests plus beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean.