Top ten travel recommendations for 2010
Whether it's the spectacular mountains of Nepal, the excitement of the World Cup in South Africa, hanging with the jet set in Marrakech or the thrill of exploring the 'beating heart' of the Amazon, make sure you visit one of our top ten in 2010
1 KYOTO World leaders have a habit of meeting in picturesque places so it's no surprise the city that gave the world the Kyoto protocol on climate change is one of the prettiest. Its spot in the headlines has also given a boost to what was already one of Japan's most popular destinations.
The centre of Japanese culture for centuries, this ancient city is full of lantern-lit alleyways, elegant machiya-style houses, gardens, shrines and temples. February is a great time to visit as local restaurants join in a Winter Special event and the Setsubun festival, where beans are scattered to drive away demons that symbolise illness and disaster, also takes place. In March 'Hinamatsuri', where dolls are decorated in hope of the healthy growth of girls, provides the entertainment and in July, the Gion festival, with its decorated floats, shinto rituals and costumes, is an annual draw.
For accommodation, try Matsubaya Ryokan (www.matsubayainn.com), first opened in 1885 and completely rebuilt in 2008 with Japanese-style rooms costing from 90 a night, or the Hiiragiya Ryokan (www.hiiragiya.co.jp), with rates from around 100 per person.
Fly Edinburgh to Osaka with Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk) from 449, then it's under an hour by rail to Kyoto.
2 MOROCCO Cheaper than other North African countries, Morocco offers excellent value. Marrakech, with its minarets and bazaar, is big on atmosphere, while the nearby Atlas mountains provide an insight into village life.
Or follow in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix and enjoy the more relaxed vibe of Essaouira, a fishing port on the Atlantic coast where the windy climate has made it a mecca for windsurfers and water sports fans. June is a good time to visit to catch the Gnawas Music Festival, a celebration of the music played by people in the south of the country, and the town is a haunt for local artists.
If you're Naomi Campbell or equally minted, why not check in to the Kerzner Mazagan Beach Resort (www.mazaganbeachresort.com) 90km south of Casablanca, opened by the supermodel last year and an oasis of pampering and golf.
See Imaginative Traveller (0845 077 8802, www.imaginative-traveller.com) for a selection of Moroccan trips that include those tailored for families.
3 SOUTH AFRICA This is South Africa's year, especially if you love the beautiful game, as it plays host to the World Cup in June. From Polokwane in the north to Cape Town in the south, the nine host cities have a wealth of attractions besides the footie, where any of the eight seeded teams could carry off the cup, although tickets for outsiders Ivory Coast or Chile are also worth having, according to former German coach Jrgen Klinsman.
Polokwane offers the chance to explore the Ndebele village where the women adorn themselves and their homes, Durban has the Beachfront fan park with its huge screen and one of the world's top ten family beaches according to the latest edition of Lonely Planet's Travel With Children, while Cape Town has Table Mountain, Robben Island and some of the finest vineyards in the Cape. See www.fifa.com for information on the host cities as well as the games. Flights from Scotland start from around 500 with various airlines.
4 BULGARIA Bulgaria is one of Europe's best-kept secrets thanks to four decades of communism preceded by five centuries of Ottoman rule. However, a member of the EU since 2007, it has now come in from the cold. Massive foreign investment has sparked a building boom that, along with fears of overdevelopment in environmental quarters, has also seen increasing numbers of foreign tourists.
With forested mountains in the west sweeping down to endless coastlines in the east, it has both winter and summer holiday potential. Skiing is cheaper than in the Alps, while the east has both purpose-built and traditional seaside resorts and some of the best beaches in Europe. East meets West in this fascinating part of the Balkans. For families there are beach resorts, such as the purpose-built Thomson Holidays' Sunny Beach at Borgos (www.thomson.co.uk); city breakers can enjoy the culture of its cosmopolitan capital Sofia; and hikers flock to the trails and horse-riding routes through the lush mountains that are still home to bears and lynx.
In Sofia, onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments rub shoulders with shiny new shopping centres and hotels and clubs. It isn't the cleanest, most organised city in Europe, but if you want to party there are 300 bars, restaurants, discos and cafes in a radius of less than 2km and the Metropolitan Hotel (www.metropolitanhotelsofia.com), where doubles are around 79 a night. Flights from Edinburgh with Air France (www.airfrance.co.uk) start from 244.
5 ISTANBUL Turkey's biggest city bridges Asia and Europe, physically and culturally. One of the largest cities in the world with around 15 million inhabitants, it's a bustling sprawl of a place on both sides of the Bosphorus and is this year's European Capital of Culture.
Any visit must include Istanbul's most important Byzantine monument, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, with its 30m dome and a cruise along the river to admire the skyline, a wander round the Grand Bazaar, followed by a massage at 18th-century Cagaloglu Hamami.
For accommodation with a differnce, stay at the Four Seasons Hotel (www.fourseasons. com), formerly the infamous Sultanahmet prison that featured in Midnight Express, at 200 a night, although those with an overactive imagination might prefer the boutique Anemon Galata (www.anemonhotels.com) with its elegant Ottoman suites and excellent views at 90 a night. Flights from Edinburgh to Istanbul with Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) start from 166.
6 NEPAL One of the most spectacular places on earth, the mountain kingdom of Nepal is rightly famous for its peaks but it's not all about trekking as the land at the top of the world is also the land of festivals, with over 50 celebrated each year. The population is made up of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims so there's a lot to pack in, and the million visitors the country hopes to attract this year won't be stuck for something to do.
In February the new year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal is celebrated with the monasteries of Kathmandu being decorated with prayer flags, followed by the festival of water and colours, when people throw water balloons and dye at each other. March sees the festival of the horses, in May there are eight days of dancing and feasting for the festival of Lord Indra and in September 15 days of celebration to Dashain.
It's not all festivals either, with ten world heritage sites, seven of them in Kathmandu, including Durbar Square with its cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets dating back to the 12th and 18th centuries, and Swayambhunath temple with its monkeys. Then there are the national parks with mountains, glaciers and deep valleys where visitors might spot rare species such as the snow leopard and the Bengal tiger.
In Kathmandu, stay at the Park Village resort (ktmgh.com/parkvillage) from 40 per night or, at the other end of the scale, the Acme Guest House (www.acmeguesthouse.com), for 2.50.
Flights from London and Manchester to Tribhuvan International Airport with Gulf Air, Etihad Airways, BMI and others start from around 800.
7 EL SALVADOR Civil war and violence have given it a bad name but the fighting here ended two decades ago and the gang rivalry is internecine, rarely spilling over to affect tourists. This small country in Central America is safer to visit these days and provides the opportunity to visit some of the best beaches in the world.
As well as a gorgeous coastline, near-deserted forests, lakes and active volcanoes, there are the contrasting hip bars and shanty towns of the capital, San Salvador, plus the intriguing city of Bahia, where the music, food and dance of the descendants of African slaves has been preserved. Revisit the horrors of the civil war in the haunting Museo de la Revolucin Salvadorea in Perqun or hand around La Libertad's popular surf beaches.
The dry season runs from November to April, with the wet season best avoided. The tourist infrastructure is still developing, so this is really a destination for independent travellers with a spirit of adventure. For those who make the effort, El Salvador has a lot to offer.
Stay in the western suburbs for peace of mind, with the affordable luxury and beach club of the Alameda Roosevelt (43 Avenida Sur) worth a look at 25 to 38 a night, or the conveniently located Florida (Pje Los Almendros, Urb Florida) for a roof terrace with city views at 16 to 25 per night. BA flights in March start from around 600 return (www.britishairways.com).
8 NICARAGUA After 17 years as a free market country, Nicaragua's economy is growing and according to the Inter-American Institute on Human Rights, it's the safest country in Central America, with a reported crime rate lower than that of Germany, France and the US. The next jet-set destination, it's worth visiting for the pleasure of staying in the country's first all-suite boutique hotel, the Orquidea del Sur (www.orquideadelsur.com), in San Juan Del Sur.
Located on Yankee Beach, renowned for its surfing, deep-sea fishing and kayaking, the hotel's five suites have queen-sized beds, kitchenette, spacious bathroom and covered patios with ocean views. Not that you'll be cooking much as the restaurant serves up Nicaraguan specialities such as seafood, mango and papaya. Three hours' drive from Managua, the hotel also has an infinity pool and whirlpool, fire pit, lounge and library and offers in-room spa treatments, all from 110 per night (minimum stay three nights).
If cities are more your style, Managua is not for the faint-hearted but the markets, museums and 6,000-year-old footprints at Huellas de Acahualinca are worth a visit. Hotels range from 33 to 100 a night and flights from Glasgow to Managua start from around 620 in March with Continental Airlines (www.continental.com).
9 SURINAME South America's smallest country is big news thanks to its diversity. With three-quarters of its half-million population descended from Chinese, Javanese and Indian labourers who arrived in the 18th century and West African slaves in the 17th, plus indigenous Amerindians and Lebanese, Jewish and Dutch settlers, Suriname is a fascinating melting pot of cultures with a cuisine to match.
Bordering French Guyana to the east, Guyana to the west, Brazil to the south and the Atlantic coast to the north, this tiny country has dense jungle and a fascinating capital city, the Dutch-colonial Paramaribo. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2002, 90 per cent of the country's population live there and it's a lively, chaotic place while the interior, with its meandering rivers, extensive rapids and abundance of flora and fauna, has earned it the nickname of 'beating heart of the Amazon'.
Try the Hotel La Petite Maison (www.hotellapetitemaison.com), which has doubles from 56. Flights from London with KLM start from 980 (www.klm.com).
10 ICELAND Before the credit crunch, it was one of Europe's most expensive destinations but prices have tumbled in Iceland. Now it is possible to read a menu without gasping and the days of paying 6 for a small beer are over (it's more like half that price).
Visit now to see the Northern Lights, go snowmobiling, four-wheel driving and splashing in the geothermal pools or wait till summer when it's round-the-clock sunshine and you can explore the raw, breathtaking landscape.
With Reykjavik just a short flight away, this fun, fashionable city is a credible weekend destination and hotel prices range from 40 to 144 (breakfast is usually included). The Radisson Blu hotel (www.radisonblu.com) occupies one of the city's most historic buildings, and for families, a multitude of summerhouses, farms and campsites offer alternatives and a chance to see more of the island (www.icetourist.is).
The landscape is a big draw, but the capital will also interest fashionistas as designer labels abound. And always take a bathing suit, as you're never far from a thermal pool.
Fares from Glasgow to Reykjavik with Iceland Air (www.icelandair.co.uk) start at around 95 while Iceland Express (www.icelandexpress.com) from London airports start at around 60, both in March.
This article was first published in Scotsman on Sunday on 10 January, 2010.
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