Travel hot spots 2008
Author: kendall hill
Photography: COURTESY VAMIZI ISLAND LODGE
The end of the Balkan wars gave travellers the green light to rediscover the enchanting eastern Adriatic. With Croatia now firmly back in tourist favour, trendsetters are looking south to the newly independent republic of Montenegro. Portrayed in the most recent Bond film, Casino Royale, as a shadowy place of exotic beauty, the fledgling country combines sublime coastlines with magical fortress-villages dating back centuries. Montenegro's answer to chic Dubrovnik is Budva; established as a Hellenic colony in the 4th century BC, it is an attractive mosaic of Roman remains, picturesque harbour and happening bars and bistros. Hip hoteliers Aman Resorts have nabbed the island of Sveti Stefan with its medieval-walled fishing village, and plan to open luxe lodgings there by year's end.
The end of a fascinating modern era is nigh following Castro's retirement, and the colourful streets of Havana are more desirable than ever. This Caribbean outcast has been a favourite of intrepid tourists for decades and the word is now well and truly out about its attractions. Crumbling Spanish colonial architecture, wildly friendly people, cigars, salsa, mojitos and the Buena Vista Social Club define the common perceptions of Cuba, but there is a much deeper appeal to this Third World nation… a charisma that is infectious and enduring.
This compact North African state is brimming with memorable adventures. Its Mediterranean coast is a collage of whitewash and bougainvillea, the landscape is pocked with significant Roman ruins (the ancient imperial city of Carthage endures amid the suburbs of Tunis), the World Heritage-listed Tunis medina is a modern-day Aladdin's Cave, and the burnished sands of the Sahara stretch endlessly to the south. The only real drawbacks are the hordes of European sunseekers on the Gulf of Hammamet, but they're easily avoided. Best of all, this is a relatively liberal Islamic nation - more European than Arabian or African - that welcomes foreigners warmly.
Jujuy and Salta, Northern Argentina
Buenos Aires today is unrecognisable from the spiritless capital left in the wake of the 2001 economic catastrophe. Its streets are humming with tourists, new construction is everywhere and Argentines are again walking proud. Adventurers are starting to journey further afield than the capital and, Patagonia aside, it's the country's north that's winning rave reviews. Lush, mountainous Salta (it means 'very beautiful' in the local Indian language) is a hiker's paradise and home to the Tren a Las Nubes, 'the train to the clouds', a 15-hour journey of soaring viaducts and panoramic views. Neighbouring Jujuy province borders Bolivia and Chile and offers an arid, high-country experience of quaint adobe villages, salt lakes and indigenous culture.
Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Istanbul has always been one of the world's great cities - first as Byzantium, and later as Constantinople. Today the modern metropolis of more than 11 million is a dizzying experience of palaces, dervishes, bazaars, unimaginable treasures, decadent dining and nightlife, with a living history to move the most jaded globetrotter. Emperor Justinian's magnificent Aya Sofya is perhaps the best-known example of this culture-rich civilisation but the city's priceless patrimony is everywhere. Istanbul is vying for the title of European Cultural Capital in 2010, so go now before everyman and his guidebook starts swarming the place.
Until now it seemed like too much effort to fly thousands of kilometres across the desolate Pacific Ocean to reach a rocky outcrop that happens to have some pretty impressive statues. But that was before Chilean entrepreneur Pedro Ibáñez decided to erect the latest outpost of his respected Explora empire on Easter Island. The Posada de Mike Rapu, constructed largely from the volcanic rock that forms the island, sits astride about 10 hectares of prime sea-facing land and offers Explora's trademark cultural experience. Luxury is assured, as are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Living in the shadow of showy Dubai has been a boon to the gas-rich desert kingdom of Qatar. While Dubai strives to shock and awe the world, Qatar's ruling Al-Thani family have been quietly fashioning their Arabian home into a destination for more discerning sightseers. A stunning, citadel-like cultural centre designed by IM Pei opens in March; meanwhile Spaniard Santiago Calatrava is putting the finishing touches to the National Museum of Photography, and the French architect Jean Nouvel is crafting a whimsical office tower for the central business district, where more than 150 new skyscrapers are slated to rise in the next two years. The Qatari capital, Doha, redefines the term 'boomtown'.
From civil war basket case to South African success story, Mozambique's remarkable transformation is enticing alert travellers to test the beds at a string of upmarket lodges and explore its 2000km-plus stretch of Indian Ocean shoreline. The white sand and crystal waters of the Quirimbas archipelago are home to some of the country's top resorts: Vamizi Island Lodge and Guludo Beach Lodge both offer exclusive beach refuges that pour their profits back into local communities and environments. The country's growing reputation for ethical or fair-trade tourism is winning it fans in all the right places.
A spate of high-end hotel openings has helped to reinvigorate this often-troubled Pacific archipelago. At Wadigi Resort, guests charter the entire island and stay in a stylish villa comprising three suites and a full staff - including two chefs and a boat captain. Likuliku Lagoon Resort introduced the over-water bure to Fiji, using traditional materials and design but fitting them out to global standards of comfort. The more basic Malolo Island Resort is a favourite among families wanting an authentic South Pacific encounter. And the new Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa has given Denarau Island a five-star freshen up.
The current holder of the EU Presidency is firmly in the spotlight this year, and visitors like what they see. The most prosperous of the former Yugoslav republics, Slovenia is a land of mythical dragons, fairytale castles and churches and inspiring scenery. The unpronounceable capital, Ljubljana, is a Baroque gem bustling with riverfront wine bars and cafés and cool young (ex-)socialists. Lakeside Bled is the quintessential romantic retreat (Tito's former holiday home there is now a Relais and Chateaux hotel), while the Venetian port town of Piran is a swinging summer playground. Not to mention the wineries, affordable skiing in the Julian Alps, and picture-book pretty countryside perfect for gentle hikes.