TOURS OF BEAUTY

If you’re af­ter brag­ging rights, you won’t want to miss these amaz­ing places

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - WISH LIST EMERGING DESTINATIONS - MELINDA BROWN­ING

1 SRI LANKA

Stun­ning scenery, great surf beaches, lush tea plan­ta­tions, ex­tra­or­di­nary wildlife and cul­ture – Sri Lanka ticks all the boxes. And then there’s the vibe that “per­fectly com­bines the dra­matic India and the laid-back Bali at­ti­tude,” ac­cord­ing to Asia travel spe­cial­ists GetAboutAsia.

New di­rect flights from Mel­bourne make it eas­ier than ever for Aussies to get there, and 2018 will see many new tours and re­sorts. The Galle Face Ho­tel, Sri Lanka’s an­swer to Sin­ga­pore’s Raf­fles, is fresh from a re­fur­bish­ment, Colombo’s new Shangri-la is about to open and Mar­riott has re­cently launched its first Sri Lankan ho­tel.

And at Yala Na­tional Park, one of the best places in the world to see leop­ards, 28 five-star tents are now open at Wild Coast Tented Lodge.

2 EGYPT

Years of tur­moil saw Egypt’s an­cient won­ders drop down trav­ellers’ bucket lists, but it’s back. Aussie-based tour com­pany Scenic is geared for its first Egypt tours since 2013, Vik­ing River Cruises is set to launch its new Nile ship and Emi­rates has just added ex­tra flights to Cairo to cater to grow­ing tourist num­bers.

Mean­while, Nile cruise op­er­a­tor Sanc­tu­ary Re­treats has de­clared there’s never been a bet­ter time to visit Egypt, be­fore the tourist hordes re­turn. The coun­try’s main at­trac­tions are an­cient, and they re­main as in­trigu­ing as ever in 2018, with pre­vi­ously re­stricted ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ar­eas open­ing up; and sci­en­tists only last month re­veal­ing a new dis­cov­ery of a mys­te­ri­ous hid­den void in the Great Pyra­mid of Giza.

In an­other first for 2018, In­trepid Travel added an Egypt itin­er­ary fo­cused on the bian­nual Abu Sim­bel Sun Fes­ti­val so­lar phe­nom­e­non.

3 SLOVE­NIA

Neigh­bour­ing Croa­tia has been hog­ging the lime­light but 2018 is shap­ing up as Slove­nia’s year to shine. Slove­nia’s com­pact size be­lies its vast ar­ray of at­trac­tions – alpine scenery, cas­tles and pic­turesque Lake Bled – with lux­ury tour op­er­a­tor Aber­crom­bie & Kent nam­ing the “tiny gem of a coun­try” as No. 1 on its hot list of emerg­ing des­ti­na­tions.

In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal has just opened the first five-star ho­tel in the cap­i­tal, Ljubl­jana, with the com­pany de­scrib­ing Slove­nia as one of Europe’s “ris­ing stars”. And Lonely Planet gives the coun­try’s Ju­lian Alps a top-three rank­ing in its best re­gions for 2018.

4 PATAGONIA, CHILE

Dra­matic fjords, turquoise lakes, glaciers and moun­tains – they’re etched onto many a bucket list, and Chile has been rock­et­ing up the charts with Aussies lately.

Next year is shap­ing up to be a big one af­ter Lonely Planet named it the world’s best coun­try to visit for 2018, thanks in part to the launch of new di­rect flights be­tween Mel­bourne and Santiago.

De­spite the cap­i­tal city’s many ben­e­fits, for most, the coun­try’s real at­trac­tion lies in the ex­quis­ite and re­mote beauty of Patagonia. One of the most sparsely pop­u­lated places on earth, the re­mote re­gion is at­tract­ing a grow­ing num­ber of land­based tours, in­clud­ing treks through the Tor­res del Paine Na­tional Park, as well as new cruise itin­er­ar­ies set to visit in 2018.

5 SOUTH KOREA

For years now, Aussies have been head­ing to Ja­pan for snow, ex­otic cui­sine, in­trigu­ing cul­ture, mod­ern cities, fast trains and cherry blos­soms. Now they’re dis­cov­er­ing South Korea of­fers all that and more.

The coun­try is set to hit the spot­light as the host of the 2018 Win­ter Olympics, and it’s caught the at­ten­tion of Lonely Planet’s ex­perts, be­ing named one of the top coun­tries to visit in 2018.

Su­per-fast trains make it pos­si­ble to travel the en­tire length of the coun­try, from Seoul to Bu­san, in about two hours. And with its ma­jor air­port tak­ing a place in the world’s top three, and Korean Air re­cently named the world’s best econ­omy air­line, it’s well placed to at­tract trav­ellers look­ing to broaden their hori­zons with a new stopover spot.

6 KAUAI, HAWAII

Aussie hol­i­day-mak­ers are no strangers to United States’ 50th state but 2018 will be big for ven­tures be­yond the most touristy is­lands.

Kauai, known as the Gar­den Is­land, is the least de­vel­oped of Hawaii’s ma­jor is­lands, thanks to a rule pre­vent­ing build­ings taller than a co­conut tree. Re­cently listed among US magazine Travel + Leisure’s top 10 is­lands, Kauai is ripe for dis­cov­ery.

The is­land’s air­port is sched­uled for an up­grade, and tour group G Ad­ven­tures is about to launch its first Hawaii itin­er­ary, on which Kauai is the high­light.

G Ad­ven­tures calls the is­land “a na­ture lover’s dream, with stun­ning moun­tains that crash into the sea, ma­jes­tic wa­ter­falls, red-rock canyons, and some of the most beau­ti­ful beaches in the world”.

7 POR­TU­GAL

It’s been pegged as Europe’s next big thing for years but Por­tu­gal re­mains less touristy than its neigh­bours – and sur­pris­ingly cheap for West­ern Europe.

Lis­bon, its cul­tured tem­per­ate cap­i­tal, has drawn com­par­isons with Paris and Barcelona.

No won­der Por­tu­gal found its way onto Lonely Planet’s 2018 hot list – as well as those of just about ev­ery other travel com­pany around.

The food is a stand­out – seven new Por­tuguese restau­rants earned Miche­lin stars in 2017 – and ho­tel, cruise and tour op­er­a­tors are flock­ing to the coun­try.

Yet, ac­cord­ing to tour op­er­a­tor Bus­about, it’s still quiet enough that when you “dis­cover” a gem like the charming old town of Evora, you feel like you’re in on a se­cret.

8 KOH RONG IS­LANDS, CAM­BO­DIA

Dubbed the Thai­land of 20 years ago, Cam­bo­dia’s south­ern is­lands are about to steal the spot­light as one of the “it des­ti­na­tions” of 2018.

Un­til re­cently a rel­a­tively wellkept se­cret among back­pack­ers and bud­get trav­ellers, the Koh Rong is­lands near Si­hanoukville are be­ing “dis­cov­ered” by main­stream trav­ellers, es­pe­cially since in­ter­na­tional flights be­gan ser­vic­ing Si­hanoukville last year.

Lux­ury re­sort Song Saa Pri­vate Is­land opened a few years back and has al­ready taken its place among the world’s top ho­tels, and in 2018, two more stun­ning five-star is­land re­sorts, Alila Vil­las Koh Russey and Six Senses Krabey Is­land, are sched­uled to open, at­tract­ing a whole new wave of high-end trav­ellers.

9 CHENGDU, CHINA

Two words: gi­ant pan­das. Sure, Chengdu is also home to pic­turesque tem­ples and the fa­mous spicy Sichuan cui­sine, but its panda breed­ing and re­search cen­tre, home to the world’s largest cap­tive panda pop­u­la­tion, is the No. 1 draw­card.

Chengdu is the fastest grow­ing of China’s cities for tourists, hav­ing shot up by more than 20 per cent since 2009 ac­cord­ing to Master­card’s Global Cities In­dex, with searches among Aussie trav­ellers up a whop­ping 115 per cent in the past year, ac­cord­ing to Ex­pe­dia.

New flights from Aus­tralia (Air China added di­rect flights from Syd­ney to the city last year) are help­ing fuel the in­ter­est. As tour op­er­a­tor Wendy Wu puts it: “Chengdu is a def­i­nite, a ne­ces­sity, a must visit on any trip to China.”

10 MARALINGA, SOUTH AUS­TRALIA

Yes, we’re talk­ing about the nu­clear test­ing site – in the desert, ages from any­where and one of the most se­cret sites in Aus­tralian his­tory. And yes, it’s now a tourist at­trac­tion.

In fact, lo­cal in­dige­nous op­er­a­tors have been run­ning tours at the out­back site for the past cou­ple of years. And they’ve been such a suc­cess that in 2018, tour com­pany APT is fea­tur­ing the re­mote des­ti­na­tion in a new itin­er­ary.

So, why would you visit there? Well for starters, the slo­gan, “Not Kaza­khstan, not Ne­vada, but South Aus­tralia’s Maralinga” is in­trigu­ing enough to war­rant the epic Eyre High­way trip. “Our prod­uct man­ager planned this tour ... vis­it­ing the site first-hand. The sto­ries from the area are truly cap­ti­vat­ing,” APT says.

PIC­TURES: SLOVE­NIAN TOURIST BOARD, ISTOCK, GETABOUTASIA, IN­TREPID TRAVEL, LONELY PLANET, APT

Lake Bled show­cases stun­ning scenery in Slove­nia, a ris­ing star rock­et­ing up the des­ti­na­tion charts. The 2018 hot list fea­tures wildlife draw­cards such as pan­das in China, se­cret is­lands in Cam­bo­dia and the re­turn of old favourites like Egypt.

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