GET JETSET FOR 2018

Throw out your old travel itin­er­ary and ex­plore our se­lec­tion of this year’s best al­ter­na­tive des­ti­na­tions.

Hot Press - - Wildlife - By Peter McGo­ran

Maybe you’ve only heard of half of them – or maybe you’d never dreamed of go­ing to any of them! – but for any­one with ir­rev­o­ca­ble wan­der­lust, you’d be ab­so­lutely mad to leave even one of our top des­ti­na­tions off your buck­etlist. Tak­ing you as far away as pos­si­ble from the Western World’s well­worn tourist traps, or the eye-rolling stock of ‘found-my­self’ epipha­nies lo­cated in South-East Asia, we’re tak­ing you to is­lands, coun­tries and con­ti­nents that will push your bound­aries, open your mind and test the re­solve of that fair Ir­ish skin of yours. But be­fore all that – Coven­try.

COVEN­TRY, ENG­LAND

All jok­ing aside, you may not have to jam-pack your suit­case with sun cream, but when it comes to the English Mid­lands, it’s hard to think of a more cen­tral, con­ve­nient and ex­cit­ing city at the mo­ment than Coven­try. This much-over­looked me­dieval city boasts an im­pres­sive – and dev­as­tat­ing – his­tory, as well as an am­bi­tious fu­ture. Coven­try was one of the cities worst af­fected by the Luft­waffe bomb­ing cam­paign dur­ing World War II, and in the post-war pe­riod be­came a bea­con of re­gen­er­a­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion. That sen­ti­ment is likely to take off again over the next few years, as Coven­try gears up to be­come the of­fi­cial UK City of Cul­ture in 2021.

So whether you’re think­ing of head­ing to Coven­try’s Go­diva Fes­ti­val (which reg­u­larly brings in over 100,000 dur­ing the start of July); look­ing to learn about the early his­tory of Bri­tain’s most fa­mous 20th Cen­tury poet Philip Larkin; head­ing off to ex­plore the city’s bub­bling mu­si­cal legacy (ska le­gends The Spe­cials are among the acts to have emerged from city); or even just go­ing out to meet the good-na­tured and fiercely city-proud cit­i­zens, Coven­try is an ace stop-off.

For those look­ing to get there from Dublin, the eas­i­est way is tak­ing a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive flight to Birm­ing­ham, then get­ting a half-hour bus or train jour­ney to the city.

LEEUWARDEN, NETHER­LANDS

Much like their for­mer Bri­tish com­padres, the Euro­pean Union also deign Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture sta­tus to sev­eral over­looked ur­ban ar­eas per year. For 2018, all eyes are on the north­ern Dutch city of Leeuwarden. A one-and-a-half hour drive from Am­s­ter­dam, Leeuwarden is sit­u­ated on some of the Nether­lands’ most rugged and ver­sa­tile land­scapes. To the north, you’ll find the Wad­den Sea, a Unesco World Her­itage and set­ting for Ersk­ine Childers’ famed Ir­ish novel, The Riddle In The Sands, while sur­round­ing the city are four stun­ning na­tional parks.

But while beau­ti­ful land­scapes will stay around for­ever, 2018 is the year to get the full Leeuwarden ex­pe­ri­ence. With over 40 ma­jor projects on the agenda and hun­dreds of in­di­vid­ual events, the city will be­gin a cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion on the stroke of noon, Jan­uary 26, when new mu­se­ums and at­trac­tions will open their doors. A choir of chil­dren will also sing a be­spoke Leeuwarden an­them in the city cen­tre.

And if that all seems a bit soppy for you, you may be more in­ter­ested in some of the fes­ti­vals tak­ing place through­out the sum­mer. June’s Oerol Fes­ti­val sees the is­land of Ter­schelling trans­formed for ten days into one big stage for the­atre, dance, street the­atre, the vis­ual arts and mu­sic, while July’s Wel­come To The Vil­lage brings top na­tional and in­ter­na­tional acts from the worlds of mu­sic, art, in­no­va­tion and the­atre right into the heart of the city. Dozens of other events across the next 12 months will seek to ex­plore the artistry, vi­brancy and per­son­al­ity of this unique city.

VALLETTA, MALTA

Mov­ing south to sun­nier ports, we ar­rive at Europe’s sec­ond Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture for the year ahead. Founded in 1565 by the Or­der of St John as a refuge for soldiers re­turn­ing from the Cru­sades, the mod­ern Valletta is now a slice of liv­ing, breath­ing his­tory. With an un­sur­passed col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal Baroque ar­chi­tec­ture; for­ti­fied city walls over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean Sea; and a spec­tac­u­lar Cathe­dral, (which fea­tures in­tri­cately carved stone vaults and a famed paint­ing by Car­avag­gio), it’s lit­tle won­der that this – the small­est of Euro­pean cap­i­tal cities – is also a world her­itage site.

But far from be­ing a mere his­tor­i­cal relic,

2018 will see Valletta re­born, with re­stored mu­se­ums, unique ex­pe­ri­ences around the city’s out­ly­ing ar­eas, and new ho­tels, bars and restau­rants pop­ping up in won­der­ful con­verted 16th-cen­tury build­ings. Flights to Malta go di­rect from Dublin and are eye-wa­ter­ingly cheap, so don’t miss this chance.

CLEVE­LAND, OHIO

Yes, it’s a firm out­sider choice when it comes to ad­ver­tis­ing the sheer va­ri­ety of Amer­i­can cities, but this year we’re tak­ing our bets with Cleve­land. Com­ing to most peo­ple’s at­ten­tion af­ter it played host to the much-pub­li­cised Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2016 (a good en­dorse­ment or a bad one de­pend­ing on your pol­i­tics), Cleve­landers them­selves are al­ways the first to de­clare that their city should’ve been in the in­ter­na­tional spot­light at least a decade ear­lier.

On top of a com­pletely re­vi­talised cul­tural scene (com­plete with plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for artists and musicians), Cleve­land seems poised to mus­cle in as a tech start-up hub,

lur­ing young peo­ple away from places like San Fran and Bos­ton, and pro­vid­ing them with a new work­place and play­ground.

All that aside, one of the big­gest at­trac­tions of Cleve­land over the years has been its pro­fes­sional sports teams. De­spite hav­ing had a Mayo-es­que curse on them (the city failed to win a tro­phy in any ma­jor sport from 19642016), the Cleve­land Cava­liers, led by LeBron James, fi­nally won the NBA Cham­pi­onships in 2016. If you’re in the city, and even if you don’t much care about sports at all, do the done thing and buy your­self a ticket to any foot­ball/ base­ball/bas­ket­ball game. The city is also home to the world-renowned Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, which boasts sev­eral decades’ worth of me­men­tos, sou­venirs and mem­o­ra­bilia from some of the iconic artists in rock his­tory.

HARAR, ETHIOPA

Your gate­way into the for­mi­da­ble African con­ti­nent doesn’t have to be­gin with wellestab­lished coun­tries like South Africa, Kenya, or Egypt. There’s lit­er­ally hun­dreds of beau­ti­ful, undis­cov­ered gems which have been sidestepped by many be­cause of the per­cep­tion of Africa as mainly a war-torn, poverty-stricken, re­source-de­pleted con­ti­nent. Even a brief jour­ney out of your com­fort zone will have you adamant that that view is, at best, re­duc­tive.

To that end, we’re singing the praises of Harar. The largest city in Ethiopia’s ‘laid-back east’, Harar is no­table for its con­tra­dic­tions.

The en­tire city is a Unesco World Her­itage Site and a bustling com­mer­cial cen­tre, it’s the fourth holi­est city of Is­lam and makes the best beer in the coun­try. You can visit the old town mosques and shrines, or the stately man­sion which once be­longed to the poet Arthur Rim­baud, or ex­plore its sur­round­ing nat­u­ral en­vi­rons (if you’re there at the right time, you can even take part in the long-stand­ing yearly tra­di­tion of feed­ing or­ganic refuse to hye­nas).

LA PAZ, BOLIVA

Sit­u­ated in a val­ley set against the stun­ning, swirling back­drop of the An­des Moun­tains, La Paz sits about 3300-4100 me­tres above sea level, mak­ing it the high­est cap­i­tal city in the world. This ‘city in the clouds’ is rich with stately 19th cen­tury churches, mu­se­ums full of arte­facts from Bo­livia’s pre-Span­ish Con­quest era, and colour­ful mar­kets (in­clud­ing the ex­otic Witch Mar­ket, which sells unique charms and po­tions, as well as sou­venirs).

But truly the best part of La Paz is out­side of the city it­self. Ever since Bo­livia passed its ‘Law of the Rights of Mother Earth’ (which as­ton­ish­ingly ac­cords na­ture the same rights as hu­mans), both the city and coun­try have be­come a fine ex­am­ple of how so­ci­eties should treat their beau­ti­ful, yet vul­ner­a­ble, land­scapes. If you have the time, take a three-day trek from the moun­tains of La Cum­bre (the city’s high­est peak) down through the jun­gle to the vil­lage of Chairo. Across the 60km jour­ney, you’ll be able to ex­pe­ri­ence the rapid change in cli­mate, veg­e­ta­tion and wildlife, as you go from dizzy­ing moun­tain tops to trop­i­cal for­est plains.

Flights to La Paz in­volve a few stopovers, nor­mally in Lon­don or Bo­gota, but for any­one plan­ning on do­ing a long-term South Amer­i­can ad­ven­ture, put this city high on your list.

VALLETTA MALTA

LA PAZ BO­LIVIA

OHIO

LAND CLEVE

HARAR ETHIOPIA

COVEN­TRY ENG­LAND

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