We check out the hot destinations for the year ahead
From mind-altering art exhibitions to under-the-radar beaches, these are the escapes set to top our travel wish lists this year
SUN, SEA AND SURF IN SRI LANKA
Ten years after a violent civil war was finally put to rest, this teardrop-shaped Indian Ocean island is now one of the most sought-after travel destinations. Initially affordability was the big draw; holidaying on it’s sun-splashed beaches costs a fraction compared to its flashy neighbours. But now word has spread of the other attractions on offer.
Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the No.1 destination to visit in 2019, largely on the basis of its “mix of religions and cultures, timeless temples, rich and accessible wildlife, growing surf scene and its people”.
Once off-limits, the north-east coast is the country’s fastest rising star. Port city Trincomalee has some excellent opportunities for whale watching, and provides a quieter alternative to overloaded Mirissa in the south. Arugam Bay, meanwhile, has a laid-back surf scene and claims to receive some of Asia’s best waves.
How: G Adventures (gadventures.co.uk) offers a seven-day Sailing Sri Lanka - North Coast tour from £899pp, for various departures in Feb, March, November and December. Flights and meals extra.
A PLEASING DOSE OF CULTURE IN ITALY
Boasting 54 Unesco World Heritage Sites, more than anywhere else in the world, Italy is a magnet for anyone keen on culture. A master of both the arts and science, Leonardo da Vinci was the archetypal Renaissance man, so the 500th anniversary of his death this May has spawned a year’s worth of celebrations and exhibitions. From April 19 to July 14, the Gallerie dell’accademia in Venice will launch a new exhibition dedicated to the great polymath, displaying one of his most iconic drawings, the Vitruvian Man. Meanwhile in Florence, the Museo Galileo’s Da Vinci exhibition looks at his studies of the human body, which he regarded as a sophisticated mechanical device. The master’s most famous work, The Last Supper, hangs in the refectory of Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, although to see it you’ll need to purchase tickets in advance. Further south, all eyes will be set on Matera, the European Capital of Culture. Blighted by poverty, the city in Basilicata was once a source of national embarrassment, but in recent decades its famous sassi - rock dwellings - have been converted into tourist-pleasing restaurants and hotels.
How: Hedonistic Hiking has a southern Italy tour to Matera from £2697pp, including meals with wine, accommodation, activities and transfers. Departures on June 11 and September 18. hedonistichiking.com
AN AFFORDABLE WAY TO REACH RIO
A city of mountains rising from the Atlantic Ocean, Rio de Janeiro has an irresistibly romantic allure. The 2016 Olympics gave the destination plenty of worldwide airtime, and now a new budget flight route means the South American party-hub is within more peoples’ reach.
On March 31, Norwegian will begin a direct service to Rio, following the success of its Buenos Aires route, which launched last February. While many will use the flight as an opportunity to explore Brazil’s wide-ranging riches, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Rio for a few days. Seeing the city from above is definitely a highlight; climb to the top of the Christ the Redeemer statue or take a cable car over to the tip of the Sugarloaf Mountain. For a taste of Rio’s past, head to the gabled mansions climbing the hillside in Santa Teresa. A cherished part of the community since 1877, the canary-yellow Bondinho de Santa Teresa tram car operates journeys into downtown. How: Norwegian (norwegian. com/uk) now offers flights from London Gatwick to Rio from £239.90 one way.
SPORTING EVENTS IN OSAKA, JAPAN
The land of the rising sun is on its marks to get set for two major sporting events, with televised scenes of the country’s snow-crested mountains and neon-lit cities very likely to tempt visitors. On Friday, September 20, the ninth Rugby World Cup will kick off for the first time in Asia; over the course of six weeks, 48 matches will be played at 12 venues in Japan. England’s first game of the tournament is against Tonga in Sapporo on September 22. Whetting an appetite for competition, the tournament will no doubt set a healthy precedent for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In anticipation of growing demand for the destination, BA will launch a new direct flight from London to Osaka in April, starting at £572 return.
The city has enough to keep visitors occupied for several days.
Now surrounded by skyscrapers, the 16th century castle in Osaka is a fairytale stack of sloped roofs surrounded by cherry trees. For families, Universal Studios Japan has characters extralarger than life.
How: Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a 14-night Discover Japan tour from £4445pp, including flights, accommodation and transfers.
HONOURING THE PAST IN BERLIN
It’s easy to forget Germany was once divided. This year marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a physical and metaphorical barrier between east and west, in place since 1961.
Memories of the past are still preserved in Berlin: Former squats in Mitte and Friedrichshain are now bars and restaurants; the East Side Gallery is a section of the wall left standing and converted into an open-air art display.
How: Explore is offering a one-off opportunity to cycle the 155km length of the former Berlin Wall, accompanied by a guide who grew up in East Germany. The seven-day Cycle the Berlin Wall departs September 16 and costs from £1420pp, including flights to Berlin, transfers, B&B accommodation and bike hire. Luggage is transported between hotels
A beach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Sugarloaf Mountain overlooking Rio
Matera in Basilicata
The TV tower in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, formerly part of East Germany