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

Kentish Express Ashford & District - What's On - - NEWS -

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

Os­aka, Ja­pan

Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain over­look­ing Rio

Mat­era in Basil­i­cata

The TV tower in Alexan­der­platz, Berlin, for­merly part of East Ger­many

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