Have yourself a half-way holiday
Long-haul flights can be soul-destroying, but a city stopover along the way can transform the experience, says Chris Leadbeater
Never does Robert Louis Stevenson’s much referenced (and often mis-recited) snippet of wisdom about how “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” (from his 1878 essay El Dorado) seem more nonsensical than when you are halfway through a long flight. There is nothing hopeful about having spent six hours squashed into a small seat, knowing that you have seven further hours to go – as the gentleman who has wedged himself next to you continues to snore fervently. Arrival, at this point, would be a delight.
Still, while it is impossible to second-guess the views of a man who died in the 19th century, you could infer from his oft-quoted line about taking the slow route and enjoying the process that the author of Treasure Island would approve of the 21stcentury concept of the flight stopover. For what is more the antithesis of arrival than halting on your way?
A 21st-century concept? Maybe not. People have been embarking on odysseys by air that touch down here and there before sighting the final runway almost ever since the Wright Brothers cracked the aviation code. But the idea of pausing in an indirect somewhere on the path from A to B has come into clarity in the last three years – thanks mainly to Wow Air (01642 450450; wowair.co.uk) and Icelandair (020 7874 1000; icelandair. com). Since 2015, these Icelandic rivals have extended tentacles into North America, targeting mid-sized, sometimes hard-to-reach cities in the USA and Canada (Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Halifax and Montreal as a few examples) – to exploit untapped markets, but also in a fiercely competitive bid to create a “low-cost long haul” transatlantic air-bridge.
The big issue is that you have to fly via the carriers’ base airport – Keflavik in Reykjavik. Inconvenient or intriguing? Both airlines have been marketing it as the latter, selling official stopover deals which let passengers spend time in the planet’s most northerly capital at the midpoint in their progress, without incurring added costs. They have done this so effectively that, suddenly, the thought of not taking a break during an epic dash across the planet seems indecent haste. It is a persuasive argument – if you are landing in a destination that, though not the main focus of your travels, is an alluring option for a day or two of exploration, why wouldn’t you step off the plane and see more?
Nor are the Icelanders alone. With three or four notable exceptions, the 15 places in our selection, right, are secondary travel destinations – urban options that you might not necessarily consider primary ports of call for holidays. But if you are planning a globe-spanning trip to Australia, the Americas, Africa or the Far East in the near future, the same cities could all provide welcome respite from the dull restrictions of the journey. Where am I going? Practically anywhere in North America.
Airlines: Wow Air (from Edinburgh, Gatwick and Stansted) and Icelandair (from Glasgow, Gatwick, Heathrow, and Manchester). Wow provides a “stopover” booking function on its website, with, for example, return flights to Detroit – leaving Gatwick on Oct 20, pausing for two nights in Reykjavik, and returning from the US on Oct 29 – costing from £390. Icelandair also offers this reservations process – an identical package on the same dates, flying from Glasgow to Orlando via Keflavik, starts at £1,002. Reasons to linger: Wow sells a one-day “Golden Circle Tour” of Iceland’s most fabled geological wonders – the Strokkur geyser; the Gullfoss waterfall; Thingvellir National Park – from £84 per person. The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa (bluelagoon.com; from €55), while something of a tourism cliché, is remarkably beautiful.
Stay: The Sandhotel (telegraph.co.uk/ tt-sandhotelreykjavik), a boutique retreat on Reykjavik’s main shopping avenue Laugavegur, offers doubles from £207, with breakfast.
Further information: visitreykjavik. is; inspiredbyiceland.com
Why wouldn’t you want to step off your plane and see more of a destination for a day or two?
Where am I going? In the last 15 years, Dubai has become the obvious break-point for trips from Europe to Australasia, eclipsing the route via the Far East that dominated travel plans in the last century. But you might equally be going to the Seychelles, or Mauritius.
Airline: Emirates (0344 800 2777; emirates.com) serves the Seychelles from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle (while BA only flies direct to Mahé from Heathrow). Its “multi-city” booking option lets tourists build a gap into their itinerary. Return flights from Birmingham to the Seychelles, departing on Nov 24, with space for three nights in Dubai en route, cost from £835.
Reason to linger: Dubai rarely gains cultural plaudits, but there is a thrill in rising to the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa (burjkhalifa.ae; AED370/£78), the world’s tallest building.
Stay: The five-star Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach (telegraph.co.uk/tt-fourseasonsdubai) dispenses seafront views, and doubles from £163 per night, room only. Further information: visitdubai.com
BREAK FREEA tourist enjoys the view of Bangkok from the water