Over a quarter of holidaymakers are looking to try somewhere completely new in 2018, with 27 per cent of Britons planning to visit a country they’ve never been to before. Almost a third (32 per cent) of those asked were expecting to visit a new resort or city, according to the ABTA Travel Trends.
Increasingly, travellers want fresh experiences: tailor-made holidays, boutique accommodation, tours themed around their interests and passions and, most prominently, alternative destinations.
We’re all travelling more, from the cash-rich over 60s, who are living healthier, more active lives, to millennials, who – priced out of the housing market – are spending more money on travel. Last year, Contiki saw a 10 per cent rise in the average spend of clients aged 18 to 35, which Donna Jeavons, the operator’s sales and marketing director, puts down to “millennials investing in experiences over bricks and mortar.”
The rise of budget airlines – particularly on long-haul routes – has also meant travel is cheaper (despite the post-referendum fall in the value in sterling) and far easier, opening up destinations that were completely off the radar just a few years ago.
It’s a general truth that the more we travel, the more we seek to broaden our horizons. We want to explore destinations away from the crowds, that offer unique experience and form lasting memories, and to impress our friends and family with our dogged-eared passports.
To us, getting off-the-beaten track doesn’t just mean heading to far-flung, virtually inaccessible, regions, but simply exploring destinations that are mostly free from tourism. There is plenty, even in Europe, that remains relatively undiscovered.
That is why we have created a list of seven of the most exciting but often overlooked holiday destinations, each an alternative to a more famous option, ranging from the Adriatic beach city of Piran in Slovenia to the romantic and picturesque wineries of Virginia Wine Country in the United
States. Joseph Crewther
The port of Piran (pictured main) is a slice of unspoilt Venetian charm, with its superb bell tower, its maze of medieval streets and the elegant Piazza Tartini. It has many of the attractions of its more famous cousin, but fewer selfie-sticks. The town, built on a headland in the Gulf of Trieste, is the jewel of a 50km stretch of Slovenian coast, on the northern edge of the Adriatic’s diamond-shaped Istrian peninsula.
It may seem surprising to many that tiny, Alpine Slovenia even has beaches, and this general lack of awareness is one reason why its emerald waters, plunging cliffs and architectural outcrops of the Venetian empire have been able to hide in plain sight in the middle of Europe.
At the same time, Piran’s waters are so clean you will find sea bream happily swimming in the port, while its Istrian hinterlands, with medieval villages clinging to cliffs, are known for succulent tomatoes, wild asparagus and white truffles that rival those of Italy.
For an unforgettable treat, order an aperitif on the marina on a clear evening, and enjoy clear views of the Dolomites soaring up as a backdrop to its stunning Adriatic waters. Joji Sakurai
Getting there The Slovenian Riviera is a morning’s drive from Milan or Vienna, and half an hour from Trieste, which has regular flights from London. In the summer, there are direct two-hour ferries from Venice.
On the shady banks of the Mekong as it wanders through central Laos, Thakhek is one in a string of pretty riverside cities overlooked by most visitors to Southeast Asia’s mountainous north.
Thakhek is seen at its most beautiful on the long riverfront of this sizeable former port, where French colonial villas enjoy sunset views over Thailand. Many have been turned into upmarket hotels: the gorgeous Bouton d’Or, for example, offers boutique luxury for a typically low Laotian rate.
Behind the frills you will find a good, old-fashioned backpacker’s town: the Sabaidee Thakhek restaurant, also on the riverfront, serves massive portions of Laotian specialities. Nearby Inthira Thakhek is a meeting place for backpackers and cyclists planning a trip around the “Thakhek loop”, one of Laos’s best-kept secrets. This 450km road winds through limestone mountains, remote villages and waterfalls: if cycling is not your thing, arrange a
jeep tour in town.
Thakhek offers a taste of Southeast Asia as it was decades ago: remote, rural and unspoilt. Visit now, before it gets on the beaten track. Liz Dodd
Getting there Thakhek is easy to reach from the capital, Vientiane, or from Pakse, near the Cambodian border, by bus.
Virginia Wine Country
Thomas Jefferson failed at viticulture, so it might come as a surprise that his beloved Virginia is making waves on the global wine scene. It started, slowly, back in the 1960s, with Gianni Zonin, an Italian winemaker, who established the Barboursville Vineyards near Charlottesville. At the same time, experts from Virginia Tech, the local university, developed new cultivation techniques that made the most of the regional climate and soil. Today, Virginia ranks fifth in the United States for wine production, offering a smaller but no less captivating alternative to Californian wine country.
What Virginia has always had is rolling green countryside, colonial villages, and tucked-away inns, all in the shade of the enchanting Blue Ridge Mountains. For an idyllic day or weekend tour within an hour’s drive of Washington DC, head to Chrysalis Vineyards, the largest grower of Norton grapes, an American variety; Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, overseen by a master winemaker from Burgundy; and Stone Tower Winery, with its range of sociable tastings and concerts.
Alternatively, leave behind the car and be escorted carefree aboard a Wine Excursion shuttle, run by the transport firm BBC Express and departing from Lansdowne Resort, for a fun-filled, wine-soaked day. Barbara Noe Kennedy
Getting there British Airways flies direct to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, putting you in easy grape-stomping distance.
Located on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is stable, relatively liberal and, following the lead of more well-known destinations such as Dubai, it is encouraging tourism as a way of reducing its economy’s reliance on oil and gas. At the end of March, Oman introduced a new e-visa application system for UK citizens so they do not have to queue for one on arrival, and it also opened a shiny new terminal at Muscat International Airport.
Muscat, the Omani capital, is famous for seafood restaurants and bustling souks. The splendid Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is an essential stop, but only open to non-Muslims in the mornings
and not on a Friday. Kempinski, the luxury hotelier, recently opened a 310-room hotel in Oman, a perfect destination for a day or two in the city.
Within a couple of hours’ drive you can be up in the Hajar Mountains, which offer a breathtaking view of Muscat’s port. Head further inland to stay at luxury resorts such as Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar and the Alila Jabal Akhdar for rock-climbing and hiking, or head out on camel to stay in one of the many desert camps. Jenny Southan
Getting there Both British Airways and Oman Air operate nonstop services to Muscat, which take seven and a half hours from London.
Standing in the fountain-graced centre of Sarajevo’s Baščaršija (old Turkish market), with its small shops displaying copper coffee pots, handcrafted carpets and Turkish glass lamps, you would be excused for thinking you were in the middle of Istanbul’s bustling Grand Bazaar – a smaller, quieter version, anyway. Given that the Ottoman Empire ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina for more than four centuries, it is no wonder its mosques, public baths and madrasas (schools) display a clear Ottoman style.
Bosnia’s capital still bears some marks of the Bosnian War, which ended 23 years ago, but tourists are arriving in ever greater numbers, and the Turkish quarter thrives night and day. Explore its winding, cobbled lanes, ducking into a coffee shop – perhaps Morica Han, an inn dating back to 1551 – for a thick, Turkish-style coffee and Turkish delight. Then try traditional burek,a flaky meat or cheese pie made with filo pastry, at Bosna, or another of the many buzzy restaurants lining Bradžiluk and Kundurdžiluk.
When you are ready to relax, fall into a low-lying sofa in a shisha bar – Dibek is popular, with its outdoor courtyard – which often feature the sultry strains of live music at night. Barbara Noe Kennedy
Getting there There are no direct flights between London and Sarajevo, but Lufthansa and Croatia Airlines offer reasonable connecting flights.
Like the Niagara Falls, the Thousand Islands region straddles the Canadian-US border. This underrated destination undersells itself: there are actually 1,864 islands, scattered for 50 miles down the St Lawrence River, offering scenic cruises, kayaking and angling.
Nature lovers will enjoy spending time in the Frontenac Arch biosphere, between the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains to the south and the forests of the Canadian Arch. It is teeming with wildlife and has been recognised by Unesco.
Keen hikers will find that the Rideau Trail offers a well-signposted route between Kingston and Ottawa. It is also possible to drive, cycle and navigate waterways along the Rideau Heritage Route, which meanders through picturesque small communities and countryside.
For a birds-eye view, take a helicopter flight and pick out landmarks such as Boldt Castle, dating from 1900 and looking like a cross between a French chateau and Disney’s Cinderella Castle. Gananoque, a small town styling itself as the gateway to the region, is home to the Thousand Islands Playhouse and a boat museum.
The pull of nearby Ottawa, Toronto and the Niagara Falls means that the Thousand Islands have been unfairly overlooked. Do not make the same mistake: it is the perfect destination for anyone with a taste for adventure. Stuart Forster
Getting there Air Canada and British Airways fly between Heathrow and Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Westjet flies direct from Gatwick and Glasgow, as does Air Transat, which also operates summer services from Manchester.
Long after it spills over Victoria Falls, the regal Zambezi undulates through Lower Zambezi National Park, a magnet for lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, buffalo and hundreds of elephants at a time, not to mention hippo, zebra, African wild dog and 400 species of birds.
And yet this splendid game park in southeast Zambia, founded in 1983, has not been overrun by safari-goers. Lest you think this means staking up your own tent and fending for yourself in the wilderness, think again: there are plenty of luxury lodgings with lavish tent cabins, Anabezi Camp among them. Think private viewing decks, plunge pools and candlelit dinners beneath the African skies.
The best way to explore is by boat, gliding past animals for up-close encounters. But, as Zambia is the birthplace of walking safaris, taking to the trails on foot, accompanied by an experienced guide, is a thrilling option. Barbara Noe Kennedy
Getting there Ethiopian Air and Kenya Airways offer daily flights from London to Lusaka, Zambia, via Addis Ababa or Nairobi; Proflight can then take you the last leg to Jeki and Royal Airstrips in Lower Zambezi, accessing all lodges in and outside the parks.