By G9ija

1.  THE PELOPNNNESE, GREECE

While the starriest Greek islands – such as Santorini and Mykonos – grapple with over-tourism, forward-thinking visitors are heading to the mainland and discovering the wide-open spaces of Greece off-season.

The Peloponnese has been bubbling just below the radar since Costa Navarino opened in 2010.

Soon afterwards, the local airport at Kalamata opened up to international flights, shaving off several hours’ driving time from Athens and boosting arrivals to the region by 15 per cent last year.

In 2019, the rail service linking the port of Patras with the town of Pyrgos, in the south-western Peloponnese, will resume after a seven-year halt.

A train ride is the perfect way to explore this laidback region which has been a destination for wellness and fitness since Hippocrates prescribed therapeutic olive oil massages and naked athletes limbered up in Olympia.

Athletes (dressed in more than just a slick of olive oil) will be hitting Costa Navarino in April 2019 for Greece’s first Iron Man race.

After a 1.9km swim in the Ionian Sea, competitors will cycle through olive groves before embarking on a half marathon that runs alongside Voidokilia beach, a perfect semi-circle of burnished sand.

The west coast of the Peloponnese is rippled with mile upon mile of sand dunes.Kourouta may not be the quietest beach, but it will soon become the hippest.

Euphoria Retreat, Greece’s first destination spa, is modelled on a Byzantine monastery, but it’s not all about spiritual awakening and slowing down. Active retreats include the ‘Spartan adventure in nature’, which features rock climbing, rafting and paragliding.

There’s more off-grid action at Villa Vager Mani, from hiking and archery to kayaking and scuba diving. This family-run guesthouse has four suites in a fortified mansion built in 1858.

It’s a 20-minute drive from the village of Kardamili, where the most desirable property in the Peloponnese will be available to rent for three months of the year from 2020: the peachy stone house poised above a private cove was built by travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor in the 1960s – ‘a world of utmost magical beauty’ where he wrote, swam, and entertained poets and painters until his death aged 96.

2.  THE NEW ART PILGRIMAGE, EGYPT

The opening of the game-changing Grand Egyptian Museum has been delayed again – Its not exactly sure (though the latest word is 2020).

And yet, the news from the ground is for the first time in 8 years, there’s a waitlist for city hotels and boat trips along the Nile.

After a tumultuous few years, Egypt, it seems, is back on the map. It had been hoped that the $1 billion, sleek, marble temple to the country’s antiquities would have swung open its doors by now, revealing, among a wealth of other national treasures, most crucially King Tutankhamun’s entire burial collection – more than 5,000 pieces  displayed to the public in an exact replica of the tomb itself.

Which means visitors will be able to see everything – bejeweled sandals, embroidered tunics and the Boy King’s death mask – just as Howard Carter did when he made his milestone discovery in 1922.

And yet, while everyone waits patiently, elsewhere in the country the momentum mounts. Nile cruise liner Sanctuary Retreats has just launched weekly sailings of its boutique wooden boats, kitted out with art deco fixtures and leather deck chairs to sink into while gazing at Nubian sandstone cliffs and the teeming ancient tombs and temples of Luxor.

Oberoi’s ship in the meantime, the Philae, has been given a top to bottom refurb, including a rooftop pool and much fewer, more spacious rooms as well as a spa with views out to Medinat Habu, the resting place of Rameses II and one of the new spots on their itinerary.

And in March 2019 the much-talked about St Regis will open right on the river, injecting Cairo’s dusty hotel scene with a much-needed dosage of glamour; it’s floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto terraces that offer the sharpest views of Cairo’s pedestrian-friendly Corniche promenade anywhere around.

3. MATERA, ITALY

Matera, Italy
Down in the arch of Italy’s foot, Matera is built into the rock of a ravine.
This strange, prehistoric-looking city is miles from anywhere, and so out of time that it has been used as a set for films needing authentic Jerusalem: Ben-Hur, and The Passion of the Christ, for which a crucifix was made that remains on the hillside.
But Matera’s sassi are what people come to see, the troglodyte cave dwellings where, even in the mid-20th century, its impoverished citizens lived in dank darkness until it was eventually abandoned.
In 1993, UNESCO declared Matera a World Heritage Site. Slowly its fortunes changed, and now, as in Santorini, they’ve become hot property among travellers keen for an immersive stay.
Many sassi are being rented out on Airbnb or turned into galleries, restaurants and charming cave hotels, upscale hideaways in limestone grottoes, such as the Palazzo Gattini, Corte San Pietro, Relais La Casa di Lucio (which has a new royal apartment) and Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, one of the most romantic digs in all Italy.
A short drive away, in Bernalda, is Francis Ford Coppola’s splendid Palazzo Margherita.

In 2019, Matera will be thrust into the light of the 21st century as a European Capital of Culture.

The year’s cultural programme kicks off on 19 January with more than 2,000 musicians and dozens of brass bands, all marching to their own tune around the city’s ancient candlelit streets.

4. PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

For the first time ever we can, finally, fly direct to Australia – on Qantas’s new 17-hour London-Perth route. That suddenly opens up a new continent for consideration – and the country’s west coast is booming right now.

The Margaret River region is well established as a foodie destination, with its Gourmet Escape pulling in international chefs (Rick Stein, Nigella Lawson) every November. Now its top-notch produce and wines are fuelling a proliferation of independent new cafés, bars and restaurants in the state capital.

In 2019 the Ritz-Carlton Perth opens on redeveloped Elizabeth Quay, joining the new Westin Perth (which launched in 2018 in the heritage-listed Hibernian Hall and has 2,000 artworks, including aerial photography of WA, and a great rooftop pool) and other relative newcomers COMO The Treasury and Alex Hotel (founded by the brewers behind Little Creatures, stars of the city’s enthusiastic craft-beer scene).

There’s culture in the form of Sculpture by the Sea, an annual exhibition held in March (in 2018 Damien Hirst’s giant inflatable head in snorkel and mask emerged from the bone-white sands of Cottesloe Beach); while on Rottnest Island, so close you can swim over from Cottesloe, Pinky’s new tented eco-retreat will welcome guests from February 2019.

North of the city there’s been £100-million investment in Scarborough Beach – where the fine sands and sunny disposition can never be confused with Britain’s own Scarborough beach – with a smart new pool and restaurants such as The Peach Pit.

Beyond the city Perth is the jumping-off point for further explorations into Australia’s wild west: Ningaloo Reef where you can swim with whale sharks; and the dramatic Kimberley, with wilderness escapes such as El Questro homestead.

And until April 2019, travellers making the detour south to the whaling town of Albany will be rewarded with Bruce Munro’s captivating new ‘Field of Light: Avenue of Honour’, a reiteration of his artwork in Uluru, with 13,000 lightbulbs planted to commemorate the centenary of WW1.

Stop off en route for a night at Katanning’s new Premier Mill Hotel, which brings hipster cool to the outback-of-beyond; then while you’re down there, there’s a new-for-2019 trip to see killer whales at the feeding grounds of Bremer Canyon.

5. THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS

 

Travellers walk the earth to find monumental landscapes, a sense of complete isolation – yet relatively few go looking in their own back yard.

We will finally head for the Highlands, our own true wilderness, for our country kicks and skiing breaks.

Certainly, Europeans can’t get enough of the place. The Danish team behind the exquisite Killiehuntly Farmhouse and Kinloch Lodge – clothing billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen and his interior-decorator wife, Anne – are busy revamping additional tumbledown properties with their Scandi-Scot good taste.

Kyle House – a former smokery turned Danish-minimalist masterpiece, with mountain views from every seat in the house, including the bath – has just opened.

Set to follow soon are lovely lochside Hope Lodge and Lundies, a restored manse aimed at bikers and hikers on the North Coast 500, which is bringing new life to this beautiful area.

The Povlsens have also just opened Kennels Cottage, in the Cairngorms, while the village of Braemar, across the peaks, is all abuzz as the Swiss gallerists behind Hauser & Wirth undertake their epic makeover of the Fife Arms, transforming it into a top-notch, 46-room hotel with Jinny Blom gardens, a spa, a restaurant and, of course, a bar – plus a knockout collection of Scottish and international art and installations.

Additionally, down in the Lowlands, Dundee’s culture credentials are multiplying. The V&A opened here in September 2018, and now a former mill is being turned into a massive multi-venue arts destination

6. THE TURKISH RIVIERA, TURKEY

A couple of years ago the Turkish Riviera was all but off-limits for British travellers – so what welcome news that this glorious coast is back with a bang.

British Airways has resumed its direct flights from London to Dalaman, making secret beach spots such as Datça and Bozburun super accessible.

Meanwhile, the Bodrum Peninsula is all of a flutter with smart new developments that are taking the scene up a notch.

Around the corner from the superyacht-filled Yalikavak Marina is Ian Schrager’s all-white Bodrum Edition, which launched in summer 2018 with a restaurant by El Bulli’s Diego Muñoz, a full-on disco (including a giant pink glitter ball), and a non-stop deep-house soundtrack that resonates from the pool to beach club.

More ambitious still is Kaplankaya, an entire new coastal town north-west of Bodrum.

Already launched is a Six Senses hotel and destination spa, five beaches and various restaurants, and there are several more hotels in the offing plus a Foster & Partners-designed marina.

Old favourites reopened this spring, too: Nicolas Sarkozy was among those holing up at peaceful Amanruya in summer; Mandarin Oriental Bodrum made a splash with new nightclub Kai; while round the headland Macakizi has a new waterfront restaurant and club and is working on an exciting place to stay nearby called Macakizi Lofts.

With the value of the Turkish lira having fallen significantly, the Turquoise Coast is currently a well-priced, chic alternative for Europeans who want to swim, sail, eat and party.

7. ST BARTH’S, CARIBBEAN

St Barth’s, Caribbean

In 2017 the most powerful storm ever to sweep the Atlantic, Hurricane Irma, struck the Caribbean – swiftly followed by the equally devastating Hurricane Maria. Several entire islands were wiped out.

St Barth’s was one of the worst hit. One year on, and the breezy-breathe-easy island is definitely, defiantly open for business again.

Renovation efforts have been phenomenal as islanders have beavered away to rebuild lives, homes and infrastructure, as well as the hotels and beach bars we cross oceans for – so going to the Caribbean in 2019 is a philanthropic act, too.

Hôtel Le Toiny, which was relaunched only three years ago by new English owners Charlie and Mandie Vere Nicoll, has been revamped again.

It reopened in October with eight new suites added (all with pools and ocean-view terraces), and its beach club has been so well re-landscaped that it’s hard to believe it was destroyed; just in time for the Saint Barth Gourmet Festival, which took place in early November 2018.

At the other end of the island, Villa Marie Saint-Barth (sister hotel to the St Tropez original) has been restored to its former French-tropical, palm-print glory with two brand-new villas.

Meanwhile, the legendary Eden Rock St Barths is set to reopen for this Christmas, after a complete face-lift. It’s owned by the Matthews, Pippa Middleton’s in-laws (although Pippa might have to skip Christmas on the beach this year).

Across the water, in the British Virgin Islands, Richard Branson has also reopened his Great House on Necker Island in October and will be gradually adding newly rebuilt villas and rooms throughout 2019.

8.  NEW ORLEANS

In New Orleans, a city of sensory overload, you can pick up wafts of chicory, spilled rum, warm beignets and stale cigarettes in the same breath.

But in the lobby of the new Hotel Peter & Paul in Marigny, it’s more like gardenias. There’s a feeling of lightness here, from the extra-high ceilings that give the rooms a bright glow to the cheery canary-yellow check-in desk.

This is one of the most anticipated hotel launches in a city that really needed a hotel resurgence. Fusty places with antique-cluttered rooms were the standard here.

Properties either nailed the bar and courtyard, or had great rooms. Finding both seemed impossible. Until now. Peter & Paul is actually a bundle of buildings: a 19th-century Catholic church, schoolhouse, convent and rectory reimagined by ASH NYC, with gingham curtains woven in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, near the French Quarter, The Eliza Jane has taken over the old Times-Picayune printing press. Its curated vintage aesthetic still feels fresh and alive, with deep sofas in jewel-toned purples and reds, a long bar built for slinging sazerac, a terrace that works for both coffee meetings and happy hour and the already popular restaurant Couvant.

In April 2019, the Atelier Ace team opens Maison de la Luz in the Warehouse District. It is meant to be that quiet place you retreat to at the end of a long night of debauchery, but there will be a craft cocktail bar from Quixotic Projects.

At Peter & Paul, however, the new Elysian Bar is from the team behind local haunt Bacchanal, which hosts the best backyard party in the Bywater. This is New Orleans after all.

9. TAHITI

 

There are certain signs that new tribes of travellers are making their way to French Polynesia.

Nicolas Malleville and Francesca Bonato, the lithe and lovely couple who founded the boutique hotel brand Coqui Coqui and helped turn Tulum from a sleepy Mexican beach town to the haute hippy utopia it is today, are opening an outpost on Bora Bora a little later this year.

No doubt, this will be a dog whistle to Isabel Marant-wearing sun seekers across the globe.

Families looking to escape the tyranny of proper sit-down dinners with kids – and the constant lobbying for £20 poolside mocktails – will have the opportunity for more pared-down experiences (and their own kitchens) as new family-operated, Tahiti Tourisme-vetted guesthouses on some of the region’s most gorgeous, less-trafficked islands and atolls.

On the other end of the spectrum, the hard chargers who will happily pay to have the wave all to themselves will have a new playground this March when Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté opens Nukutepipi, a super-luxe private island with 16 beachfront villas and bungalows that you can rent out exclusively for you and 50 of your closest buddies.

10.  MOZAMBIQUE

Mozambique was once sub-Saharan Africa’s answer to Havana – a hedonistic hideout with nightlife, naughtiness, and no limits.

The fun was centred around the islands fringing its coast, especially the southernmost Bazaruto archipelago – home to the Santa Carolina hotel, a midcentury modern masterpiece with its own landing strip, and whose cocktail hour famously inspired Bob Dylan to pick out a few notes on the hotel’s piano, a love song to the place itself.

Today, after two decades of civil conflict ending in the 1990s, the Santa Carolina survives, just; it bakes in the sun, an elegant ruin.

But new high-end hotels are finally channelling its legacy, luring visitors with a similar, if less naughty, appeal: privacy in paradise, with pristine, palm-fringed beaches rolling out to the bluest Indian Ocean.

The first, and Beyond Benguerra Island, debuted three years ago next to the Santa Carolina; the luxury safari company just overhauled a sister site in the northern Quirimbas cluster, on Vamizi Island, and will be adding a lodge to its 20 private villa-style rooms in 2019.

Back down in Bazaruto, Mozambique has just signed a co-management agreement with African Parks to oversee long-term ocean conservation of this coastal jewel, and VistaJet entrepreneur Nina Flohr is breaking ground on an ambitious hotel, joining existing luxury properties Anantara and Azura. Until that’s completed, you can crash affordably at her new Kisawa Residence and pitch in at the marine conservation centre.

Conservation is shaping the story off the beach, too. An investment from American philanthropist Greg Carr has resurrected wildlife numbers in once-depleted Gorongosa National Park, where waterfalls and marshlands are luring a particularly impressive crop of colourful birds.

No wonder that next summer, Royal Portfolio will debut its first tented safari camp outside of South Africa here.

After a few days’ lounging on the coast or animal trekking, tack on a weekend in Mozambican capital Maputo, renowned for its nightlife and Portuguese-flavoured seafood, and where the first new hotel in several years just opened, the Maputo Sky, on the water downtown.

It’s a breezy 15-minute stroll to the Karen Blixen-in-Mykonos bar Dhow Café nearby: start here at sunset and plan to stay out until dawn.

11.  NAMIBIA

With its otherworldly landscapes and elemental emptiness (this is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, ranking only marginally behind Mongolia), Namibia has always enthralled us.

Its raw beauty is in the remarkable barrenness – of the desert, of the dunes, of the savage Skeleton Coast – the collision of earth, sky, sea and little else.

But there’s a fresh focus on the Southern African nation this month as a pack of lodges have just opened across the country. Serious new safari outfit Natural Selection, whose founders previously set up the much-respected Wilderness Safaris, is behind two of them: tented Hoanib Valley Camp in Kaokoland in the remote north-west, and high-design Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast.

A joint venture between local communities and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Hoanib Valley Camp was designed by Cate Simpson of Reflecting Africa, riffing off the colour and textures of the setting.

The interiors also incorporate the geometric patterns of the Himba people, whose temporary settlements dot the landscape between roaming endangered rhino, desert-adapted elephant and giraffe, oryx, springbok and jackal.

Further west, on the windswept sands, Shipwreck Lodge’s striking architecture is inspired by the numerous washed-up boats that are scattered along these wild shores. Just a kilometre from the rolling Atlantic Ocean, it’s a base for dune-climbing, beach-combing for whale bones and spotting seal colonies.

And right up in the Skeleton Coast’s northernmost reaches, where Namibia meets Angola, Wilderness Safaris’ Serra Cafema camp has reopened in the oasis of the Kunene River after a top-to-toe overhaul, with new thatched lodges on stilts above the riverbank.

Back near the capital Windhoek, Omaanda has just opened with 10 traditional-style round thatched huts set within the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê, a new 9,000-hectare private animal conservancy.

It’s the first of two Namibian camps from French hotelier Arnaud Zannier, who was introduced to the country by Angelina Jolie, a fan of his exquisite Phum Baitang hotel near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The second, a tented camp called Sonop, will land in the southern Namib Desert in spring 2019.

Meanwhile, globetrotting members’ club Habitas has set up a dramatic hillside camp of contemporary, open-to-the-elements lodges in the wilderness of a 35,000-hectare reserve, about an hour from Windhoek airport, cementing Namibia’s place as the most exciting African destination right now.

12. TRANSYLVANIA, ROMANIA

The offbeat destination being whispered about by first-to-go travellers for 2019 has been Transylvania, the rural region of Romania known for its Gothic myths and dark fairytales.

Its very name means ‘land beyond the forests’. A place where the Pied Piper lured Hamelin’s children, Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula drained blood and Vlad III impaled.

Now, finally, it is beginning to attract visitors interested in more than just schlock-horror visits to Bran Castle to see a man in a cloak – its burgeoning wine scene, for one thing.

Transylvania remains a land lost in time. Separated from the modern world for decades by the Iron Curtain, many of its inhabitants emigrated, and its 13th-century Saxon villages were left to crumble.

As a result, its distinct character has remained intact; its forests and wildflower meadows gloriously untouched. Life is beginning to return and dilapidated buildings are being rebuilt.

The Prince of Wales was way ahead of the curve. Since the 1990s, he has been gently overseeing the restoration of houses, and you can stay in his Prince’s Retreat, a rustic wood and stone house on his nature retreat in Zalán Valley near Brasov.

Across the meadows on Count Kalnoky’s estate more houses and cottages have also been rebuilt, similarly rough around the edges, featuring stone floors and dark Transylvanian antiques with a whiff of imperial fiddle-de-dee, and chairs like fairytale thrones.

In winter there are horse-drawn sleigh rides; in summer the horses trot through green fields growing high as their bellies.

A 100km gallop away in Mălâncrav, too, artisans have been slowly renovating buildings into guesthouses .

Apafi Manor is the fanciest, a white-and-shell-pink confection of a country house from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with a veranda and handmade terracotta tiles on the roof and floors.

Expert travel company Butterfield & Robinson  is one of the first to offer trips in Transylvania, attracted by its emerging wine industry, glorious landscapes and undiscovered heritage.

Its biking and walking tours take travellers to UNESCO-listed medieval villages such as Viscri, Sighișoara, Biertan, with accommodation in striking castles and cottages.

‘Transylvania leaves nothing to be desired from a natural perspective, whether it’s the vast forests interspersed with mountainous terrain, or its healthy populations of brown bears and wild boars.

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