The hottest new trips for 2011

Cambodia’s private island resort

A decade ago Cambodia was a destination almost exclusively visited by adventurous backpackers, but now its unspoilt coastline and fascinating villages are attracting a far more upmarket traveller. November brings the opening of Song Saa, the country’s first private island resort, in the Koh Rong archipelago. It will have just 25 villas, some on the beach, some in rainforest and others on stilts over the sea (complete with their own swimming pools).

Villas for two from $700; www.songsaa.com


The perfect Provence villa

Sir David Lean, the late film-maker behind classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, described his 15th-century French retreat as somewhere he could simply “lie down in the grass under an olive tree and look up through its silver green leaves and gaze at the sky”. This year you can do the same – the house, a converted mill set in seven acres of grounds, is available to rent for the first time. The Moulin du Jardinier sleeps nine and has a pool, a huge vaulted dining room, beautiful gardens and views over the valley below.

From £10,593 per week; www.sjvillas.co.uk


Biking in Jordan

KE Adventure’s new biking trip takes riders from the Dead to the Red Sea in Jordan. On a mix of Tarmac and 4x4 trails, you ride through canyons and across mountain plateaux, taking in Crusader fortresses and the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum and Petra. After a night spent sleeping under the stars with Bedouin hosts, you finish at Aqaba for a well-earned swim.

From £995; www.keadventure.com


Classic cars in the Highlands

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jaguar E-type with a long weekend driving one of the iconic sports cars through the Highlands of Scotland. You pick up a red E-type in Edinburgh, then spend three days driving, staying at pre-booked hotels along the way. The trip is available from April to mid-October.

From £495 per person; www.seescotlanddifferently.co.uk


Your own Caribbean island

Encircled by a reef and with three glorious white sand beaches, 30-acre Eustatia Island in the British Virgin Islands is being offered for public rental for the first time. It sleeps up to 10; six in a hilltop villa with pool and hot tub, four in a beach house. If you only rent one of the houses, the other is left empty, so you have the island to yourself. A chef is on hand, and activities include hiking, sailing, water-skiing, and kayaking.

From $25,000 per week for four people, $52,000 for 10; www.eustatia.com


A Grand Prix cruise

During Grand Prix weekend in May, Monaco becomes home to many of the world’s most lavish mega-yachts, but turning more heads than any other ship in the harbour will be the Star Flyer. The classic 360ft sailing vessel, with four masts up to 226ft high, will be in Monaco as part of a new two-week cruise itinerary, calling at 11 of the Mediterranean’s most glamorous ports, and also taking in the Cannes Film Festival. The ship sleeps up to 170 guests, catered for in high style by 72 staff.

From £3,399; www.starclippers.co.uk


Art tours with the Royal Academy

Cox and Kings, the world’s oldest travel company, has formed a new alliance with Britain’s Royal Academy of Art to offer a range of art-themed holidays. The itineraries range from a three-night tour to study the 6th-century mosaics of Ravenna, to 11-night trips to Uzbekistan, Rajasthan and Peru.

Prices vary; www.coxandkings.co.uk/ra


Classic glamour in Montenegro

In the 1960s the tiny islet of Sveti Stefan was the destination of choice for stars like Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. A 15th-century fortified fishing village, linked to the mainland by a sandy isthmus, it had been converted into a luxury hotel after its original population dwindled. The war of the early 1990s put paid to its popularity but this summer it will be firmly back on the jet-set radar when it relaunches following a lengthy and expensive refurbishment by Aman Resorts, the chain known for its stylish Asian retreats.

Doubles from €600; www.amanresorts.com


Luxury in Lhasa

St Regis, the five-star hotel brand from US-based Starwood Hotels, has major expansion plans in China, and has just launched its first property in Tibet. The St Regis Lhasa bills itself as Tibet’s first luxury resort and has great views of the Potala Palace and the mountains surrounding the city. Mountaineers and trekkers returning from their Himalayan adventures can relax in the hotel’s 11,700 sq ft spa or swim in the gold-tiled pool.

Doubles from £190; www.stregis.com/lhasa


Chic camping in Laos

Luxury camping comes to Laos in February with the opening of Shangri-Lao, a jungle camp just east of Luang Prabang with views over the Nam Khan river and the Namno mountains. Shangri-Lao draws inspiration from the French explorer Paul Neis, who camped here in 1883, and the tents will feature period-style furniture, as well as hardwood floors and bathrooms with whirlpool baths. Days are spent recreating Neis’s adventures – exploring the hills by foot, horse or elephant, or travelling down the river on bamboo rafts.

From $200 per person per night; www.buffalotours.co.uk


Kayaks and a castle on Loch Ness

Kayak through Scotland’s most famous loch, then retire to your own castle on its shores, on this new weeklong trip from Wilderness Scotland. As well as kayaking you can visit local distilleries, ride horses, fly-fish and walk in the mountains. Your base is Aldourie Castle, which sleeps up to 30, many in sumptuous four-poster beds.

From £2,490 per person; www.wildernessscotland.com


Cruising Japan

The perfect trip for cruise fans looking for a change from the tried-and-tested Caribbean and Mediterranean routes. Inside Japan Tours has launched an 18-night itinerary mixing time onshore and onboard the Orion 2, a luxury ship for a maximum of 100 passengers that until 2009 was a private yacht. The trip takes in the classic sights of Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as less familiar ports of call along the Inland Sea.

£6,739 per person; www.insidejapantours.com


Trekking in Bhutan

The remote Merak and Sakten valleys of eastern Bhutan were opened to tourists in 2009 and though controls on visitor numbers remain, they look like being this year’s hot destination for adventurers in search of untouched villages and fabulous Himalayan scenery. Mountain Kingdoms has launched a 15-day trek departing in October (£2,450), while One World Trekking has a 10-day trip in May ($3,665).

www.mountainkingdoms.com; www.oneworldtrekking.com


Gourmet train trip in Spain

El Transcantabrico, the luxury train line that runs through northern Spain, raises the bar still further in May with the launch of the Gran Lujo, an all-suite train. Each wood-panelled suite has a double bed, sitting area with sofa, computer and TV, plus a bathroom with shower and sauna. It will run between Santiago de Compostela and San Sebastián, spending a week en route, and stopping for guests to eat at some of the finest restaurants in what is considered one of Europe’s most gastronomic regions.

From €3,550 per person; www.luxurytrainclub.com


Ballooning in Burma

The ethical dilemma of travelling to Burma remains, but growing numbers are taking the view that carefully planned tourism benefits the people far more than the ruling regime. If you do decide to go, the most spectacular way to see the country is on Eastern Safaris’ six-day “hot-air balloon safari”. You travel around on a luxurious 1950s bus, stopping for lavish picnics along the way and making daily balloon flights that take in sights including the Shan mountains, Inle lake, and the temples and stupas of the ancient capital, Bagan. The safari has been run once before, in late 2009, but this year several departures are planned, all in December.

From £5,350 per person; www.originaltravel.co.uk and www.easternsafaris.com


Hip hotels

London is the epicentre of 2011 launch activity, as hoteliers race to be ready for the 2012 Olympics.

Openings include Starwood Hotels’ W on Leicester Square, Corinthia Hotels’ relaunch of the Metropole on Whitehall (renamed Corinthia Hotel London), and Spanish group Sol Melia’s ME Hotel at Marconi House on the Strand. But the most eagerly anticipated date is May 5 when, 138 years to the day since the opening of Sir George Gilbert Scott’s neo-gothic Midland Grand hotel, it reopens, following a £150m renovation, as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. With interiors by David Collins and GA International, 38 of the hotel’s 245 rooms will be in the original redbrick building, restored with goldleaf ceilings, ornate wall murals and 50ft-high windows surrounding its breathtaking grand staircase.

Edition, the brand created by boutique hotel pioneer Ian Schrager in partnership with Marriott, was launched in Waikiki, Hawaii, late last year and the second hotel in the group, designed by Gabellini Shepherd, is set to open in the Levent district of Istanbul in March. Expect a dramatic sense of arrival at the hotel’s double-height domed lobby, in gold leaf and silver travertine and with a towering wall-sized aquarium of Bond-villain proportions.

In Schrager’s hometown of New York, the hot news is his recent sale of Gramercy Park, the hotel he launched after selling his original collection of boutique hotels, allowing him to focus on two new brands, one luxury, one less expensive. His first project will be Chicago’s 285-room Ambassador East hotel – a property on the Gold Coast favoured by rock stars in years gone by and due to relaunch in September.

Also in New York, the much-delayed Nolitan will finally open on February 15 in the Nolita (North of Little Italy) district for which it is named. With private balconies, a rooftop sundeck and floor-to-ceiling windows, the hotel promises a fresh perspective on that iconic skyline.

Celebrated Italian designer Piero Lissoni has contributed designs for The Conservatorium, Amsterdam. In the heart of the city, the building was designed by renowned Dutch architect Daniel Knuttel in the 19th century and has been reinvented as a 130-room hotel opening in spring.

In Athens, art collector Dakis Joannou has enlisted Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana to help create the New Hotel from the modernist remains of the Olympic Palace, built in 1958. The brothers have a reputation for transforming salvaged cast-offs into high-end design pieces.

By Matt Turner, editor of hotel design magazine Sleeper. www.sleepermagazine.co.uk


Emerging destinations

After a cautious 2010, tour operators and travellers are once more in search of unique experiences and good value. The destinations to watch are those that offer both.

Firmly ticking those boxes is the kingdom of Jordan, long a favourite of independent travellers but increasingly a flag-bearer for mainstream tourism to the Arab world. With luxury hotels springing up in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, eco-tourism flourishing in the country’s nature reserves, and low-cost airline Easyjet launching direct flights from the UK in March, the country looks like strong competition for Egypt or Dubai.

Even in 2011, pockets of Europe remain thrillingly unfamiliar. One of this year’s most intriguing prospects is Albania – partly for its quiet, affordable Mediterranean beaches, partly for its rugged landscape. For active types, the biggest buzz is around the “Accursed Mountains” of the country’s far north – an isolated region of serrated 2,600m peaks populated by bears and wolves, with farming villages rich in folklore.

Peru has a huge year ahead. In July the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu celebrates 100 years since its rediscovery. Those averse to hoop-la might be better off exploring northern Peru, home to equally impressive hikes, historical sites and a new cultural tour, the Moche Route.

For wildlife enthusiasts, 2011’s hottest ticket is Zimbabwe. Two years ago the country seemed near collapse: cholera was claiming thousands of lives and hyperinflation was churning out trillion-dollar-bills worth £20. But a coalition government, a dollar economy and improved public health have resulted in a queue of tour operators keen to rejuvenate tourism in what was once southern Africa’s adventure capital. And the prospects for visitors are juicy: thunderous Victoria Falls, the ancient granite kopje of the Matobo Hills, and superb wildlife viewing – Hwange National Park alone boasts 40,000 elephants.

Also emerging from troubled times is Sri Lanka, where 30 years of on-off civil war ended with a no-holds-barred government offensive in spring 2009. Package tourism on the west coast beaches had always held up, but with peace has come a push to expand capacity and open new regions. Yala and Wilpattu National Parks – Asia’s best places to see leopards – have recently reopened, as have the surf-mecca beaches of Arugam Bay.

By Dan Linstead, editor of Wanderlust magazine.www.wanderlust.co.uk

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