Fancy finding a secret destination that's not too far away? Try one of these...
On July 4, this beautiful city was the starting point of the Tour De France. Quite undiscovered by UK travellers, it’s an amazing town with a great buzz, especially as it is home to one of Europe’s oldest and biggest universities. It’s great to roam around in, and has plenty to do, such as cycling to the stunning Utrecht Castle, or taking a canal cruise. Seeing the city by boat or Venetian-style gondola is a great way to see the city’s history and architecture. There are several impressive museums, too; the famous Centraal Museum features the world’s largest collection by Dutch furniture designer and architect Rietveld. A trip to his iconic masterpiece, Rietveld Shröder House, is also a must. Once you visit, you’ll see why this building is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Other highlights of the city include climbing the medieval Dom Tower, dining in the medieval wharves, and visiting Dick Bruna’s House – home to Miffy the rabbit, celebrating 60 years this year.
Stay at Utrecht’s beautiful Mother Goose Hotel, which oozes character and style. Offering amazing views of Utrecht Dom Tower and located right next to the canals, each room is individually designed and the perfect place to end a beautiful day.
HOW: Prices at the Mother Goose Hotel start from £215 based on two sharing; book via www.mothergoosehotel.com/en. To get to Utrecht, Stena Line offers twice-daily, seven hour return crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Return fares start from £147 for two adults and a car. www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry-to-holland.
Akyaka is just 45 minutes from Dalaman Airport, but still not well known in the UK. The town sits within the Gokova Specially Protected Area, known for its rich flora and fauna, and modern development is strictly controlled, resulting in a pretty town filled with buildings in the traditional ‘Mugla’ style of architecture, with distinctive octagonal shapes and hand-carved wooden balconies.
The town is one of nine in Turkey to have gained CittaSlow accreditation, ensuring that the quality of life of residents of Akyaka is protected, including its environment, traditions and history, meaning that visitors find a way of life that has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. Local fishermen mend their nets in the harbour, families enjoy the long sandy beach and clear waters, and small boats chug along the Azmak River, through the idyllic countryside of fields and pine forests, sheltered by the mountains.
Stay at the Azmakhan Deluxe hotel; overlooking the river, the 42 room hotel will have an outdoor pool with sea views, plus a children’s pool and plenty of sunbathing terraces, there will also be a Turkish bath, sauna and fitness room. The owners also run one of Akyaka’s best known restaurants, Halil’in Yeri (Halil’s Place), which is set right on the river, making for a memorable and atmospheric dining experience.
HOW: Anatolian Sky Holidays (www.anatoliansky.co.uk 0844 273 3586) can offer seven nights at the Azmakhan Deluxe in July from £763 per person, based on departure on 20th July. The price is based on two adults sharing and includes return flights from London Gatwick to Dalaman, transfers and accommodation on bed and breakfast basis.
Georgia sits at the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Asia (with forthcoming plans to join the EU), bordered by Turkey and Russia. The country boasts some of the most stunning scenery in Europe but is also famed for its hospitality, cheese and wine. Steeped in a variety of rich and complex traditions, it’s influenced by Soviet, Persian and Ottoman culture in the East, and mainland Europe in the West. It’s home to the ancient land of Colchis (where Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece), and other areas of note include the capital, Tbilisi; the remote region of Tusheti in the high Caucasus mountains where dramatic peaks, ancient stone villages and watchtowers loom large in the landscape; the wine producing region of Kakheti; Mtskhehta, its spiritual heartland, home to many UNESCO listed monuments; and the untamed land of Svaneti, one of Europe’s most isolated and traditional areas.
HOW: Native Eye Travel (www.nativeeyetravel.com) is offering an 11 day Legends of the Caucasus tour from £1,299 per person, taking in all the areas mentioned above, departing 17 July. Return flights to Tbilis with www.turkishairlines.com start at around £343.
No snow? No problem! Most people do head to Switzerland for the slopes and ski-ing, but if you go in the summer months, there is just as much to do and see. The region of Graubunden (which includes St Moritz) doesn’t close down after the skiers go home, but it plays host to keen hikers and e-bikers who can journey through the hills, trails and local vineyards, set among stunning Alpine scenery, including a National Park. This is also Heidi-land; where the story of the plucky cowherd was set (and there is an ACTUAL Heidiland you can visit; including the author, Johanna Spyri’s, house, a children’s farm and more).
Hikes or walks around the lakes of the Engadine or the lakes of Arosa are not to be missed; there are various levels, from leisurely strolls to challenging hikes.
Stay at the Sunstar Arosa hotel, which offers fabulous views over the village, Lake Untersee, meadows and surrounding mountain peaks.
HOW: The STC Experience package offers return flights with SWISS, transfers, four nights? accommodation (two in St Moritz) and free local railway travel for £699 per person. To book, call the Switzerland Travel Centre on 0207 420 4936 or visit www.stc.co.uk. For more information please visit Graubünden – http://en.graubuenden.ch
Declared a Site of Cultural Interest in 1996, though it may now be Andalusia’s fastest-growing town, Ronda has retained all of its historic charm and possesses one of the most beautiful city centres of Spain. Famous worldwide for its dramatic cliffs and panoramic views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the Rio Guadalevín through its centre, visitors head straight to the 18th century Puente Nuevo Bridge, which straddles the vast 100m chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains. Crossing the bridge where an elegant cloistered 16th Century convent is now an art museum, Old Ronda, La Ciudad, snakes off into cobbled streets hemmed by gorgeous town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda’s most noble families.
Stay at the Finca Cortesin, a hidden gem in the rolling hills of southern Spain, situated between Marbella and Sotogrande, offering easy access and exclusive luxury tours to both Jérez and Ronda. A spectacular, privately owned hotel, featuring 68 suites, it’s flanked by the Casares Mountains, offering sweeping views of the Mediterranean, and designed in the style of a traditional Spanish finca (rural estate). The Andalusian retreat features an 18-hole golf course with a state of the art Jack Nicklaus academy, a Beach Club and a 2,200m² spa.
HOW: Abercrombie & Kent offers a 7-night package from £1,575 per person, when staying in a Junior Suite on a B&B basis including British Airways international flights and airport transfers, valid for travel throughout the year.
Croatia is old news, and its stunning neighbour, Montenegro, is fast becoming Europe’s hottest new destination! See as much of it as possible with a tour: Wexas Travel is offering a brand new Highlights of Montenegro Tour exploring the rugged peaks, undisturbed beaches and stone-walled towns on this beautiful country. Wander the historic ancient towns of Kotor (if you’re feeling fit enough, walk the 1200 or so steps up to its old city walls) and Budva (the Citadel is lovely to stroll around at dusk); marvel at the breath-taking Baroque buildings of Perast, swim off gorgeous beaches in the clear waters of the Adriatic and visit local vintners on the shores of the Balkans’ largest lake.
HOW: Wexas Travel (0207 838 5892, www.wexas.com) is offering a seven-night Highlights of Montenegro package from £770 per person based on two sharing on a B&B basis including four nights at Hotel Astoria Budva and three nights at Hotel Astoria Kotor. This includes return flights to Dubrovnik, all transfers, and city tour of Budva or Kotor. Valid for travel from May – October 2015. Book by 30 September 2015
Foodies should head to the charming town of Reggio Emilia, in the northern region of Emilia Romagna, for a gastronomic holiday they’ll never forget. It produces authentic Parmesan cheese, and is, ahem, sandwiched between nearby gourmet towns Modena, producer of the famous balsamic vinegar, and Parma, renowned for its delicious ham. Throughout this whole region, you’ll find amazing dishes such as tortellini and lasagne, as well as incredible ice cream, so be sure to cut back on the carbs before you go (certainly not during!).
Reggio Emilia is a quiet and elegant little town with some stunning sights, including the Teatro Valli, a majestic theatre built between 1852 and 1857 by a famous architect from Modena. The theatre, which was recently named after acclaimed local actor Romolo Valli hosts a prestigious lyric opera season and ballet performances. The Basilica della Ghiara was designed by a famous architect from Ferrara, Alessandro Balbi. It boasts a surprising interior with ceiling and walls occupied by extraordinary frescoes and altar pieces by some of the most acclaimed 17th century artists. There is also an imposing Ducal Palace, and the Maramotti Collection of Contemporary Art.
Stay at the beautiful Hotel Posta, in a historical former palazzo, which overlooks the Piazza Prampolini and is close to the Romanesque Cathedral.
HOW: A double room, including breakfast, at the Hotel Posta, costs from 105 euros or £74 per night. Book via www.hotelposta.re.it. Flights to the nearest airport, Bologna, cost from around £230 return with www.easyjet.co.uk
Epirus, located in northwestern Greece, is a region of outstanding natural beauty, and has many outdoor activities to offer as a result. It boasts incredible natural wonders, including the impressive rock cliffs the ‘Towers of Astraka’ and the Gorge of Vikos, which is recognised as the deepest gorge in the world. It?s also home to the unique Vikos-Aoos National Park, a protected area of natural wealth.
Base yourself at the stunning Aristi Mountain Resort near Epirus’ capital, Ioannina, which sits at the edge of the lovely Lake Pamvotida. Here guests can learn a new outdoor skill, including mushroom hunting and mushroom cooking, trekking and rafting courses, river fishing and routes in nearby trails and rivers. The more adventurous could also try kayaking in the Voidomatis River, canyoning and hang gliding, and excursions to the Gamila Mountain Peaks and the Drakolimni Lake. In the resort, the rooms and suites mirror this understated yet luxurious feel throughout, and natural resources such as stone and wood have been incorporated, providing an undertone of warmth and comfort throughout the buildings.
HOW: Aristi Mountain Resort (www.aristi.eu) offers nightly rates in a double superior room on a B&B basis from £115 based on 2 sharing. Return flights to nearest airport, Thessaloniki, cost from around £243 with www.ryanair.com.
Sibenik is a charming destination, with its numerous natural and historical beauties, including two national parks reachable in 30 minutes by boat or car. Lesser known than Dubrovnik and Split, Sibenik possesses a delightful personality and powerful charm of its own – there’s a reason Game of Thrones can frequently be found to be filming there. The oldest originally-Croatian town on the Croatian coast, Sibenik is home to one of Croatia’s spectacular Krka Waterfalls, beautiful lakes with excellent fishing and the town’s cathedral, dating back to 1434, remains one of the marvels of the Dalmatian Coast.
Stay at the brand new luxury D-Resort Sibenik hotel, a vibrant mix of the enchanting old world with the sleek and the modern style of the new. Set in the middle of a yacht marina, the resort offers an incredibly high end, elegant destination for those looking to experience the beauty of Croatia. With interiors of pure white concrete, glass and wood, D-Resort Sibenik makes an ultra stylish statement on the crystal blue Croatian coast.
HOW: A Superior Sea View room starts from EUR260/£184 per night, on a B&B basis. Return flights from Spilt, the nearest airport, start from around £218 with www.wizzair.com
The charming alpine resort of Megève is becoming a true summer destination for UK travellers, with an array of summer sports, spa facilities and music events on offer over the summer months. Summer in the French Alps is a lovely landscape of lush, green valleys, and the picturesque chalets of Megève are filled with overflowing flower boxes with the towering white mass of Mont Blanc in the distance. The area offers a dynamic range of summer activities from mountain hiking, mountain biking, summer sledging, dog hiking and Nordic walking. For music aficionados, there is a buzzing Latin American scene. Megève remains very much a Haute Savoie village, with locals in the cafes, working farms tucked up the side streets and passing horse-drawn carts. It’s also one of France’s culinary hot spots – densely packed with over 80 eateries and 5 with Michelin stars, the village’s gastronomic offerings rank it as the culinary capital of the Alps.
Stay at the beautiful Les Fermes de Marie, which has launched an extensive new spa, making it one of the finest spa retreats in the Alps. It boasts a mineral lap pool, steam room, a fully equipped Technogym fitness gym, circular red cedar showers, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis and a dry and humid sauna on the terrace. In addition, a large indoor swimming pool, clad in granite and surrounded by exposed beams with full-length bay windows will afford spectacular views over the mountains.