You may think you’ve seen it all, but Amanda Cassidy speaks to those in the know to discover some of the most breathtaking and lesser-known destinations to add to our travel bucket list. Prepare to experience extreme wanderlust...
“It was very last-minute notice, only a few days. They were meant to go to Scotland, but all the properties in Scotland were full because it was a bank holiday, so we thought that Ireland would be a better option.” Dubliner Siobhan Byrne Learat describes the last-minute scramble to arrange Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s Irish honeymoon in 2014.
Her luxury travel company, Adams & Butler caters to ultra-wealthy clients across the world, tailoring bespoke experiences to her clients. She says the current travel trends this year are focused around immersive experiences, intergenerational travel, ticking off bucket-list destinations and having non-touristy, tourist experiences.
“We want those heading off to be a traveller rather than a tourist. More people are looking for opportunities to meet locals, wander around neighbourhoods to get a sense of how locals live and making spontaneous discoveries instead of doing the usual cookie-cutter tourist trails.”
But whatever your budget, the trend towards discovering new places that can’t be found in traditional guidebooks or brochures is on the rise — as is sustainable travel. “Explorers are more aware than ever of the importance of giving back," explains Siobhan. "They want to help the communities they are visiting and are keen to leave their surroundings exactly as they found them.
"We’ve seen a lot of people opting for places like Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland (a dramatic rural retreat in a traditional fishing village) where tourism protects the livelihoods of the local community of boat builders, fishermen and local artists.”
So what's hot for next year? Well, actually, cold is the new hot, with travellers setting their sights on chillier climates like chasing the Northern lights in Iceland, cruises in Alaska and visiting the Antartica.
After speaking with the experts, we’ve put together some of the undiscovered gems that prove some places are still sacred. Check out these off-the-beaten-path destinations for your next holiday.
Japanese food tours
Forget the heart, the tummy wants what the tummy wants.
There is a current surge in gastronomical experiences in places such as Japan which is attracting major foodies worldwide. It is especially popular with those choosing to travel intergenerationally (mother and daughter, for example). These unusual culinary experiences tick a lot of boxes for people of all ages. And Tokyo has more Michelin stars than London and Paris combined!
Japanese gastro tours also combine visiting local markets, making traditional soba noodles, visiting the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto, having barbequed Hida beef, which comes from cows fed on beer, hunting for wild vegetables (Sensai) with a Sensai expert, learning traditional cooking methods with Gokayama community and learning about the seafood culture on Awaji Island.
Takayama is a historic town in the mountains 200 miles west of Tokyo which is the best place to sample Hida beef.
Ginza is where the best sushi places in Tokyo are found and must be among the best in the world. If you prefer to steer away from the great sushi trail, look out for okonomiyaki pancakes, takoyaki octopus ball and, of course, fresh sake.
Must see: Have a kaiseki meal (refined Japanese food that consists of course upon course of masterfully-prepared dishes with local specialities) in Tsuru Yoshi in Nara, a tiny restaurant with food that will blow your mind (according to our friends at Trip Advisor).
After a difficult dip in tourism, the Turkish Riviera is back with a bang – that’s according to Condé Nast. Secret beach spots such as Datca and Bozburun will take your breath away.
New developments on the Bodrum peninsula are creating a buzz and discerning explorers will be drawn to the superyacht-filled Yalikavak Marina with the highlight being a new restaurant opened by El Bulli’s Diego Muñoz called BRAVA. If you want a city break, the Four Seasons Istanbul is an unforgettable experience as recommended by the Telegraph's travel editor, Mark Skipwell: "From its rooftop terrace, prepare to be awed by its 360-degree panorama: on one side, the mouth of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara laden with merchant shipping; behind you, the Blue Mosque, a paragon of poise with its slender minarets.
"The biggest surprise awaits hidden from view on the lower hotel levels — as you turn, you discover you're cheek by jowl with Hagia Sophia, the city's greatest monument. You'll find distinctive Ottoman atmosphere everywhere you turn in this often-overlooked travel destination."
Must see: Spend a day at Icmeler. This beach is surrounded on three sides by pine forests and is heaven for water sports junkies.
Its glitzier neighbour, Dubai, has stolen all the travel headlines of late, but if you want a touch of Middle Eastern cuisine and culture without the fuss, head to Abu Dhabi. The UAE state also boasts one of the largest mosques in the world – the white marble and crystal embellished Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
You haven't lived until you have eaten Sergi Arola's hybrid tapas menu at the Shangri-La hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Travellers can also do the usual dune bashing and sandboarding into the sunset in the exotic Arabian desert in the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass (it is the same size as France) known as the Empty Quarter where explorers can also spend a night in Bedouin-style woven huts and watch the shooting stars over a fire in their own Arabian night.
The beaches are laid back and beautiful with sand as white as the postcards suggest. The hazy sky (sand-dust) adds to the otherworldly feel of this extraordinary city on the edge of the Persian Gulf.
Saadiyat Island, in particular, is a family holiday dream. There are five star resorts as big and as elegant as you would expect for a city that places luxury at the centre of all its offerings. Sundowners on the beach outside the St Regis Saadiyat Island are the stuff dreams are made of.
You haven't lived until you have eaten Sergi Arola's hybrid tapas menu at the Shangri-La hotel in Abu Dhabi. Hand on heart, one of the best meals I have ever eaten (and I eat a LOT).
The Baltic state of Latvia has upped the ante as an unlikely destination for savvy travellers who have ‘done’ Norway and Croatia. Its miles of unspoiled countryside, pristine beaches and unpretentious charm makes it a must-see. The coastal capital of Riga has a UNESCO World Heritage old town boasting cobbled streets and hidden courtyards.
Latvia's low population density and landscape reminiscent of Scandinavian countries make it the perfect spot for eco-tourism
If you are a tree-hugger like me, you have to make time to see the 3,500-year-old oak tree that is available to view behind Riga Townhall. It is beside a small souvenir and flower shop.
Discovered during excavation works, the semi-fossilized tree has a plaque that tells us that it grew on the shore of Daugava around the same time as Pharaoh Tutankhamen was the ruler of Egypt. Latvia's low population density and landscape reminiscent of Scandinavian countries make it the perfect spot for eco-tourism and ethical travel.
Must see: Make time to pick up some unique art in Riga's outer districts of Alberta Iela, where it is all about the art-nouveau scene.
If you are searching for that I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-here moment we all crave on our travels, you've come to the right place.
There is a magic about this place that I discovered for myself as I toured South East Asia in my 20s. The temples of Angkor are probably the biggest tourist attraction, but even so, these ruins are beautifully desolate and if you are searching for that I-can’t-believe-I’m-actually-here moment we all crave on our travels, you've come to the right place. Visit the capital, Phnom Penh with its glittering temples and delicious street food and behold the mighty Mekong river.
It originates in the Yunnan Province of China, travels south across Cambodia and ends in southern Vietnam. Here it is all about the waterfalls — magnificent cascades carved into the jungle. The best (hidden) waterfall is called Phnom Kulen, located about a 2-hour drive from Siem Reap. Just don't forget to pack your swimsuit!
Cambodia is a heady, humid and often dusty experience but with its green peaks and exotic jungle, this is the Asia many people dream of from afar.
Must-see: Take the slow boat down the Mekong River to see real life, Cambodia-style.
Ethiopia is known as Africa’s next must-see destination, according to Lonely Planet. And when you strip away the ‘Big 5’ and wildlife-based itinerary, Ethiopia is like nowhere you have ever experienced on this continent. In the Semien mountains, expect lush greenery, sweat-inducing cliffs, baboons and wildflowers.
You can visit either as a day trip from the nearby city of Gondar or on a 2-3 day camping trip. It is worth a visit for the cuisine alone. Here you eat with your hands with the staple, spongy injera bread, scooping up Doro Wat (chicken stew) and Mesir Wat (red lentil stew). Best of all is the coffee afterwards (they even do a coffee ceremony). Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. Sounds like my cup of tea.
Must-see: Travel to Axum to see its stunning UNESCO-listed ruins. It is said to be home to the Queen of Sheba and the Ark of the Covenant (which holds Moses’ 10 commandments) and yet to be overrun by tourists.
We already know about Mexico's idyllic coastline, heart-melting sunsets and margarita-fuelled fun but Mexico’s road less travelled includes its incredible Mayan ruins, jungly lagoons and tempestuous city life. We experienced a flavour of this Mexico City life in the James Bond movie, Spectre. Its opening sequence showed Mexico City on the Dia de Muertos. Travel site, Momondo suggests heading to Palizada with its kaleidoscopic colour scheme.
"Mount a triciclos and head to the promenade (El Malecon) at sunset, where the amber backdrop shades flocks of herons on route to their roosts." For something a little less boisterous, try Merida. The capital of the Yucatán Peninsula is steeped in Spanish colonial heritage, but it hasn’t lost its deep Mayan roots. If you feel like simply going loco, head to Guerrero (where Acapulco is located). For a gritty yet deeply colourful experience, leave the silky sands behind and explore Mexico’s street life.
Must-see: Head to the unmissable Arch Cabo San Lucas for some amazing Instagram fodder.
Many of us spent happy months backpacking up and down the east coast of Australia in our youth. Now, many are choosing to return with their brood in tow or just to experience Oz now that we have more than 50 dollars in our bank account (ish). Sure the flight is long and the stuff of nightmares especially if you have children, but no pain, no gain. And believe us, it is worth it. Queensland and the gold coast boast some of the best sandy beaches.
Noosa is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in Australia, but between Noosa and Mudjimba lies Marcoola – an even quieter version of Noosa with blissfully tourist-free beaches. Foodie culture is huge in Australia too. Asian influences and fresh seafood will leave you feeling spoilt for choice. Brisbane is a good place to base yourself for the surf beaches and great barrier reef experiences, while New South Wales will give you access to Sydney and Melbourne for any road-trip dreamers. Stunning coastline, Asian fusion and coastal relaxation sound pretty dang idyllic.
Must-see: Visit Eden – a nature-lover's paradise off the beaten track between Sydney and Melbourne where you can spot humpback whales during migration season.
North Island, New Zealand
While you are this side of the world, you may as well go all duck or no dinner. New Zealand is known for its adventure-loving side, but it is the North Island that still keeps some travel secrets close to its chest. Mount Maunganui is on the east coast of the North Island and a popular spot with the Kiwi locals who escape for the summer.
The coastal town sits at the base of a small green mountain. A 45-minute climb will give you some of the most beautiful views you have ever seen of the Pacific Ocean. Hot springs at the base of the hill will soothe tired limbs. Of course, Hawke’s Bay is also one of the most amazing destinations you will see this side of the world and if you are a red wine lover, you are in for a treat. The long sunny days and specific climate directly contribute to the robust red grapes that make up this region's viticulture.
Must-see: Spend the day as a shepherd at The Farm – a dramatically located lodge at Cape Kidnappers. (The driveway alone is 7km long.) The working farm also raises sheep and Angus beef and its walls are filled with vintage farm machinery.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Truly a galaxy far, far away.
You’ve seen the ring of Kerry and chased Fungi the dolphin but there is a lot more to Kerry than you might think. (We are still dreaming about the caramelised brown bread ice-cream in Murphys of Dingle town). With staycations on the rise and more people looking for adventure getaways, Skellig Michael is a challenge to set yourself.
The famous historical site was featured in the movie, Star Wars and saw tourism explode in the tiny island. The season is now finished but keep an eye on the websites to find when the eco tours will run again in February and March. The tour departs from Portmagee Marina, but be warned, it takes a big effort and a lot of luck to get there. The payoff is worth it.
The beehive huts the monks used as dwellings overlook the Atlantic and are swathed in as much mystery as the moss. The entire experience will get you in the gut.