#Travel: TOP 10 Mind-Blowing Places For Your #SummerVacation

Posted on May 19, 2015

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by Alex JS, Editing by Adam MS

Summer is here, and if you’re looking for inspiration for this year’s fascinating vacations, we’ve selected top 10 hot destinations for 2015, each with a fresh reason to visit, from new budget flights, hotels, arts events and festivals to a solar eclipse. Have a wonderful summer!

1. Zermatt

Zermatt

The Swiss ski resort of Zermatt gets even more attention than usual as it celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. An open-air play about Edward Whymper’s ascent will join the dozens of regular events, such as music festival Zermatt Unplugged in April. Most exciting for gnarly types is the reopening of the Hörnlihütte (pictured), at the Matterhorn’s basecamp, in July. The improved hut (it dates from 1880 and has been closed since last summer) will have proper drains and heating, and be connected to the 100-year-old Matterhorn mountain lodge, whose later extensions will be demolished. (Photograph: Patrick Frilet/Rex Features)

2. Northern Sri Lanka

A beach at Nilaveli, north of Trincomalee.

(A beach at Nilaveli, north of Trincomalee. Photographed by Alamy)

Sri Lanka has golden beaches and swaying coconut palms in abundance, but some of the island’s most beautiful stretches of coast were off-limits for decades, lying as they did in territory controlled by the Tamil Tigers. Now, five years after the civil war ended, new luxury resorts such as those run by Uga Escapes, are springing up on lush and largely empty shores around the port of Trincomalee.

But for truly untrodden Sri Lanka, foreign visitors should apply to the country’s ministry of defense for permission (it seems to be a formality) to head north up the now repaired and demined A9 – once called the Highway of Blood. (Or enjoy a truly novel experience by taking the train that started running from Colombo to Jaffna this autumn – £7.50 one way in an air-conditioned carriage.) This northern city is now rebuilding its few hotels and opening its doors to the world. Stay in the center of town, close to restaurants on Stanley Road (the Cosy and the Nila are both good, and astonishing value), at the Subhas Hotel (doubles from £20 B&B). Only one wing has been rebuilt so far, but the welcome is friendly, and they’ll bring a delicious breakfast of roti or dosas, with spicy sambol, tropical fruits and tea, to your room. For somewhere less edgy, particularly if you’re a female traveler hoping for a hassle-free beer by the pool, try the Green Grass (doubles from £27 B&B). It’s a walk or short tuk-tuk ride to the fort, and dinners are excellent.

Hotels – and indeed, tourists – are even rarer in the sunny, sleepy islands beyond Jaffna, reached by causeway and free ferry, but the intrepid traveler will find a ready welcome from people cut off from the west for a generation.

3. The Azores

Azores

(Photograph: Ian Gethings/Getty Images/Moment Open)

Scattered across the Atlantic Ocean almost 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, the nine volcanic islands of the Azores are a remote haven boasting amazing wildlife (whale-watching’s among the best in the world) and lush, unspoilt landscapes fringed by dramatic black sand beaches. For the past 10 years there has been a weekly direct flight from Gatwick to the main island of São Miguel with SATA. This year Ryanair becomes the first budget airline to fly to the islands, with weekly flights from Stansted to São Miguel in April, from £78 return. The other islands can then be reached by ferries and local flights. A great choice for walkers, divers and wildlife enthusiasts – and anyone who really wants to get away from it all (next stop is Canada, another 1,600 miles west).

4. Yosemite, California

The view from Glacier Point down Yosemite Valley.

(The view from Glacier Point down Yosemite Valley. Photograph: Alamy)

“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” So said John Muir, the Scottish-born conservationist whose passionate and influential writing helped persuade Congress to pass a bill leading to the declaration of Yosemite as the US’s third national park, in 1890. This made the protection of 1,200 square miles of deep valleys, wild-flower meadows, giant sequoias and waterfalls a legal obligation. More than a century later, Yosemite is still one of the crown jewels of the American national parks system. Visit in summer for hiking, rafting, fishing and rock climbing; in winter, some roads and trails are closed but there is the chance to enjoy the quiet splendor of the landscape without the crowds. Several events are planned to mark the 125th anniversary on 1 October, including tours led by an actor portraying Galen Clark, who explored the park many times with Muir and was instrumental in its gaining protected status.

If you are planning to stay overnight, check out yosemitepark.com/lodging for accommodation: it lists options from permanent camps in the High Sierra to the hotel of choice for visiting dignitaries, the luxury Ahwahnee. For a longer trip, Yosemite Valley is also the start of the magnificent John Muir Trail, which passes through 211 miles of spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It makes up part of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile path running from Mexico to Canada that is about to get its moment in the Hollywood limelight with the release, on 16 January in the UK, of Wild, based on a true story, in which Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a troubled woman grieving after her mother’s death, who hikes 1,100 miles of the trail alone. Despite gory close-ups of blisters, the film is likely to inspire countless journeys into the wilderness.

Over in Colorado, the Rocky Mountains national park is celebrating its centenary this year, with events from exhibitions and talks to free guided hikes.

5. Dorset, UK

Seaside Boarding House, Dorset

(Seaside Boarding House, Dorset. Image: The Guardian)

If hit TV drama Broadchurch, which starts a second series tomorrow, hasn’t put Dorset on the map, the release of Thomas Vinterberg’s film of Far From the Madding Crowd in May should have people flocking to this rolling landscape in, well, madding crowds. A new trail map, Exploring Thomas Hardy’s West Dorset (the novelist used the ancient name Wessex for his “partly real, partly dream county”) will link places that inspired him, including his birthplace at Higher Bockhampton. Those looking for a modern billet should be able to bed down at the eagerly anticipated Seaside Boarding House , whose opening was delayed from last year. On cliffs near Lyme Bay, it is the latest venture by Mary Lou-Sturridge and Tony Mackintosh, who founded the Groucho Club in London’s Soho in 1985.

6. Costa Rica

BeachIt’s tiny, and well-known for its amazing flora and fauna – more than half of the country is covered in lush forest and there are more than 60 national parks and reserves. Then there are the beaches along its two coasts, which rival any in the Caribbean. Getting there is going to be easier from November, when Thomson Airways launches the first direct flights from the UK, flying to the northern city of Liberia from Gatwick (the usual, longer, route is via Miami or Madrid). A week at the beachfront Tamarindo Diria resort costs from £949pp B&B, including flights and transfers (thomson.co.uk). (Photograph: Alamy)

7. Tatra mountains, Slovakia

Ski touring in the High Tatras.

(Ski touring in the High Tatras. Photograph: Alamy)

For skiers seeking new terrain, the Tatra (or Tatry) mountains offer an easy getaway, thanks to recently launched direct flights with Wizz Air from Luton to Poprad-Tatry (four times a week, from €20 one-way). Skiers and snowboarders of all levels are catered for in Jasná, the best-known resort in the Low Tatras, and Tatranská Lomnica, Starý Smokovec and Strbské Pleso in the neighbouring High Tatras. More than €200m has been invested to improve infrastructure – and the Freeride World Tour and World Snowboard Tour will make stops in the Tatras this winter. There are also three new aquaparks, which are open all year. Mountain Paradise offers Thurs-Sun weekend packages at the Vila Park & Pension Paula from £499pp including flights.

8. Faroe Islands

Faroe Islands

(Image: The Guardian)

A tiny 18-island archipelago roughly halfway between Iceland and Scotland, with nearly twice as many sheep as people, the Faroe Islands have a romantic appeal for travellers looking for a remote, back-to-nature experience. In March, the islands will be one of only two places in the world to see the total solar eclipse (the Norwegian islands of Svalbard being the other). It’s a great reason to visit the Faroes – a magical world of waterfalls and fjords and huge bird colonies. There’s a vibrant cultural scene, too – festivals and boat races in traditional Faroese boats fill the summer months – but among the most intimate and left-field is Hoyma, a new music festival held each November, which takes place in locals’ sitting rooms. Most hotels are booked now for the eclipse, but there are still B&B and camping options: see solareclipse.fo. Flights are via Copenhagen or Oslo with Atlantic Airways.

9. Patagonia, Chile

Patagonia

The 40th anniversary of Bruce Chatwin’s first visit to Patagonia and Top Gear’s recent controversial trip there have drawn attention to this stunning part of the world. Towards the end of 2015, a new national park is due to open in the Aysén region’s Chacabuco Valley – promising to protect an ecologically important corridor through the Andes between Chile and Argentina. Founded by conservationists Kris and Doug Tompkins (of North Face and Patagonia clothing company fame), it’s the fruit of a long struggle to turn a huge estancia back to its natural state. Pura Aventura has an 11-day trip to Parque Patagonia and Mallin Colorado from £2,552pp, including internal flights from the Chilean capital Santiago, but not international ones. (Photograph: Bridget Besaw/Aurora Photos/Corbis)

10. The Channel Islands

View from a German Bunker on Alderney, Channel Islands.(View from a German bunker on Alderney, Channel Islands. Photograph: Alamy)

While 2014 saw commemorations for the centenary of the first world war, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the second. This will have particular resonance in the Channel Islands, the only part of the British Isles to be occupied during the war. To celebrate, the islands are collaborating to hold a five-week Heritage Festival, from 3 April-11 May, which will remind visitors of what life was like under German rule. Some sites, such as tunnels and bunkers dug into the islands, will be open to the public for the first time, and there will be guided walks, bike rides and tours, including a kayak tour following the routes spies used to travel between the islands. The Liberation day carnival on May 9 includes a concert and firework display on Guernsey’s picturesque St Peter Port seafront. The Farmhouse Hotel has 14 rooms in a restored 15th century farmhouse from £75 a night.

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Posted in: FEATURES, TRAVEL