20 destinations you must visit in 2016
1. Park City, Utah
Park City has always provided an excellent base for exploring Utah’s best ski areas and enjoying the epic quantities of light, fluffy powder snow for which the state is renowned.
This season the resort town, chock full of lively bars and restaurants, becomes an even better hub for accessing the mountains as its slopes have been linked by a two-way gondola with the formerly separate resort of Canyons next door to create the biggest lift-linked ski area in the United States.
The company behind the move, developer Vail Resorts, which bought Park City ski area in 2014 and already had the lease on Canyons, has spent $50 million to create the new linked resort, now rebranded as one entity, Park City.
The new eight-seater gondola, Quicksilver, runs between mid-mountain in Park City and mid-mountain at Canyons, via Pinecone Ridge.
A mid-station there allows passengers to disembark and enjoy two new groomed trails on the Canyons side, or access ungroomed backcountry on the Park City side. To help cope with the extra demand from those coming over from Canyons, two Park City lifts, the Motherlode and King Con, have been upgraded to four- and six-seater chairs respectively.
And to feed all those hungry mouths, the Snow Hut Lodge has doubled in size and is now called the Miners Camp restaurant – a 500-seater eatery at the base of the Quicksilver gondola on the Park City side.
Once you’ve explored the new linked area – a whopping 7,300 acres in total – there’s still the neighbouring resort of Deer Valley to discover. This is under different ownership, but some UK tour operators offer a pass, not available locally, that covers both. Within an hour’s striking distance of Park City are also the linked resorts of Snowbird and Alta, offering further terrain to explore on some of Utah’s steepest and very snowiest slopes.
2. Russia – on the Trans-Siberian
As Eric Newby put it, “The Trans-Siberian is the big train ride. All the rest are peanuts.” If you’ve not yet booked, and need a reason to do it sooner rather than later, pencil in “centennial journey” for 2016. It was from 1916 that a route was finished that ran wholly through Russian territory, from Moscow to Vladivostok (before that, trains from Moscow to the Pacific travelled on the Chinese Eastern Railway through Manchuria).
Over seven days (the quickest you can do the journey on service trains) you’ll travel nearly 6,000 miles, through the forests and steppes of Siberia. The landscape may not always be memorable, but it’s definitely mesmerising: the ranks of silver birch, the steppe stretching away as if it might go on forever.
If you think we live in a shrinking world, the Trans-Siberian will make you think again. It’ll give you time to read, too.
Bryn Thomas’s Trans-Siberian Handbook will tell you what you can expect to see, Colin Thubron’s In Siberia will help you understand it, and Newby’s The Big Red Train Ride might make you think that things have improved since the Seventies, when staff rebuffed all requests “as if trained to fight off packs of wolves”.
3. Pilgrims’ footpaths – in the Year of Mercy
The special Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis – with a plenary indulgence promising full remission of sins – will make 2016 a bumper year for the pilgrimage. In Rome a special pilgrims’ footpath has been created, leading from Castel Sant’Angelo up the Via Della Conciliazione to the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s (papalaudience.org has information about audiences, guided tours of the Vatican and Rome, and accommodation).
If you’re interested in following all or part of the 2,000km Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome as travelled by Archbishop Sigeric in 990, see viefrancigene.org.
The routes to Compostela in north-west Spain are busier with pilgrims on foot and, increasingly, bicycle, and have a more developed infrastructure of hostels and reception centres. More than 1,000 pilgrims a day reach Compostela in the most popular months (spring and late summer), and finding accommodation may be a problem, especially on the last 100km of the road, this being the minimum distance required for absolution and a certificate.
For a walking holiday on a well-marked trail through beautiful countryside with cheap places to stay and interesting people to meet, part of one of the French routes may be more rewarding. The most scenic is the Via Podensis, which starts on the cathedral steps at Le Puy in the Massif Central, and heads for St-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the foot of the Pyrenees via Conques, Cahors and Moissac.
Le Puy to St Jean takes more than a month, and that is only halfway to Compostela. St Jean is easily reached by train from Biarritz or Bayonne, where three of the four routes converge (see the Confraternity of St James website: csj.org.uk/route-le-puy.htm). The pilgrim’s passport, or Credencial, needed for access to hostels and a certificate when you finally reach Compostela in many walking holidays’ time, can be obtained from your church in advance or a pilgrimage office along the way.
4. Hokkaido, Japan
From Kyoto to Kyushu, Japan has long been famed for its expansive network of sleek, white-nosed Shinkansen bullet trains, making travelling across the country quick, convenient and comfortable. In 2016, following more than a decade of construction, the country will be opened up further for tourists as the bullet train network hits a new milestone, extending to reach Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, for the first time.
From March 26, the new route will enable visitors to travel direct from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station in just over four hours (compared to the current five hours 50 minutes). Most visitors currently fly to the island.
In winter, Hokkaido’s wild natural landscapes and sensational powder snow are popular with skiers, while in summer, eagles, whales and dolphins can be seen on the Shiretoko Peninsula, there is canoeing and fishing on Lake Kussharo, hiking up Mount Asahi and visits possible to hot springs in Toya Onsen and the lavender fields of Biei.
Sapporo is the region’s capital, while the city of Hakodate has a star-shaped fort built during the last days of the Edo period (19th century).
If Hokkaido doesn’t take your fancy, Japan is still a great bet for 2016 as the country is cheaper to visit than it has been in years, thanks to a dramatically weakened yen. Tokyo was recently named the third cheapest long-haul destination for British travellers, according to a recent Post Office Travel Money survey.
At times the capital is cheaper than London – with subway hops starting at 92p (Y170), while a pint of beer can cost as little as £2.70 (Y500).
5. East Iceland – beyond the Golden Circle
Everyone’s heard of Iceland’s Golden Circle – the combination of churning Gullfoss waterfall, volcanic landscapes of Thingvellir National Park and bubbling geothermal geysers of Haukadalur, all within easy reach of the well-served Keflavik International Airport in the west. But come spring, and a new direct flight to the town of Egilsstadir there’s a whole new circuit of natural wonders waiting to be explored… over in the east.
With previous access to the Eastern Fjords being via a lengthy drive, a long boat journey or the faff of internal flights, this rugged coast has managed to escape the crowds of Iceland’s other extremity. Consequently, from a base at Egilsstadir, you can hike beneath the rhyolite mountains at Borgarfjordur Eystri to the north and have the jade-coloured lakes and Giant Boulders of Storurd (steeped in elf legend) to yourself.
Weave your way east to the bohemian town of Seydisfjordur, with its sound sculptures, Centre for the Visual Arts and brightly painted wooden houses, and you’ll be welcomed like a local. Journey south to the pretty harbour at Djupivogur and be outnumbered by ducks and seabirds that come to seek refuge in the surrounding wetlands.
Locally caught seafood, museums dedicated to a rich and important fishing history (try the one in the “French town” of Faskrudsfjordur) and waterfalls, such as the 60m Flogufoss, can be found scattered across the region. But better yet is the backdoor access to Iceland’s central highlands, offered by heading southwest – a four-wheel-drive tour will whisk you into the ice caves at Kverkfjoll for a unique view into the tip of Vatnajokull and its glaciers and ice caps.
6. Australia – by sea
Our love affair with Australia may be well-established, but for those with time on their hands, Australia – which has more than 16,000 miles of coast – offers some world-class cruising experiences. Let’s be honest: who wouldn’t want to arrive by way of Sydney harbour?
Sydney is just the start. Queensland’s coast and islands (including the Ribbon reefs and Lizard Island), the ruggedly beautiful Kimberley in the country’s north-west and the southern cities of Adelaide and Hobart (in Tasmania) are all on the cruising map. But so are the remote Bathurst Island and Tiwi Islands (north of Darwin), Elcho Island off the coast of Arnhem Land (new ports of call for Silversea) and Thursday Island and Cooktown (both offered by Azamara).
Australia is also a springboard for Asia, the Pacific and New Zealand. A number of itineraries, for example, include the Indonesian islands of Bali, Lombok and Komodo.
Fancy joining in some of Australia’s biggest sporting events? For the first time itineraries featuring the Melbourne Cup, Australian Open and Australia Day celebrations are being offered by Cruiseco on P&O Cruises’ Australian fleet. The five ships – two new ships joined the fleet this month – between them visit up to 26 ports in the Antipodes, Pacific and Asia, including Auckland and the Bay of Islands (New Zealand) and far-flung Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga.
For those who are time-stretched, or travelling with family, a cruise is certainly a practical option. Royal Caribbean is deploying its new, 5,000-passenger Ovation of the Seas Down Under next year. The maiden voyage from Singapore next December calls at ports including Fremantle, Adelaide, Hobart and the Whitsunday Islands.
For a more intimate experience, Sydney, Surfers Paradise, the Barrier Reef and Hamilton Island are included on a new Australia fly-cruise with Fred Olsen, in June.
That Antipodean love affair? It’s only just begun.
7. The Lake District, England
It’s hard to tell from the news footage of the floods that filled Cockermouth on December 6 quite what a beautiful place it is. But with its long, wide main street and stalwart Victorian architecture, this is easily the most charming of the Lakeland towns.
It’s where Wordsworth was raised, and although the neat Georgian house where he grew up was also flooded, it will re-open to the public on March 12, 2016.
After its second inundation in six years, Cockermouth needs all the support it can get next year from those who love the Lakes.
Another great reason for visiting Cockermouth is that it borders the north-west corner of the National Park – the most remote, least crowded and, for me, the most beautiful part of the Lake District. Buttermere, Crummock Water and little Loweswater are hemmed in by some of the most spectacular of the fells.
But most of the attention next year will no doubt be directed around the opposite side of the Lakes. It will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, the woman who did most to preserve the National Park, and also to fix the landscape in our childhood imaginations.
The highlight of a Potter-inspired visit is Hill Top – her farmhouse in the little village of Near Sawrey – run by the National Trust, the organisation she helped to found (nationatrust.org.uk).
But there are some special events at other Trust properties next year, including a children’s literary festival at Wray Castle, the first place Potter visited in the Lake District, with a new guide to tell the story of her life, storytelling events, and a “birthday party” (on July 28).
And if that doesn’t stir enough childhood memories for you, a new Swallows and Amazons film opens in the Autumn. No doubt that will inspire a new generation.
8. National Parks, United States
This is not so much one reason to visit the United States, more 59 compelling arguments, gloriously wide ranging, wild and beautiful. Next year marks the centenary of the US National Parks, so you can expect frequent reminders as to why this government body is oft-cited as “America’s best idea”.
On August 25 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) was formally declared by President Woodrow Wilson, crowning a movement put in motion in 1872 with the decision to protect Yellowstone.
The system now encompasses an astonishingly diverse collection of natural beauty, stretching from the Gates of the Arctic National Park (around 12,000 visitors in 2014) in northern Alaska to the Smoky Mountains National Park (more than 10 million visitors in the same year) straddling North Carolina and Tennessee. The movement continues to expand – Pinnacles National Park, a collection of volcanic peaks in California, was added in 2013.
Within the National Parks collection, you can wander one of the world’s longest cave systems (Wind Cave, South Dakota), explore undisturbed coral reefs (Dry Tortugas, Florida) and climb the highest mountain in North America (Denali, Alaska). Or you can simply gaze upon the superb Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks, and reflect upon a movement that went on to influence conservation across the world.
9. Peru – adventure in the Andes
For the first time in 24 years, Britain is getting a non-stop flight to Peru, with British Airways flying London Gatwick to Lima from May 4. This cuts the journey to 12½ hours (from 15-18 hours with stop) and could entice back visitors who have already ticked off Cusco and Machu Picchu.
There is certainly plenty to enjoy: the Moche Route (larutamoche.pe), which takes in the impressive mud-brick citadel of Chan Chan, is ideal for those who want some beach action with their archaeology. At the El Brujo Archaeological Complex in northern Peru, a new trail takes in recently discovered friezes that appear to show a tsunami.
Elsewhere, access to one of the most dramatic inland sites, Kuelap, in the Amazonian region of Chachapoyas, will be improved by a new cable car, which Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, has promised will be in operation by July 2016. The Pachacamac complex, 25 miles (40km) south of Lima, contains 17 pyramids as well as palaces and temples. A major new archaeological museum is scheduled to open in mid-2016, displaying local finds and others borrowed from regional museums.
Meanwhile, Titilaka, the most luxurious property in Lake Titicaca, has launched a boathouse equipped with canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and sailboats to allow guests to visit a private floating reed island, away from the crowds on the other Uros islands. Doubles from £660 per night full board, including the boathouse trip (titilaka.com).
10. India – a rich tapestry
India will be in the news all spring: Disney’s new Jungle Book animation launches in April; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting India for the first time; and the ICC World Twenty20 is being played in eight Indian cities from March 8.
What’s more, anyone inspired to jump on a flight to see the country first-hand will find it a lot easier to get a visa. In August, India finally introduced e-tourist visas for British citizens. They take just four days to issue for a reduced fee of £39. There’s more good news for the budget-conscious on arrival. The pound has strengthened considerably against the rupee (£1 = 100 rupees), making India very good value compared with south-east Asia.
The cultural splendours of Rajasthan remain the big draw, but more of us are venturing into its smaller towns and villages, staying in restored palaces and forts whose owners organise jeep safaris, trail rides and guided walks in the beautiful Aravalli Range. Mahout (01295 758150; mahoutuk.com) represents some of the best hotels. Following the V&A’s much-praised The Fabric of India exhibition (it closes January 10), textile tours are taking off. Join the exhibition’s curator, Rosemary Crill, on a tour to Gujarat and Hyderabad in November with Steppes (01285 601753;steppestravel.co.uk); 13 days for £3,995 plus flight.
Colonial accounts of Central India’s forests and canyons are said to have inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book tales, especially the tiger reserves of Kanha, Satpura and Tadoba. Beautiful wilderness areas, they receive far fewer visitors than those in the north, and Tadoba is said to have the highest density of tigers in India.
11. Ios, Cycladic Islands, Greece
Now we’ve all signed up to save the planet, a few people have to physically make this happen. A Greek philanthropist and philosopher-king has just bought a third of the unspoilt Cycladic island of Ios – to preserve its staggering natural beauty and to allow people to love the living of life, luxuriously and responsibly. Some 95 per cent of the land is going to remain untouched.
The 35 species of wild orchid, the unique cedar forest and indeed the local shepherds look like they might be safe.
Development will include private villas best reached by boat – there’s already a boutique hotel and two super-classy beach bars where every last door handle has been designed by the island’s visionary owner or is made from local materials by island craftsmen. Ios now sings with an unabashed delight in the beauty of body and soul.
I have a confession. On an archaeology-cum-hedonism tour of the Greek islands 30 years ago I avoided Ios because it had a reputation for partying harder than was decent. But those beer-swilling sybarites kept others away, saving the island from mass development.
Many roads are still dirt tracks, and at night, with little owls, nightjars and glow-worms for company, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve travelled back to the Bronze Age along with the island’s first inhabitants who have left behind their mesmeric, spiral settlement of Skarkos – a prehistoric marvel.
The lyrical loveliness of Ios is reviving. The epic poet Homer woke up to a “rosy-fingered dawn”. Well, Ios is said to be the island where the bard saw his last sunset. In the Pathos Bar beautiful people in minute swimwear serenade the setting sun here – not to Party Rock Anthem but with Nessun Dorma. Expect acoustic concerts, sculpture trails, a full-blooded celebration of the fruits of the Mediterranean. Epic enjoyment in both the ancient and modern sense.
12. La Gomera, Canary Islands
If you’re not a fan of mass tourism, you might have given the Canary Islands a wide berth. But with options for short‑haul winter sun destinations starting to close off, now’s a good time to ditch your preconceptions and discover pint-size La Gomera.
It’s one of the archipelago’s best-kept secrets: unspoilt and picture-book perfect, with rough and ready palm-studded beaches, sleepy mountain villages of marzipan-coloured houses, banana plantations, eye-watering ravines and a stunning rainforest of ancient laurel trees. With its own microclimate, it’s a walkers’ paradise.
There are no direct flights from Britain, so you’ll need to fly to Tenerife South airport. From there, it’s a 20-minute taxi ride (€25) to the port of Los Cristianos, and a 75-minute ferry trip (fredolsen.es; €68/£49 return) will whisk you away from the fleshpots in a flurry of foam.
As the ferry nears La Gomera, you’ll see for yourself why the untamed coastline – rocky black sand beaches backed by towering volcanic cliffs – was a perfect location for filming the recent blockbuster In the Heart of the Sea.
The shoot took place in the southern harbour town of Playa Santiago, home to the luxury clifftop Hotel Jardín Tecina (jardin-tecina.com, double rooms in February from €162, b&b).
Sun-seekers on a budget can head west to the laid-back beach settlement of Valle Gran Rey (Apartamentos Punta Marina has one-bedroomed apartments in palm-filled gardens from around €60, via).
But do let the beauty of the island lure you from your sunbed. La Gomera’s newest attraction is the Mirador de Abrante, near Agulo – a viewing point/restaurant with an astonishing seven-metre glass “skywalk” poised like a diving board over a 200m ravine (lunch around €18).
As you scoff your Canarian tapas, you’ll have both your head and your feet in the clouds.
13. Peloponnese, Greece
Old and new can make intriguing bedfellows. And there’s no doubt that the Peloponnese delivers when it comes to “old”. This colossal peninsula, swelling for more than 8,300 square miles at the south-west corner of Greece, was the arena in which many of the country’s ancient dramas played out.
Remnants of this halcyon era are manifold: the iconic fourth century BC amphitheatre at Epidaurus, its acoustics as glorious today as they were when designed; the ruins of Sparta, the obstreperous city-state that rose as a rival to Athens in the fifth century BC; and the sanctuary of Olympia, where the Olympic Games threw and ran.
But what of “new”? The innovation for 2016 is wider accessibility. April 30 will bring the launch of a twice-weekly British Airways connection to the southern city of Kalamata (from Heathrow; until September 24).
While this is not a revolution – easyJet began a seasonal service from Gatwick in 2013; Thomas Cook Airlines offers summer links from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham – it will allow more visitors to enjoy a region that, four years ago, could only be reached by a four-hour, 175-mile drive from Athens.
“New” also washes across the enclave of luxury resorts and golf courses 40 miles west of Kalamata, which is introducing an element of high-end Caribbean-style accommodation into the tumbledown aesthetic of the Greek seaside. But even here, “old” is never far away.
It is but a 60-mile drive north to Olympia, which will come into focus on April 21, when the Olympic flame is lit from the rays of the sun ahead of its transfer to Rio for the 31st edition of the modern Olympic Games. The site will keep its glow all summer, like a proud stepfather – not least as the action unfolds in Brazil (August 5-21).
14. France – Entente Cordiale
The overriding reason for going to France this year is that the French are our friends, and they need us. They always do. We are their number one visitors. If we stop going, their economy disappears further down the toilet than it’s reached already.
More particularly, in 2016 they need us to support their resilience, yet visitor numbers to Paris have fallen off a cliff post-November 13. Something doesn’t quite add up. This is not the spirit that informed the Great War (“I’ve cancelled the trip to the Somme, Bob; there are Germans there, with guns.”)
We need to pull ourselves together, remember who we are and then sweep across the Channel, not least for the centenary commemorations of the said Somme on July 1, and that of Verdun. February will see the reopening of the great Verdun Memorial museum, with its official commemoration (French president, German chancellor) on May 29.
Meanwhile, there’s the Euro 2016 football thrash, which should generate cheaper emotions in 10 venues around the country from June 10 to July 10. France’s greatest art event may be the triennial Impressionist Festival, which spreads across Normandy – focusing on portraiture – from April 16 to September 26.
Or perhaps the opening, this autumn, of Lascaux IV in the Dordogne. The world’s greatest cave paintings will at last get the complementary resources they deserve. As will the wines of Bordeaux in the extraordinary Cité du Vin – all rounded, shiny, looking like a cartoon ankle and foot – also coming in June. Weirdly, Bordeaux (indeed, France as a whole) has never had a convincing wine museum. This should be it.
Elsewhere, interesting exhibitions are breaking out all over – Modigliani in Lille from February 27, Picasso at Marseille’s MuCEM from spring – but the real attractions of France are constant. Whatever we think of them, the good Lord favoured the French.
He granted them the most diverse landscape in Europe, from mountains to the loveliest coastline, with everything else in between: lakes, rivers, forests, plains, gorges.
The French, being gifted, have played their hand brilliantly, creating the world’s greatest food and drink, maintaining real regional identities, keeping proper villages where small amounts of cash ensure local bread, wine and charcuterie – and infusing the whole with politeness, culture and decorum. This is what is precious. This is why we go. If we, the neighbours, don’t show up when needed, who will?
15. United Arab Emirates, Middle East
Apart from a lull during the global financial crisis, Dubai has been pushing boundaries in the world of travel for decades. Leisure travellers will be well aware of its opulent hotels, groomed Gulf Coast beaches, enormous shopping malls….and its theme parks. Next year, four spectacular new options are opening to join the likes of Sega Republic, the existing waterparks and the indoor ski centre. First to appear, in the spring, is IMG Worlds of Adventure (imgwoa.ae).
Photo: A rendering of Motiongate ()
Cartoon Network characters and Marvel superheroes will lend themes to the various white-knuckle rides but perhaps the biggest draw will be a “lost valley” roamed by animatronic dinosaurs. Scheduled for October are Legoland, Motiongate and Bollywood Dubai.
Legoland (legoland.com/dubai) will consist of 15,000 models constructed from 60 million of the bright plastic bricks, including replicas of emblematic Middle East buildings. Also expect a waterpark with a river on which visitors can float a raft they have built themselves.
Hollywood films are the theme for Motiongate (motiongatedubai.com) – just try to resist your teenagers’ pleas to visit the Hunger Games arena. Less scary will be the DreamWorks zone inhabited by Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.
Meanwhile, Bollywood Dubai will do as it says on the tin, including a specially created theatre show.
One hundred miles down the coast in the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi, a more highbrow attraction is due to open late in 2016. Saadiyat island is being developed as a cultural powerhouse and the first major project is Louvre Abu Dhabi (louvreabudhabi.ae). Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, it will be covered with a giant white dome beneath which will be archaeology and art from various regions and periods.
16. Wroclaw, Poland
As dusk falls each evening in the Polish city of Wroclaw, a lamplighter makes his way through the cobbled streets of the Ostrow Tumski district (Cathedral Island), illuminating the quiet squares, passageways and medieval buildings in a scene unchanged since the 19th century.
This is just one of many charming aspects of Wroclaw (rather confusingly pronounced Vrotswaf), Poland’s fourth city, which despite its eventful history, wondrous 13th-century market square, atmospheric old town and picturesque riverside and island setting has so far remained off the tourist radar.
Next year that should all change when it becomes a European Capital of Culture and launches an ambitious year-long celebration of theatre, cinema, music and literature (wroclaw2016.pl). In truth, it already feels a pretty civilised place as you wander among its Gothic and Baroque churches and buildings, so skillfully restored after the destruction of the Second World War that you can’t tell old from new.
The best way to get your bearings is to take one of the excellent free daily walking tours of the old town and Ostrow Tumski (freewalkingtour.com/wroclaw), then go it alone among the museums, bookshops, market, churches and artists’ studios.
Communist austerity has given way to a buzzing entrepreneurial spirit – particularly when it comes to eating and drinking.
You can still find Soviet-style dumplings, but also great organic cafés (tryszynkarnia.com.pl), superb Ethiopian coffee (Cafe Targowa in the indoor market), craft beer pubs, excellent restaurants (Polish-Jewish steinhaus.pl) and bars with live music from jazz to techno.
Wroclaw is a very easy weekend away: a two-hour flight, a small manageable airport and a 30-minute bus transfer to the centre of town (about 50p). All the main sights, such as the 2,000 sq m Raclawice Panorama painting, the museums and the cathedral, are within easy walking distance – and, as you’ll see from the details below, it’s one of the best-value short breaks in Europe.
17. Masai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara National Reserve has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately. When local herdsmen poisoned eight lions after losing three cows in early December the news went around the world. The lions belonged to the Marsh Pride, the superstars of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary, and the publicity has damaged the reputation of Kenya’s premier tourist destination.
Conservationists blame the local authorities for turning a blind eye to illegal incursions by thousands of cattle. Every night they flood into the big cats’ domain, creating a situation that was bound to end in conflict.
So why choose the Mara? The fact is that in spite of everything it is still the best place I know for photographing big cats – not just lions but leopards and cheetahs, too – at close quarters. And every year from July through to October the Mara showcases the Serengeti wildebeest migration – the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth.
The invading cattle may have trashed vast tracts of savannah but much still remains untouched. West of the Mara River lies the stunningly beautiful area known as the Triangle, managed by the Mara Conservancy in a way that puts the rest of the Reserve to shame; and along the Mara’s north-east border lie private conservancies where wildlife is protected, lion numbers are increasing and the camps are second to none.
The best reason for going is that ecotourism is Africa’s lifeblood, financing the war on poaching and underpinning the survival of its last wild places. Without continued tourist revenue the Mara and its irreplaceable carnivores will be swept away, along with the livelihoods of thousands of Kenyans employed in the safari trade.
18. Porto, Portugal
The English have a long-standing love affair with Porto. For nearly 300 years, there have been English trading posts within the city, and it is the English who built up (and largely still run) the port houses for which Porto is famed. In February 2016, British Airways starts flying direct to Porto from Gatwick, making it easier to get here than ever before.
With a strong pound and a flagging Portuguese economy, it’s also now an exceptionally affordable destination for British visitors. As you’re within the EU, there’s plenty of reason to stock up on port supplies while you’re there.
Porto’s historic centre dates back to 300BC, and the Unesco World Heritage riverside quarter, with its bars, restaurants and dramatic floodlit architecture, is complemented by the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral, uncountable churches and chapels, and the Casa do Infante, the birthplace of Henry the Navigator, the initiator of the Age of Discoveries.
But if we’re honest, you’re not coming for the history; you’re coming for the port. Nearly all the port houses offer tours and tastings. Sogrape Vinhos (eng.sograpevinhos.com/visitas) hosts tours of the Ferreira, Offley and Sandeman cellars, all of which are in the centre of Porto, but it’s most interesting to venture out into the neighbouring Douro Valley where the port is actually made.
The 133-acre Quinta da Pacheca () is the regional leader in oenotourism and occupies a spectacular position overlooking the Douro River.
19. Dominican Republic (Hispaniola)
It’s easy to view the Caribbean as a known concept. To an extent, it is: soft sand, sunset views, rum cocktails. But that doesn’t mean that this fine-weather playground is a place without surprises. Despite being the second biggest island in the region (smaller only than Cuba), Hispaniola is still a mystery, its jungles and mountains hidden from the spotlight.
This, though, is slowly changing. While Haiti, the western third of the land mass, is still a destination purely for the intrepid, the Dominican Republic – which takes up the eastern two thirds of the island – is gradually gaining a reputation as a hotspot for five-star travel.
The case in point is Amanera (0065 6715 8855;aman.com/resorts/amanera), the latest Aman retreat, which opened on the Dominican Republic’s north coast in November.
Set on cliffs above Playa Grande beach, not only does it widen the presence of a luxury hotel group which, traditionally, has focused on Asia and the Far East – this is only the fourth Aman property in the Americas, and just the second in the Caribbean – but it tolls a new note of elegance in a country that, for a long time, has dealt in basic fly-and-flop escapes.
Amanera does not wander from the Aman blueprint: an emphasis on health, wellbeing and space, with a high-end spa complementing a handful of “casitas” (25 in all), and a golf course, with 10 of the 18 holes laid out along the cliffs, adding a sporting challenge.
Its arrival makes 2016 a good year to encounter an island that proffers far more than ocean front: the rich colonial history of the capital Santo Domingo, which still sings of the island’s “discovery” by Christopher Columbus in 1492; the joys of Parque Nacional Los Haitises, a vast, raw slab of rainforest. Not least because this fresh sophistication will do nothing to detract from the Dominican Republic’s status as a wonderful question mark.
20. Cape Town, South Africa
This is a city that has always had a lot to offer – clinging to the slopes of a mountainous peninsula that curves like a crooked finger into the bracing Atlantic, nature is ever present. Take road trips into the vineyard-carpeted valleys, stopping for a gourmand lunch in Franschhoek.
Then tool along the cliff-hugging coastal route to Hermanus and experience the best bed-based whale watching in the world. Or head north-west to eat plated art with a forager chef in Paternoster. Everywhere you go, the food is good, the service friendly and the bill always cheap.
The rand depreciated by around 30 per cent in 2015, which means regular visitors to Cape Town have seen their holiday costs slashed by a third. You can eat Michelin-star standard meals for the price of your average gastropub grub (make your selection of tables to book from the country’s annual award winners on eatout.co.za).
The region’s superlative wines – best discovered on a wine-tasting tour (gourmetwinetours.co.za) – are also a steal: a good quaffer now costs an average £2, while internationally recognised award-winners will knock you back £6-8 (wineonaplatter.com).
Similarly so, handcrafted beers, Afro-chic designer homeware, fabulous fine art, luxury hotels. 2016 also finally sees the unveiling of The Silo (theroyalportfolio.com). Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, The Silo is being carved out of the historic grain silo towers on the V&A Waterfront. It will be the cherry on top of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – due to open in 2017 – an architectural marvel with a gallery experience to rival the Tate Modern.