18 of the best countries to visit in 2018


Travel and tourism is one industry that has continued to thrive in recent years, consistently out-performing the global economy, and 2018 looks to be no exception. We spoke to a number of experts in the industry to find out their opinions on the countries to visit in the year ahead. And so here are 18 of the best countries to visit in 2018. Happy New Year, everyone!

Belize, as suggested by Roger Hyde, CEO of Dulabab Travel

The tiny country of Belize has one foot in Central America and the other in the Caribbean, is an English speaking democracy and is a vital component of both the Mesoamerican Reef System and the Maya Forest; widely recognised as the largest intact block of tropical broadleaf forest in Central America. These 2 extraordinary reef and rainforest environments located in such a small geographical area offer unique adventure and exploration opportunities.

Starting offshore enjoying the simple luxury of Caribbean island life while based in a luxury villa, the pace is relaxed, the cayes and atolls providing a picture perfect backdrop for exploring the mesmerising underwater world aboard a private dive boat. Day and night diving along the barrier reef, canyons, walls and marine sink holes of this unique ecosystem will inspire as brightly coloured hard and soft corals are encountered along with schools of iridescent reef and pelagic predators.

Internationally renowned NGO scientists are on hand to offer unique insight and access while revealing the secrets of this enthralling sub-aqua world, while also offering the chance to take part in an internationally significant marine mega-fauna survey, and observe the endangered West Indian Manatee in remote lagoons. Leaving the reef behind, the journey heads west into the Maya Mountain Massif, the wild and rugged heart of Belize. The private helicopter flight will fly low over the iridescent patch reefs before reaching the coast and rapidly rising over Victoria Peak and the Maya Mountain Divide. Landing deep in the jungle, the quest begins with an exploration of the magnificent Maya site at Caracol, one of the region’s most important and impressive Maya sites. Discovering the Maya Mountain Massif is best done with a combination of 4×4 and horse back accompanied by rangers from a partner NGO, who co-manage the Chiquibul Forest while staying in a world-class lodge. The final immersive experience takes guests to a remote river for an unforgettable rainforest adventure. Inflatable kayaks and uniquely comfortable expedition camps allow guests to explore this unique habitat to the full. With luck and a keen eye, a wide range of wildlife including the endangered Baird’s tapir and Scarlet macaw.

With significant increases in both land and cruise ship tourism in 2017, as well as more direct flights from North America, visitor numbers are set to continue increasing. For such a small and unique country, with distinct local pressures impacting both the pristine marine and interior environments, we urge those who have the means and desire to travel there to do so in 2018. For an experience of genuine adventure, combined with the ability to explore and discover areas few people have ever visited, let alone enjoyed in such unique ways, Belize is a truly unique and special destination.

Bhutan as suggested by Matt Holmes, President of Boundless Journeys

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is tucked in the Himalayas and probably isn’t on the radar for most luxury travelers, which is exactly why it should be. Bhutan is often described as Tibet before the Chinese invasion and Nepal without the budget backpackers. It is a country where spirituality is almost tangible, and Buddhist philosophy infuses all parts of culture and even government policy.

What makes Bhutan so appealing to luxury travelers? A number of 5-star properties have opened their doors across Bhutan in recent years including Uma, Aman, Taj, and Le Meridien. With their luxurious spas, impeccable service, and stunning design that fuses traditional Bhutanese architecture with a modern, elegant twist, these accommodations are oases after a day of activities. Moreover, Bhutan requires that travelers be accompanied by a guide and driver each day, and that policy has helped produce incredibly well-trained guides who speak superb English and have a boundless enthusiasm for introducing guests to their country.

A private, local Bhutanese guide is imperative to delving deep into Bhutan’s culture and history, and while they always showcase the most famous sites, they also know about the lesser-known, but equally-impressive places. So, what is there to see and do? Bhutan’s massive fortresses, called dzongs, and plethora of temples are intricately-decorated inside and out. The most famous is the cliff-side Tiger’s Nest temple complex—only accessible on foot, with stunning views of the Paro Valley and the Himalayan foothills. It’s an invigorating hike with a tremendous reward.

For the more adventurous traveler, there are opportunities to mountain bike, raft, learn archery (the national sport), and hike into rhododendron forests and up to high passes. Travelers interested in more cultural experiences can opt for a meditation session, a Buddhist astrology reading, attending a vibrant festival, or having tea with young Buddhist monks eager to practice their English.

The uniqueness of the country stems partially from its happiness index—Gross National Happiness—to measure its success. This encourages the government and royal family to develop the country in a way that benefits its citizens by preserving the culture and environment. Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-negative country, producing more energy than it uses, and it has vowed to keep 60% of the country forested at all times. In addition, traditional architecture and the national dress are ubiquitous, making visitors feel they have traveled to a place little-touched by the outside world.

Thanks to Prince William and Kate’s visit in 2016, and several articles in the last year featuring Bhutan as a rising destination, tourism has been increasing. The country is on the cusp of exploding onto the tourism scene, making 2018 the year to go before that happens. Right now, luxury travelers will have exclusive experiences with few other travelers, and be able to witness a culture and country seemingly preserved in time.

Botswana, as suggested by Sara White, Marketing Director of Real Africa

Botswana is synonymous with great wildlife spectacles and swathes of pristine wilderness – it offers exclusive camps, romantic vistas and exceptional levels of guiding and hospitality. For a high quality, low density safari experience, Botswana undeniably excels.

But Botswana’s qualities run more than skin deep. The country stands out for its consistent commitment to conservation. Over 38% of Botswana’s land is now protected making it a clear leader in eco-tourism. Given the space and safety, rare species thrive here, from critically endangered black rhino, wild dog and black maned Kalahari lion to lechwe, puku, sitatunga, pangolin and aardvark.

The ambitious rhino relocation to the Okavango Delta is just one compelling reason to travel to Botswana in 2018. The Moremi Game Reserve on the eastern edge of the Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta and the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site, is now a place that guests can see all the Big Five once again thanks to the efforts of Botswana’s government and to conservation charity Rhino Conservation Botswana. RCB’s newly appointed Royal Patron HRH Prince Harry, who is passionate about protecting iconic species, knows only too well how special this country is, spending as much time as he can there.

It’s a real privilege to be able to observe black rhino in the wild with only around 5,000 remaining in Africa. Guests can add a new dimension to their travels by enjoying a behind-the-scenes conservation experience – at certain camps it is possible to meet with rhino monitoring teams to learn more about the rhino’s return to the Okavango.

A fantastic diversity of activities from 4×4 game drives, by day and night, to walking and horseback safaris and boat excursions help guests get under the skin of Botswana. Float serenely by mokoro down the Delta’s maze of papyrus edged channels, safari in Chobe National Park, dubbed ‘Land of Giants’ where more than 120,000 elephants roam, canoe the remote Selinda Spillway, fly camping on deserted islands as you go, walk with San Bushmen in the desolate Kalahari, the largest, most remotely situated reserve in Southern Africa,marvel at magical starry southern skies, visit the mysterious Savute region or witness the zebra migrations from the Chobe River and the border with Namibia to Nxai and Makgadikgadi pans, the longest-known terrestrial wildlife migration in Africa.

Brazil, as suggested by Simon Williams, Managing Director at Bespoke Latin America

In 2018 Brazil is back. After a difficult 2016 and 2017 with the positive and negative impact of the Olympics, the Zika scare stories, economic downturn and government turmoil, Brazil is finally on the up again with a number of new luxury hotels poised to open.

It was announced recently that the Six Senses group would be starting work on their first southern America project up in Baia Formosa, near Natal. Another newcomer to will be the Anantara group which will be the first Asian hotel flag to come to Brazil when it opens a flagship hideaway, Anantara Maraú Bahia Resort, in July. The property will boast a beach setting next to the Bay of Camamu on the Maraú Peninsula in Bahia, along a stunning stretch of Atlantic coastline.

The Hotel Fasano will finally open on 25th January 2018 after a number of delays but is an exciting new addition to the Brazilian luxury hotel scene. It’s the fourth Fasano property to open in Brazil and is bound to have the same high standards of the Fasano family’s three other properties in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Boa Vista. There is also a Fasano in Punta del Este in Uruguay. The Fasano group should also open properties in Salvador and Belo Horizonte within the next few months, two cities which are in need of luxury boutique properties and will offer an exciting edge. Salvador is Brazil’s best preserved colonial city, steeped in history and with a huge African population creating a diverse mix of religions, culture and music. Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, has limited luxury options at present so the new Fasano will be great for people looking to visit the stunning Inhotim Contemporary Art Museum, the largest outdoor art installation in the world or the colonial towns of Minas Gerais.

Aside from the new hotel openings, Brazil still has amazing sights for first time visitors. These include the most beautiful city in the world in Rio de Janeiro; the most impressive waterfalls at Iguassu; plus a wildlife lovers paradise with the best place on the planet to see jaguars in the Pantanal. For nature enthusiasts, the Amazon with its mighty river and rainforest is a must. For those looking for more active pursuits then exploring the national parks of the Chapada Diamantina or the Chapada dos Veadeiros should be on your list for wonderful treks and remote waterfalls while Bonito is an adventure capital. The north of the country is famed for its world calls kitesurfing and windsurfing while endless beaches provide the perfect chance for relaxation. It’s a great destination for honeymooners, couples and families and waiting to be explored.

Canada, as suggested by Paul Johnson, Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog

Canada was on pretty much all the must-visit lists of 2017 and with good reason; the year marked 150 years since Confederation and highlights included free admission to national parks across the country. But just because those celebrations are coming to an end doesn’t mean to say that Canada shouldn’t still be on your list of places to visit in 2018. There’s still a great deal of interest for visitors from around the world. Indeed, the Conference Board of Canada expects international tourist visits to be up 6.2% in 2018.

2018 is being billed as the Canada-China Year of Tourism – it’s said that more than 1.8 million Canadians have some Chinese ancestry, and Mandarin and Cantonese are the most spoken languages in Canada after English and French, so it’s likely that there will be significant growth in the number of visits from Chinese tourists. But wherever in the world you happen to hail from, there are plenty of events to interest you.

The year will kick off with one of the world’s largest winter carnivals in beautiful Québec City including snow bath, ice canoe race, night parades, snow slides, snow sculptures, shows and skating. A unique Canadian winter experience for all ages!

The Canadian Tulip Festival in May is Canada’s most colourful festival with over a million tulips in bloom across the capital as well as an artistic interpretation of the tulips by all levels of the artistic community. Inspired by the Dutch gift of tulips to Canadians in 1945, this festival is a celebration of friendship and international friendship.

In July, the annual Calgary Stampede is a ten-day long celebration with midway rides and bucking broncos that hosts, educates and entertains visitors from around the world. Also in July, and running into August, the Celebration of Light, Vancouver’s two-week midsummer fireworks bonanza, attracts more than 1.6 million spectators when the sparkles hit the skies.

In Winnipeg, the largest and longest-running multi-cultural festival in the world, the Folklorama Festival presents over 44 cultural pavilions where guests can sample ethnic food, meet traditionally costumed volunteers, enjoy lively cultural entertainment, interactive fun and learn about cultures and countries from around the world.

Towards the end of the year, don’t miss the Canadian Western Agribition – the best beef show on the continent and the largest livestock show in Canada. The show is a blend of agriculture, Indigenous culture, and festive entertainment, featuring live music, shopping, and food.

Faroe Islands, as suggested by Alex Malcolm, Founder and MD at Jacada Travel

With tourist numbers in Iceland up 34.9% already in 2017, the trend to travel north is on the rise: on the whole, the entirety of the polar regions are becoming more and more popular. Not far from Iceland sits the self-governing archipelago of the Faroe Islands. There are many reasons to visit the Faroe Islands in 2018, but chief among them is that only 50,000 tourists visit a year (for now), so it is noticeably quieter than Iceland, while still being extremely welcoming to tourists.

Iceland’s lesser-known cousin has stunning green scenery, a notable lack of crime, easy access (it’s a quick flight from Copenhagen, Reykjavik or Edinburgh), extreme remoteness, and amazing nature. It’s home to the oldest parliament in the world, as well as the smallest capital city. Plus, in 2017, the island won its first Michelin Star (the restaurant KOKS, based in Torshavn). Tourists can expect epic landscapes, fantastic birding, and beautiful little villages.

From Torshavn, nothing is more than a couple of hours’ drive away, so you can easily explore everything in the area in a few days. You can spend one day meandering through Torshavn absorbing the well-preserved local culture and the next you can be hiking atop a beautiful mountain. (We love Slættaratindur, the islands’ highest mountain at 882 meters. If you’re lucky enough, from the top you can see the whole country and you may even be able to see parts of Iceland at over 550m away – the longest view on record!) The islands also have the highest promontory in the world. It’s really a place of superlatives.

2018 is a great year to visit the Faroe Islands because it’s still a relatively undiscovered region. Our favourite hotel there, Hotel Foroyar, will have a new annex opening in 2018, allowing for even more visitors to pass through its enchanting doors. Iceland saw a meteoric rise in popularity a few years ago, and we have no doubt the Faroe Islands will follow, so it’s definitely worth a trip there now. At Jacada Travel, within a month of officially launching it, we sold our first trip there. So many people are looking to go off the beaten path a bit next year, and the islands offer the perfect opportunity to do so.

France, as suggested by Sally Guillaume, Owner and Director of Undiscovered Mountains

For Brits, visiting Europe before Brexit is a bucket list must and the historical Franco-Britannic love affair pushes France to the top of that list. But that’s not the only reason why France should be on your ‘to visit’ list for 2018! With a variety of landscapes second to none, the longest coastline in Europe, two of the highest mountain ranges on the continent, thriving cosmopolitan cities, tranquil rural villages and one of the most acclaimed gastronomies in the world, France offers countless holiday opportunities, and something for everyone.

With the newly elected Emmanual Macron promising to reform France and positioning himself as a key European figure, France will also be a happening place to visit in 2018. Tourism is one of France’s key industries and the new government is investing in digital advances for tourism and focusing on quality of welcome and of course security so tourists can be reassured this coming year.

Paris itself “is always a good idea”, Audrey Hepburn once said. Traditionally known as the most romantic destination in the world, it draws excitement and curiosity on all continents. Other sites such as the Mont St Michel, the Renaissance Châteaux along the Loire River or the Lourdes basilica attract millions of tourists every year. History, culture and the many beautifully maintained monuments are a big pull factor for France. Then there are the countless culinary specialities and two of the most renowned wine regions in the world, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Outdoor lovers adore the French Alps with Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc and the many world famous ski resorts. The range and diversity of outdoor activities for sport enthusiasts in both summer and winter make the Alps one of the top outdoor playgrounds in the world. Surfers and beach lovers flock to the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts every year in search of summer sun, which brings me to the French weather.

France’s climate, one that allows four well-marked seasons and the much sought after heat but not at the baking levels of southern Spain or Italy, is a big plus. This perfect weather is a good enough reason for millions of Germans, Brits, Dutch and other Northerners to come and soak up the sun they rarely see back home. No coincidence that the Germans still use the expression “wie Gott in Frankreich leben” (to live like God in France) to describe the ultimate state of happiness…

The Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur region (aka “PACA”) is one of the areas that best sums up all the potential of attraction of the country as a whole. Located in the south-eastern corner of France, it ticks all boxes when it comes to landscape variety and perfect climate. As its name indicates, it includes the southern part of the awe-inspiring Alps, the beautiful Provence and its iconic lavender fields, and the glamorous Riviera and its famous chic seaside towns like Cannes or Saint Tropez. Benefiting a mild Mediterranean climate, it officially boasts an average of 300+ days of sunshine a year.

If you’re looking for a perfect compromise between great weather, a strong French culture, spectacular landscapes and delicious cuisine, the true hidden gem of PACA is probably its least touristic corner, the Hautes-Alpes department. Offering both a Provence feel in its southern parts and a real alpine experience in the Ecrins National Park, the Hautes-Alpes is a small paradise where you’ll find an authentic way-of-life, a preserved countryside, one of the purest airs in the country, and a countless number of activities, from bathing in the largest dammed lake in Europe (Serre-Ponçon) to climbing the 4102 meters of the Barre des Ecrins to skiing in one of the many resorts.

Greenland, as suggested by Jonny Nicol, Founder & CEO of Stratajet

An old travellers’ saying goes, ‘When you’ve seen the world, there’s always Greenland,’ and it’s true that the island remains one of the few largely unexplored territories on Planet Earth.

2018 marks the ten year anniversary of a referendum that gave Greenland autonomy over many of its national services in a step towards independence and this adds to the country’s rich history, of which its Inuit people are fiercely proud. 1,000 year-old remains of Viking settlements are well preserved in the south of the island, while a culture of music and theatre is rooted in ancient myths and sagas.

Few places boast such dramatic scenery and such raw natural beauty. Coupled with its remoteness (the majority of the island sitting deep within the Arctic Circle) and its vast expanses of open wilderness (Greenland is the least densely populated country in the world), Greenland is the perfect destination for escaping the stresses and strains of our increasingly hectic lifestyles.

But don’t be fooled by the remoteness because you’d find it hard to get bored in this most magnificent of places. Whether listening to the daunting rumble of some of the world’s most impressive glaciers or taking a boat trip through giant icebergs, some of which loom over 100m out of the water, you can’t help but be enraptured by all that is around you. The clarity and freshness of the air, too, leave you feeling invigorated beyond any sensation that polluted city life can provide.

Amongst its scattered settlements is Ilulissat, a remote coastal town in the Qaasuitsup municipality of western Greenland. Although it’s the country’s third largest city, its population of less than 5,000 makes it a peaceful haven, ideal for removing the stresses and strains of London business life. Houses in all colours of the spectrum are strewn amongst cafes, restaurants and live music venues, perfect for enjoying the local tipples, sampling the local cuisine and generally filling the evening hours in between excursions!

The nearby Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the summer, operators run midnight boat tours and you can watch nature unfold in front of you as monstrous giant white icebergs come off the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. This is the most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere, moving at 25m per day, which results in around 20 billion tonnes of icebergs being calved off and passing out of the fjord every year. But despite the awesome power of this astonishing feature, you can’t help but be captured by the serenity of the place.

Visiting in mid-summer will give you endless sunlight and until you have sipped G&T watching a sunset that immediately turns into a sunrise, frankly, you haven’t lived! As life becomes more and more hectic, Greenland is a must for removing that chaos in 2018.

India, as suggested by James Jayasundera, Founder & Managing Director at Ampersand Travel

In one word, India is ‘diversity’. Glamorous and beguiling, splendid and romantic, energetic and colourful, the entire country is awash with experiences for both the daring and the cautious traveller. From the soaring snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas to the sleepy rhythmic backwaters of Kerala, it can almost be described as a collection of countries due to its vast size and dazzling array of languages, cuisines and religions. With new hotels, new experiences and new flight routes, luxury travel in India is getting better year on year, but I think 2018 will be the best yet.

The astounding ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire at Hampi, once notoriously difficult to get to, now have direct flights from Hyderabad and Bangalore thanks to the Indian Government who have embarked on a Regional Connectivity Scheme, aimed to make air travel widespread, connecting remote and far flung places with major cities. I am very excited about this development, it will be a complete game-changer for the region; fascinating cultural itineraries can now easily incorporate this utterly mesmerising archaeological site. Evolve Back’s newest addition, Kamalapura Palace, was the first luxury hotel in the area (opened in 2016) and a must stay. The Ultimate Travelling Camp have also just opened Kishkinda Camp in the area, which adds to their iconic and exclusive camp portfolio.

Rajasthan, the Land of Kings, has had a thrilling revamp in 2017 with the openings of the exclusive Alila Fort Bishangarh, an impressive warrior fort turned heritage hotel, and the boutique and incredibly charming Narendra Bhawan in offbeat Bikaner. Six Senses also are due to launch their first ever Indian resort, with the opening of Six Senses Fort Barwara; a 700-year-old fort in the village of Chauth ka Barwara 110 kilometres southeast of Jaipur – it is certainly one to watch! The far flung and remote Andaman Islands will also be put on the map for those searching for the ultimate luxury in an untouched paradise, with a guaranteed burst of sunshine. The new home to the sexiest hotel in the area: Taj Hotels are opening Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans this December. I am thrilled that Taj Andamans will be opening on Havelock Island in the best location on the island – Radhnaghar Beach is often cited as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A trusted brand such as Taj opening, on what is really virgin territory, will be a game-changer and add a new dynamic to tailor-made itineraries in South India. One will be able to combine this pristine beach destination with the ancient culture and elaborately carved stone temple complexes of Tamil Nadu, or with the former French colony of Pondicherry with its own distinctive style of architecture.

Italy, as suggested by Victoria Boomgarden, President at Direct Travel Luxe

Italy is again reigning above all in the luxury travel market for 2018. Travelers are tending to visit the lesser known regions now more than ever. Everyone has already visited the main cities and now want to take a deeper dive into other regions such as Puglia and Umbria. They are looking for a richer and deeper experience and these destinations will give them just that.

For instance, those who have experienced the magic of the Tuscany region and have already seen the changing landscapes of their summer’s end may want to visit the Barolo region of Piedmont for a more unique and authentic experience. By experiencing a more dramatic landscape with steeper hills and deeper ravines, travelers will understand why even the wines of this region are more exclusive in this particular province. Wherever you venture in the Barolo region, you’ll find Italian perfection. The villages, with their seemingly impossible to navigate little streets, are, transcendent. They are immaculately neat, rivaling the Swiss obsession with cleanliness. It seems that nearly every little nook and cranny is home to a café, a wine bar, or an enoteca (a wine shop featuring local wines).

Their food is noted as Slow Food which isn’t just a buzz word here. The local culture has lived this lifestyle for generations, generally gathering their local produce and meats from no more than 20 miles away. The regional cheeses, meats and wines form the foundation of the local food pyramid. With their heavy emphasis on organic foods raised to exacting standards, one surprise was the frequent appearance of raw beef on the menu.

The credo of Slow Food perhaps took root most strongly in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Or, perhaps, it has always just been that way. In the rough-hewn hills formed by the upheaval of the Cambrian seabed formed many millennia past, the people adhere to cultural and epicurean traditions seemingly as old as the fossil-filled sea beds that now comprise the region’s innumerable vineyards. If you find yourself drinking a Barolo, a Barbaresco, or a Roero wine, you will discover these deep ties… in the terroir that appears in the taste profile and in the rich tradition of winemaking developed over centuries.

Japan, as suggested by Hugh Graham-Watson at The Hotel Guru

In 2016 more than 20 million people visited Japan; due in part to an increase in flights from Australia and in part, no doubt, to the fact that Japan is an amazing county to visit. In 2019 Japan is set to host the Rugby World Cup, and in 2020 Tokyo will host the Olympics. Which means visitor numbers are only going to increase. But there’s still a window ahead of the curve of people who will notice this incredible country in the background of these events and realise it should have topped their travel bucket list years ago. And that window is 2018.

Japan is both wonderfully old and wonderfully new. Historic traditions, like the magical cherry blossom viewing season, are still vibrant, yet Tokyo is one of the most future-technology absorbing places on the planet. You can still be treated to the timelessness of a classical tea ceremony, but outside on the streets you’re never more than a few hundred metres from some sort of vending machine or other, where you can buy anything from hot noodles to lego, to socks, ties or even fresh eggs instantaneously. As if time is reserved solely for activities which make life richer and more beautiful. And both old and new exist side by side: immaculately manicured gardens somehow retain their tranquillity and raked Zen gravel between busy intersections, and thousands of lively old wooden temples are sandwiched between super-modern skyscrapers.

Among Japan’s highlights are Tokyo’s vibrant fish market, its robot restaurants and the bustle of Ginza, the shopping district, and Kyoto’s ancient Gion district, which is like a living museum to an ancient way of life, and its 1,800 or so Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. And you can zip comfortably between these destinations – and Mt. Fuji, and Hiroshima, and many more places of interest – on a calm and comfortable Shinkansen or bullet train, complete with reliable internet connection, reliable timetable and Japan’s constantly present politeness and respect for others. Japan’s culture really does seem to be all about making the details of your life as pleasurable as possible: food is arranged in an eye-pleasing fashion, toilets are clean, queues orderly and, if you take the time to learn a small amount of Japanese vocabulary people seem so pleased that it’s an easy place to make friends.

If it’s the perceived cost of visiting Japan that’s a downer, don’t let it be; it’s not really been that way since the 90s when the Japanese economy crashed. But it’s certainly not going to be any cheaper once viewers worldwide are as beguiled by this country’s incredible variations as they’re bound to be.

Malawi, as suggested by Tom Marchant, Co-Founder at Black Tomato

While countries like Kenya and Mozambique have long been bucket-list destinations, there’s one African nation that’s so immensely rich in wild experiences yet remains off-the-radar for most —
introducing Malawi. Dubbed ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, this small country has already captured our hearts with its astonishingly diverse and pristine landscapes.

Relatively unknown and untouched by tourism, Malawi offers safari-lovers spectacular game-viewing in its abundance of wildlife-rich parks and unspoilt wilderness. With hardly anyone besides yourself trailing through the bush-veld, safaris in Malawi are quiet and relaxing – a rare find in game viewing experiences today. For those looking for the perfect beach retreat, bask on one of Lake Malawi’s countless white sand beaches as you look out over sun-dappled waters.

In 2018 we’ll witness the return of Lake Malawi’s ‘Lake of Stars’ – a magical, unique festival that celebrates music, arts and culture. Visitors and musicians have flocked to the palm-fringed shores of Malawi for over a decade, with the event considered as one of the most memorable music gatherings in the world. During 2016, music acts were joined by special groups of performers drawn from the country’s own Dzaleka refugee camp. With this year marking its 15 th anniversary, we’re expecting the event to be even more magical. For those curious to enjoy it for themselves, we can arrange an exclusive tour for you to make sure you don’t miss this spectacular event.

2017 saw the completion of the largest elephant translocation in human history thanks to the ground-breaking #500Elephants project (even Prince Harry himself was involved). Taking over two years to complete, these beautiful animals once vulnerable to poaching and loss of habitat now freely roam the plains of the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve – a site now considered Malawi’s premiere elephant sanctuary. As you venture on a game drive, expect a truly inspiring experience as you spot some of the 500 elephants that flourish here, as well as herds of rhinos, lions and leopards grazing the miombo woodlands and forest-cloaked plains – perfect for safari lovers.

In Liwonde National Park, we’re looking forward to the opening of a new Robin Pope Safari lodge – Kuthengo Camp. Nestled amongst the Fever Trees and Baobabs overlooking the grand Shire River, four modern, en-suite tents make up this rustic yet intimate camp. Boasting the usual luxurious comforts of a Robin Pope Safari Camp, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re the only one for miles as you sit on your private deck and admire the waterbuck grazing the plains in the evening glow. Beautiful and authentic, this gorgeous property will make experiencing this pristine Africa even more unforgettable. We doubt you’ll have room in your heart for anywhere else.

Malta, as suggested by Philip Watson CEO at eXpectations Holidays

Malta occupies an enviable location in the heart of the Mediterranean, where a rich history and culture plays out against a stunning scenic backdrop. Warm, dry weather invites holidaymakers to explore Malta’s gothic cathedrals and imposing bastions throughout the spring and summer whilst home-cooked Maltese cuisine caters for all seasons.

From the capital Valletta in the south to the picturesque islands of Gozo and Comino in the north, Malta offers an intriguing stay for all and was duly voted in the Top 25 Destinations by TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Awards in 2017. Couple this was the festivities and celebrations that await next year as Malta becomes the European Capital of Culture and you have one of the best places to visit in 2018.

Kick-start the New Year with a flash of colour in the capital city of Valletta, joining proud locals for a dramatic firework display and a night to remember. Spend the morning after the night before strolling the impressive Grand Harbour taking in both the Upper Barakka Gardens and Medieval Fort St. Angelo. Discover the incredible art and architecture of Malta at St. John’s Co Cathedral, a testimony to Gerolamo Cassar, and the Grandmaster’s 16th Century Palace.

Capture the essence of culture with a night of opera at the Manoel Theatre and peruse the treasures of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta. Secluded coves and hidden beaches await in the north of Malta on the islands of Comino and Gozo with the former permanently inhabited by only 3 residents!

Crystal clear waters lap against a soft sandy beach in Dwejra Bay whilst the quaint, yet colourful, “Popeye Village” offers a fascinating day trip for families wishing to visit the home of this popular fictional character. Mellieha Bay creates a safe haven for families and couples seeking a laid-back coastal holiday with local amenities at your fingertips. Dive into the depths below to explore hidden shipwrecks and colourful marine life upon one of the numerous scuba diving hot spots around the island.

Traditional Maltese cuisine is both hearty and flavoursome from the rustic Rabbit Stew and Kapunata (Maltese Ratatouille) to Italian inspired desserts of kannoli. Wash down your new found favourites with a tipple of Maltese vintage, including Gellewza and Ghirghentina which more than hold their own on the International stage. As an island nation, Malta enjoys an abundance of seafood cuisine. A trip to the Marsaxlokk fish market is the best way to experience this, with eye-catching tuna and swordfish amongst the catch of the day.

Experience Malta in all its glory, joining the celebrations in the European Capital of Culture and make 2018 a year to remember.

Mauritius, as suggested by Jennifer Atkinson, CEO at Inspiring Travel Company

A timeless favourite for a honeymoon or indulgent family holiday to the Indian Ocean, the island of Mauritius has got fresh appeal for 2018 travel. Surrounded by some 177km of spectacular coastline, and with a maritime, tropical climate that ensures balmy temperatures year-round, it’s a classic destination for a five-star break. Home to world-class golf courses, stunning national parks, and hotels that are renowned for their exceptional service, little wonder Mauritius is a luxury travel destination that consistently remains popular amongst travellers.

So why choose a 2018 holiday to Mauritius? There are several reasons this Indian Ocean isle will be in the spotlight. Firstly, on the 12 March 2018 the island will celebrate 50 years of independence, following more than 300 years of colonial rule by the Dutch, the French and most recently the British. This colourful history, mixed with strong indigenous, Creole and Asian influences, has resulted in a rich and varied culture today; a culture which has created the most incredible food in my view. Mauritius will also be seen on the big screen in Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s second collaboration, Serenity. Plus, the end of 2017 saw the re-opening of luxury resort One&Only Le Saint Géran following an extensive $200m renovation. New guest rooms and suites, new culinary concepts, two new pool experiences and new fitness and spa offerings have enhanced the already ‘wow’ resort, with the exclusive Villa One being the pinnacle of the superlative new accommodation options. And December 2017 also saw the LUX* group open Grand Gaube, a reimagined resort with interior design by Kelly Hoppen and a wealth of culinary experiences.

My top tip for travel to Mauritius is to begin your luxury experience the moment you land by adding access to the airport’s YU Lounge to your booking. All your arrival details will be seen to (baggage collection, passport control etc.), and you can refresh after your long flight so you arrive in resort ready to ‘holiday’! For a dream duo, my personal suggestion for 2018 would be to twin Mauritius with another of our ‘hot’ destinations for the year; South Africa. July 2018 marks 100 since the birth of Nelson Mandela, making it a great time to visit Mandela’s South Africa to discover more about the man, his rise from prisoner to president, and his legacy.

New Zealand, as suggested by David Troya, CEO at Glamping Hub

Life’s simple and often-overlooked pleasures await in New Zealand—it’s time to become an honorary Kiwi in 2018. Animal lovers will appreciate that only 5% of New Zealand’s population is humans. Fans of the sea will be thrilled to know that they’ll never be more than 79 miles from the water, no matter where they are in the country. Wilderness seekers will relish the fact that a third of New Zealand’s entirety is made up of national parks.

Feed your body’s need for adventure in New Zealand, from skydiving in Queenstown to canyoning in Auckland. There’s no better place to soak up some sun than Great Barrier Island—a mere 90 miles from Auckland — and learn to surf than Manu Bay in Raglan. Get your blood pumping on a hike around Fiordland National Park, or skip the legwork and take a plane, helicopter, or car into the infamous Milford Sound, arguably New Zealand’s top natural must-see.

When it’s time to press pause on outdoor activities, take a moment to learn a little about the Māori culture, language, and traditions. Since AD950, these indigenous people have made up a large part of New Zealand’s rich history and continue to have a strong presence in the country to this day. Visit a marae and let the Māori welcome you into their whānau—and don’t pass up the chance to try some Māori hāngi dishes.

Your total immersion into the New Zealand way of life and all things Māori doesn’t have to stop there, however, and in fact, we recommend that it doesn’t. The annual New Zealand Festival, taking place this year from February 23 through March 18, is an event not to be missed—particularly this year’s opening ceremony. Created by the creative team at A Waka Odyssey, the festival’s commencement will begin with a special gathering and theatrical piece featuring the waka—the canoes crafted by the Māori people on which they first came to New Zealand approximately 800 years ago—and in honor of the famous Pacific explorer and great chief of Hawaiki, Kupe.

Allow yourself to get back to basics and enjoy life’s creature comforts—whether it’s eating and drinking your way around the country or seeing just how many times you can get your adrenaline going, as you race from one exciting adventure to the next. 2018 is the year to let the five senses be your guide, and there’s no better place to start than in New Zealand.

Poland, as suggested by Zenon Znamirowski, CEO of PolishOrigins

Poland, famous for its legendary hospitality, is now a perfect place to find a balance between the wild, undiscovered, not obvious destination and, at the same time, intensively developing tourism. In bigger cities and popular tourist regions you will find the top-class boutique hotels in renovated historical monuments, using modern technologies, design, and trends. Wish to stay in the old Teutonic castle with a spa in the medieval cellars? Spend vacations in a small house floating on the lake? Visit a business class hotel and shopping and entertainment centre in a carefully restored, 19th century textile factory? No problem!

In the last few years, several new museums have opened; among them applauded all over the world is the exhibition in The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk and the Emigration Museum in Gdynia.

Poland is a country with a very rich and complex history, inseparably connected with the history of the whole of Europe. What is worth mentioning: in 2018 Poland will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of regaining independence after the 123 years of partitions. For this occasion in the whole country, there will be several great art and history events, like the monumental exhibition #heritage in the National Museum in Kraków.

There is a mass of regional initiatives, interesting theme trails, specialized local tourist operators offering city breaks, tailor-made, private itineraries or genealogy tours. And there are still many hidden gems, treasures uncovered by the massive tourism and it is easy to go off the beaten path here.

Visiting the Podlasie region with the wildlife of the Biebrza National Park and Białowieża Forest, or exploring the exceptional wooden architecture of Southern Poland (some of them are even from the 15th century!) is a must. You can still find many craftsmen and folk artists working with traditional methods such as lace makers, carpenters, blacksmiths, embroidery makers and many more, where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs for your collections.

Let’s not forget to mention the cuisine: already two Polish restaurants have the prestigious Michelin star, and over 50 others are featured in the famous red Michelin guide. For those who love to eat, the fresh, local and seasonal food can be found easily everywhere in Poland. There are many modern fusion or vegan-friendly restaurants, elaborating modern recipes yet using traditional products.

Poland is very diverse: from the mountains in the south of the country, where apart from hiking and easy trekking you can try skiing or glider flights, through Masuria – “the region of the thousand lakes” where you can try windsurfing or sailing, to the Baltic coast, where several diving bases are located and kitesurfing is getting more and more popular. Although Poland has been high in the tourist rankings for several years, it still has a lot more places, tastes, and experiences to uncover and explore.

Spain, as suggested by Francesco Soriquez, Owner of The Magic of Seville Private Tours

Spain has been for six centuries the common house of ethnics, cultures, languages, religions. Its cultural elite spoke Arabic, Hebrew, Romance and Latin for centuries. Later, its ports became the bridges between Europe and America. The combined of these elements progressively created a spectacular concentration of wealth of traditions, festivals, gastronomy, architecture and art.

No wonder the country of Flamenco and the Fiesta climbed all the travel destination charts, and now occupies the top of the wishlist of the planet. At the core of the appeal of Spain is the incredible lifestyle of Spaniards, and their ability of making traveler feel what they feel. This makes Spain a luxury destination for the discerning traveler.

Spiritual luxury is to ride a pure Andalusian horse among the brave bulls in a ranch, side by side with the same matador that later lets you practice with his red cape. To be transported to an ancestral dimension by the passion of a real Flamenco session at a local’s club. To fuse with nature and connect again with your own spirit along the Camino de Santiago Medieval route. To be pulled off the crowds by a masterpiece of Goya and penetrate the soul of this land through his painting.

Locals know how to draw you into their incredible festivals and mass rituals. The year starts with the must-join Carnaval in Cadiz. The participation of the masses will leave you gobsmacked before the sensorial show of Semana Santa processions in Andalusia. Spain hosts the party that beats all parties, la Feria de Abril en Sevilla, the vertiginous bull races of Pamplona, the human towers in Barcelona, Els Castells.

Gastronomy alone is reason enough to fly to Spain: Iberico cured ham, Virgin Extra Olive oil, Sherry and Brandy cellars, tapas restaurants hopping. Back in the kitchen, true hands-on activities like joining the chef inside his Michelin-starred restaurant, and grasp the secrets of blending together the genuine ingredients. By the beach near Valencia: cooking the paella together with a Spanish family and learn the recipe they used for decades. Everywhere in Spain you can visit a small scale bodega, and after one hour you might be sharing a bottle with the owner, talking about life.

Spain also captures the imagination with the incredibly bold shapes of its historical fortresses and temples. Inside the Alhambra in Granada the spell of Al Andalus is still intact. The Sagrada Familia reveals you the secret that every architecture comes from Nature.

Finally and fortunately, the two past decades produced companies of small and medium size that provide great quality services on monumental, cultural and life-style tours and experiences. Year 2018 is the right time to book your appointment with Spain.

Sri Lanka, as suggested by Laura Hall, Director of Communications at Kid & Coe

We love Sri Lanka for beaches and smiling faces and think it makes a terrific destination for an exotic family trip. With secret beaches that even the locals don’t know much about, and areas of the country that were previously not so popular for tourists now opening out, the country is a fine place for an off-the-beaten track adventure.

October 2018 sees the live action Jungle Book: Origins hit our cinemas. Andy Serkis is both directing and bringing Baloo to the screen with a motion capture performance, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian Bale, Tom Hollander and Cate Blanchett also star in the firm. Nevermind the Hollywood glamour though: for us, the real star is the jungle.

Catch a glimpse of the wildlife Kipling was celebrating with a trip to Sri Lanka. Elephant parades, wild safari zones and monkeys clambering over temples are just the beginning – we’re talking wildlife adventures on a wonderful scale, and the opportunity to relax and revisit them over the best cup of tea you’ll have ever tasted, up in the country’s tea plantations. Through day safaris in national parks to visits to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage to meet young elephants (just like Mowgli), there are opportunities to see everything from monkeys to leopards. The rock fortress of Sigiriya is the place to visit for history and wonder, a rocky outcrop that is said to hold the ruins of an ancient civilization.

On the coast, learning to surf, snorkelling over coral reefs and watching baby turtles flip and flap in the hatcheries on the south coast are the stuff of unforgettable memories. Galle Fort, also, is a great spot to visit, whether you like cricket, shopping or culture. The joy of this country is that once you have booked a car and a driver, you can explore easily, without being on the road or cooped up in a car for too much of your day. For shorter distances, a tuk-tuk is the way to travel, offering added breezes and views.

Sri Lanka, of course, does ceremony very well. The annual Perehera processions are something to witness indeed (complete with painted elephants) but 2018 heralds something even more special. It marks the 70th year of independence from Colonial rule in February, which will be celebrated with pride and patriotism across the country. In addition, at the start of what looks to be an event-packed year, Galle Literary Festival will be welcoming speakers as diverse as Dame Maggie Smith, Louis de Bernières and Rachael Johnson.

And for those whose thoughts turn to cricket, the nation is due to host the Independence Cup in 2018, competing against Pakistan, India and South Africa on home turf as part of year of independence celebrations. Galle Fort’s legendary cricket ground is sure to play a starring role.

Bonus entry

This last one is not technically a country so comes as a bonus entry to the 18 countries listed above.

Antarctica, as suggested by Grant Holmes, CEO at LuxuryBARED

2018 is all about experiential, adventurous travel, and there are few experiences more adventurous than a visit to Antarctica. Arguably the last great unexplored wilderness on earth, Antarctica is a pristine travel destination, with only a few tens of thousands of visitors every year. Unless you’re on a research mission, travel is largely restricted to within the months of November and March, but this is the time when some of the most amazing events can be witnessed. If you want exclusive, Antarctica is the place to go. Any visitors will see and experience things that only a select few in the world will ever encounter. Antarctica’s incredible landscape is constantly shifting and changing, meaning that visitors will seldom encounter the same sights as those who came before or after them. Glaciers and ice sheets, along with their iceberg progeny, offering truly awe-inspiring vistas stand in contrast with tiny, rugged islands, many of which have never known the footsteps of humans.

If you’re feeling inspired by BBC’s Blue Planet 2 to pursue amazing marine life, Antarctica’s wildlife is some of the most charismatic in the world. During the season when travelling is permitted, the seas and coasts of Antarctica are rich with life. There are the six varieties of seal, whose lack of land-predators allows for far closer observation than with their northern cousins. Whales of many varieties, including sperm, humpback and the colossal blue whales, can be seen, along with pods of orcas. And of course, who can forget the penguins. A large selection of different species of these wonderfully charming birds can be seen in vast numbers in Antarctica, most notably it’s the only place on the planet to see the wonderful emperor penguins in the wild. If your visit falls at the very end of the season in late March, you could be fortunate to witness the Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. While the Northern Lights get all the press, the Southern Lights are no less spectacular, with a great deal more exclusivity to boot.

The environmental concerns threatening this amazing continent mean that a visit here could be time sensitive. With continual climate change, and the global rise in ocean temperatures, 2018 is the time to visit Antarctica in all its glory. To counter these issues there are strict guidelines around tourism there, meaning that a sustainable, eco-friendly visit is almost guaranteed. Furthermore, many of the travel companies contribute to conservation and research efforts.

Antarctica is a destination which requires a considerable investment of time and resources, but the resulting experiences are ones that are utterly unforgettable and truly ‘one of a kind’.



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Why Croatia is becoming the next luxury villa destination


Sitting in the Adriatic Sea, Croatia was missed as a holiday destination for many years. As if it were invisible, people were unaware of the stunning scenery, temperate climate, crystal blue waters and long sandy beaches.  However, Europe’s best-kept vacation location secret has finally got out, and with real gems like Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia has starting climbing to the top of the best holiday locations.

With popularity comes demand

With crowds of tourists now flocking to this fantastic, if little-researched destination, the demand for facilities goes up.  There has always been a good selection of hotels and guesthouses, but a new class of holidaymaker has seen a surge of luxury villa rentals starting to appear.  Actors and actresses and the rich and famous, have decided that Croatia is an excellent location for their getaway which means that they require a secluded and well-equipped accommodation. Supply readily meets demand, and there is a new wave of luxury villas appearing.

What is the draw?

As well as having the perfect year round holiday climate the area is steeped in history and boasts a wealth of fantastic sights.  Game of Thrones has really pushed the popularity as some of the location filmings took place in Croatia. In Split, you will find the Diocletian’s Palace which is a pretty spectacular Roman ruin, a real bucket list type venue that you really want to see in your lifetime.  Located centrally in the city there are amazing ancient temples, remains of walls and rooms and some underground cellars.  This fantastic relic plays host to hidden shops and bars that are discreetly tucked away for holidaymakers to discover.

Moving to Istria the port city of Pula plays home to another slice of Roman history.  This time in the form of an amphitheater, which each July gives the most authentic home to the annual film festival.

As well as this film spectacle there is also a regular schedule of concerts taking place throughout the year.

Sand, forest or mountain

Croatia really does have it all.  With some amazing hidden gems of beaches, eight national parks, and the Biokovo mountain range there are some impressive ways to spend your days right on your doorstep. Lakes and waterfalls, amazing butterflies and views of shimmering blue seas as far as the eye can see.  It is quite surprising the secret of this country managed to be kept as long as it was.

Bustle or seclusion

Thanks to the massive variety of locations and cultural sights the discerning tourist has the choice of whether to join the hustle and bustle of city living in the capital Zagreb or hug the coasts and country parks for a quieter life.

In the city, you will find a wealth of cafes boarding the tree-lined avenues, and you will be warmly welcomed to sample some of the most beautiful beans on offer.   If you want more culture, schedule a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art while you are there, before finally heading back to your luxury villa base for some well earned poolside relaxation.

Kerrie Potts is CEO at Exclusive Private Villas Limited.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Julia Roberts in Split: the latest in a long list of celebrities who can’t get enough of Croatia


Croatia, officially the world’s best country of 2017, has been attracting a long list of celebrities, with the latest being Julia Roberts, accompanied by her cinematographer husband, Daniel Moder. The beautiful famous couple elected the incredible city of Split as their chosen Croatian destination. Meanwhile, Croatian luxury travel agency VIP Holiday Booker has experienced an increasing level of interest from celebrities and High Net Worth Individuals. And who can blame them, as stunning Split is home to one of the most awesome Roman monuments in the entire world; the very impressive UNESCO listed Diocletian’s Palace. Split, which is the capital of the Dalmatia region, left Julia and Daniel spoiled for choice.

Julia Roberts Split Croatia - Photo: Miranda Cikotic/PIXSELL

Julia blended in perfectly with her surroundings, on this return visit to Split, making her difficult to recognise. However she was spotted on the city’s ever-so elegant promenade, Riva, as well as on the quieter, pretty pebbly beach, Trstenik. The famous couple also dined at the restaurant, Bokeria Kitchen & Wine, where their foodie experience was perfect, and Julia even posed for photos with the restaurant team.

Imagine staying in the Diocletian’s Palace: the world’s oldest inhabited monument

One of the options that Julia and other visitors to Split have is the amazing opportunity to stay in the Diocletian’s Palace, which is the only historic palace where people still live. This monumentally impressive example of Roman architecture boasts over 1700 years of history.

Golden Teak Split Croatia

Located on the Adriatic Coast, the Roman emperor Diocletian chose it for his summer residence. This amazing palace, which incorporates squares, narrow streets, residences and churches, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It is situated in heart of the beautiful, vibrant old quarter, which is brimming over with buzzing restaurants, bars and shops.

Bel Etage-Split Croatia

Beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, like an island paradise

I can imagine that Julia was very pleasantly surprised to discover that a city with a population of around 200,000 inhabitants, has such a great range of beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, to choose from. This is pretty unique. One of these is the white sandy beach, that is a popular choice for families and water sports lovers, Znjan, which also has some good bars to go to and a restaurant. But in reality, Split offers an incredible choice of super beaches, each with their own attractions. The city’s other main beaches are Bacvice, Kasuni, Obojena and of course, Trstenik beach, where Julia was spotted.

White Oasis Split Croatia

Did Julia learn to play picigin?

Of course Julia did such a good job of merging with the local landscape, that the paparazzi didn’t manage to discover too much about her time in Split. So we’ll all be left wondering if she learned to play picigin. Picigin is a local ball game, which is played by several players in a circle, in the water. They bat around a small ball using their hands and the aim of the game is to keep the ball out of the water, in the air for as long as possible. Players are not allowed to catch the ball. If Julia did play picigin, most likely she headed to the city’s most famous beach, Bacvice. Located only ten minutes walk from the centre, this is the most popular beach to play picigin and has a wonderful, shallow sandy bay.

Marjan Palace Split Croatia

Perhaps she practiced Pilates in the Mediterranean oasis of Marjan?

Any Julia fan knows that she has an amazing fitness regime, which includes both yoga and Pilates. Might she have followed in the footsteps of local citizens who have used the beautiful Marjan park, as far back as the 3rd century, for their outdoor pursuits? Marjan is the green-lung of Split, surrounded by the sea and city, but covered in a dense Mediterranean pine forest; a blissful location to practice Pilates. A great place to stay in this high-end neighbourhood is the Marjan Palace.

Peaceful retreats out of the public eye

This wasn’t Julia’s first visit to Split and no doubt it won’t be her last. As well as being a striking city, that blends the ancient and modern, with a buzzing atmosphere, Split is also home to some very beautiful, tranquil suburbs. These are perfect hideaways for Julia and the ever-increasing list of celebrities who visit the city, offering wonderful peaceful retreats out of the public eye.
Life 2 Enjoy Split Croatia

Watch this space, to discover who is the next famous celebrity to visit the fabulous city of Split. Perhaps we’ll see some Hollywood stars later this year, as it is an excellent destination in the winter months, with a beautiful Christmas market on the main promenade, Riva.

Split Croatia wonderful winter destination

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by VIP Holiday Booker.



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5 of the best hotels in Croatia and Montenegro


Croatia and Montenegro are seeing a renaissance in hotels – here are five of the best hotels in the region. Food, service and style have come along way in Croatia and Montenegro, even in the last 5 years, with standards and quality improving constantly.

Hotel Excelsior, Dubrovnik

2017 saw the complete refurbishment of the Excelsior Hotel in Dubrovnik, which was much needed and highly anticipated. The hotel has some of the very best views of Dubrovnik from the rooms, restaurants and sea terrace. Ideally located and within walking distance to the Old Town, the 158 rooms and suites are spread between the Villa Odak (built in 1913) and the modern Tower. We particularly like the Deluxe rooms with sea view and balcony, located in the Villa Odak. Whichever rooms you select, it should have a sea view! The Excelsior has stunning views of the old town and Dubrovnik walls. Enjoy a drink on the outdoor terrace, or eat right by the sea at the Prora Restaurant. Rooms are decorated in neutral tones and public areas now have a touch of modernity.

Aman Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Truly unique, the Aman Sveti Stefan is a resort located on a private island that was a fishing village 600 years ago. In the 1950’s the island was turned into a hotel, and 10 years ago, Aman Resorts created their very first European resort. Some of the existing staff had family that were born on the island before it was turned into a hotel, so there are strong local connections. Sandy beaches, an amazing spa and even a working church on the resort are just three of the reasons to stay. To say that each individual room at Aman Sveti Stefan is unique would be an understatement. There really are no two rooms the same, and advice should be taken on which room suits your needs exactly.

Aman Sveti Stefan

Villa Meneghetti, Bale

The Relais & Chateaux Villa Meneghetti is the perfect inland retreat. Located in Istria, which is the foodie region of Croatia. Romans called it Terra Magica (magical land). The hotel is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves and the family that own it produce both wine and olive oil. During the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Villa was used by officers that were stationed at the fort nearby in Pula. The buildings were completely restored in 2001 and now the villa has 10 rooms and suites and 15 stand-alone residences. The award-winning restaurant focuses on local produce. As the Villa Meneghetti is away from the coast, it feels like a secret. The hotel has three pools and a spa and is perfectly located close to the Brijuni National Park which offers plenty of opportunity for walkers and hikers and even golfing. The perfect place to switch off your phone and completely unwind and remember how to relax!

Brown Beach House, Trogir

The Brown Beach House is located in a converted Tobacco factory right on the water in the town of Trogir, about a 40-minute drive from the Dalmatian capital of Split. With just 25 rooms, and a new spa added this August, the Brown is one of the newest and most fashionable places to stay on the Dalmatian coast. Trogir itself is a UNESCO world Heritage site and a small island that is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Staying here is recommended for people that may be return visitors to the region and that value relaxation above exploration.

Brown Hotel Trogir

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

The Istrian peninsula has strong Italian influences in architecture and food. The town is also home to Monte, one of our favorite restaurants in Croatia, the only restaurant in the country to be awarded a Michelin star. The Hotel Adriatic has just had a dramatic renovation, and is unique in that it is located right in the heart of the old town in the harbor area, and not like the other luxury hotels located a 20-minute walk from center of the town. The hotel now has just 18 rooms in total and the best as the Piazza category that look on to Rovinj Old Town Square. Some also have views of the island of St. Katarina. The Adriatic is perfect for a fall season foodie trip.

Adriatic Hotel Rovinj

Mainland Croatia and Montenegro are also wonderful places to enjoy a trip just outside of the summer season – April and October are perfect months to travel, and not quite as crowded as May-September.

Ala Osmond is Director at Exeter International.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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Top 6 destinations for an affordable luxury villa in Croatia


Did you know that on 2nd November 2017 Croatia was voted the best country in the world in the 2017 World Country Awards? It is also ranked in the Rough Guides’ top 20 beautiful countries in the world; although this is not surprising given its vast range of incredible sights, which include wonderful beaches, charming old-walled cities and stunning natural parks. Additionally Croatia offers an idyllic Mediterranean climate, untouched nature, affordable luxury, and delicious, local homemade food. The country oozes history and culture and perfectly blends traditional with modern architecture. We spoke to our friends at VIP Holiday Booker to identify Croatia’s top 6 destinations where you can stay in affordable luxury.

Top 6 destinations to stay in a luxury villa in Croatia for a reasonable price

1. Dubrovnik

While it may not be the country’s capital city, Dubrovnik is Croatia’s capital city of charm, lying in the south, facing the Adriatic Sea. Who wouldn’t fall in love with its fabulous old town, which was finished in the 16th century and is encircled with great, impressive stone walls. The country’s most famous destination has also been used as a film location for Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik was actually a maritime republic from 1358 until 1808, called the Republic of Ragusa. It’s a city with an amazing history.

Dubrovnik luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

2. Hvar

The glitzy, glamorous town of Hvar is so beautiful, and on top of that its marvellous marble streets are traffic-free. Hvar is actually an island, which seems to sit perfectly in its small bay, lying in the Adriatic sea. The town is filled with great restaurants and nightlife, but its romantic 13th century walls, which surround wonderful Gothic palaces, make it a mecca for honeymooners and wedding parties.

Hvar luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

3. Split

Capital of the Dalmatia region, Split offers visitors the perfect blend of ancient and modern architecture. The city is home to one of the world’s most amazing Roman monuments; the ever-so impressive Diocletian’s Palace; which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head inside the town’s ancient walls, to enjoy a buzzing atmosphere, with charming, thriving shops, bars and restaurants.

Split luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

4. Makarska

Located between Dubrovnik and Split is the idyllic seaside Makarska Riviera, with its pristine turquoise waters and natural beaches. Backed by wonderful dramatic rocky heights, Makarska is actually constructed around a beautiful deep, sheltered bay. The slopes of the rocky heights of Mount Biokovo are home to well-marked trails, making it a great spot for nature lovers and hikers.

Makarska luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

5. Brač

The island of Brač is paradise with its untouched nature and mountainous cycling paths. It might surprise you to know that its famous radiant white stone was used in the White House, in Washington D.C. You may even know Brač without realising it, as Bol, its long pebbly, which extends into the Adriatic Sea, is used on many of the country’s tourism posters. Other charms of this island are its delightful pine forests and its charming, sleepy villages.

Brac luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

6. Primosten

Located in North Dalmatia, close to Sibenik, Primosten was once an island and nowadays is a pretty town, with the appearance of a half-island. Primosten is the place to go for those of you who like to have plenty of tourist facilities on hand; it is a perfect, idyllic resort. The town is also a great place to base yourself to head off and visit a variety of great tourist sites, including the spectacular Krka National Park.

Welcome to the wonderful country of Croatia; which is 2017’s best country in the world.

Primosten luxury villa in Croatia reasonable price

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by VIP Holiday Booker.



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8 essential Russian Revolution sights in St Petersburg


Next month is the centenary of the Russian Revolution, an event that continues to shape the world we live in today. At that time the St Petersburg of today was named Petrograd and was the capital of Imperial Russia. Visit these key sights in St Petersburg today to travel in the footsteps of the Russian Revolution.

The Museum of Political History

The building that houses the museum was originally the mansion of Mathilde Kschessinska the prima ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre before the Revolution and lover of Tsar Nicholas II (there has been much debate and controversy in Russia about the release of a film about her life and relationship with the last Tsar).  In 1917, the building was seized by the Bolsheviks and turned into their headquarters in the city.  It became the centre of their revolutionary activities, and Lenin made a historic speech from one of the balconies of the mansion after his arrival in the city. Today you can visit the room he worked from and see the entire collection that details Russian Politics from period of Catherine the Great to the end of the Cold War.

museum_of_political_history stpetersburg

Winter Palace

The Winter Palace was the hub of the Russian imperial court, the building a baroque extravaganza that dominates the riverfront. Catherine the Great started building her art collection in 1764, and over the next twenty years she kept acquiring other collections and expanded her own private museum. These collections were housed in a new building, attached to the Winter Palace. She named this new palace her Hermitage – meaning her sanctuary and haven.

Today the entire museum complex of six buildings is called the Hermitage.

There is no doubt that the Winter Palace is the architectural jewel in the crown of the entire museum. The unmistakable exterior, the imperial state rooms, the Jordan staircase and the gallery of the Napoleonic Wars. The Large Throne Room is almost 9,000 square feet in size!

Emperor Nicholas II and the Imperial family did not live in the Winter Palace, preferring the more modest Alexander Palace outside the city. After his abdication, the palace was the initial home of the provisional government. All members of the government were arrested in the palace on November 7 1917, when the Bolsheviks stormed the building thus putting the palace centre stage in the revolution. The Bolsheviks were furious to see such opulence and wealth, and some wanted to destroy the building. It was saved due to the magnificent art collection that was considered a national treasure. After the revolution, the entire complex of palaces facing the Neva River became a museum under the collective name the State Hermitage Museum which was open to the general public for the very first time showing the Romanov collection, and the confiscated art from Russian aristocratic families.

Hermitage English Embankment

Alexander Palace and Park

Alexander Palace was built to the order of Catherine the Great for her grandson Alexander Pavlovich (later Alexander I), it was designed by Quarenghi in the classical style, and by tradition it was lived in by the Heir Apparent, (Nicholas I, Alexander II and III all lived here before becoming Tsar). Nicholas II and the last imperial family chose to make the Alexander Palace their main home, not the grand Winter Palace in the centre of the city.

In the weeks after the Imperial Family had left, it was already a museum, left exactly as it was on August 14, 1917. There was a huge demand to visit the palace. In 1934 more than half a million Soviet tourists visited the palace. During WWII the Palace was looted by the invading Germans and their Spanish allies (many of the treasures are still in German and Spanish museums), the palace was less damaged than the majority of Imperial palaces. What finished off the Alexander Palace was pilfering, the sale and removal of its contents, state vandalism (Stalin ordered the destruction of many of the rooms in which Nicholas and Alexandra had lived), and ultimately deliberate neglect – for a while it was a holiday home for the NKVD (secret police), part of the palace was still used as offices, by the Baltic Fleet for many years. Today, the palace is closed, and has been for several years. The plan being to restore it to its former glory. It is due to reopen in July 2018, to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last imperial family.

alexander palace st-petersburg-russia-

Battleship Aurora

A floating piece of Russian history, the battleship Aurora was constructed in 1897 and served in the Russo-Japanese war, World War I, The October Revolution, and World War II. A blank shot from the canons of Aurora marked the beginning of the October Revolution, and for the last 70 years the ship has been moored in St Petersburg as a museum. In 2014, the Russian Navy had the ship renovated at the cost of $13Million. It returned to its mooring in St Petersburg after two years and has been as popular as ever with Russian and international visitors ever since.

Battleship Aurora St Petersburg

The Tauride Palace

With some disastrous losses at the front in World War I, and political unrest on the streets,Tsar Nicholas II resigned when he lost support of the army. The Tauride Palace became home to the interim provisional government between the February and October Revolutions.  Since the end of the Soviet Union, this magnificent palace, commissioned by Grigory Potemkin to impress Catherine the Great, has been used as the home of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – former Soviet Republics. It was closed to the public for many years. Today constitutional assemblies are still held here, and it is possible to pre-book a private tour, with a minimum of one months’ notice.

tauride palace st petersburg

Yusupov Palace

With World War I raging, and Tsar Nicholas away from St Petersburg much of the time, Alexandra, was wielding more and more influence on state affairs. Her close advisor was the monk, Grigory Rasputin. Many thought that the influence of Rasputin had to be stopped, including Prince Yusupov of the very wealthy aristocratic Yusupov family.  The Yusupov Palace is worth visiting for many reasons – it’s private theatre, Arabian room and library, but it is most famous as the site of the poisoning and eventual murder of Grigory Rasputin.

 rasputin room yusupov palace

Smolny Institute

The Smolny Institute was formerly a school for girls. The Bolsheviks commandeered the building and made it the headquarters of the government until March 1918 when the capital was moved back to Moscow from St Petersburg. This was the nucleus of Bolshevik activity and rule, and where Lenin proclaimed Soviet power. Today you can book a tour to visit historical parts of the building, including Lenin’s office and the assembly hall.

 Smolny institute st petersburg

Peter & Paul Cathedral & Prison

The golden spire of the Peter & Paul Cathedral is the symbol of the city of St Petersburg, being one of the original buildings to survive from the founding of the city in 1703. Every single Romanov Tsar is buried here. Now Nicholas, Alexandra and the entire last Imperial family is also buried here, and this is the best place to come with a guide to learn about the entire Romanov dynasty through their family tree. The cathedral is within the Peter & Paul Fortress that ironically also housed a prison used by the imperial family to imprison political prisoners. Later, the Bolsheviks would use the prison for the same purpose.

Peter & Paul Cathderal st petersburg

A visit to St Petersburg will bring history that changed the world to life. For a real-time in-depth look at the events leading up to the Revolution, this website is fantastic detailing the series of events that took place 100 years ago, by people that were there.

Ala Osmond is Director at Exeter International.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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6 excellent, independent restaurants in St Petersburg


Russia is experiencing a food revolution due to food sanctions that have been in place for the last three years. We have selected just six of our favourite independent restaurants in St Petersburg to showcase how creative and forward thinking the Russian food scene is today.

EM

Olesya Drobot is a rare find – a female head chef in Russia. A disciple of both Ivan Berezutsky (proprietor and join head chef with his brother Sergey of acclaimed Twins in Moscow) and Adrian Quetglas (Spanish Michelin Starred chef). Olesya presides over EM, an eight table restaurant located on the ground floor of a former mansion on the Moika River, close to the Yusupov Palace. The kitchen is open and everything is cooked on an Aga!

EM Restaurant

The menu is a seven course degustation (full vegetarian also available) at 3,500 roubles per person, which is a bargain. The focus is on modern Russian cooking with local produce. We just love the note on their menu: For the maximum enjoyment of our restaurant we recommend that you book your table, make it on time and refrain from talking on your mobile phone.

Blok

Named after Alexander Blok, one of Russia’s greatest poets, Blok is perhaps St Petersburg’s best restaurant. It is the creation of Alexander Rappoport, creator of the acclaimed Dr. Zhivago Cafe in Moscow. Executive chef Evgeny Mescheryakov (ex- Ducasse) uses only Russian produce, with a strong focus on quality meat, including rare breed beef.

The outstanding quality of the produce is a direct result of independent farmers developing over the last three years due to food import sanctions. Located on the top floor of the Leningrad Centre which was built in the 1920’s the décor mirrors the avant-garde Russian style of that era. Obsessive attention to detail and excellent Russian wines combine to make this a stand out restaurant experience.

Dolma

This charming, family-owned restaurant focusses on the food of the Caucasus. Although much of the menu is Georgian, the owners are Armenian. Everything they serve is homemade and the khatchapuri (cheesy bread) is among the best to be had anywhere. The Lobio (warm kidney beans with herbs) and tsatsivi (cold chicken breast in a walnut sauce) and of course, the Dolma (stuffed vines leaves) are all recommended. You will get a warm welcome, and even more so if you order vodka with your meal, just like a local. Good Georgian red wines also available!

Dolma St Petersburg

Cococo

St Petersburg’s most stylish and on-trend restaurant relocated to the ground floor of the W Hotel from its original location a few years ago. Again, the focus is on Russian food with a modern (and often humorous) twist, created from local produce. The style is heavily influenced by Heston Blumenthal and features several deconstructed traditional Russian dishes. Our advice is to order 4 or 5 appetizers between two to see the creativity of the chef. Surprisingly good value and, we think a must experience. Reservations are essential a minimum of three days in advance.

Tar-Tar Bar

This restaurant would be at home if you dropped it into London, New York or San Francisco. The décor features unusual art, exposed brick, chandeliers, metro tiles and gender neutral lavatories. The staff are straight out of hipster central casting! The food is a homage to tartar – beef and fish with an Asian Fusion twist. Excellent flavours and presentation, and very friendly service.

Tartar Bar

Kuznya (The Foundry)

New Holland is a former naval island in the centre of St Petersburg that has lain derelict for years. It has now been transformed into a local lifestyle and arts space with park areas, a lake and two major buildings as its centrepiece. The former Naval Prison, nicknamed the Bottle (due to its large circular shape) has over 2,500 square meters of floorspace dedicated to restaurants, lifestyle outlets, shopping and arts venues. The former Foundry is now a restaurant with an eclectic menu devised by New Yorker Isaac Correa and features Tuna Po-ke and great burgers alongside traditional Russian Borsch. Decadently, breakfast is served from 12:00 and at the weekend, the restaurant turns into a club after 11pm. The best thing about New Holland is that is has been created  and designed with the local community in mind,  so it is the perfect place to feel like a local.

Foundry St Petersburg

It goes to show that Vladimir Mukhin, Head Chef of White Rabbit Moscow, and one of the top restaurants in the world is just the tip of the talent and quality food available in Russia today!

Ala Osmond is Director at Exeter International.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, pleasecontact us.



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Autumn city breaks: Europe’s greatest capitals


It’s that time of year again: uncertainty over whether to pack the umbrella (do it), doubt over whether to cycle in the rain (don’t do it), and the annual household argument over central heating (it’s definitely cold enough). Yep, Autumn is here.

The onset of our third season also means that we can start deliberating over a much more exciting predicament – planning an autumnal getaway. Autumn is prime for a European city break and today I’m going to focus on a quintet of the continent’s most fantastic capital cities.

Budapest

“The Paris of the East” is the perfect nickname for this wonderful central European destination. The two sides of the city, “Buda” and “Pest”, straddle both banks of Europe’s most famous river – the Danube.

Hungary was once one of Europe’s powerhouse countries and the architecture alludes to that. The Parliament building, Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion are all examples of a city that thrived, largely thanks to its proximity on a river that spans 10 countries.

Another positive of going to Hungary right now is the favourable exchange rate from pound to Forint.

Paris

If “Paris of the East” is used as praise for Budapest – then just imagine being Paris! I know Paris doesn’t have feelings, but it is most definitely a city with feeling!

The City of Romance, the City of Lights, the home of the Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, a thriving arts scene, arguably the best food in the world, The Palace of Versailles (day trip), Notre Dame Cathedral – there are so many globally recognised “wow” things to do in Paris that it’s quite unbelievable.

If there is a greater city in the world to sit and have a late-afternoon coffee and watch the world go by then please, add it to the comments section as I’d like to go!

Lisbon

Although similar, Lisbon doesn’t get the recognition of a Barcelona or a Valencia but then, Portugal is used to sitting in Spain’s shadow. Unfairly? Without doubt. Do they care? Not really – they’re used to it!

Lisbon is not quite a  secret anymore though. If it is, then it’s a badly kept one. That’s because this is a glorious city full of colour, life and verve. And unlike Paris or Budapest, you’ll likely get a bit of sunshine in the Autumn too. The hills are severe, the cobbled streets winding, the areas varied in aesthetics and content. And the seafood, oh the seafood.

Lisbon is on the Atlantic Coast and to my mind, the seafood rivals anywhere in Europe.

Rome

A city steeped in history. Home to the most powerful empire to have ever existed, and a place that has not forgotten its past.

Luckily, it’s not quite as dangerous as it once was but you can still visit all of those places and imagine what it once was. Go to the Coliseum, go to the Pantheon, go to Vatican City – it’s okay to be an old-school tourist for the day because in Rome, you just have to.

And once you’ve got all of that out of the way then explore the winding, slopping back-streets: popping into bars for antipasti, beer, wine, coffee – Rome is indulgent and so should you be.

Fun fact: An estimated €3500 is thrown into the Trevi Fountain by travellers every day – the money has been used to subsidise a market for the homeless. Nice touch.

Madrid

Despite being Spain’s capital city – Madrid is regularly overlooked as a European holiday destination – a reality I feel is rather unjust.

Madrid has all the things that people love about Spain. Delicious food, amazing weather, late-night dining and dancing, but it also has a certain pace and vitality that you can only get in a capital.

The palaces are stunning the municipal buildings the grandest and most jaw-dropping in Spain, unusually for this part of the world, there is also a fair smattering of greenery… although as it’s autumn the parks will also be full of reds, yellows and browns too

Sports fan or not, a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium should be on your list too. Real Madrid are the biggest, richest and most famous club on the planet and they employ the world’s greatest footballer in Cristiano Ronaldo. You need to see the passion of the locals up close.

So finally, if you put me on the spot, which city would I select?

If I had to pick one, I’d pick Budapest – but I think it’s because I went with medium expectations and it totally over-delivered.

The truth is, you could close your eyes and point to any of these capitals and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Just move in fast, autumn is here and flights and accommodation will fill up fast.

Rob Stross is Chief Marketing Officer at WeSwap.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit on a Mediterranean yacht charter


A luxury yacht charter is the ultimate way to visit the great UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Mediterranean. Disembark by day to wander the villages of Amalfi, hike Sicily’s volcanoes, or walk the walls of Dubrovnik, before returning to your yacht, chatting excitedly about the wonders you’ve seen, dining on deck as the yacht gets underway for the next incredible UNESCO site.

Stunning scenery in Sicily

Here are our 10 top yachting destinations that will astonish with their UNESCO-listed treasures, from ancient temples to modern architecture and landscapes of breathtaking natural beauty.

1. Cinque Terre and Tuscany, Italy

The UNESCO listed Cinque Terre National Park enchants with its five pastel-painted fishing villages strung along the steep coast, green terraces of olives and grapes, and colourful fishing boats bobbing in tiny harbours. Head ashore from your yacht to walk the coastal path between the towns, stopping on a flowery restaurant terrace for a delicious seafood lunch, looking out at the yachts crisscrossing the blue. Just offshore, the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto make for a lovely detour, while charming Portovenere also graces the UNESCO list for its history and beauty.

CInque Terre, Italy

Those with the time to continue their charter can easily continue down the coast to Tuscany, which has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to UNESCO sites – whether you’re visiting Florence, the Medici Villas and Gardens, Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo, or gorgeous Siena.

Florence, Italy

2. Amalfi Coast, Naples and Pompeii, Italy

The Amalfi Coast was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 for its combination of dazzling natural beauty, superb architecture, and rich history of human settlement. Colourful towns cling on steep hillsides, grand white villas perch high above cobalt blue sea, and pink bougainvillea scrambles through gardens of lemon and olive trees. Whether you’re floating through Capri’s Blue Grotto, exploring Amalfi’s Arab-Sicilian cathedral, or shopping in Positano’s boutiques, the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s most breathtaking yacht charter destinations.

The Italian island of Capri

Just across the water, the entire historic district of fascinating, gritty Naples is also a UNESCO listed site,while just beyond the city’s outskirts, the atmospheric ruins of the buried city of Pompeii sit under the ominous shadow of Vesuvius. Wander between the columns, sit quietly in the amphitheatre looking across the ancient city, admire the mosaics and baths of ancient villas, and see the casts of the bodies, frozen in time by the volcano’s shocking heat.

Pompeii, Italy

3. Sicily and Aeolian Islands, Italy

Sicily dazzles with the richness and variety of its UNESCO sites, from the Greek temples scattered across the landscape, to the wild volcanic beauty of the Aeolian Islands chain, declared a UNESCO site in its entirety. Sicily was considered part of ‘Greater Greece’ during the period of classical flowering, meaning it is littered with some of the finest Greek temples existing today, the best of which can be seen at UNESCO site Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples.

Favignana, Sicily

If the Greek temples and spectacular volcanic beauty of Sicily were not enough to lure you to charter a yacht here, there are also some utterly magnificent UNESCO listed cities and towns, including the unique Norman-Arab architecture of Palermo, the cathedrals of Cefalu and Monreale, the late baroque towns of the Valli di Noto, and the gorgeous city of Syracuse with its preserved island district, temples, and cliff necropolis.

Noto, Sicily

You may need a longer charter!

4. Venice and Montenegro, Adriatic Coast

Venice’s breathtaking skyline of golden domes and soaring spires are enough to make a romantic swoon, and there can be no better way to approach this 5th century city than on a luxury yacht at sunset, preferably with a glass of Venetian Prosecco in hand. There’s an astonishing treasure trove of UNESCO highlights to visit, with Venice labelled a city of exceptional universal value for its extraordinary density of architectural and artistic masterpieces. Whether you’re gasping at the wonder of St Mark’s Basilica, admiring Tintoretto canvases at Doge’s Palace, or taking a gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs, Venice pulls at the heartstrings like few other places.

Venice, Italy

Venice is also an excellent embarkation point for your yacht charter if you’re planning to cruise down the Adriatic Coast to the UNESCO delights of Montenegro, where the city of Kotor impresses with its medieval beauty, stunning natural setting, and glamorous yacht marina at Porto Montenegro. Inland, the Dumitor National Park hides some of the deepest gorges in Europe, glaciers, and a beautiful landscape of pine forest and crystal clear lakes, making the UNESCO list for its exceptional natural value.

Kotor, Montenegro

5. Malta

Malta’s popularity as a superyacht destination is rising fast, due to its crystal clear waters, amazing diving, and incredible UNESCO sites. The entire city of Valletta is a heritage site, with its 320 historic monuments making this grand fortress city one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. The Cathedral of Saint John stuns with its gold-gilded opulence and the tombs of the Knights of Malta, and is also the home of Caravaggio masterpiece ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’. Other highlights include the Palace of the Grand Master, Auberge de Provence, and the Infirmary of the Order.

Valetta, Malta

Just outside Valetta is the spectacular and wildly atmospheric  Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a vast underground cemetery spanning three levels and dating back to 3600 BC. Malta is a superb destination for those interested in ancient history, with the seven Megalithic Temples of Malta also earning UNESCO status.

Church in Malta

6. Athens and the Greek Islands

As the cradle of democracy and a birthplace of Western civilisation, it’s little wonder that Athens makes this list. The Acropolis is a must-visit in a lifetime, and it’s difficult not to be awestruck as you wander through the columns and statues of this  hilltop citadel, marvelling at the sheer grandness of the Parthenon and looking out across the city of Athens, where Hadrian’s Arch and the Olympian Temple of Zeus are surrounded by the modern, bustling city.

Parthenon

Returning to your yacht docked in Athens marina, you have the choice of heading to other UNESCO listed sites in the Greek Islands. You might cruise the Cyclades, where you can visit the sacred island of Delos, believed to be the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Meanwhile, in the Ionian Chain, Corfu Old Town displays beautiful Venetian and neoclassical architecture, and if you’re cruising the Dodecanese, Rhodes impresses with its gothic Upper town, its Palace of the Masters, Great Hospital, and Street of the Knights.

Greek Islands

7. Dalmatian Coast and Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast offers several spectacular UNESCO listed sites to visit on a week-long charter, as you float along this heartbreakingly beautiful coastline from Dubrovnik to Trogir to Split. Dubrovnik, known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, bewitches with its high city walls, baroque architecture, and white limestone laneways. Further along the coast, the walled island city of Trogir is less well known than Dubrovnik but it is an astonishing place in its own right, with marble streets, seaside promenades, and Romanesque and Renaissance buildings. Moving onto Split, you’ll discover the truly incredible Diocletian’s Palace, now a giant historical district, in a vibrant ancient city framed by mountains and sea.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

From Split, those seeking UNESCO sites of astounding natural beauty, should take the 2.5 hour trip to Plitvice Lakes, where a scattering of small blue green lakes are fed by waterfalls, giving the impression of film-set swimming pools, surrounded by fragrant pine forest and rushing rivers. Breathe deeply.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

8. Barcelona, Ibiza, and Serra Tarumata

Begin your UNESCO themed yacht charter in Barcelona, where a collection of 9 UNESCO listed sites makes this city the title holder for most in the world. An astonishing seven of the sites are the work of architect Antonio Gaudi, whose unique and colourful modern style transformed the city. The other two UNESCO sites in Barcelona are the Hospital de la Creu i Sant Pau, and the Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall, both designed by modernist Catalan architect, Lluis Domenechi Montaner.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Once you’ve had your fill of Barcelona’s iconic, spirited architecture, return to your yacht and head out into the Balearics islands, where famed party isle Ibiza has been accorded UNESCO status for its incredible underwater meadows of Poseidon grass, splendid preservation of architecture, and long history of human settlement.

Ibiza

Finally, to the island of Majorca, where a cruise up the west coast of Palma reveals the searingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, which has been awarded UNESCO status for its incredible terrace fields, drystone towers, and pretty villages perched upon the vertiginous landscape.

Mountains of Mallorca

9. Turkey Ephesus, Turquoise Coast

Cruising along the Turquoise Coast of Turkey is a staggering experience, with lush pine forest and mountains contrasting against a limpid turquoise sea. This stretch of coastline was bestowed as a wedding gift to Cleopatra by Mark Antony, and is rich in historic ruins, including the ancient capital of Lycia, Xanthos Letoon. This site offers splendid temples and theatres, as well as fine examples of the stone tombs that are found carved into cliffs all along the Turquoise Coast.

Beach in Turkey

For those with the leisure of time, a trip north to the ruins of Ephesus are a must for any ancient history lover. Ruled by the Greeks and the Romans, this port town was once one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world, but now lies 9 kilometres from the sea due to its harbour silting up over the centuries. Ephesus is a vast site, with highlights including the remnants of the Temple of Artemis, the Grand Theatre with seating for 25,000, and the beautiful Library of Celsus, once one of the great libraries of the world and now the site of atmospheric summer concerts.

Ephesus

10. Corsica – Gulf of Porto

It’s hard not to gape in wonder as you cruise through Corsica’s UNESCO listed Gulf of Porto, where monumental rock formations loom over emerald and sapphire seas. Taking in a vast expanse of area including the Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, and the Scandola Reserve, this is a natural paradise born for yachting exploration, with mighty red cliffs and black volcanic rocks, hidden grottos, and stunning calanques to drop anchor in.

Piana, Corsica

The Gulf of Porto is also home to an abundance of life, from the dolphins that play and jump in the yacht’s bow wave to the eagles and peregrine falcons that soar above the rugged cliffs. This is wildly beautiful place, where rosemary and sage grow wild in the maquis and the few signs of human life are the old Genoese watchtowers on lonely bluffs, and the pretty village of Girolata, only reachable by boat or by foot.

Girolata, Corsica

For history lovers and admirers of nature, there can be no better holiday than a UNESCO-themed yacht charter in the Mediterranean. Where would you go first?

Alexander Coles is Co-Founder at Bespoke Yacht Charter.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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5 of the best modern Russian cuisine restaurants in St. Petersburg




If you’re intrigued by a visit to Russia but assume that restaurant food will be unappealing and revolve around potatoes, cabbages and beets, think again. There’s a new generation of young and talented chefs at work, who make the most of locally sourced produce, seafood and meat.

They draw not only from traditional Russian cuisine but also international influences, and their best dishes would be at home in the most upscale Nordic cuisine restaurants of their Scandinavian neighbors. Fortunately, prices are significantly lower than in Scandinavia, making Russia a hidden gem for foodies. Here are my current favorite restaurants for modern Russian cuisine in St. Petersburg.

Vkus Est (Taste to Eat)

I’ve dined at Vkus Est 4 times over the past couple weeks, and never been disappointed. I like that there’s enough dining space, especially for lunches and early dinners, that it never feels too crowded or too loud, and that the kitchen consistently turns out top quality, creative dishes. The servers are young, but friendly and professional, and all of them speak English as well as Russian.

My staunch favorite is the Chicken Kiev, prepared sous vide, so that it’s perfect plump and juicy, yet has an amazing crisp skin over it. This is accompanied by smoked mashed potatoes, and accented with a lemon confit. I have yet to find a better Chicken Kiev than this one.

Other favorites include the Tblisi savory cheesecake appetizer, with Georgian sulguni cheese and a caramelized onion topping; the orzo pasta with crab from Russia’s far east; the beef with corn puree and a beet demi-glace sauce; and the black pasta with trout and trout caviar. For a dramatic finale, order the homemade meringues prepared tableside in liquid nitrogen.

Hamlet + Jacks

Hamlet + Jacks is tucked away on Volynskiy Lane, a quiet street just a stone’s throw from St. Petersburg’s main drag, Nevsky Prospect. On a nice day, the place to dine is the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard. The restaurant has two key menus “ours” and “ours + theirs” to refer to dishes that are Russian and those that are a combination of Russian and international influences, respectively.

Favorites from the current menu include the draniki with chanterelles, beurre blanc sauce and bonito flakes; the smelt tempura with marinated tomatoes, chorizo and bisque foam; the Rostov duck with beetroot mole sauce and parsnip; and the beet cheesecake on gingerbread crust with baked potato ice cream that is caramelized at the table, and accented with carrot confit and tarragon.

Gras

Gras, helmed by a chef who previously worked at Vkus Est, is in a modern Scandinavian-like space a short walk from Nevsky Prospect and Gostiny Dvor. It offers a tasting menu of 9 tasting size portions for RUR 2500, or ~$42, but I prefer to order a la carte. Our favorites from the current menu are the appetizer size lasagna with duck confit and chanterelles, the chanterelle and leek savory pie, and the chicken with summer corn and truffles. Even the cheese plate is fantastic, with roasted rhubarb, black currants, and a mini bottle of strawberry balsamic that you squeeze over it, to taste.

DUO Gastrobar

DUO Gastrobar has great food, but the problem here, despite its location away from the main tourist areas, is that it’s become so popular that they prioritize turning tables to the detriment of service and the overall experience. Still, if you want to eat well and quickly, it can be a good choice. Just be sure to book ahead or come at an off-peak time, such as mid-afternoon on a weekday.

Favorites here are the bruschetta with crab, duck breast with smoked cheese and tomato, scallops with buckwheat and smoked duck breast, gnocchi with smoked duck, and prunes with salted caramel for dessert.

Dom Restaurant

Dom is by far the most traditional of these 5 restaurants, and also the most expensive. It’s a white tablecloth place, in a historic 19th century mansion overlooking the Moika River, and an excellent choice for a romantic night out or to celebrate a special occasion. If you want to try high quality Russian classics such as blini with caviar, borsch, pelmeni, beef stroganoff, and more, this is the place.

Yet even among many of the traditional dishes, the ingredients and presentations make Dom’s creations unique. For example, there are goose pelmeni with pomegranate-marinated apple, and fish pelmeni with red caviar and dill. Draniki, humble Russian potato pancakes, are reimagined here to include zucchini and pumpkin, and adorned with pike, salmon and sturgeon caviar.

Other favorites at Dom include a warm salad of roasted eggplant with tomatoes, cilantro and sweet-spicy sauce; a Kamchatka King crab salad with avocado, fennel, poached egg and yogurt dressing; Russian lamb rack with parsnip puree, grilled avocado, beetroot, rhubarb and blackcurrant sauce; and Beetroot risotto with homemade goat cheese.

Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.



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