There is no better strategy for getting through today, Blue Monday, than to immediately plot your escape — whether it be for a few days or a few weeks. But where to? This year, we are spoiled for choice. From a new 2,000-mile bike trail across the Balkans to a secret blue city in Morocco, and a first-of-its-kind luxury train journey to the Italian Riviera, consider this a guide to your next great holiday.
In the rest of our travel special you will find life-altering trips for solo travellers, a Michelin-starred expedition to the Antarctic and our fashion team pick out the most stylish pieces for you to pack. Enjoy!
Climate change is already having a stark impact on where we holiday. Booking.com reports that 42 per cent of UK travellers say this will influence their trips this year, with many thinking twice about classic Med destinations after last summer’s heatwave. Sarah Allard, digital editor at Condé Nast Traveller, agrees. “It’s no surprise that travellers will start to look a little further north for their peak-season holiday plans. Expect to see destinations such as northern Italy, Scandinavia and Scotland gaining popularity, where holidaymakers — particularly families — can enjoy outdoor activities in cooler climes, from cycling and kayaking to hiking and swimming.”
Tempted? Head to eco-friendly Landet — which translates as “countryside” in Swedish — for some cool tranquillity. Opening this year, 10 floating cabins sit in a 400-hectare nature reserve on the Stockholm Archipelago. Pass the time with walking trails, swimming holes and yoga sessions (from £270 per night; landetstay.com). In Norway, the Six Senses Svart is due to open, says Rosie Shephard, founder of Luxury Communications Council. “It’s going to be very futuristic and the world’s first carbon-positive resort.”
The Trans Dinarica trail
This brand new 3,364km (2,090-mile) cycle trail opens this year and meanders across the Balkans, connecting Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia. From the pristine waters of Slovenia’s SoÄa river to the national parks of Kosovo and the winding coastlines of Albania and Croatia, take your pick of screensaver-worthy routes. The trail is broken up into 30-mile sections with somewhere to stay at the end of each day’s ride. No one is expecting you to complete all 3,364kms in one trip. Rather, this is a journey to revisit. Sustainable, affordable and a glorious deep dive into the communities that you will encounter along the way, I think I’ve peaked too soon with this perfect holiday.
While Tulum and Cancun are filled with luxury hotels and preening influencers, Merida is steeped in Mayan culture, historical charm and unique boutique stays. According to YOLO Journal founder Yolanda Edwards, now is the time to visit. “The design crowd has been buying and renovating in Merida for decades, creating the most lovely vacation rentals way before there was airbnb. Go now, while it still feels like a smaller community, because the bigger [albeit tasteful] guns, like Belmond, are opening hotels in the next couple of years.” Welcome Beyond (welcomebeyond.com) has several chic villas. Mexican brutalist La Tropical (from £180), hidden in the heart of Merida, is the spot for a couple or solo travellers. Casa Escuela (£1,995), a former school, sleeps up to 12, and is the result of a four-year restoration project. All are the sorts of places you’d drool over in Architectural Digest.
Only a 30-minute ferry ride from Mykonos, the rustic, under-the-radar island of Tinos couldn’t be more different from its ostentatious neighbour. Hike through wild flower meadows during spring or go for an early autumn break when its pretty beaches will be deserted. Tinos is the third-largest island in the Cyclades but still charmingly understated. Food and wine are a particular point of pride. Xinara House — two 18th-century villas restored by London-based designers Peter and Susan Marston — is a favourite of chic Athenians (from £780 per week; xinarahouse.com). Scheduled to open in May is Odera — the island’s first luxury boutique hotel. It will have 77 rooms and pool suites, a huge spa and its own private beach (prices TBD; oderatinos.com).
Our in-house sustainability travel expert Juliet Kinsman tells me that Bhutan is the place to have a guilt-free holiday this year. “The country has seen incredible eco-conscious luxury hotels opening in recent years, such as a circuit of Six Senses lodges, and very recently, &Beyond Punakha River Lodge. Protecting its forests is written into Bhutan’s constitution and there’s a daily fee of $100 for the Sustainable Development Fund. This may sound elitist and exclusive, but the benefit is that there are fewer tourists and less strain from visitors on this Himalayan landscape. I’d recommend that you spend time at small, luxury hotels such as Gangtey Lodge or Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, or book an itinerary through MyBhutan.”
It’s easy to have a wonderful time in Marrakesh but the rest of the country is ripe for discovery and about to have its moment. This year, head north to Rabat, Tangiers or Casablanca. Travel writer Mary Lussiana says: “In the capital, Rabat, a Four Seasons Hotel is launching on the edge of the Atlantic. Called Kasr Al Bahr, the Castle of the Sea, it was previously the summer palace of a sultan and promises to deliver on sense of place. Tangier, which has been short on enticing places to stay, has opened Fairmont Tazi recently, and the beautiful Villa Mabrouka, once home to Yves St Laurent, has been wonderfully refurbished by Jasper Conran. It’s also exciting that the acclaimed Royal Mansour in Marrakesh is opening a sibling hotel in Casablanca in early 2024 and is slated to open something sumptuous further north, which remains confidential. So watch this space.” Black Tomato is touting Tangier as a top spot for 2024 and recommends timing a visit with the Tanjazz music festival in September. Their luxury itinerary visits Casablanca, Fes, Chefchaouen (the secret blue city you’ve seen all over your Instagram), Tangiers and La Fiermontina (10 nights in northern Morocco from £7,500pp; blacktomato.com)
No one needs much arm-twisting to visit the Caribbean. For 2024, it’s all about Grenada. Sensing the demand, Virgin and British Airways are upping their weekly flights. February sees the Spice Island celebrating 50 years of independence and its pioneering Underwater Sculpture Park in Molinere Bay has just added 31 new submerged artworks. Travel writer Gina Jackson is, as usual, ahead of the curve. “This relatively untrodden Caribbean island is often overlooked in favour of neighbouring Barbados and St Lucia, but firmly deserves a place on your 2024 radar. Grenada offers a winning formula of endless white sand beaches, steamy rainforests and varied landscapes to explore, whether you prefer hiking up to waterfalls, exploring spice plantations, or snorkelling around the island’s famous underwater sculpture parks. Although already home to a handful of charming hotels (I stayed at Calabash and Silversands, both of which were excellent in their own way), the opening of Six Senses La Sagesse this year will further cement Grenada’s status as a destination for luxury travel enthusiasts.”
The French capital will be extra special this year as it gears up to host the Olympics. Tickets are still available. Exciting new hotels are set to open and you can’t go wrong with stays at Le Grand Mazarin (from £598; legrandmazarin.com), Hôtel des Grands Voyageurs (from £280; hoteldesgrandsvoyageurs.com), Le Grand Hôtel Cayré (from £312; miirohotels.com) or Hotel Chateau D’Eau (from £138; hotelchateaudeau.com). You could also use the city as a jumping-off point for a great rail adventure. The Nightjet sleeper service is rolling out a new route from Paris to Berlin and for a real splurge, Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train is set to launch a journey to Portofino (belmond.com).Tres chic.
Getting to this otherworldly country is a doddle thanks to LATAM Airline’s new direct flight from London to Lima. Swerve overcrowded Machu Picchu for lesser known, but no less spectacular archaeological treasures. Black Tomato is launching several new trips offering camping in hard-to-reach locations next to archaeological marvels like Chan Chan, the world’s largest mud city, and Chavin de Huantar in Huaraz (seven nights in Peru including Huchuy Qosqo, a royal estate of Viracocha, the eighth Inca ruler, from £8,500pp; blacktomato.com). Further south, new luxury camp Puqio in the Colca Canyon is one of the best places to spot condors. Visit as part of Scott Dunn’s hyper-luxurious two-week trip (from £10,400; scottdunn.com).
Value for money cruises
John O’Ceallaigh, founder of luxury travel consultancy LUTE, believes that if one has cash to splash, the best bang for your buck could be at sea. “As hotels have become pricier, some previously too-expensive cruises now look proportionally accessible,” says O’Ceallaigh. “I’m considering a 13-day cruise around Antarctica with Viking Cruises, with prices starting from £9,995 including flights, booze, food, excursions and tips — it’s very expensive, of course, but clearly you get much more for your money than at a luxury hotel in London. Plus lots of hotel groups are now looking to move into this space. Ritz-Carlton is launching ‘hotel at sea’ boats.”