x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

From the last of winter to a welcome for summer fun

Where to Go When The best festivals, seasonal events and new destinations for the next three months.

Early April heralds the cherry-blossom season in Tokyo. Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO
Early April heralds the cherry-blossom season in Tokyo. Yasufumi Nishi / JNTO

February

Ice skating in Sweden

"The closest you get to flying without leaving the ground" is how Joakim Malm describes his favourite winter sporting activity - and he's not talking about skiing or snowboarding. Since the 1980s, Malm has been skating on natural ice around his native Stockholm, and now he has set up his own company to share the exhilaration.

A "Day on the Ice" tour with Ice Guide takes you from a coffee shop in central Stockholm to the frozen lakes around the city, a short train ride away. Malm knows all the best spots, and in January and February when the sea around the capital freezes over, you can follow him out onto the ice and watch fish darting beneath your feet. A great place to stay is Hotel Skeppsholmen, a luxurious boutique hotel with views over the sea.

A "Day on the Ice" skating tour (www.iceguide.se; 00 46 730 89 47 63) costs from 1,990 Swedish krona (Dh1,113) per person, including equipment, lunch, transport and taxes. Double rooms at Hotel Skeppsholmen (www.hotelskeppsholmen.com; 00 46 8 407 2300) cost from 2,495 krona (Dh1,395) per night, including taxes.

A tour of North Korea

North Korea is easily the most solitary country on earth - the communist state has been almost entirely cut off from the world for more than half a century. Tourism is controlled by the government and the few outsiders allowed in have had very limited access to the country. Recently, though, there have been signs of change, with a border opening in the north and freedom of movement now permitted in a few designated areas.

This is a good time to visit, and the travel company Remote Lands can take you on a bespoke tour. All visits include the capital Pyongyang, with its striking communist architecture. Other places to see are the isolated Mount Paekdu, the white-sand beaches of Songdowon and the demilitarised zone on the border with South Korea.

An eight-day tour with Remote Lands (www.remotelands.com; 00 1 646 415 8092) costs from US$6,000 (Dh22,038) per person, based on two sharing, including taxes.

The Atacama Desert, Chile

The Atacama, which covers 105,000 sq km in northern Chile, is the driest desert on earth: years go by without yielding a drop of rain. But that doesn't mean there's no water: the snow-capped Andean volcanoes in the east feed a network of lush valleys, oases and saltwater lagoons, conjuring dazzling life in this arid terrain.

February - a summer month, but not too hot - is a good time to visit, and the luxurious Awasi Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama is a perfect base from which to explore this spectacular landscape. Private guides and drivers, laid on by the hotel, will take you to see the Cejas and Chaxa Lagoons, dotted pink with flamingos, the Tatio geysers, and secret spots that tourist buses never reach. The spectacle continues after dark: due to minimal light pollution and lack of cloud cover, the Atacama desert is one of the best spots on earth for star-gazing.

Double rooms at Awasi Hotel (www.awasi.cl; 00 56 2 233 9641) cost from US$1,340 (Dh4,920) per night (minimum two nights), including taxes.

 

March

San Blas Islands, Panama

A Caribbean island paradise unspoiled by high-rise hotels and package tourism? Thanks to a series of laws designed to protect the natural environment, the San Blas Islands just off the eastern coast of Panama prove that such a place still exists. (In 2011, Lonely Planet ranked them among the top three tropical paradises in the world.) They are home to the indigenous Kuna people, an Indian tribe which has had several National Geographic articles devoted to them, and which governs the islands and part of the mainland.

Fly via Panama City to the local airport at Playon Chico, stay at Yandup Island Lodge and hire a boat to explore the 400 palm-fringed islands in the archipelago, of which only 51 are inhabited. Then sail back to your own private island, surrounded by coral reefs and aquamarine waters, to relax in a seafront cabin.

Double-room cabins at Yandup Island Lodge (www.yandupisland.com; 00 507 202 0854) cost from US$200 (Dh734) per night, including taxes (excluding a one-off community tax of $10 [Dh37] per person).

Holi festival in India

The Hindu festival of Holi is a sight to behold. Every year around the beginning of March (this year, it falls on March 8 and spills over into the next day), revellers take to the streets and celebrate by throwing coloured powder and water everywhere - the idea is to give everyone a thorough drenching. Provided you're comfortable with being turned into a human kaleidoscope for a day, it's terrific fun (tip: buy cheap white, loose-fitting clothes and cover your hair).

March is a great time to visit India, weather-wise (it's dry but not too hot), and if you want to add orange and black to the colour scheme, head to Bhandavgarh National Park, where the Syna Tiger Resort has recently opened its doors. Bhandavgarh is one of the best parks in India for tiger-spotting, and Syna, situated right at the edge of the forest, is an ideal base, with well-appointed safari cottages and private guides to take you to the tigers.

Double-room cottages at Syna Tiger Resort (www.synatigerresort.com; 00 91 11 4162 3448) cost from Indian rupees 20,000 (Dh1,442) per night, full board, including taxes.

The Siam hotel, Bangkok

Opening on March 15, the new Siam hotel in Bangkok boasts an enviable waterfront location on the Chao Phraya River, with its own private pier and luxury speedboat. This means attractions such as the Grand Palace and the Royal Barge Museum are only minutes away, liberating visitors from the chaos of Bangkok's notorious traffic, but you'd be forgiven for overlooking this convenience once you check in.

The Siam promises to be the kind of hotel where ease of access to other places becomes secondary to the delights of the hotel itself. Set in 1.2 hectares of gardens, it will have 39 luxury suites and pool villas, tastefully designed by acclaimed architect Bill Bensley, fusing art deco and colonial styles. There's also a river-side infinity pool with Jacuzzi beds, a Thai cookery school, a spa and bath house, and a fully equipped gym with its own Muay Thai boxing ring.

Double rooms at The Siam Bangkok (www.thesiamhotel.com; 00 66 2621 2296) cost from 19,185 Thai baht (Dh2,275) per night, including taxes.

 

April

Buddha-Bar hotel, Budapest

Commissioned by a Habsburg archduchess and built by two of the most celebrated architects of the era, the twin Klotild palaces in Budapest mirrored the grandeur of the fin-de-siècle Austro-Hungarian empire when they were completed in 1901. But the 20th century, with its revolutions and two world wars, was unkind to these magnificent buildings and 100 years later they had lost much of their original splendour. A badly needed renovation has been carried out in the last decade and in early April the northern palace will finally reopen as a Buddha-Bar hotel.

The Parisian group's distinctive modern Asian style will be evident in 102 luxurious rooms and suites, a sky bar, a restaurant over two floors and a calming spa. The location couldn't be better - the palaces stand on either side of the famous shopping street Váci utca, in the very heart of Budapest, and many of the city's great attractions are within walking distance.

Double rooms at Buddha-Bar Hotel Budapest Klotild Palace (www.buddhabarhotelbudapest.com; 00 36 1 413 2064) cost from €290 (Dh1,356) per night, including taxes.

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo

Early April in Tokyo, when the cherry blossom trees burst into flower and turn the city a dramatic snowy-pink, is one of the most romantic times of year to visit Japan's capital but also one of the busiest and most expensive for tourists on a budget.

This year, in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan last March and the ensuing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the country's tourist industry is struggling to get back on its feet. People are understandably nervous about travelling to Tokyo, even though it is more than 200km from the plant and official sources advise that only the area directly around the disaster site should be avoided.

As numbers fall, Tokyo has become a lot more accessible and affordable to tourists. Hotel rates are still down by an average of 10 per cent, and it is possible, for once, to snap up a last-minute reservation in one of the city's exclusive restaurants. The Tokyo area has 293 Michelin-starred restaurants in total - and no fewer than 17 restaurants have three stars to their name. The city offers a mind-boggling array of attractions, and now seems the best time in years to experience them.

Surfing in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has gained a reputation in recent years as a playground for affluent Americans, but even on the coast it's still possible to leave the crowds behind and find beaches unspoiled by large-scale development.

The country has two coastlines, but for beach lovers and surfers, the Pacific coast has greater attractions. A small surfing community has sprung up recently on the jungle-fringed beaches of Nosara, a remote community in the north west.

With warm waters and unthreatening waves, Nosara is the perfect place to learn how to surf - and several schools, including Surf Simply (www.surfsimply.com), have been set up to cater for growing demand. Nosara Surf Cam (www.nosarasurfcam.com/) has a live feed of waves hitting the beach. The area, which is great for hiking and fishing, is also designated as an official refuge for sea turtles, which is why big developments have been discouraged and kept away from many of the beaches. April, towards the end of the dry season, before the rains break, is an excellent time to go.