With leopards in former Tiger territory, new hotels popping up across Europe and Annie B cooking up a storm in the Mediterranean, tourists are spoilt for choice this spring.
Safari in Sri Lanka, new Euro hotels and cooking in Andalucia
Peace in Sri Lanka has brought with it new opportunities and rekindled old ones. The latest is the reopening of Wilpattu National Park, one of the best spots in Asia to see leopards. The forested park, at 1,316 sq km, was used by the Tamil Tigers to hide men and materials and was closed from 1985 to 2003 and then again from March 2007.
Since hostilities ended last year, the government has demined the area and improved the infrastructure, opening the park to the public last month. Located in the north-west, 180km from Colombo, the park is famous for its large leopard population - more than Yala, Sri Lanka's best-known park - as well as elephants and sloth bears. It is also known for around 50 salt and fresh water lakes which are home to crocodiles, cobras and tortoise. Several tour operators have begun taking safari trips including Red Dot (www.reddotours.com; 0094 11 7895 810) or via the website www.srilanka.tourism-asia.net/wilpattu-national-park. Prices vary according to type of accommodation.
With Abu Dhabi warming up, it is time to start thinking of Europe. There is a spate of new hotels opening this summer and with them come attractive soft-opening deals. The Yeatman (www.theyeatman.com) opens in June in Oporto, a fabulous and seriously underrated city in Portugal. One of Unesco's World Heritage cities, it is brimming with historic buildings, monuments and steep cobbled streets.
The Yeatman is built into the hillside with views over the Douro river and is set in seven acres of gardens, with plenty of chill-out terraces. Double rooms, based on two people sharing cost from $252 (Dh926) during the low season and from $354 (Dh1,300) during the high season, inclusive of breakfast, use of the swimming pools and taxes. The hotel offers a 15 per cent discount throughout June and July and includes complimentary access to the wellness area (minimum stay of two nights).
The Principe Hotel and Spa is set to become the hot spot in the seaside town of Forte dei Marmi, north of Pisa in Italy, when it opens next month. Design-led with modern, glass-fronted bathrooms and sleek Italian interiors, the highlight is the roof-top fusion bar and cigar lounge with panoramic views. Double rooms cost from $613 (Dh2,251) during the low season and $1,294 (Dh4,753) during the high season, per night exclusive of breakfast and taxes.
Also due to open, on May 12, is the uber-cool Town Hall in London's East End. Not the usual spot for five-star hotels, it has, as the name suggests, been built in the original site of the Town Hall in Bethnal Green, a listed building. It fuses Edwardian art deco with contemporary style - the imposing traditional 1930s frontage has been preserved but there is also a new "outer-wall" with a performative skin laser-cut to a pattern inspired by the council chamber. The restaurant, Viajente, has been designed by Nuno Mendes (of The Loft fame). But be prepared for authentic East End surrounding the hotel. So far they have not announced prices but definitely one to watch out for.
Still in Europe, Intercontinental Hotels, which has somewhere to stay in every major city, is advertising a package of complimentary benefits when you stay two nights between March 15 and April 11 worth up to $340 (Dh1,249). Pay the normal rates and get a guaranteed upgrade to the next available room category, a $68 discount on food and drink, an inclusive breakfast and a 4pm checkout.
If you want to learn how to cook Mediterranean food as well as eat it, Annie B's Spanish kitchen in Andalucia has several three-day and four-day courses on offer - or they will also organise a tailor-made holiday. You stay in a villa (chosen from a list of around 20) within walking distance of Annie's base, Casa Alegre.
Annie ran her own catering and corporate hospitality company in London for 15 years. Her love of Spanish food, music and culture led her to Andalucia where, after finding the right spot, she set up her new life where she established her cookery school and gourmet tours. Cookery sessions are held in the morning, after which you eat the fruits of your labour served round the pool. The afternoons are mostly spent at the beach or exploring the town of Vejer, and evenings are reserved for talks and tastings followed by dinner at home or in one of the town's better restaurants. And when the holiday is over, you are an expert at cooking such delights as paella, tangine and almond cakes. Three nights including accommodation and most meals start from $750 (Dh2,755) and four nights start from $981 (Dh3,603). See www.anniebs.co.uk