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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Six destinations to visit in spring 2018

Spring travel offers some of the chance of revival. You just need to know where to go and when 

Fireplace by the pool. Courtesy Sofitel Luang Prabang
Fireplace by the pool. Courtesy Sofitel Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos

Surrounded by tourism hotspots Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Laos tends to be South East Asia’s overlooked slow-burner. Luang Prabang is a slightly sanitised, beautifully made-up welcoming party for the rest of the country. On the banks of the mighty Mekong River, it offers temples, a royal palace and highly moochable markets. The tourist invasion has ensured there are plenty of teak-wood guesthouses, juice bars and coffee shops.

From April 13 to 15, the Pimay New Year festival is celebrated, with three days of revelry that includes an awful lot of people throwing water at each other. Rare orchids flower for one week, the markets go supersized as the region’s tradesmen flock into town and everyone dresses with as much colour as they can muster.

The new Sofitel Luang Prabang captures the old Indochina vibe, housed in a French governor’s mansion from 1900. Each of the 25 suites has a private garden with an outdoor bath or pool, and cost from about Dh734 a night, including taxes.

Etihad offers flights from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok, code-sharing with Bangkok Airways to Luang Prabang, from Dh2,925, including taxes

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The Deep South, US

Luther King National Historic Site, birthplace of Rev. Martin Luther King, King family home. Getty Images
Luther King National Historic Site, birthplace of Rev. Martin Luther King, King family home. Getty Images

April 4 marks the 50th anniversary of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr being assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and the states of the Deep South have joined forces to promote a series of key sites on a Civil Rights Trail (civilrightstrail.com). These include King’s birthplace in Atlanta, and Selma, the focal point for a series of mass protest marches in 1965.

The anniversary is also being marked by the Equal Justice Initiative (eji.org) with the opening of the new Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama on April 28. The aim of the museum is to tell the civil rights tale, from the transatlantic slave trade through to the present.

Titan Travel offers a 12-night Southern Sights and Sounds trip through the Deep South, staying in four-star hotels, from £2,499 (Dh12,722) per person. Starting and finishing in Atlanta, this includes visits to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and Elvis Presley’s birthplace, plus orientation tours of Nashville and Memphis. Emirates offers flights from Dubai to New York, code-sharing with JetBlue to Atlanta, from Dh5,055, including taxes

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

The medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia's Adriatic coast. AFP
The medieval port of Dubrovnik on Croatia's Adriatic coast. AFP

Perhaps more than any other place in the world, Dubrovnik gets overrun by cruise ships in peak summer season. The secret is to visit before the big boats unleash the masses. You won’t exactly get the city to yourself in April, but it is a much quieter time to explore the old town’s magnificent maze, walk along the walls and take a short ferry trip to Lokrum Island, where Game Of Thrones’ cast spend a lot of time filming.

Dubrovnik also makes an excellent base – or start point – for exploring Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast islands, scenic Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro’s fjord-set coastal towns. Adriatic Explore offers various private day tours from €152 (Dh688).

Flydubai launches a direct route from Dubai to Dubrovnik on April 10, from Dh2,275 return, including taxes. Built on a clifftop, with a terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Villa Dubrovnik remains a go-to address. Sunbeds on the deck, spacious suites and an indoor pool make it a great spot to kick back and relax. Premium rooms, with an outdoor Jacuzzi, cost from €295 (Dh1,347), including taxes

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Amman, Jordan

Prince El Hassan street from Jabal Amman hill in the Jordanian capital, just 12 km from the attack on security forces. Getty Images
Prince El Hassan street from Jabal Amman hill in the Jordanian capital, just 12 km from the attack on security forces. Getty Images

May is often the Goldilocks month in Jordan, weather-wise. Winter rainfall has all but dropped off, but searing summer heat hasn’t yet kicked in. The capital, Amman, is often overlooked in favour of big attractions Wadi Rum and Petra, but it’s finding a groove as one of the most approachable, unflashily modern and creatively authentic cities in the region.

There are just enough big attractions to keep museum-hoppers busy. The citadel and Roman theatre are impressive, while the sights at the Jordan Museum belong in the global rather than local tier.

Amman’s real strength, however, is in its cafe culture. Jabal Al Lweibdeh is the burgeoning hipster ’hood, with several start-ups and independent shops moving in to complement the coffee-chuggers. It’s a favoured expat base as well, giving it a distinctly international feel.

Amman gets a big new contender on its luxury hotel scene from May 1, with the St Regis opening south of the city centre. Location is a plus point – next to the Amman International Garden. This theme is continued with the rooftop gardens, while there are big, bold statement lights in rooms and the bragged-about St Regis butler service.

Emirates, Etihad and Royal Jordanian offer return flights from Dh1,555, including taxes

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Auckland, New Zealand

Tieke, Saddleback, on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand. Getty Images
Tieke, Saddleback, on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand. Getty Images

May is when the heat in New Zealand’s largest city simmers down and the temperatures become just about perfect for a good walk. The location for your stroll, however, is a matter of personal taste. Go just to the east of the city centre by ferry, and you have the Hauraki Gulf islands. Here, Rangitoto is the harsh-looking volcanic one, with paths heading around lava fields. Tiritiri Matangi is used as a safe haven for endemic bird species that have been wiped out elsewhere by introduced predators. And Waiheke is the good-time island, with plenty of gourmet restaurants, olive-oil producers and gelato-makers alongside long beaches and marvellous clifftops.

Go west, meanwhile, and you can be walking around trees that have been standing for about 1,000 years, before dipping down to the black sand surf beaches at Karekare and Piha.

Auckland’s somewhat dreary hotel scene gets a much-needed kick in May with the opening of the Sofitel So – although rooms weren’t yet on sale at time of writing. Otherwise, try the hip, eclectic Hotel DeBrett, which has rather theatrical, flamboyant rooms from NZ$390 (Dh1,043) a night, including taxes.

Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Auckland from Dh6,555, including taxes

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Valletta, Malta

The historic waterfront of the Grand Harbour, Valletta. Getty Images
The historic waterfront of the Grand Harbour, Valletta. Getty Images

May is always a pleasant time of year in the Maltese capital – before things start to get fiercely hot and the northern European package-holiday hordes arrive.

Valletta is squeezed onto a heavily fortified narrow peninsula, and the appeal is generally in its heritage – whether walking along the battlements or exploring the Grand Master’s Palace.

However, the city has been given something of an overhaul with the Renzo Piano-designed City Gate, Parliament Building and Opera House managing to fit in with the overall sandstone cityscape, while adding a touch of modern dazzle.

This year, Valletta has added allure as a European Capital of Culture. There is a vast, dizzying array of cultural events on offer – see valletta2018.org. In May, this will include Sonic Structure, a series of one-off sound-based art installations chosen to fit their location.

Emirates Holidays offers seven nights at the five-star InterContinental Malta, including return flights from Dubai, from Dh6,521 per person, including breakfast and taxes. The InterContinental is in St George’s Bay, just outside Valletta, and features a large garden area with pool and sun terrace overlooking the Mediterranean

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