x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Take in a world of new experiences this spring

Put away your parka and hang up your skis, because from Nepalese treks to chocolate in St Lucia, spring is the time to take in the promises of the new year.

Bab Ramla Luxury Camp, Libya.
Bab Ramla Luxury Camp, Libya.

February

Walk The Great Himalayan Trail, Nepal

Dust off your walking boots. The first guided trek along the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) sets off from Kanchenjunga in the east of Nepal. It will traverse the length of Nepal's dramatic, mountainous landscape, covering a mighty 1,700km before reaching the Tibetan borderlands in the west. Soon the trail will stretch as far as Pakistan, but as yet only the Nepalese stage has been planned out. It will do for now: the full trek lasts 151 days and costs a hefty AU$34,990 (Dh127,063) per person, taking in Everest and the well-trodden Annapurna trail as well as extremely remote areas such as Humla.

Helpfully, the trip's organiser, World Expeditions, has broken it down into seven shorter treks lasting from 18 to 34 days. The best bet could be the first stage from Kanchenjunga, departing on February 15, as it will be led by Robin Boustead, the Australian trekker who has spearheaded the project and knows the trail almost as well as the sherpas.

GHT treks with World Expeditions (www.worldexpeditions.com/au; 00 44 208 545 9030) cost from AU$3,990 (Dh14,603) per person.

Rail journey through South Australia

Fancy crossing a continent in luxury on a romantic train journey? Australia's Great Southern Rail company, which criss-crosses the country with its beautifully appointed trains, has just launched a brand new route, the Southern Spirit, travelling between Adelaide in the south to Brisbane on the east coast, and back again at a leisurely pace. Along the way, it traverses the Great Dividing Range and stops off at Melbourne, Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Hunter Valley and the easy-going beachside town of Byron Bay. The journey takes six days (five if you board in Melbourne), affording passengers plenty of time to explore places of interest en route. It's a blissful way to experience the outback, but hurry: the train only runs next month and tickets are selling out fast.

A journey on the Southern Spirit (www.gsr.com.au/site/southern_spirit.jsp; 00 61 8 8213 4592) costs from AU$3,300 (Dh12,077), including taxes.

Snowshoeing in Lebanon

Engaging with winter snow in Lebanon usually means strapping on a pair of skis and hurtling down the slopes at Mzaar or one of its fellow resorts. But there is a more gentle alternative. The Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Lebanon, an area of great beauty that contains a quarter of the country's cedar forests. One of the winter activities it now offers is snowshoeing, which makes getting about in the snow easy and fun. It's good exercise, too.

This month, the travel specialist Explore has a snowshoeing tour of the reserve around the slopes of Mount Lebanon, plus a visit to the dramatic Qadisha Valley, where ancient monasteries and churches are hewn into the rock. The five-day trip starts and ends with a day in Beirut with a walking tour of the main sights. And if you do feel the need to strap skis to your feet after all, the slopes are only an hour away from the capital.

The five-day (land-only) Lebanon trip with Explore (www.explore.co.uk; 00 44 1252 379 598) costs from £549 (Dh3,182) per person, including taxes.

Indian Ocean hotel openings

The Indian Ocean is awash with exciting hotel openings this spring. If there aren't already enough attractive reasons to go to the Maldives, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts has just added another: Jumeirah Dhevanafushi on the Gaafu Alifu Atoll, 400km south of Malé. For total seclusion, book one of the resort's Ocean Villas, separated from the main island and surrounded by impossibly turquoise waters and unspoilt coral reefs.

Heading west to the Seychelles, Raffles opens the first luxury resort on Praslin, a lush, secluded island with white sand and rare Coco de Mer palm trees, on February 1. The 86-villa resort has Arabic-speaking staff and also serves halal cuisine in the six restaurants. Due south on Zanzibar, the Residence is opening a resort on the south-west coast of the spice island in April. Set in nearly 33 hectares of tropical gardens with views over a 1.5km beach, the resort features 66 villas, each with a private pool, and a Carita spa.

Double rooms at Jumeirah Dhevanafushi (www.jumeirah.com; 00 971 4 364 7171) cost from US$2,000 (Dh7,345). Double rooms at Raffles Praslin (www.raffles.com/praslin; 00 248 296 780) cost from €980 (Dh4,748), an introductory rate valid until April 30. Double rooms at the Residence (www.theresidence.com; 01 300 320 865) cost from €500 (Dh2,423). All prices are per night and include taxes.

Hotel Chocolat, St Lucia

The most exciting hotel news of 2011 - hands down, if you are a chocolate fan - is the February opening of Hotel Chocolat on the tiny, scenic Caribbean island of St Lucia. The Rabot Estate is the island's oldest cacao plantation, dating to 1745.

Five years ago, a deluxe chocolate company bought Rabot to supply its shops in the UK. The stunning location near the old French capital, Soufrière, with views of the twin Piton peaks, inspired owner Angus Thirlwell to open a boutique hotel on the 57-hectare estate. Guests can swim, sail, kayak, lie on St Lucia's beautiful beaches or explore the cocoa groves to see where chocolate originates and help out with the harvest. More importantly, you can sample the estate's delicious produce and even enjoy cocoa-butter massages at the spa. The tastefully decorated cottages are available from February 28, while the larger villas will be ready in July.

Double rooms at Hotel Chocolat (www.thehotelchocolat.com; 00 44 0844 544 1272) cost from US$378 (Dh1,388) per night, including taxes.

 

March

Tlemcen, Algeria: capital of Islamic culture, 2011

Tlemcen, a history-rich town in northwestern Algeria, had its heyday in the first half of the 14th century, when it was a seat of religious and intellectual power in the central Maghreb and an important trading centre. Since then it has come under many rulers. The French holidayed there, enjoying the cool summer breezes from the nearby Mediterranean.

Now, Tlemcen looks set to regain some of its former glory. Isesco (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has named it a capital of Islamic culture for 2011 and extensive work is being done on medieval ruins, fading mosques and hammams. A lavish new Renaissance hotel (www.renaissancetlemcen.com; 00 213 43 401 111) is opening in March on Plateau Lalla Setti, with impressive views over the city. The town's history can be felt in its vibrant music and art scenes and in its colourful textiles, weaving together Arab, Berber, Spanish and French influences. Seeing the magnificent Sidi Boumediène tomb alone is worth the trip.

Tiger trekking in India

A new initiative in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is giving visitors a unique chance to explore some of India's great wildlife parks on foot. Freed from the confines of a vehicle, you can travel deep into the jungle and appreciate the area's remarkable flora and fauna up close. The exciting bit? This is tiger country and you might find yourself face to face with something big and stripey. (Relax - you'll be in the company of an armed forest guard.)

The award-winning travel company India Beat offers an 11-day luxury trip, including three nights at Satpura National Park where you can trek and do elephant-riding safaris, and three nights at Bandhavgarh National Park, which has the highest concentration of tigers in the world: sightings here are virtually guaranteed. The trekking initiative is part of a wider conservation project called Patrolling the Tiger Land, and visitors can help local forest guards in their efforts to combat poachers.

The 11-day (land-only) trip with India Beat (www.indiabeat.co.uk; 00 91 141 651 9797) costs from £2,990 (Dh17,329) per person, including taxes.

Exploring Libya

People tend to go to Libya for two things: to visit the magnificent Roman ruins on the Mediterranean coast and explore the vast, open desert to the south. Part of the appeal, in both cases, is the conspicuous lack of crowds: Libya has never been a tourist hotspot - until now. This year, the country looks set to become a destination of choice, so get there before the crowds arrive - and before the Sahara heat kicks in.

March is a good time to go, while temperatures are still manageable. Tripoli is a friendly, vibrant city with many impressive sights, including the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and the magnificent Archaeological Museum. It also boasts a brand new Sheraton Four Points hotel on the beach. The ruins at Sabratha and Cyrenaica are worth a visit but the truly spectacular highlight is Leptis Magna, the stunningly preserved Roman city overlooking the Mediterranean. To extend your trip to the Sahara, stay at Bab Ramla, a new luxury tented camp at the edge of the desert that provides a perfect base for exploring the Ubari Desert Lakes and the prehistoric rock art at Wadi Mathendush.

Double rooms at Four Points by Sheraton Tripoli (www.fourpointstripoli.com; 00 218 21 337 2300) cost from 480 Libyan dinars (Dh1,376), including taxes. A five-day trip to Bab Ramla (www.babramla.com) with accommodation in double-room tents costs from €1,680 (Dh8,140) per person, including transport from Tripoli and taxes.

April

Music in Santiago, Chile

Santiago used to be more famous for smog than hip and happening events. But in recent years, its arts and culture scenes have been revitalised and the city's reputation as one of South America's duller capitals will not stand for long. There has been a flurry of exciting new openings lately, including the ultra-modern Centro Gabriela Mistral, a huge centre for the arts, and, for fashion-lovers, the Museo de la Moda, which features in its private collection items worn by Madonna and Princess Diana.

Tourist prospects are following suit as luxury boutique hotels such as the Aubrey, a magnificent renovation of two 1920s mansions in the Bella Vista neighbourhood, open their doors. And in April, Santiago is hosting a major music festival, Lollapalooza, in O'Higgins Park. This will be the first time the 20-year-old event has happened outside the US - past acts include the Killers and Lady Gaga - and the choice of location confirms that Santiago is indeed on the up.

Tickets for Lollapalooza Chile on April 2 and 3 will be available from http://lollapalooza.cl/. Prices are yet to be confirmed. Double rooms at the Aubrey (www.theaubrey.com; 00 56 2 940 2800) cost from US$240 (Dh881) per night, including taxes.

Inca trekking in Peru

It is 100 years since the rediscovery of Machu Picchu by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, and the anniversary will focus plenty of attention this year on the fabled Lost City of the Incas. Not that it needs it: Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist sites in South America. Take the opportunity to visit Espiritu Pampa instead.

This vast ruined town, in a forested lowland area 150km west of Cusco, is the true last bastion of the Inca empire - not Machu Picchu as Bingham posited. The site is rarely visited - mere hundreds come per year compared with the thousands that flock to Machu Picchu every day. Many of the archaeological remains are still under dense vegetation but work is being done to restore the city, and the hiking here is spectacular. From the base town of Huancacalle, make sure to visit Vitcos, the palace of the last four Inca rulers from 1536 to 1572, and Yurac Rumi, the sacred White Rock. And if you haven't been before, it's worth braving the queues to experience Machu Picchu: it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 for a good reason.

Cruise the Danube

If you're planning on a cruise this year, give the open seas a miss and head inland for a refined and relaxing river journey. Few cruises are more refined than a boat trip down the Danube, which winds 2,850km from Germany to the Black Sea, absorbing the rich and storied culture of Central Europe as it goes. It is the only river in the world that flows through four capital cities: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. Viking River Cruises offers two itineraries this year that cover a large part of the distance between them. "Romantic Danube" is an eight-day trip from Nuremburg to Budapest, taking in the beautiful Wachau Valley and Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace. "Passage to Eastern Europe", a new 11-day cruise, continues the journey to Bucharest, passing the soaring white cliffs of the Iron Gate region and stopping off in Belgrade, the vibrant capital of Serbia. Castles and stunning scenery abound, and Viking has some of the most luxurious ships on the river.

Danube cruises with Viking River Cruises (www.vikingrivercruises.co.uk; 00 44 208 780 7998) cost from £1,095 (Dh6,346), including taxes.

British royal wedding

It's 30 years since Britain - and the world - last experienced the excitement of a major royal wedding. The anticipation is already sky high. On April 29, Prince William and Kate Middleton will exchange vows at Westminster Abbey, the 1,000-year-old church that also hosted the wedding of Queen Elizabeth. Unless you've made it onto the guest list, the best place to enjoy the festivities will be London's Hyde Park where, it is speculated, a celebratory concert will be held. With high numbers expected in the city on the wedding weekend, it's just as well London is gaining some very grand new hotels this spring. The most exciting opening is the magnificent new Renaissance hotel at St Pancras, the UK's most glamorous railway station, in March. To make your visit even more English, arrive in time for Shakespeare's birthday on April 23 (also St George's Day). The day is marked by a parade in Stratford-upon-Avon, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has recently completed a four-year, £112.8m (Dh663m) refurbishment of its theatres.

Double rooms at St Pancras Renaissance (www.stpancrasrenaisssance.com; 00 44 207 8413540) cost from £270 (Dh1,565), including taxes.