Killian Fox picks the best reasons to travel this summer and fall, from gorilla-spotting in Rwanda to surfing in El Salvador.
The best destinations before the warm weather is gone again
Rwanda is rich in natural beauty - the gorilla forests in Parc National des Volcans, the picturesque shores of Lake Kivu - but as a tourist destination one doesn't normally associate it with great luxury. But times are changing. Thanks to an influx of foreign investment in recent years, a series of five-star hotels and multi-million-dollar lodges are opening their doors - and helipads - to tourists seeking a more comfortable way of experiencing the country's various attractions.
The exclusive Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, the most luxurious in the area, provides an elegant base from which to explore Parc National des Volcans. The Cormoran lodge opened in October and offers a stunning view over Lake Kivu and the live Nyiragongo volcano. The highlight, however, is the new Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Built with an investment from Dubai World Africa, it provides stylish and spacious accommodation in chalets scattered around a tea plantation. From here, you can take canopy walks that climb 50 metres over one of the largest remaining cloud forests in Africa. The best time to visit is next month, in the middle of the dry season.
Double rooms with full board at Nyungwe Forest Lodge (www.nyungweforestlodge.com; 00 2741 407 1000) cost from US$175 (Dh643) per person, per night. Double rooms at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (www.governorscamp.com; 00 254 202 73 4000) in high season cost from $679 (Dh2,494) per person, per night, with full board. Double rooms at Cormoran Lodge (www.cormoranlodge.com; 00 250 728 60 15 15) cost from $180 (Dh660) per night, including taxes.
This month, amid scenes of jubilation, South Sudan finally gained its independence from the northern Sudanese government in Khartoum. With decades of civil war now behind it, this remote and fascinating country is opening itself up to the world. It will be years before infrastructure is developed enough to cope with mainstream tourism.
Adventurous travellers, however, will thrill at the prospect of being one of the first to visit its unexplored areas of natural beauty. Boma National Park, on the Ethiopian border, has received little attention or care since its designation in 1986 but is believed to contain large numbers of lions, elephants, giraffes and ostriches, as well as more than 1.3 million white-eared kob (whose movements around the park constitute one of the world's largest wildlife migrations). Great natural riches are also to be found in the vast Sudd wetland formed by the White Nile and in the Southern National Park near the border with Congo. No less fascinating is the opportunity to watch the world's youngest country coming to terms with its newfound nationhood.
The French Alps
Getting fit and enjoying a family holiday are activities that seem like they don't belong in the same sentence, but here is proof to the contrary. Adventures in the Alps, a British company, runs fitness retreats throughout the year in the picturesque Aravis Valley near the French ski resort of La Clusaz, about an hour from Geneva airport.
Next month, one of Britain's most successful sporting stars, Sally Gunnell, an Olympic gold medallist in the 400m hurdles, will be leading a week-long retreat at the company's luxury chalet, les Hirondelles. A mother of three who champions health and fitness in young people, Gunnell will be getting family members of all ages enthusiastic about mountain biking, kayaking, zip-wiring and a range of other activities.
But it's not all about dashing around in the great outdoors - the holiday also includes hearty Alpine food, children's entertainment, a nanny for under-fours and, for the adults, a spa with a hot tub, sauna and massage.
The week-long, full-board retreat costs from £850 (Dh5,110) per adult and £600 (Dh3,607) per child, including taxes. Call 00 44 207 193 7660 or visit www.adventuresinthealps.com or.
If any major concert venue is guaranteed to have exceptional acoustics, it's the stunning new Music Hall in Helsinki. Until now, the city's premier destination for classical music has been Finlandia Hall, which for decades has been criticised for its sub-par sound. All that is set to change when its €140m (Dh738) replacement opens on August 31. Sibellius, Finland's national composer, will never have sounded so good: the 1,700-seat Music Hall was designed in collaboration with the world-class acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, famous for his work on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Tickets for the grand opening will be hard to come by, but it takes place right in the middle of the annual Helsinki Festival (August 19 to September 4), and is followed by two inaugural concerts on September 1 and 2, so culture-seeking visitors to the Finnish capital around this time will not go away disappointed.
Visit www.musiikkitalo.fi/web/en/ for tickets to Music Hall events.
Kurdistan and eastern Turkey
Due to the troubles in Iraq in recent years, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country does not crop up regularly on tourist itineraries, but this beautiful and storied region, which has enjoyed greater stability than the rest of Iraq, is beginning to draw more adventurous travellers to its deep gorges and dramatic citadels.
Geographic Expeditions is offering a 21-day voyage through Kurdistan and eastern Turkey, departing on September 7. It begins with two days in Erbil, Kurdistan's burgeoning capital, before setting off along the historic Hamilton Road, stopping at the site of the Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king, Darius III, and at Lalish, considered by the local Yezidi people to be the birthplace of the universe. On day 11, the tour crosses into Turkey to explore the grassy steppes and ancient mosques of Anatolia, another off-the-beaten-track part of the world, before concluding in Istanbul.
A 21-day tour of Kurdistan and eastern Turkey costs from $9,125 (Dh33,511), including taxes. For more details, visit www.geoex.com or call 00 1 415 922 0448)
New Zealand co-hosted and won the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 but they have been denied the Webb Ellis trophy ever since. This year, the All Black team, currently ranked No 1 in the world, will be hoping for a repeat of 1987 as they prepare to host the competition for a second time. The Rugby World Cup has grown into one of the largest sporting events in the world, with more than two million tickets sold in 2007, and this year's tournament promises great things. The knock-out stages begin in October, with the final scheduled for the 23rd, but dedicated rugby fans won't want to miss the pool stage, which kicks off on September 9 in Auckland as the hosts play Tonga. The tournament is spread over both islands and offers an excellent reason to soak up some of New Zealand's extraordinary natural beauty, particularly evident in spring, when the blossoms are out.
Tickets for the Rugby World Cup are available from http://tickets.rugbyworldcup.com/
Beijing and Shanghai
It used to take nearly 10 hours to travel to Shanghai from Beijing by train. Now, with the completion of a ¥215bn (Dh121bn) high-speed rail link between the two cities, the 1,300km journey is being halved to less than five hours. This means you can catch the opening of the Shanghai International Arts Festival on September 27, then zip across to Beijing to attend its exciting new Design Week from September 28 to October 3, and then zoom back to Shanghai for more of the Arts Festival, which continues until October 27 and features live music, dance, theatre and art exhibitions across the city.
The highlight of Beijing Design Week, meanwhile, promises to be a large-scale installation mounted in Tiananmen Square during China's national day celebrations on October 1. There are some design highlights en route as well: as you whizz between the cities at 300km per hour, the new train takes you across the two longest bridges in the world.
It's hard to think of a more perfect escape from the September heat than a trip to the far north of Norway, with its dramatic glaciers and deep, ice-cold fjords. The cruise company Hurtigruten is offering a new 13-day tour of the country's northernmost regions starting in Longyearbyen in the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. This Arctic region is home to polar bears and walruses, and the cruise takes you to remote research stations and the spectacular Kongsbreen ("king's glacier").
A two-day voyage across the Barents Sea on the well-appointed MS Fram carries you to mainland Europe's most northerly point, the dramatic and barren North Cape, rising 300 metres above the icy waters. From there, you explore fjords and fishing villages en route to Bergen. The trip ends here, but it's well worth spending a few extra days in this delightful, picturesque city, known as Norway's cultural capital.
A 13-day cruise costs from £3,251 (Dh19,158) per person, including taxes and 11 nights' full board on the ship, one night (pre-cruise) in a hotel with breakfast, and flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen. International airfare is not included. For more information, visit www.hurtigruten.co.uk or call 0844 448 7601.
It doesn't have the associations of Hawaii, California or Australia, but El Salvador quietly offers one of the finest surfing coastlines in the world, with 300km of sandy beaches and perfect Pacific waves. In October, the country will get the recognition it deserves when it hosts its first surfing world championship, the ISA World Masters.
Punta Roca, a surfing resort in the city of La Libertad, is the spot that has been chosen for the event, which runs from October 16 to 23, when forecasters believe conditions will be most favourable. Waves can exceed four metres at Punta Roca and extend for nearly 500, and enthusiasts revere the resort for its perfect right point-break. For those who prefer to stay on the beach and watch without getting their feet wet, the event promises plenty of spectacle, as top surfers from more than 30 countries will be here to show off their wave-riding skills.
Visit www.isasurf.org for details.
October marks 200 years since the birth of Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer who was feted throughout Europe in the 19th century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. The occasion has prompted year-long birthday celebrations, dubbed "Lisztomania" in reference to the feverish adulation he received from fans during his lifetime.
Special performances of his work are being held all over the world, but no place will do it better than Budapest, the Hungarian capital. On October 22, Liszt's actual birthday, Christus, his magnificent three-hour oratorio, will be performed at St Stephen's Basilica. This provides an excellent excuse to spend some time in this most romantic of European cities. Drop by the Franz Liszt Commemorative Museum at the Budapest Academy of Music to see the bicentennial exhibition, then spend time enjoying the city's stunning architecture and vibrant cultural scene. Dedicated Liszt fans may want to visit Raiding, his birthplace, which will also host a festival of his work during his birthday week.
For more details of Liszt concerts, visit www.budapestconcerts.com
Get on your bike. Explore, a British adventure travel company, is running two-week cycling tours of Vietnam from October through to March, from the capital, Hanoi, in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. After finding your feet in Hanoi, the tour will explore the villages of the Red River Delta and then pause for a cruise around the beautiful islands of Ha Long Bay. Heading south by train, the group will then visit the imperial city of Hue, with its pagodas, tombs and spectacular citadel.
Other highlights include a coastal bike ride along the Hai Van Pass ("pass of the ocean clouds") and a stopover at the ancient sea port of Hoi An. Before arriving in Ho Chin Minh City, there will be a chance to relax on the sandy beaches of Nha Trang and sample fresh seafood. If you haven't ridden on two wheels recently, fear not: this cycle tour is graded easy, covering 253km in nine days, with three days left free. All in all, an excellent way to take in the delights of Vietnam.
Cycling in Vietnam costs from £1,063 (Dh6,264) including taxes. International airfare is not included. Visit www.explore.co.uk or call 00 44 845 868 7432 to book.
This year spells the end of the legendary chef Ferran Adrià's El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia - it shuts its doors next week and will reopen as a culinary academy in 2014. In spite of this, northern Spain continues to be, quite literally, a world-beating destination for discerning foodies - in Restaurant magazine's latest poll of the world's restaurants, three of the Top 10 were located on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees.
To experience all three in one trip, begin at the town of San Sebastian on Spain's north-west coast. Here you will find Arzak, No 8 on the list (www.arzak.es; 00 34 943 278 465), and, in nearby Errenteria, Mugaritz (www.mugaritz.com; 00 34 943 522 455), where a "techno-emotional" approach to fine dining has earned Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz the No 3 spot. Then progress east through Basque Country and into Catalonia where, in the beautiful riverside town of Girona, you will find restaurant No 2: El Celler de Can Roca (www.cellercanroca.com; 00 34 97 222 21 57). In an old, unassuming farmhouse on the outskirts of town, the three Roca brothers blend modernist and traditional cuisine to spellbinding effect. A more mouth-watering gastro-tour is hard to conceive of.