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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Your Summer travel guide for 2018

From Swaziland to French Polynesia, here's our seasonal look at the next four months of travel

Temple of Hera Lacinia, or Juno Lacinia in Sicily, Italy. Courtesy Butterfield & Robinson
Temple of Hera Lacinia, or Juno Lacinia in Sicily, Italy. Courtesy Butterfield & Robinson

June

Sicily, Italy (See main picture) In eastern Sicily, a simple life of olive groves and picturesque villages takes place under the looming shadow of Mount Etna, but there’s also grandeur in the shadow of Europe’s most notorious volcano. The town of Syracuse, once home of Archimedes, brims with Ancient Roman and Greek history, and has extensive archaeological ruins in situ as well as a grand position jutting out into the sea. Elsewhere, there are Neolithic catacombs, family-run almond farms and Michelin-starred restaurants in Ragusa to enjoy.

Butterfield & Robinson shows off the best of eastern Sicily in its luxury walking tours. These include the hike up Mount Etna, plus gentler strolls through pine forests, past waterfalls and caves, and along cliff tops. Accommodation is in plush but character-packed hotels, with prices for the seven-day trip starting from US$6,995 (Dh25,694).

Flydubai launches a direct route from Dubai to Catania on June 13, with returns flights costing from Dh1,545

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Thessaloniki, Greece

The Rotunda in Thessaloniki, Greece. Courtesy Thessaloniki Tourism Organization
The Rotunda in Thessaloniki, Greece. Courtesy Thessaloniki Tourism Organization

The Greek islands tend to get all the attention, but the June weather in northern Greece – warm, but fresh enough not to stifle – tends to be nigh-on perfect.

Culture-heavy Thessaloniki is the hub city here, with the Archaeological Museum hosting vast troves of treasures from various historical eras, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture focusing on more than 3,000 artefacts from the Byzantine period. Centuries-old city walls, a smattering of Roman monuments and the birthplace of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, add to the mix. Thessaloniki is also the gateway to the marvellous Halkidiki Peninsula – a getaway of beach resorts, thermal baths and rugged pine forests. The best beaches are on the Kassandra sub-peninsula.

Flights from Dubai to Thessaloniki with flydubai launch on June 15. Fares cost from Dh1,545 return. Once there, the Met Hotel is the plum option for style-seekers. Rooms swathed in dark tropical timber, with huge windows looking out to sea, are complemented by fine art photography, sculptures and video art in the public areas. Suites cost from €216 (Dh967)

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Cambridge, England

French Art Gallery at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, UK. Photo by Martin Bond
French Art Gallery at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, UK. Photo by Martin Bond

The dream vision of hallowed academia doesn’t get much more real than in Cambridge, where the 31 colleges of Britain’s most prestigious university dominate. This makes, on the surface, for a hugely impressive collection of buildings, grand chapels, impeccable libraries and dreamy private courtyards. But it’s more than that – it’s a city that is happily bookish, has several small classical-music concerts per night and buys into centuries of student quirks and self-mythology. Most colleges are open to visitors, but to bring them to life and point out the idiosyncrasies, a knowledgeable guide is a good idea. The tourist office can link up blue-badge guides with private groups, from £101 (Dh518) for two hours, with tours tailored to interests. The stock itineraries, though, include an in-depth look at the art and Egyptian treasures in the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the glorious stained-glass, fan-vaulted roof and complex multi-monarch history of the King’s College Chapel.

Emirates launches direct flights to London Stansted Airport, which is half an hour from Cambridge, on June 8. Return fares cost from Dh2,495. Double rooms at the arty Hotel Felix – a grand, 19th-century former surgeon’s house to the north-west of the city centre – cost from £135 (Dh693)

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July

The Philadelphia Museum of Art crowns the city’s culturally rich Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The mile-long stretch is home to many parks, public works of art and museums, including Swann Memorial Fountain, the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Sister Cities Park and many other attractions. C. Kao / Visit Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Museum of Art crowns the city’s culturally rich Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The mile-long stretch is home to many parks, public works of art and museums, including Swann Memorial Fountain, the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Sister Cities Park and many other attractions. C. Kao / Visit Philadelphia

Philadelphia, US

Many US cities burst into a fine display of pageantry on July 4, but Philadelphia is the true home of Independence Day. This hugely underrated city between New York and Washington is where the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed. The key sites from this period in the late 18th century, when Philly was the centre of US political power, are clustered in the Independence National Historical Park. But Philadelphia is a major centre for art as well as old documents. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation are as impressive a one-two art hit as can be found anywhere on earth. There’s also the incredible extensive Mural Arts programme, which has turned the city into a massive canvas since the 1980s.

To explore the city with seriously knowledgeable guides, Context Travel runs several expert-led walking tours. Private tours cost from $360 (Dh1,312) for three hours, and take deep dives into subjects such as street art and Philly’s most famous son, Benjamin Franklin.

Emirates launches direct flights to Newark, New Jersey, in June. Fares cost from Dh6,575 return. Philadelphia is about 90 minutes away from Newark airport – expect to pay about $290 (Dh1,065) for a taxi through Ridebooker. Once in Philly, the refined, elegant Rittenhouse is the city’s top hotel, with rooms costing from $522 (Dh1,917) in July.

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Svalbard, Norway

Polar bear in Svalbard, Norway. Photo by Shannon Wild
Polar bear in Svalbard, Norway. Photo by Shannon Wild

Norway’s mainland may be dramatic and increasingly cold, but Svalbard is on another level. Deep inside the Arctic Circle, the Spitsbergen archipelago has a fierce tundral landscape that a few bright flowers dare to poke through during the never-dark heights of summer. Otherwise, it’s jagged fjords, uncompromisingly powerful mountains, waterfalls bursting through walls of ice, dazzling glaciers, and a collection of hardy wildlife.

And it’s the creatures of the far north that, realistically, most visitors come to see. Gaggles of puffins, lumbering walruses and prowling Arctic foxes are topped off by the apex predator – the magnificent polar bear. Zipping through the fjords in search of the great white carnivore is what heading this far north is about – and in July, there’s no shortage of daylight in which to find them.

Using small group expedition ships, Natural World Safaris runs nine- to 11-day cruises around Svalbard, focused on the wildlife, but also venturing out into the most spectacular landscapes. Tickets cost from £6,695 (Dh34,335). Expect to pay about Dh4,475 for flights from Dubai to Longyearbyen, via Oslo, with Emirates and Scandinavian Airlines

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Chile

Lake Pehoé in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Juan Ernesto Jaegger / Fundación Imagen de Chile
Lake Pehoé in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Juan Ernesto Jaegger / Fundación Imagen de Chile

Long, thin Chile changes dramatically depending on where you are in the country. The capital, Santiago, has distinct European tinges, although the pre-Columbian Museum explores life before the Spanish explorers arrived. Head north, meanwhile, and you hit the Atacama Desert, where it often doesn’t rain for years on end. That might sound dull, but it’s not – the Atacama comes with some astonishing landscapes, salt pans and steepling volcanoes. The southern end of the country, Patagonia, is home to giant glaciers, astonishingly pretty snow-covered mountains and lakes filled with icebergs. Travelling through them on a Zodiac boat is an unforgettable, if somewhat chilly, experience.

Emirates launches its route to Santiago from Dubai on July 5, with returns from Dh6,185. Lightfoot Travel has a 15-day Classic Chile holiday, starting in Santiago, before moving on to the Atacama, Lake District and Patagonia. It includes higher end, boutique-style accommodation and internal flights, and costs from $7,100 (Dh26,080) per person

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August

Malaysian Borneo

Sepilok Orangutans Jollence Lee / Tourism Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutans Jollence Lee / Tourism Malaysia

If you want to find orangutans in the jungles of Borneo without getting thoroughly drenched, August is as good a time as any to do it. The Malaysian state of Sabah, on Borneo’s far northern tip, is arguably the most accessible place to see the big orange primates, with main city Kota Kinabalu boasting a glut of higher-end accommodation and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, right next to the Sun Bear Sanctuary. The latter provides a safe habitat for the world’s smallest bear. For wilder spotting, the Kinabatangan River is a safe bet. Here, boat trips pass mangrove systems, while proboscis monkeys swing from the trees and rare hornbills can be spotted on the banks. Pygmy elephants and wild orangutans sometimes make an appearance, too.

Scott Dunn offers a 14-night Malaysia itinerary aimed at families that spends six nights in Sabah – spread between the Sheraton resort in Kota Kinabalu and two jungle lodges – before heading to Kuala Lumpur for two nights at the Four Seasons on the island of Langkawi for the last six nights. Prices start from £4,700 (Dh24,063) per person. Malaysia Airlines flies from Dubai to Kota Kinabalu, via Kuala Lumpur, from Dh3,525 return.

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Broome, Australia

A collection of Broome pearls being sorted in Broome, Western Australia. Courtesy Tourism Western Australia
A collection of Broome pearls being sorted in Broome, Western Australia. Courtesy Tourism Western Australia

Broome feels different to most resort towns, and that’s largely because it’s on its own, teetering on the edge of the vast Australian outback, with no settlements of any size for hundreds of kilometres in any direction.

The 22-kilometre-long Cable Beach, which is driven along by four-wheel-drive vehicles and has humungous tides, is the star attraction here – especially during August, the heart of the dry season. But there are also unexpected doses of history and Asian influence that come from the town’s position as the centre of the South Sea pearling trade. To see how pearls are cultivated, the A$395 (Dh1,096) helicopter trip to the Willie Creek Pearl Farm is both fascinating and spectacular.

Broome can also be a staging post for four-wheel-drive adventures into the rugged Kimberley region, but there are plenty of activities to try out around the town itself. These include Broome Hovercraft Tours, which, for A$196 (Dh544) will take you in a hovercraft over the vast tidal flats to see ancient dinosaur footprints embedded in the red rocks.

Flights from Abu Dhabi to Broome, via Perth, cost from Dh8,025 return with Etihad, code-sharing with Virgin Australia from Perth to Broome. The Pearle at Cable Beach offers villas with private pools, wooden decks and tropical gardens from A$4,690 (Dh13,024) a week.

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French Polynesia

A man pulls a boat off the Toau atoll, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Tahiti in the Tuamotu Archipelago in the French Polynesia. AFP
A man pulls a boat off the Toau atoll, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from Tahiti in the Tuamotu Archipelago in the French Polynesia. AFP

Bora Bora and Tahiti ooze the South Pacific island paradise archetype, and they’re both in French Polynesia, along with several other jaw-droppingly special islands. These include Fakarava, where the ecosystem diversity is so impressive it has been named a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Divers get to enjoy massive schools of tropical fish and weird-looking cauliflower coral.

Rangiroa steps things up a notch with its enormous lagoon, filled with rays and dolphins – it’s a good bet for drift snorkelling and glass-bottomed boat tours. Tahaa is more white sand beaches and palm trees – although you can visit the vanilla plantations inland, too. And Huahine offers something different – a lush interior full of gorgeously colourful flowers and archaeological sites dating back to the early years of human settlement. In this part of the world, August is the (relatively) dry season, when you’re more likely to get bright, sunny days and better visibility.

Windstar Cruises offers a range of small-ship, personalised cruises in French Polynesia, such as an 11-night Tahiti and the Tuamotu Islands cruise that drops by at all the islands mentioned above for from $7,799 (Dh28,646) per person. Emirates flies from Dubai, via Australia or New Zealand, code-sharing with Air Tahiti Nui on to Papeete, from Dh15,335 return

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September

Swaziland

Ezulwini Valley in Swaziland. Photo by Jonathan Ramael
Ezulwini Valley in Swaziland. Photo by Jonathan Ramael

Swaziland offers an altogether gentler take on southern Africa. Its game reserves pride themselves on having animals that won’t eat you. Its mountainside accommodation tends to be relaxed and lovingly run rather than uptight and soulless. And the National Museum tells a fascinating tale of how the Swazi people came to be where they are.

On September 6, however, Swaziland should be considerably livelier than normal – it’s the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. The Ezulwini Valley, Swaziland’s royal heartland, is the place to be – expect thousands of leopard-skin-clad warriors and military parades. To celebrate, the king has decreed that the country will be renamed eSwatini.

The Swazi capital, Mbabane, is about 350km east of Johannesburg airport. Etihad flies to Johannesburg from Abu Dhabi from Dh2,845 return. The best bet is to combine Swaziland with South Africa – Mahlatini offers a 19-day self-drive trip through kwaZulu-Natal and the Kruger National Park, stopping for two days at Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge in Swaziland, from £5,000 (Dh25,600) per person. This includes flights from Dubai and some of South Africa’s most spectacular accommodation. For further information on Swaziland, visit www.thekingdomofswaziland.com

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Bali, Indonesia

Como Penthouse Pool at Como Uma Canggu in Bali, Indonesia. Courtesy Como Uma Canggu
Como Penthouse Pool at Como Uma Canggu in Bali, Indonesia. Courtesy Como Uma Canggu

There’s no warm and cold in Bali, just wet and dry. And in September, you’re far less likely to suffer torrential downpours. The island has become Indonesia’s premier holiday destination, and the vibe changes depending on which part of the island you go to. Seminyak and Nusa Dua in the south have a sanitised, resort-heavy feel, while Kuta just to the north is mass-market and rowdy.

The up-and-coming area, for beach-based holidays at least, is Canggu, which has been popular with expats for a while, but is now getting big-name luxury resorts opening by the black sand beaches.

Bali doesn’t have to be a beach break, though. In the centre, Ubud is all about temples, cultural performances, spa retreats and monkey-filled forests, while the less-visited northern half has mountains and volcanoes to climb.

The Como Uma Canggu is next to one of Bali’s best surf breaks. The design combines Japanese and Italian ideas, the 115-metre lagoon pool is an eye-catcher, and the spa has two Pilates and two yoga studios. Expect to pay 29,000,000 rupiah (Dh7,675) per week. Emirates flies from Dubai to Bali from Dh2,765 return

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Scotland, UK

V&A Dundee in Scotland, UK. Photo by Ross Fraser McLean
V&A Dundee in Scotland, UK. Photo by Ross Fraser McLean

The end of summer is an idyllic time to see Scotland – Glasgow and the capital Edinburgh can be combined with a road trip around the highlands and islands with little to worry about other than the infamous midges. But this September, there’s a new contender for attention. The V&A Dundee will focus on Scotland’s design heritage – from Charles Rennie Mackintosh tables to D C Thomson comic strips. The building is a stunner in its own right, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to look like the looming cliffs you might see elsewhere on the circuit of the country. It opens on September 15.

Artisans of Leisure offer private, chauffeured 10-day tours of Scotland, with guided walks in Edinburgh, monster-hunting on Loch Ness, highland drives and castle stays, from $12,650 (Dh46,467). Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Edinburgh, until the route ends on September 30, from Dh3,155 return; Emirates will fly from Dubai to Edinburgh from October 1, and also flies from Dubai to Glasgow from Dh2,965

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