On The Road
Where To Go In 2017
The hot-right-now destinations, because the New Year is all about new horizons
Miavana on Nosy Ankao, Madagascar, Indian Ocean. Photograph courtesy of Time + Tide/Miavana
Ah, January. An unforgiving month of harsh temperatures, harsh gym regimes – and even harsher credit card bills. But those ominous clouds of deep midwinter conceal a solid sterling silver lining: a new year, of course, means new holiday allowance. And beyond that glowering January horizon, 2017 is bursting at the seams with fresh travel potential.
Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, South Korea. Photograph by Gallery Stock
Han Kang’s visionary South Korean novel The Vegetarian recently won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize at a canter, while the world’s curiosity is also turning to So-Ko thanks to the next Winter Olympics, which will be held there in just over 12 months. In April, Seoul will also celebrate the opening of its £25 million Skygarden, an ambitious raised park akin to New York’s High Line, while the city’s renowned foodie scene was rewarded in the Michelin guide in 2016: no less than 24 restaurants bagged the coveted stars (two of which – La Yeon in the Hotel Shilla and Gaon in upmarket Gangnam – received three stars).
But there’s plenty to commend beyond sprawling Seoul, too, particularly lively Busan on the south coast, a Miami-Los Angeles hybrid to Seoul’s New York. An hour’s drive north of here you’ll find an even greater gem – Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Korean peninsula. Nicknamed “The Golden City” due to its extravagant architecture, Gyeongju was the seat of the Silla dynasty for nearly 1,000 years, and comparable to the Rome of its day. Today, it’s a photographer’s dream, with even the enormous royal burial mounds and extraordinary palace paling in comparison to the colossal Seokguram Buddha, a gigantic golden protector towering over Gyeongju.
When to go: Spring, when the country is framed with cherry blossom, or winter, when you can try Pyeongchang’s world-class snowsports facilities for yourself, in advance of the forthcoming Winter Olympics.
Where to stay: Hire a car and drive from Busan up the picturesque east coast, which boasts a number of California-esque beaches. En route, book into one of Asia’s most extraordinary design hotels, the unique Haslla Art World in Gangwon-do.
What to pack
The Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge spanning the Ottawa River between Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec. Photograph by Gallery Stock
The feelgood “Trudeau Factor”, relatively weak Canadian dollar and the decision to throw open all 46 national parks for free throughout 2017 (not to mention G Adventures launching a major new “Canadian Polar Bear Experience” out of Winnipeg next year) mean you have all of the ingredients for a fun reacquaintance with the Great White North. Plus, the world’s second-largest country celebrates its 150th birthday this year. To mark the sesquicentennial anniversary itself on 1 July, there will be enormous street parties, free concerts and the nation’s “biggest birthday bash” on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Pop-ups around the capital will range from restaurants suspended 50 metres in the air to rooftop film showings, while on 2 July, celebrations will continue on Alexandra Bridge (above), which will host a giant party called the Interprovincial Picnic on the Bridge.
When to go: The sesquicentennial anniversary celebrations will come to a head on the weekend of 1-2 July – an incredible time to be in any Canadian city, particularly Ottawa.
Where to stay: Located next to Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Château Laurier is perfectly positioned for all of the capital’s festivities, and arguably the best in town.
What to pack
Papua New Guinea’s Foja Mountains. Photograph by Mr Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative
Time – and mainstream travel – forgot Papua New Guinea for centuries. But now this rugged Garden of Eden in the South Pacific is about to have its long-awaited time in the sun. A number of international tour operators are launching new trips to PNG – a pretty cluster of 600 islands some 1,500 miles off the north coast of Australia. They include World Expeditions, offering an eight-night adventure tour, centering on an ascent of Mount Wilhelm, the country’s highest peak.
If you prefer culture to climbing, a recent homegrown tourism initiative, villagehuts.com, will make it considerably easier to visit PNG’s secluded villages, volcanic fjords and rich rainforests from the new year too. (The latter are home to some of the planet’s rarest wildlife, from endangered tree kangaroos to the world’s largest butterfly, Queen Alexandra’s birdwing.) Throw in live-aboard diving trips to the electric coral reefs of the Witu Islands, plus new overnight sea-kayaking expeditions to outlying villages, and you have all of the ingredients for the trip of a lifetime.
When to go: The drier months of May to October are best, with World Expeditions’ new trip taking place in July.
Where to stay: A tropical hideaway set against virgin rainforest on the country’s eastern shoreline, the waterfront bungalows of Driftwood Resort offer an intriguing blend of genuine luxury and untouched paradise.
What to pack
Moai on Easter Island. Photograph by Mr Michael Hanson/Gallery Stock
If your New Year’s resolutions include running a marathon, then this is the way to do it. Step aside London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Boston: there are few 26.2-mile runs on the planet that can claim to be anywhere near as dramatic in terms of scenery as the Easter Island Marathon. Taking place on 4 June 2017, the course starts and finishes at the main town of Hanga Roa, but takes in all of the island’s key sites on the way including, of course, the mysterious moai statues which have been silently guarding it for centuries. The good news is that luxury British tour operator Black Tomato is offering the marathon as part of a holiday package for the first time in 2017.
When to visit: The Easter Island Marathon is on the first weekend of June, when conditions are near-perfect for long-distance running. Expect a healthy breeze with the potential for showers, and temperatures between 18ºC and 23ºC.
Where to stay: Explora Rapa Nui: a striking luxury hotel within easy reach of Easter Island’s key sites – and only 8km from the main town of Hanga Roa. Plus, the hotel has the added benefit of a fully-equipped spa for post-marathon recovery.
What to pack
Miavana. Photograph courtesy of Time + Tide/Miavana
Often overshadowed by the glowing reputations of the Seychelles and Mauritius, Madagascar nonetheless has some of the finest beaches in the Indian Ocean. And the good news is, they’re about to become a lot more accessible. In 2017, direct flights begin from Johannesburg to Nosy Be island in the far north of Madagascar, one of the nation’s most scenic and unspoilt corners. From here, it’s easy to hop the few miles around Madagascar’s sandy northern tip to Miavana, a hotly anticipated new eco-lodge which opened in December. Situated just offshore on the smaller island of Nosy Ankao, Miavana is located in its own protected area, encircled by white sand beaches with exotic wildlife adding to the appeal of world-class diving.
When to visit: Madagascar’s climate means the temperature is pretty constant all year round, though you’ll want to avoid the “maha” monsoon, which typically hits the north-east coast from November to March.
Where to stay: Miavana, the new ultra-luxury lodge off Madagascar’s north coast that we’re certain to be hearing more about in 2017.
What to pack
Alamut Valley, Iran. Photograph by Ms Julie Maudlin
With international sanctions lifted early this year and new direct flights from London, Iran’s tourism industry has been given a green light – and they’ve eagerly stamped on the accelerator in response. There are a number of major projects in the pipeline for 2017, with the Iranian government promising 125 luxury hotels within the next few years, and officially setting its sights on increasing visitor numbers to 20 million by 2025. One British operator, Wild Frontiers, is keeping pace, offering a groundbreaking new hiking holiday through Iran’s Valley of the Assassins in 2017. Highlights of the trek, which winds through parts of seldom-visited north-east Iran, include visits to the impressive castles of Alamut, Lambesar, Roodkhan and Babak, as well as time spent with the nomadic Shahsavan tribe, before finishing on the Azerbaijani border, in the vibrant market town of Tabriz. If the Iranians' plans come off, the country will become a mainstream destination within a generation – which is all the more reason to get in there now.
When to visit: Wild Frontiers is running its new Valley of the Assassins tour twice in 2017: late May and mid-September
Where to stay: En route, you’ll either stay in your own tents or as guests of the Shahsevan nomads. But if you fly in early, the good news is that Accor Hotels opened Iran’s first international hotel in Tehran a few months ago.
What to pack
Basilica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima (Saint Francis Monestary). Photograph by Mr Jason Langley/Getty Images
Forget London, Paris, New York and LA. There’s only one city which currently boasts a hat trick of restaurants in the world’s top 30 – and it’s Lima, Peru. While Peruvian food continues to make its mark around the world, the restaurant scene in the country’s capital is going stratospheric. Maido (number 13 on Restaurant magazine’s all-important list) and Astrid y Gastón (number 30) rightly attract plenty of their own plaudits, but the real star of the show is dynamic young chef Mr Virgilio Martínez Véliz and his flagship restaurant Central, which is currently number four, which means it is one place above Mr Rene Redzepi’s Noma and officially the best restaurant in Latin America.
The best news for foodies is that British Airways has started flying to Lima from London Gatwick – the first direct route from the UK since 1982. It’s a long way to travel for ceviche, however good, so consider combining your visit with a visit to Choquequirao, Machu Picchu’s sister site, before the crowds do. Chosen as one of Lonely Planet’s must-see destinations for 2017, the Inca ruins are a two-day hike from the comforts of Cusco.
When to go: The Peruvian winter (May to September) is the driest season and therefore the best time of year to travel, especially if you’re planning on hiking.
Where to stay: The brand-new Casa Republica four-star boutique hotel will open in Lima’s hip Barranco district in April 2017, channeling classic 1920s bohemian style.
What to pack
Aerial view of Portland. Photograph courtesy of travelportland.com
New flights from London to Portland, Oregon, will begin for the first time on 26 May 2017. The direct route, courtesy of Delta Airlines, will put PDX firmly on to European radars, but visitors may be surprised to discover the city is far more than the hipster haven portrayed in the TV show Portlandia. Sure, Portland has more than its fair share of quirky pop-ups, art galleries and craft breweries (in certain frothy circles, it’s known as “Beervana”), but it was also recently named “America’s City of the Future” by Lonely Planet, which described it as a “friendly, sustainable, ethical place that values good living and leisure”. It’s no accident that Nike chose to base its global headquarters here – the place crackles with innovation. Plus, this August, Portland is going to be one of the best places on the planet to view the solar eclipse. There has never been a better time to visit.
When to go: The weather is consistently warm between June and August, with a number of food and music festivals running throughout the summer months. Plus, Portland is perfectly located for the best views of the solar eclipse on 21 August 2017.
Where to stay: The Society Hotel: an edgy, newly renovated historical property in what was once a 19th-century sailors’ lodging house.
What to pack
View from the Palacio Municipal over the Plaza de la Independencia, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico. Photograph by Mr John Elk III/Getty Images
While Tulum’s crown as the go-to Mexican destination is under threat after tourists were forcibly removed from 17 hotels in the city in a dispute over land ownership this summer, a new golden child has risen: Mérida. The lively capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán, Mérida – nicknamed “The White City” – has been named the Cultural Capital of the Americas for 2017. It is a charming colonial city packed with art, music, food and festivals, and is only 22 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and its beaches. It’s also extremely rich in local culture and history, with the highest indigenous population of any major Mexican city. Approximately 60 per cent of all inhabitants are of Mayan ethnicity, a statistic played out dynamically in the city’s many art galleries, museums, theatres and restaurants. There is no better place to learn about Mayan culture. If you’re planning a visit, make time for El Castillo – or the Temple of Kukulcán – a major Mayan step-pyramid that dominates the centre of the Chichen Itza archaeological site, about 90 minutes drive outside Mérida. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, you’ll catch an otherworldly light show here.
When to visit: Aim for Mexico’s dry season, which runs from November to April. Avoid May to July if possible – humidity during these months can be stifling, while the rainy season takes over from July to October.
Where to stay: Mansión Mérida On The Park. Peaceful boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Mérida, designed in the Belle Epoque style.