How do you choose where you go on holiday? Here’s my guide on how to select the best place for you.
You’d think it was the easiest thing in the world – pick a destination, pack your bags and off you go. But all too often those eagerly awaited trips can often turn out to be disappointing at best or disastrous at worst. Over the many years I have travelled for work and pleasure – I’ve realized there is a bit of an art of choosing where to travel to.
It sounds obvious but if you are travelling long-haul then do remember to check what season your chosen destination will be in during the time of your trip. If you are travelling to the Southern Hemisphere – which includes Australia, New Zealand, most of Latin America and the southern parts of Africa – then the seasons are reversed. Most of us want to travel during the warm, dry periods, which means travelling to these countries during our winter.
But here’s something to factor in. There’s actually something magical about seeing a destination out of its high season period. Take monsoon season in India, for instance – once a no no for travellers – it has become something of a draw for those interested in spa breaks, specifically Ayurvedic remedies. Book into the beautifully peaceful Ananda in the foothills of the Himalayas (anandaspa.com) – open year round. It offers some of the most blissful therapies steeped in the traditions of traditional Indian therapies mixed with the best of contemporary Western approaches. So soul stirring that it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing outside.
The Caribbean is another area to consider out of season. The most popular time to travel to the islands is over the Christmas period. Instead, think of touching down during June or July. This is when the so-called rainy season is just beginning and you can access lower prices for flights and hotels and make the most of the still generally good weather. Temperatures do not vary that much from the ‘summer’ months and the rain is, on the whole, merely short, sharp showers in the late afternoon and evening (in fact, a relief to many). To minimize the chance of heavy rains and high winds, travel to the northern parts of the Caribbean, further away from the so-called hurricane belt. My money is on Peter Island Resort & Spa, in the British Virgin Islands, one of the most heavenly places I have ever visited and newly revamped for this year (peterisland.com). The perfect excuse to take a trip back!
Nearer to home is Venice. It is a nightmare during our summer months, when it is clogged with tourists, too hot and overpriced. Having lived there many years ago, I found that the city was at its best in the winter months of January and February and I have always revisited around then. Fog shrouds the canals and narrow streets, making every corner mysterious and evocative. The tourists are gone and there are no queues for the many wonderful churches, galleries and piazzas. It’s utterly romantic. My ultimate place to stay is the Aman Canal Grande (amanresorts.com), carved out of a 14th century palazzo and boasting seriously impressive interiors. (Well, if George Clooney liked it…)
A good way of getting a feel for a new destination coming up is to keep an eye out for a slew of new openings. The big brands often follow each other – so it’s a sure fire way of seeing what’s new on the radar. Take Porto Heli in Greece’s Peloponnese Peninsula (portohelicollection.com). A few years ago, this area was largely undiscovered and under-developed. It now boasts a Nikki Beach and a standout Amanzoe by Aman, with a Chedi Hotel soon to open. It’s heavyweight luxury. Mexico’s Riviera Maya – a few miles south of Cancun – is another case in point. Developed over the past ten years – from what was a sleepy stretch of coastline – it is now well-established as a luxury destination, with many of the big hotel brands in situ – think Viceroy, Four Seasons, Fairmont and Mandarin Oriental.
New openings will also offer special discounts during their soft opening phase. This ensures rooms are filled and that the word gets out before the brand properly hooks into tour operators. It’s vital to create a buzz during the first few months when a property is getting up and running. Have a favourite hotel brand? Then sign up to their newsletters or periodically check on their website where they will often detail upcoming openings. On my radar this year is the new Cotton House Barcelona from Marriot’s Autograph Collection, built out of a 19th century building, due to open in February (mariott.co.uk) and Tri in Sri Lanka, due to open this summer. It will be one of the country’s first contemporary, sustainable luxury design hotels on the banks of Lake Koggala (trilanka.com).
KNOWLEDGE IS KEY
The secret to a successful holiday means putting in a bit of leg-work beforehand. Consider what you like doing in your downtime. There’s no point being seduced by glossy pictures of exotic beaches in the Maldives, if, in reality, you don’t like sitting in the sun for too long. If you enjoy cultural days out, instead, make sure you are going to an area that can offer this.
Also double check on whether there are any visa or immunization requirements for where you are planning to go. These can often take months to sort out and some immunisations – such as for Japanese Encephalitis – require doses spaced out over several months. Always check on the Foreign Travel Advice website if going further afield or to areas of potential danger or conflict (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice).
Ultimately, many hotels want you to return so if you have found a favourite, let them know. It’s often worth getting to know the manager a little while you are there and dropping him or her a line when you return. They may not be able to offer you a discount but they might be swayed to offer a room upgrade or early check-in. After all, it’s often the little things that count…