A World of Ideas

Now is the perfect time to start pondering your travels for the year ahead. To assist, we’ve gazed into the crystal ball and come up with a guide to the places worth exploring in 2015. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines…

Mons, Belgium

Named one of Europe’s 2015 Capitals of Culture, Mons is readyto celebrate. Street art will dot the city and a year-long round of music, fashion and literary events is planned. The museum of fine art, BAM, has been revamped and will house a major Vincent Van Gogh exhibition from January to May.

Thanks to its university, Mons has always had a lively atmosphere. Its cafes and bars are buzzing on weekends. Head to Grand Place (the main square), Marché aux Herbes or Rue d’Havré for bar-hopping and people-gazing.

More recently, the city has welcomed an increasing number of hip eateries. Try La Verr’hier Trendy Bar for cocktails under chandeliers, or the kitschy-but-cool diner L’Impératif’ment Belge for garlic pork, marinated herring and other hearty fare.

Mons’s historic Belfry District is presided over by the 87-metre belfry, reopening to visitors in 2015, and graced by the town’s oldest building, the 1051 Chapel St-Calixte. It centres on the aforementioned Grand Place. Stay under the belfry’s shadow at the youth hostel Auberge du Beffroi, or head to four-star Hotel Dream, which is housed in a former convent.

Star Treks

Give your hiking boots a work-out on some of the world’s best walking routes.

Tell people you’re heading to Europe to hike the Appalachian Trail — a 3500-kilometre hiking route in the eastern United States that extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine’s Mount Katahdin — and they might give you a kindly pat on the head. But you’ll be a step ahead of them.

Thanks to geological evidence showing that areas of western Europe and Africa are part of the same ancient Pangean mountain range as the Appalachians, the International Appalachian Trail is growing apace. Adding to IAT routes in Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and France is the new chapter in Portugal.

Head to Castelo Branco by train to get stuck into the stunning Naturtejo Geopark. Hiking past giant fossils embedded in rocks, medieval castles, heritage villages and gardens promises to be pretty awe-inspiring, so get there quick before anyone else catches on.

Adrenaline

For a shorter walk, cross the border to Spain’s Caminito del Rey, which reopens early this year down south in Málaga.

The path clings to the side of the Guadalhorce River gorge, and has been illegal to walk since its closure in 2000 due to large chunks of it being missing. But now four kilometres of walkway have been restored, and the delights of having just a narrow slab of concrete between you and a sheer, 100-metre drop are yours for free — at least for the first three months. Take plenty of water for the scorching Andalucian climes… and possibly a spare pair of undies.

Laid-back

Take a more leisurely pace on California’s Mendocino Coast, north of San Francisco, which is having a moment right now. President Obama has declared Point Arena’sStornetta Public Lands a part of the California Coastal National Monument, and hiking up them gives you a dramatic view of the coastline. Point Arena also boasts the Pacific Coast’s tallest lighthouse, and there’s whale spotting from December to April. For a laid-back break, you can’t beat the bohemian vibe of Mendocino, although the walks around its bays can get quite busy in peak season.

Old school

The Lycian Way around southern Turkey’s coastline is another stunner. There’s not a dud section along the 509-kilometre trail from Fethiye to Antalya, which winds through forests, up and down cliffs and in and out of secluded bays. For sheer drama and historic oomph, don’t miss the section near the ancient city of Myra, with its large amphitheatre and tombs cut into the rock face. Climb Mount Olympos en route and enjoy views of the Mediterranean Sea.Camp along the way (no permission is needed) or stay in pensions around the larger towns.

Cultural

For something more challenging — and an opportunity to absorb a totally different culture — there’s Baekdu-daegan mountain trail in South Korea. Local interest in the route has been growing for years, and now international travellers are getting in on the action. It runs all the way from the holy mountain Cheonwang-bong in the south to Baekdu-san, a peak on the North Korea/China border.

Buddhist, Taoist and Shamanic temples and monasteries have been built there over the centuries due to the belief that a sacred life force, or gi, runs along the ridge. The route in South Korea takes about two months to walk, but Hike Korea offers shorter guided treks.

Scenic

Closer to home, hikers and nature-lovers can combine several awe-inspiring guided walks with sailing on the new Wineglass Bay Sail Walk. Over a four- or six-day itinerary, walkers can explore Maria Island, Schouten Island, Cooks (or Bryans) Beach and Wineglass Bay, all reached on the luxurious 23-metre Lady Eugenie yacht, which doubles as accommodation.

There is a maximum of 10 guests in five cabins, all with air-conditioning, private bathrooms and showers. 

Wet and wild

A watery adventure for every season.

Summer
The Philippines has a reputation as one of the world’s great dive locations. And the Palawan group of islands in the country’s south-west is one of the least-explored areas. Aquatic encounters with shipwrecks, turtles, dugongs and the occasional whale shark are on the menu here. 

Autumn
While the view down into the Grand Canyon is spectacular, the experience from below is just as incredible. Kayak down the Colorado River surrounded by the towering walls of the canyon, or turn up the adrenaline with whitewater rafting. Visit during autumn (the northern spring), when the weather is balmy.

Winter
If you’re not satisfied with watching whales on their northern migration from a boat, a Sunshine Coast company is offering one better: swimming with humpbacks. The three-hour tour is strictly on the whales’ terms, so there’s no guarantee they will appear: but if they do, it could be the experience of a lifetime.

Spring
Explore all that New Zealand’s Bay of Islands has to offer, including Cape Brett and Urupukapuka Island, on a three-day/two-night sailing tour. All aboard the Manawanui, a 22-metre ketch that sleeps a maximum 10.

Daman and Diu, India

Where are these places? If you don’t know now, you soon will, with Daman and Diu set to become India’s new Goa. The joint former Portuguese territories on India’s north-west coast are tiny but pack in beaches, colonial heritage and a mix of Gujarati, Hindi and Portuguese culture.

The pair united with India in 1961 as a joint union territory with Goa. Now there are plans to improve infrastructure, repair buildings and create a golf course and science centre.

A laid-back port town that sits on a petite 12.5 kilometres of coconut-draped coastline, Daman is dominated by the massive Moti Daman Fort, now being restored, and Portuguese-era churches such as the Basilica of Bom Jesus (Manguerial Road).

Jampore Beach has serene sands and safe swimming waters. Sleep and play at Mirasol Water Park and Resort, where the lush garden has been used as a Bollywood filming location. Diu is an island attached to the mainland by bridge. The best sands are at Ghoghla Beach, where you can sail, windsurf, spot dolphins and stay at Sugati Beach Resort.

Check out the Diu Museum, located inside the old St Thomas’ Church, and scoff down seafood at O’Coqueiro Music Garden Restaurant (Firangiwada Rd).

Rooms at the top

Virgin Hotels, Chicago, US
The historic Art Deco Dearborn Bank building off Chicago’s busy Michigan Avenue has undergone the Sir Richard Branson treatment and will host guests from early January. Re-imagined chambers with sleeping lounges and dressing-rooms are separated by sliding doors complete with a peephole.

LaGare Hotel, Milan, Italy
The latest recruit to the luxury MGallery Collection, this hotel in the Porta Garibaldi nightlife district features guest rooms in masculine monochrome and a roof garden that’s sure to become the toast of the town when it opens in February. 

Z Shoreditch, London, UK
The Z Hotel group continues its expansion with the 111-room boutique Z Shoreditch in London’s East End set to open in March. The group offers ‘concentrated style’ with out-of-town prices. Its latest hotel is within The Bower redevelopment on Old Street and will feature retail, dining and bars. 

Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, France
This neoclassical wonder has withstood the French Revolution, the reign of Napoleon and two world wars, and will reopen in 2015 as one of the most elegant hotels in Paris. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has been called in to design two suites, which will give the grand 1758 building a decidedly modern edge. 

Four Seasons, Casablanca, Morocco
It will certainly be the beginning of a beautiful friendship when this avant-garde beachfront hotel opens its doors in early 2015. Ornate open terraces with elaborate Arabic architecture will feature alongside classic French interiors that stay true to the city's dual heritage. 

The Grand Mansion, Nanjing, China
Located in the shadows of the historic Presidential Palace, this hotel is the latest recruit to Starwood’s Luxury Collection. It’s due to open in March and will present a neutral design pallet with a subtle European edge.The 300-square-metre Presidential Suite is its opulent centrepiece.

The Patina, Capitol, Singapore
Part of the Leading Hotels of the World group, The Patina is set in two heritage buildings in the heart of the city and a soft opening is planned from mid-2015. Interiors are by world-renowned Jaya International Design and use high ceilings, tall windows and rich timber accents to create a stylish colonial aesthetic. 

Grand Hyatt, Abu Dhabi Hotel and Residences Emirates Pearl, UAE
At 47 storeys high, you’re not likely to miss this Abu Dhabi hotel. It’s also located on the south-west end of the Coastal Boulevard in the prestigious Ras Al Akhdar district of central Abu Dhabi, making it a perfect base for shopping and sightseeing. 

Sofitel Wellington, New Zealand
Acclaimed interior designer Brett Taylorof CDA Architecture has been called upon to create Wellington’s next masterpiece — set to open in mid-2015. Monochrome interiors are accented with splashes of bright yellow, while maintaining the brand’s refined French heritage.

Capri by Fraser, Brisbane, Australia
A 19-storey Albert Street office tower will be transformed into Brisbane’s newest luxury hotel. It marks the Australian debut of the Capri brand — whichhas properties in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore — and will feature 239 rooms with vibrant interiors informed by the brand’s passionfor contemporary art. 

Hot hotels

When it comes to dream stays, these three top the list.

Legoland Hotel, Florida, US
You’ll feel like you’ve fallen into your child’s toy chest in this multi-coloured shrine to shiny plastic blocks. florida.legoland.com.

Mandapa by Ritz-Carlton, Bali, Indonesia
This secluded reserve is home to just 60 luxury villas and suites set amid rice paddies and rolling hills on the tranquil Ayung River.

Peppers Docklands, Melbourne, Australia
Set to occupy levels two to five of the $100 million M Docklands development, this property promises to deliver a luxury small-hotel experience.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its independence in September and it’s inviting visitors to the party. The island country has improved airstrips, expanded Port Moresby’s hotel capacity and will host the Pacific Games in July. This may be the year Australia’s neighbour receives the attention it deserves for its remarkable tribal cultures and incredible biodiversity.

Until now, PNG has mostly been associated with WWII history and surging interest in the Kokoda Track. Other war sites include Cape Gloucester airstrip, Rabaul and the Japanese army base at Buin.

Tourists are increasingly exploring the mighty Sepik River for birdlife, and remote villages, known for primitive art. Sepik Adventure Tours takes you upriver for croc spotting, canoeing and a stay at its Ambunti Lodge. Expedition cruising is on the rise; small ships can sail the Sepik River and make zodiac excursions to remote villages. Aurora Expeditions has a 12-night cruise from Cairns that includes the culturally rich Trobriand Islands and rarely visited Tufi fjords. North Star Cruises offers five PNG itineraries, one of which focuses on diving the remote Louisiade Archipelago.

Mainstream cruise lines are also taking notice. Carnival Australia started sailing to PNG in 2013 and Princess Cruises has a comprehensive 20-day PNG to Sydney round-trip itinerary available. Meanwhile, P&O Cruises launched its first dedicated PNG cruises just last year and has already announced four more.

Trending

From ladies-only adventures to boutique cruises, here are the 2015 trends to watch.

Micro cruising
Cruising has hit critical mass — a record 833,348 Aussies set sail for their holidays in 2013. And, as with anything that gets popular, an upmarket option has appeared for the more discerning traveller.

Enter the micro cruise — touring around islands or heading up rivers in small, well-appointed boats with just a few others. Most micro cruisers carry 100 people or fewer — there’s a reason more honeymooners are choosing this travel style. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week bobbing off the shores of a tropical island with just their beloved? Try the Road to Mandalay Gorges of the Far North cruise.

Community tourism
No less than UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared this to be the travel industry’s year of community development.

“[Tourism’s] capacity to lift people from poverty and help protect the environment makes it a vital tool for achieving positive change across the world,” he said.

And you can’t beat a community venture for an authentic experience — or feel-good factor. South Africa is a great place for such initiatives. Starting at Cape Town, you can take a self-drive Garden Route tour that’s Fair Trade Tourism-approved. Stay with locals on organic farms or in national parks and en route, learn to cook, head out on safari or do a tree-top canopy tour..

Solo women
“2015 is the year of the female traveller,” says Kelly Lewis, founder of the Women’s Travel Festival and Go! Girl Guides.

Lewis says far-flung destinations and adventurous activities are the big hitters.

“Hearing stories about women skiing in Afghanistan or trekking Nepal is starting to dispel the fear many women have about travelling alone,” she says.

Strike out on your own, or meet like-minded women with one of the travel companies set up to meet this growing market.

Tailored
You want niche? You got it. Tour operators catering to every conceivable taste are popping up everywhere. Want to go dirt-biking in the outback with a former motorcycle grand prix ace? Done. Daryl Beattie has set up a tour company to do just that. After tearing it up in the day, he’ll cook you a gourmet campfire dinner at night, with beer and yarns under the stars.

Or if you want to ‘do’ New Zealand your way, let the Black Sheep Touring Co create a bespoke holiday for you. Then there’s operators such as Medical Travel Companions, which supplies elderly or infirm people with nurses to travel with, freeing them to go where they please.

Wellbeing and culture
Heading to exotic climes for a spa holiday, yoga retreat or detox has been big for years. But this year it will become a more all-round experience. You can hang out with elephants in between spa treatments at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort in Thailand, or head to Sri Lanka for a yoga and surf break with a difference. Talalla Retreat features Ayurvedic treatments, yoga retreats and amazing Sri Lankan cuisine at the hotel restaurant.

App happy

Technology that makes life easier.

PackPoint
Can’t decide what clothes to pack for a trip? PackPoint makes it simple. Tell it where you’re going and a few details, and it generates a checklist so you never over- or under-pack again.

WineHound
Holidaying in a wine region requires an itinerary. WineHound provides contacts, opening hours and driving details for Australia’s best wine districts, so all you have to do is turn up and savour the grapes.

HopStop
Once you arrive at a destination, making the most of your time is crucial. The HopStop app provides transit timetables as well as directions for more than 600 cities, plus a handy taxi fare calculator.

On the ground

Hit your destination running with these handy services.

GlobalGig SIM
GlobalGig offers simple plans that give youa set amount of data to use freely between Australia, the UK, Ireland and the US, with relatively low-cost data available in other locations as long as your phone’s unlocked. 

Vodafone $5 roaming
Vodafone’s global roaming deal is the best value among the big carriers, costing a flat $5 a day for any data, calls or text allowances on your existing plans. No bill shock, just the same service you get at home.

Mophie Space Pack
No point getting to your destination only to have your phone die on you before you can reach a charger. Mophie’s Space Pack combines an in-built iPhone battery with 16GB to 64GB of storage for all your travel details, apps and maybe a movie or two.

Viagogo
Viagogo is an online market for buying and selling concert, festival or sports tickets securely. It’s handy if you’ve landed at your holiday destination to discover your favourite band is playing a show.

“Each ticket comes with the guarantee that you will get what you pay for,” says Alex Levenson, Viagogo’s head of Asia Pacific. 

Nashville, US

Nashville is happening. Cranes claw the skyline of the country-music capital. It has a shiny new guitar-shaped convention centre and 800-room hotel. The emerging food scene is exemplified by the new Music City Food and Wine Festival. Coldplay and Aerosmith have played at its Bridgestone Arena, while Kings of Leon and The Black Keys call Nashville home, cementing its rocking reputation.

The once-seedy districts East Nashville and 12South have become hipster hubs. Enjoy tap beer accompanied by freshly shucked oysters at 12South Taproom and Grill. Head to Josephine to enjoy a contemporary version of American country cuisine. Then check out design stores such as The Label for cutting-edge clothes and Imogene + Willie for custom-made jeans.

The Johnny Cash Museum, dedicated to the legend’s life, opened in Nashville in 2013 — just a few months before the revamped Musicians Hall of Fame reopened in a new location in the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Established in 1892, legendary country music venue Ryman Auditorium is expanding and launching a new multi-media tour this year, while Grand Ole Opry — the place where Dolly Parton was discovered — celebrates its 90th anniversary with events throughout the month of October. Get your toes tapping.

Trailblazing

These are not your average experiences.

Zip-line crossing
A passport isn’t needed for this border crossing, but a strong constitution is. Take the 720-metre zip-line, travelling at about 70 kilometres an hour, from the Spanish village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, over the river, and land on Alcoutim jetty in Portugal. Why, you ask?

“Two villages in two countries, separated by a river 150-metres wide — a zip-line just seemed obvious to me,” says David Jarman, the British creator of Limite Zero. And to make it even cooler, you arrive one hour before you take off.

Light it up
They were once used to steer us from hazard but lighthouses now make for a quirky holiday stay. Once owned by the BBC, Belle Tout featured in many productions including James Bond movie The Living Daylights. Now fully renovated, it has six themed bedrooms and enviable views of the English Channel.

Or there’s the red, white and black Roter Sand lighthouse, first used in 1885. Located about 50 kilometres off the coast of Bremerhaven, it has been called the loneliest hotel in Germany, and to stay here one should be physically fit and able to adapt to life without everyday conveniences such as electricity and heating.

The Rose Island Lighthouse in Newport, Rhode Island, is an operating lighthouse where you can become a keeper for a day, or a week. You’re assigned tasks depending on how keen you are (think everything from maintaining the lighthouse to loweringthe flag every evening), though they promise the hard work is matched with plenty of rest.

Art admiration
Fans of political kitsch will enjoy the Mansudae Art Studio in Beijing. The museum-like gallery sells North Korean propaganda art created by the Mansudae Creation Company's staff of 1000 artists in Pyongyang (it’s one of the largest art production centres in the world.) This is the first outpost of its kind and one of only a few approved Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) tourist sites outside of the country. The gallery is managed by the North Korean company, and is full of posters of smiling children and majestic landscapes.

Cultured
Three places to expand your mind in the new year.

Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, San Francisco
Visitors to San Francisco have an extra incentive to venture to tourist favourite Alcatraz Island, as renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has created a series of seven site-specific art installations for the exhibition @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. 

Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi
Built on Saadiyat Island, just 500 metres off the coast of Abu Dhabi, this Frank Gehry-designed museum is set to open this year and will be the largest Guggenheim in the world. It will house permanent exhibitions, and present works from the foundation’s extensive collection.

Glenorchy Art and Sculpture Park (GASP)
MONA isn’t Hobart’s only cultural jewel... this project on the shores of Elwick Bay covers nine hectares and comprises parklands, a boardwalk and two main pavilions: GASP 1 and GASP 2 (left) — which recently won the Australian Institute of Architects’ award for urban design.

Broadway, Sydney

Even some Sydneysiders seem oblivious to the transformation underway at the ‘wrong’ end of town, which has long been considered a zone for factories and inner-city dishevelment. If it’s been years since you strayed beyond Central Station, it’s time to give your regards to Broadway, as well as inner-city Chippendale and Ultimo, which are enjoying massive urban renewal with spectacular architecture.

Victorian-era facades linger on Dwyer Street, but the Carlton and United Brewery is gone and shops and cafes will soon be moving into Kensington Street. Down Broadway, the new engineering building at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is covered in dotted aluminium skin that blinks with LED lights. Then there’s the newly completed UTS Business School’s Dr Chau Chak Wing — an Australian first for the famous architect Frank Gehry — that features extraordinary undulating brickwork. It sits on The Goods Line, an exciting work in progress along a former industrial railway line between Broadway and Darling Harbour.

Also on Broadway is One Central Park, noted for its vertical garden (one of the world’s biggest green walls) and Jean Nouvel architecture, and the Norman Foster-designed commercial campus. Both stand on the newly created Central Park, which features eye-catching public artworks. See it all with Sydney Architecture Walks, which runs insightful walking and bicycle tours in the area.

Check out one of the ever-changing exhibits at the White Rabbit Gallery, with a world-class collection of modern Chinese art. Stay at the Mercure Sydney hotel, which has also undergone an expensive revamp.

Marking time

Don’t let these dates pass by without commemorating.

American Civil War
When Confederate general Stand Watie eventually yielded on 23 June, 1865, it marked the end of a war that claimed an estimated 620,000 lives. To mark the sesquicentenary, there are events throughout the country. 

Gallipoli
The Anzac Day dawn service at Gallipoli is always significant, but this year Australia commemorates the 100th anniversary of the landing of soldiers on those shores. Places at the service were allotted by ballot by the Federal Government, but there are many other opportunities to pay tribute.

German unification
The wall might have come down in November 1989, but it wasn’t until October the next year that the East and West were united. Join in the 25th anniversary celebrations on Unity Day, held annually on 3 October.

Magna Carta
King John signed the Magna Carta (the ‘Great Charter’) in Runnymede 800 years ago, enshrining the rule of law in English society. A vast program of events will mark the historic anniversary. 

Nelson Mandela
It will be 25 years on 11 February since Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island, paving the way for the end of apartheid and creation of the Rainbow Nation that is South Africa. A tour of the island provides a great insight.

Waterloo
The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June, 1815, ending two decades of war. For a comprehensive listing of bicentennial events, including the five-day commemoration in Belgium.

Words by Alex Kidman, Brian Johnston, Che-marie Trigg, Deborah Cooke, Emma Anderson, Sarah Norris and Shane Conroy - Published in Voyeur January 2015
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