Under-The-Radar Island: Siargao, Philippines
Crystal waters, sugary sands and a tropical interior – this tiny Philippine island is being whispered of as the ‘new Bali’. It’s easy to see why. Home to just 200,000 people (Bali has 4m), Siargao has remained off the main tourist trail thanks to its remote location – you need to take a propeller plane from Manila, Singapore, Seoul or Hong Kong to get here. Surfing is a big draw, but there’s plenty to do besides, from diving and island-hopping to exploring jungle-cloaked rock pools. Top that off with a recent flurry of sustainably minded hotels and restaurants, and you’ll find Siargao an idyllic escape.
New Hipster Hotspot: Tbilisi, Georgia
Dramatically cradled in a mountainous valley, Tbilisi’s setting is incredible. One of the world’s oldest settlements, Georgia’s capital abounds with historic charm: its Old Town is a motley maze of wooden houses, narrow lanes, thermal bathhouses and stone churches. On top of this entrenched past, Tbilisi has been reinventing itself. Hipster culture has found a home here, transforming industrial shells into cutting-edge galleries, techno music venues and local eateries (make sure to try the local delicacy: dumplings). This is a city that ticks all the boxes of a perfect city break – go now before the secret’s out.
Stay: Stamba Hotel
Insider Tip: Don’t miss Georgian wine – it’s got a heritage stretching back over 8,000 years.
The Cave City That Soon Everyone Will Know: Matera, Italy
While Puglia draws a steady stream of visitors, Matera – just across the border in Basilicata – has remained little known. An ancient network of cave dwellings, this is the third oldest continually inhabited city on Earth. Matera’s cityscape is mesmerising: its historic centre, the Sassi, is a crumbling honeycomb of rock-hewn dwellings strung across a ravine. It’s hard to believe that less than 70 years ago the Sassi was so poverty-ridden it was dubbed the ‘shame of Italy’. Today, it is regenerating, with cave hotels and restaurants popping up among its fresco-draped rock churches. Now is Matera’s moment to shine: in 2019 it was European Capital of Culture and 2020 will see it grace cinema screens as a film set in the upcoming Bond movie.
Stay: Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Casa Noha, a museum that tells the Sassi’s fascinating story.
The New Arts Hub: Kochi, India
On Kerala’s tropical Malabar coast, Kochi has an enduring appeal. As India’s oldest European settlement, hallmarks of a Dutch, Portuguese and British heritage rub shoulders with synagogues, mosques and a waterfront fringed with Chinese fishing nets. And yet, among these layers of history, Kochi is buzzing with newness. Fast becoming known as India’s cool arts hub, Kochi’s streets are alive with bohemian cafes and cutting-edge galleries, while its airport – the first in the world to be fully solar-powered – is a shining example of sustainability. And 2020 brings even more excitement, as the city hosts South Asia’s largest contemporary arts festival, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Go-Slow European Islands: Egadi Islands, Sicily
While Sicily’s Aeolian Islands have become a go-to spot for sunseekers, in-the-know travellers have been quietly slipping off to the Egadi Islands. Cast off Sicily’s west coast, these airport-free islands can be tricky to reach – your best bet is a hydrofoil ride from Trapani – but that’s the point. Free from mass tourism, life here has retained an authentic, go-slow charm. Think sleepy fishing villages, rural hikes and plenty of wildlife – the waters here belong to Europe’s largest Marine Protected Area. Head to Favignana with its quietly buzzing port town; try Levanzo for its jumble of whitewashed buildings and Palaeolithic cave art; or explore Marettimo’s hiking trails with their Norman castles and Byzantine churches.
Insider Tip: Scuba enthusiasts will love Levanzo with its Roman shipwreck dive site.
Africa’s First Capital Of Culture: Marrakech, Morocco
A city of sinuous alleys, spice-scented souks and red-tinged rooftops set against the majestic backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech has long mesmerised travellers. It’s home to two Unesco World Heritage Sites – the maze-like medina and atmospheric Djemaa El Fna – and a rich history that have helped make it Africa’s first Capital of Culture in 2020. While the past is cherished, this is also a city that’s ever evolving, with sustainable boutique accommodation and seasonally focused restaurants subtly imprinting themselves on the ancient cityscape.
Stay: Les Deux Tours
Insider Tip: Escape the city’s heat with a day trip to the waterfalls and cool air of the Ourika Valley.
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