Travel in style

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Travel in style

Kickstart this new year with some of the most unusual travel experiences. Witness the rarest sights and sounds and indulge yourself this 2014 as Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy give you 14 new ways to explore the world this year...

River safaris, luxurious cruises, coastal drives, seaplane ride to private island resorts, salt mine tours, sightseeing on the run, vinotherapy holidays, wildlife watching tours and spectacular festivals; the new year promises many new experiences for the global traveller. Here are 14 top picks for 2014:

1. Poland 

Apart from Auschwitz, Sobibor and Oskar Schindler’s factory in the old capital of Krakow, Poland has a lot more to show than its war wounds. Listen to legends of dragons, mermaids and fairytale castles, as you discover the legacy of composer Frederic Chopin. Visit the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw where his heart is enshrined, or take the Royal Route from the reconstructed Old Town to Łazienki Park lined with palaces for a meal at the Belvedere. Try hot chocolate at Wedel’s Chocolate Lounge or warm your cockles with a glass of mulled wine, Polish mead and smoked oscypek (mountain sheep cheese) served with cranberry sauce. But for something truly spectacular, head to Wieliczka’s Kopalnia Soli, the world’s oldest salt mine, still in operation, and perhaps the oldest corporation. Marvel at its saline architecture with altars, statues and chandeliers carved out of rock salt by mine workers, ending the tour with dinner in an underground chamber. Head south to  Zakopane for a funicular train to the top of Mount Gubalowka for snowmobile rides against the stunning backdrop of the Tatra mountains. With ICE Krakow, a new convention centre slated to open in 2014, Poland makes for a great destination for holidayers and corporate groups alike.

2. Ireland 

After clocking a million visitors at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland takes its maritime legacy a notch up with the renovated SS Nomadic, the feeder ship used by first-class passengers to board the Titanic. Get a dose of adrenalin at SKYTrek, a new outdoor high ropes activity centre near Belfast and head out to the Coastal Causeway Route. The 120-mile drive along the North Antrim Coast ranks among the world’s top road trips. Stop over for English tea and scones at the Londonderry Arms Hotel, once owned by Winston Churchill, and try Irish cuisine at Bushmills Inn. En route visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge over a deep chasm and Dunluce Castle, a medieval structure dramatically perched on a cliff. At Giant’s Causeway, marvel at the hexagonal basalt columns formed 60 million years ago, when molten lava cooled suddenly on contact with water. Enriching the scenic walk are excellent audio guides explaining Irish folktales behind the distinctive formations like the Camel, the Wishing Chair and the Harp. The recently opened £18 million visitor centre has a great interactive exhibition and souvenir shop. The Causeway Crossing Marathon in May, Adventure Travel World Summit at Killarney in October and Giants Causeway Coast Sportive cycling tour in November make it a great year to visit Ireland.

3. Singapore

Embark on a journey of discovery at the brand new River Safari, Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park in Singapore. Explore eight freshwater habitats with over 5,000 aquatic and terrestrial animals. Meet rare giants such as the giant river otter, giant salamander and the Mekong giant catfish. From the mighty Mississippi to the majestic Yangtze, stroll through freshwater galleries and walk-through exhibits. Watch giant pandas at the lush Giant Panda Forest, Southeast Asia’s largest panda exhibit, and witness the annual flooding of the Amazon jungle at the Amazon Flooded Forest, the world’s largest freshwater aquarium. Located between Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, it has all the makings of a wild holiday.

4. Oman

Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Dubai and an hour’s flight from Muscat, Mussandam is emerging as Oman’s hottest destination. With a rich sea-faring tradition, Oman’s northern-most governorate overlooks the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with Portuguese-built forts-cum-museums at Khasab and Bukha. Go dolphin sighting on a dhow cruise in the fjords of Mussandam, and watch amazing marine life while snorkelling at Telegraph Island, named after an undersea telegraph system set up by the British in 1854. Head on an off-road drive to Jebel Harim (Mountain of Women), named after local women who flocked to the hill to escape pirates when their husbands were away fishing. Hunt for fossils and petroglyphs high in the mountain caused by the collision of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. Enjoy Arabic platters and fresh catch from the sea and pick up some lip-smacking Omani halwa and dates. 

5. Turkey

With films like Skyfall, Ek Tha Tiger and Race 2 shot in Istanbul and the sea resort of Antalya, Turkey has captured the imagination of the Indian traveller. Roam around the iconic Blue Mosque, spice-scented bazaars and narrow streets around the Golden Horn, gaze at the soaring dome of Hagia Sophia, soak yourself in a hammam (Turkish bath), drop by at the upscale boutiques of Nisantasi or visit the Dolmabahce Palace with opulent chandeliers and rooms built for Ottoman sultans. Go on the perfect romantic holiday or opt for a stylish destination wedding here. Travel Shop Turkey’s new hop-on hop-off bus tours offer a new way to discover the country beyond Istanbul — boutique cave hotels in the underground city of Cappadoccia, the battlefields of Gallipoli, the Trojan Horse of Troy, one of the Seven Churches of St John at Pergamon, the ancient city of Ephesus, the calcium pools of Pamukkale and the beautiful scenery of the Mediterranean coast.

6. South Africa

Ever done sightseeing on the run? Run Cape Town offers running tours of the city through its streets, with Western Cape Tourist Guide Philippa sharing anecdotes and history of major sights. With a backdrop of Table Mountain, an incredible coastline and great weather, Cape Town is the perfect city to discover on foot. The Historic City Centre tour can be adapted to routes of 5 km, 8 km or 12 km with new running tours at Darling, Lions Head and Gugulethu. Stellenbosch Wine Festival from January 24 to February 2 promises tasting programmes from over 75 wineries in the beautiful surroundings of Die Braak. But don’t just sip your wine; try vinotherapy, with treatments inspired by merlot, chardonnay and pinotage. 

7. Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia’s fastest growing city, serves as the gateway to the world famous Angkor temples and ruins of a string of Khmer capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries. But there’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, the world’s largest single religious monument, the massive stone faces of Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm’s Buddhist temples entwined by roots. The once inaccessible Koh Ker has been recently de-mined and reachable by a new toll road. Try watersports, nature walks and excursions to 20 deserted islands nearby like The Sweethearts that spans two islands connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve. The best part, there’s wi-fi all over the island!

8. Germany

With special focus on its 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Germany is celebrating the ‘Royal Heritage Route’ in 2014 to mark the 300th anniversary of Hanover’s succession to the thrones of UK and Ireland. The year also marks the 300th birth anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s illustrious second son CPE Bach, about whom Mozart remarked to a Viennese patron “Bach is the father. We are the children!” The six ‘Bach cities’ of Weimar, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Berlin, Potsdam and Hamburg where the composer lived and worked are planning year-long celebrations. With concerts, exhibitions, conferences and festivals celebrating his life and work, it’s Bachanalia of another kind! Germany’s exciting electronic scene is abuzz with clubs and nightspots in Berlin. Let your hair down with thousands of revellers during Holi at Olympic Park. Events like the Berlinale International Film Festival in February, the Long Night of Museums in March and Long of Night of Opera and Theatre in April promise a lot of action for any visitor.

9. Thailand

Beyond the known haunts of Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi and Bangkok’s 426 bejewelled temples, the famed City of Angels now offers a range of immersive experiences. Learn to prepare and feast on a full course of delicious traditional Thai fare from Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon. Set in a cherry wooden cottage and organic garden by a canal, the sprightly cooking expert gives you a hands-on approach to a range of dishes. Get a good workout with a round Thailand’s famous martial art — MuayThai Kickboxing classes at S Vorapin Boxing Gym. Soothe your tired muscles as you learn the intricacies of authentic Thai massage — traditional wat po or relaxing hot stone massages. Shop till you drop at Asiatique Riverfront and dine at Baan Khanitha or Supatra River House, a ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River to gorge on exotic Thai fare. A short drive to Kanchanaburi lets you pay tribute to those who lost their lives building the Death Railway to Burma during the World War II at historic sites like the Bridge on the River Kwai, the War Cemetery, Jeath War Museum and Hellfire Pass Memorial, as you unwind in swanky tents at Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base. 

10. Royal Caribbean Cruises

From dramatic landscapes of the Arctic to South America’s beaches, rainforests and tango salons; ancient temples, open-air markets and cuisine of the Far East to culinary trails in Australia and New Zealand, Royal Caribbean Cruises is a great way to explore the globe. Get aboard the largest and most innovative cruise ships in the world including Allure of the Seas in the Caribbean, and Asia’s largest cruise Mariner of the Seas that sails from Singapore. The seven-night Argentina and Uruguay cruise aboard the Splendour of the Seas has several fixed departures in January and April. On-board amenities include surf simulators, ice skating rinks, zip line, sports courts, casinos, aqua sports and Broadway-style entertainment.  

11. Canada 

North America’s oldest tourist attraction, the legendary Maid of the Mist retires in 2014 after 165 years of service. Replaced by a Frisco-based company, the Hornblower will take tourists to Niagara from the Canadian docks past the base of the American Falls into the basin of the magnificent Canadian Horseshoe Falls. For a different perspective, take a heli-tour or ‘Journey beyond the Falls’ in a lift. However, as the second largest country in the world, Canada offers much more. Traverse the country on a budget with great deals and circuits from VIA Rail and try the recently launched Canadian Signature Experiences. View wild polar bears at Churchill by all-terrain Tundra Buggy or saddle up for the Calgary Stampede, billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’. Go dog-sledding, glamping in forests, culinary boot camps or Aurora tours to view the Northern Lights, which will be at their best in 2014. If Toronto’s CN Tower Sky Walk seems too urban, go for a cliffwalk at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. And if all this seems too much, just chill with some Inniskillin Ice Wine!

12. Korea

Psy’s global success after Gangnam Style has elevated not just K-Pop, but Korea tourism into instant international stardom. In a witty Wiki Korea campaign, Psy introduces concepts like Gi (universal energy) and Heung (inner joy), besides tourism icons like Korea’s famous dish samgyeopsal (pork belly), Myeongdong Cosme Road and Jeju Olle Trail. The largest volcanic island in Korea, Jeju recently won the Global Geopark certificate and ranks among the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Visit its famous sites like Hallasan National Park, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak and Manjanggul Cave, the world’s longest lava tube recognised as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. A high-speed train connects Korea’s capital to its largest port city Busan, which hosts famous international fireworks and film festivals. But with historic sites like Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces and the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village, Korea’s surely got Seoul!

13. Austria

Stunning mountainscapes, green pastures, lakes and ice; the alpine beauty of Austria’s Zell am See and Kaprun circuit is breathtaking. Apart from the country’s highest mountain Grossglockner and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Austria boasts 267 peaks over 3,000 meters, nearly 342 glaciers and mighty waterfalls like the 1,247 feet high Krimml Waterfalls, the tallest in the country. The newly opened waterfall centre Wondrous Worlds of Water offers interactive experiences with an aquatic theme. Experience the world’s biggest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt or visit the 900-year-old castle of Burg Hohenwerfen, with a falconry centre, weaponry and museum. At Saalbach, a 20-minute hike along the highest treetop path in Europe takes one to the end of the valley in Hinterglemm. Combined with the Golden Gate Bridge and a newly-introduced high rope course, it’s an unparalleled alpine experience. Visit the baroque city of Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fortress, cathedral and church steeples. 

14. Seychelles

Thrumming with the strains of Creole music, Seychelles is a tropical paradise with 115 unique islands. Hop by plane or ferry between the 16 islands that provide stay options. Victoria, the world’s smallest capital, is so tiny you can explore it on foot, while the largest island Mahé alone has 65 beaches. Nearly a fifth of Mahé’s landmass constitutes the Morne Seychellois National Park, named after the country’s highest peak. Enjoy dramatic views from Mission Lodge and Tea Factory, as you learn the secret behind Seychelles tea — the cool crisp air of Mount Morne Blanc. Praslin, Seychelles’ second largest island, once had such dense vegetation that explorers mistook it for the original Garden of Eden! Explore Craft Villages, Takamaka Bay Rum Distillery or go birdwatching for the Seychelles Black Parrot, one of the rarest in the world, besides the best fishing, snorkelling and sailing.

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