We get excited in the RCI office each December when the ‘hotlists’ from the world’s leading travel experts are released.
What’s made number one on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 list? According to The Independent Travel, where are the up-and-coming hotspots for this year? Which dreamy images does The Rough Guide to 2018 serve up on its website? Couple these with the new flight routes laid on, and it’s interesting to see which hotlist destinations are home to RCI-affiliated resorts and which could soon become accessible to more RCI members.
The countries below all made the list in various travel features - and are all places boasting RCI-affiliated resorts.
With a real worldwide mixture of locations, they all offer wonderfully different experiences, reminding us of just how great a privilege being able to travel is.
Where will you add to your passport?
1. Valletta, Malta
Marvel at the 16th century architecture of this port city, pictured above, awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Small it may be but Malta actually possesses three UNESCO sites. Valletta has been named European Capital of Culture for 2018 and it’s not hard to see why.
By day, visitors to the Maltese capital will discover museums and forts representing the city’s nautical past, as well as pioneering contemporary architecture. The city’s incredible baroque-style buildings precariously hug the coastline, towering over some of the clearest, cleanest waters in Europe.
By night, Valletta offers bars and restaurants with dishes influenced by the different cultures who have called the island home over the centuries, combined with the wealth of fresh seafood readily available. But before you find your al fresco table for the evening, make sure you catch a Maltese sunset for the ultimate holiday photo.
2. Snowdonia National Park, Wales
With a magical, Arthurian landscape, it’s no wonder Snowdonia has inspired countless authors and artists over the centuries. Beatrix Potter stayed in Llanbedr and would venture out with her sketch book. The famous illustrations in Alfred Bestall’s Rupert the Bear books were directly shaped by time spent at his cottage in Beddgelert in the heart of the National Park. Bestall lived at ‘Penlan’ from 1956-1986. J.R.R Tolkein also used the stunning backdrop of North Wales for the basis of the imaginary lands of his Lord of the Rings books.
Snowdonia offers a base for a relaxed or energetic holiday, with miles of walking trails for all abilities, mountain bike routes, horse riding and a vintage railway. Take a day trip out of the park and you’ll find imposing castles and beaches, including Black Rock Sands near Porthmadog where you can drive your car onto the beach. From personal experience, if your family includes canine members, you can’t beat Snowdonia for the ultimate dog-friendly holiday which they’ll enjoy as much as you. They can even walk in the paw-steps of the legendary Gelert - faithful hound of Llwelyn, Prince of Gwynedd, who was said to have saved the Prince's young son from a wolf but paid the price with his life.
RCI has 180 pet-friendly resorts in Wales, so you don't have to leave your dog at home.
3. Portofino, Italy
You simply cannot get a more breathtaking Mediterranean fishing village than Portofino in north-west Italy. Brightly-coloured clustered buildings stack around the bay, like a child’s painting with no sense of perspective.
The turquoise water of the sheltered bay is dotted with fishing boats and pleasure vessels, meaning the best way to view the village’s architectural defiance is from the water. A novel way is to kayak the coastline - there are even tours at sunset for an extra-special experience. If you’ve spent the afternoon burning calories on paddle-power, you can justify a hearty meal by the harbour in the evening. Seafood is obviously top on most menus, but this is Italy, so anything you eat is likely to taste amazing!
The closest airport is Genoa and with easyJet operating new flight routes from Luton from the end of March 2018, together with existing carriers flying from Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Gatwick and Stansted, experiencing Portofino’s charm for yourself is easier than ever.
4. Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Nashville hasn’t been nicknamed ‘Music City’ for nothing. Home to the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Grand Ole Opry music show, Musicians' Hall of Fame, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch and Johnny Cash Museum. Many venues offer backstage tours offering insight into how this city’s passion for music evolved.
Today’s Nashville offers live music daily, from international headliners to up and coming performers who have headed to the city in pursuit of their musical American Dream.
You’ll be welcomed by the southern hospitality at the city’s distilleries and breweries - perfect to wash down some cayenne hot chicken while listening to country music in its spiritual home.
From May 2018, British Airways will launch the first non-stop flights from Europe to Nashville, departing from London Heathrow.
5. Bako National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia
Jungle experiences feature in the hotlists for 2018 destinations - potentially made popular by the television show ‘I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!’ If you prefer to eat more mouth-watering than eye-watering cuisine, the fusion of Malaysia’s rich culture, seafood, meats and spices make this one long-haul destination not to miss. You can venture into the heart of the jungle by day (or night) yet enjoy the luxury of some fine food in the evening.
Sarawak is home to Bako National Park, accessible only by boat for a few hours a day. It is also where around 150 rare proboscis monkeys live, with the males sporting iconic big noses. The park is uniquely home to almost every type of plant species known to be native to Borneo, thanks to seven eco-systems within it.
Visitors may also be lucky enough to glimpse the rare slow loris, pangolin, mouse-deer and snakes. I visited Bako in September 2017 and was amused at the fearless long-tailed macaques waiting for visitors to arrive by boat to see what picnic food they could pinch under intimidation! Wild boars have become braver over time and can be seen snuffling on the jungle-lined beach as walkers arrive and depart by boat.
The island has numerous walking routes but you do need to be relatively mobile and able to cope with the tropical heat - the island is close to the equator and can be very humid. Use regional capital Kuching or Damai Beach as your base to explore the area - and be sure to join a night walking tour to Kubah National Park to experience the nocturnal frog chorus from more than 60 species, of all sizes.
No trip to Borneo is complete without attempting to see the gracious orangutans in the wild, or at the natural, sympathetic Semenggok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.
6. Perth, Western Australia
Often in the shadow of Australia’s east coast cities, Perth shouldn’t be overlooked as a bucket list destination. The city is home to some 40km of impressive beaches fronting onto the Indian Ocean and enjoys a climate which may be more temperate than you thought, ranging from approximately 18°C in July, to 32°C in February.
Using Perth as your base, you can book yourself onto tours to experience the key cultural ‘must-dos’ in the area, including cruises, wine- and history-themed trips, Aboriginal cultural tours, the Pinnacles Desert and meeting the koalas and kangaroos at Caversham Wildlife Park are just a few more highlights. Animal-lovers should escape to Penguin Island and join a dolphin and sea lion-spotting cruise at Shoalwater Island Marine Park.
You could even combine a trip to Perth with a few days in Bali, just 3.5 hours away, to make the flight distance even more worthwhile. However, with Qantas’ ground-breaking new direct 17-hour flight from London to Perth coming in March 2018, maybe Australia won’t be so far away anymore.
Closer to home, you can’t go far wrong with a holiday to laid-back Portugal. Don’t think that Portugal just has beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets and fabulous food to offer however - although that’s enough for most of us! The rise of the activity holiday is touted for 2018 and Portugal is just the place for walking, watersports, food-themed and art-focused escapes.
The country has plenty to entice you, from the well-known beaches of Albufeira and the Algarve to the ‘hidden beaches’ appearing on some of the travel top hotlists, including Praia Forte do Paço, north of Porto, with its own 18th century ruined fort.
With numerous low-cost airlines flying to destinations throughout Portugal, and flight times under 3 hours, you could even squeeze in a sneaky long weekend away.
8. Chengdu, China
Home of pandas, temples, teahouse culture and some of China’s most revered cuisine.
Consider the capital of the Sichuan province as an alternative to Beijing or an ideal second-stopping place on a longer visit to this fascinating country. With a history dating from the 4th Century BC, the area has a rich past to explore in the region’s temples and museums. No trip would be complete without a visit to the Chengdu Research Base of giant panda Breeding for a privileged insight into these lovable, endangered animals in a natural environment.
Flights to Chengdu from the UK do tend to require one change, often at Beijing or Moscow, but it is possible to fly directly from Amsterdam. The opportunity to experience all that China has to offer, as well as seeing giant pandas, is surely worth the journey.
9. Lapland, Finland
Land of the Aurora Borealis, reindeer, saunas, Sámi folktales and Santa Claus! But don’t assume Lapland is purely a destination to enjoy snow-based fun - although you can absolutely experience an incredible winter holiday here.
Visit Lapland during the spring or summer and you’ll be greeted by stunning National Parks to conquer, cultural centres keen to educate visitors on the region’s past and present, plus the chance to see wolves, wild bears, lynx, eagles, wolverines and endangered Saimaa ringed seals.
Santa Claus won’t mind sharing his home town of Rovaniemi with you as your base to explore the region. The original town was destroyed in 1944 but rebuilt to a plan in the shape of a reindeer head and antlers, with the town’s stadium being the ‘eye.’
Flying to Lapland is becoming more accessible and cheaper with several operators servicing UK cities, including Finn Air, TUI and Norwegian Airlines.
10. Private Island Holidays
Whilst the ultimate dream of a holiday on a private island is out of financial reach for most of us, this concept featured on several of the ‘hotlists’ I read and is cited as growing in popularity. The next best thing for us mere mortals is escaping to a resort with a private apartment and exclusive beach - which several RCI-affiliated resorts can offer.
As an RCI member, you could experience these ‘hotlist’ locations at a fraction of the cost of open market holidays, thanks to our Exchange Holidays, and great value Extra Holiday and Late Deals prices.
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