Ashley Lane rounds up the winter activities in destinations ranging from Monaco and Manila to Brazil and Antarctica.
• Read this and more stories in Ultratravel magazine, out with The National on Thursday, November 24
Though temperatures are lower than normal, heading to Monaco in December means fewer crowds and lower prices. There are also plenty of festivals and activities to keep visitors busy. Those planning to stay for New Year’s Eve will find everything from performances to gala dinners, including the tradition of taking to Casino Square (visitmonaco.com). The 2016 Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival (montecarlolive.com) will run until December 3. Jazz musicians from around the globe will perform during this 11-day event. Catch the start of the Ballets de Monte Carlo (balletsdemontecarlo.com), with a performance of Creation by Jean-Christophe Maillot. Limousine Tours offers two-, three-, four- and eight-hour sightseeing tours from the comfort of a luxury vehicle, though personalised tour options are also available. The eight-hour tour will visit the Monaco palace and old town, the hilltop town of Èze, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and the Rothschild Villa, the flower market of Nice, Antibes and the Picasso Museum, and Cannes.
• The French Riviera Discovery Tour (limousine-tours.com) starts from €820 (Dh3,285) per person for a Mercedes S-class or Tesla, including a driver/guide and taxes. To celebrate the brand’s 20th anniversary, type in the discount code “20th anniversary” for a 20 per cent discount. Emirates (emirates.com) flies direct from Dubai to Nice from Dh3,290 return, including taxes. Monacair (monacair.mc) offers a helicopter transfer from €160 (Dh650) one-way
The coldest, most far-removed place on Earth offers a surprising amount of fun and excitement to those willing to brave the elements. Though bragging rights might be reason enough to visit Antarctica, it’s the very real threat of global warming that makes going sooner, rather than later, so imperative. Peak season runs from November to March, and provides visitors with 24-hour daylight. The White Desert tour company offers one- and eight-day itineraries that leave from Cape Town, a five-and-a-half-hour journey by plane to Antarctica. Though these itineraries err more on the side of luxury, the company runs on the promise of zero impact and operates in accordance with the environmental guidelines laid out in the Antarctic Treaty. This includes the use of photovoltaic solar panels for the camp’s electrical supply and solar water heaters for the camp’s shower system. The eight-day Emperors & South Pole itinerary allows travellers to see emperor penguins up close. Travellers will stay in one of the camp’s six fibreglass sleeping pods, which come with en-suite toilets. Also included in this excursion will be treks, kite-skiing, ice climbing and a stop-off at a Russian science base.
• The Emperors & South Pole itinerary (white-desert.com) is priced at €64,000 (Dh256,465) per person, including return flights to Antarctica from Cape Town, accommodation, all meals and guides. Emirates (emirates.com) flies direct to Cape Town from Dh4,438 per person, including taxes
Germany is one of the many ideal holiday destinations during the December festive season, particularly for those looking to stock up on gifts before Christmas. The central city of Frankfurt offers its own Christmas Market, which runs until December 22, and is considered to be one of the largest of its kind in the country. The event, located in St Paul’s Square, offers elaborate and creatively decorated stands that stock everything from handmade crafts to crêpes and sweets (frankfurt-tourismus.de) The four-month Geography of Time exhibition of major works from Fiona Tan’s film oeuvre will come to a close on the 15th of this month at the Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (mmk-frankfurt.de). Travellers will want to book into the recently opened Sofitel Frankfurt Opera (sofitel.com), located on Opernplatz, near the greenery of the Liesel-Christ-Anlage park. The 150-room property features several on-site restaurants, the SoSpa and the SoFit fitness centre. Rooms are from €216 (Dh865) per night, including taxes. German tour company Miller Incoming offers a nine-day tour of the country. Visitors will explore Berlin, the Sanssouci palace, Wernberg Castle and Meissen, Munich and Frankfurt.
• The Deluxe Germany tour (miller-incoming.com) starts from €7,965 (Dh31,915) per person, based on a two-person share, and includes accommodation, guide, tours and taxes. Emirates and Etihad fly direct to Frankfurt with return rates starting from Dh3,000, including taxes
A direct four-hour flight on flydubai (flydubai.com), Royal Jordanian (rj.com), Emirates or Etihad makes Amman a great destination for UAE residents looking to get away for a long weekend. January also marks the start of the coolest months in the Jordanian capital, meaning that flights will be noticeably cheaper, by up to Dh400 per person, costing from Dh1,350 return, including taxes. Head over to the 10,000-square-metre Jordan Museum (jordanmuseum.jo) for a day of exploring Jordanian history that stretches as far back as 1.5 million years. The Amman Rotana hotel (rotana.com) opened its doors this year, and is located in the tallest tower in the country. Visitors will find a number of dining options, a Bodylines Fitness & Wellness Club and an outdoor swimming pool. Prices start from 124 Jordanian dinars (Dh640) per night, including taxes. Those with a bit more time to spare can book Cox & Kings’s 10-day Jordan Adventure package. The itinerary will begin with a walking tour of Amman before setting off on the King’s Highway to visit the town of Madaba, the elevated Mount Nebo ridge and Dana village. Visitors will then embark on a sunset hike on the Wadi Dana Trail, and go on to explore the Rose City of Petra, the protected desert wilderness of Wadi Rum and the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea.
• The Jordan Adventure package (coxandkings.ae; 04 357 2628) starts from £1,590 (Dh4,150) per person, including accommodation, meals, transfers, guides and taxes. Flights are excluded
Though January is considered to be low season in the Tennessee capital – airfare is about Dh2,000 cheaper flying from the UAE – there’s plenty to keep visitors busy. The Samurai: The Way of the Warrior exhibition will run until January 16 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts (fristcenter.org). This historical showcase examines the traditions of the Japanese warrior class and how they affected art and culture. Classical-music enthusiasts will want to catch The Planets: An HD Odyssey presented by the Nashville Symphony (nashvillesymphony.org) at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center from January 12 to 15. Gustav Holst’s The Planets will be performed to the backdrop of exclusive space footage from Nasa. The 224-room Thompson Nashville (thompsonhotels.com) luxury hotel, which opened in October, is located downtown, in the same neighbourhood as the iconic bluegrass and roots music venue The Station Inn. Rooms are from US$289 (Dh1,060) per night, including taxes. Walk Eat Nashville offers walking-food tours, providing visitors a taste of the people, places and dishes. The three-hour Midtown/Vanderbilt tour makes six tasting stops including at Mason’s, which offers upscale Southern cuisine; Midtown Cafe, a local institution that serves American cuisine; and Gigi’s Cupcakes.
• The three-hour tour by Walk Eat Nashville (walkeat-nashville.com) runs on Saturdays and is priced at $58 (Dh215) per person, including taxes. Return flights on Emirates via Boston start from Dh8,320 per person, including taxes
The dry season is in full swing come January, making it the ideal month to visit for those looking for an active holiday. Though there is still a travel advisory in place for the southern island of Mindanao, the rest of this island country has been given the green light. Remote Lands offers a seven-day trekking tour that includes the Unesco World Heritage site of Banaue, where travellers will visit mud-walled rice terraces; the hanging coffins over the limestone cliffs of Sagada; white-water rafting on the Chico River; and an opportunity to take in the history and culture of the old trading city of Vigan. Those looking for a challenge, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, should sign up for the Batanes Winter Marathon, on February 1. The event will be held in Batanes, the northernmost region of the Philippines, and will take runners through the lush green hills of the country’s smallest province. Meanwhile, the Tinagba Festival, which will take place on February 11 in Bicol, is a secular event that re-enacts the ancient traditional ritual of making offerings of the land’s best produce in the form of elaborate and colourful parades (philippinestravelhub.com).
• The Trekking the Terraces and Beyond package (remotelands.com) starts from US$3,220 (Dh11,825) per person, based on a two-person share, and includes accommodation, transfers, some meals and taxes. Etihad, Emirates and Philippine Airlines (philippineairlines.com) all fly direct, with prices starting from Dh4,170 per person, including taxes
Though Beijing or Shanghai might seem like the two most obvious places to visit for Chinese New Year, Hong Kong pulls out all stops for this event as well. Celebrations for the Year of the Rooster begin on January 28, and festivities continue into February, with the Spring Lantern Festival falling on February 11. Take one of the many direct flight options – Etihad, Hong Kong Airlines (hongkongairlines.com), Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com) or Emirates – from the UAE (return flights from Dh2,697 per person) and enjoy the carnivals and heritage programmes. Art enthusiasts can head to the 45th annual Hong Kong Arts Festival (hk.artsfestival.org), which will run from February 16 to March 18. Local and international artists, from all genres of performing arts, will showcase their work. Runners can hit the pavement on February 12 for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (hkmarathon.com). Book a private day tour with Stephen’s Hong Kong Tour. The four- or six-hour walking history and cultural tours take in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
• The Private City Day Tour (stephentourhk.com) starts from 2,300 Hong Kong dollars (Dh1,090) for two for the four-hour tour; and HKD3,300 (Dh1,565) for two for the six-hour tour
Visitors will find this southern Californian city in the tail end of its rainy season, which means fewer crowds. Grey whale migration season is also in full swing, making February an ideal time to book in a half- or full-day of whale watching. San Diego Sailing Tours (sandiegosailingtours.com) offers four-hour whale-watching tours for US$149 (Dh550) per person, including lunch and taxes. The first two hours are spent sightseeing, while the second half is spent searching for these majestic creatures. While New Orleans holds the title for hosting one of the most iconic Mardi Gras parties in the US, San Diego holds its own version of the celebration. The Gaslamp Quarter Mardi Gras party (sdmardigras.com) will take place on February 28 around the downtown area, and includes a new silent disco stage, roving entertainment down the parade route, and live music and art performances. San Diego Tours offers a seven-hour city tour that includes visits to the Coronado, the historic Gaslamp Quarter and the 1,200-acre Balboa Park.
• The San Diego Highlights Tour (sandiegotours.us) is $153 (Dh560) per person, including taxes. Etihad flies via New York, with round-trip prices starting from Dh7,735 per person, including taxes
Rio de Janeiro
Though the 2016 Summer Olympics are months behind us, Rio de Janeiro – which can be reached from the UAE via a direct flight on Emirates (return flights from Dh8,841 per person, including taxes) – still offers much to be desired. As the weather roughly stays at 25°C throughout the year, it’s ideal to explore the city by foot. It should be noted, however, that Zika is still present in the region, and families looking to visit should take precautions. The Rio Carnival (rio-carnival.net) runs over five days, from February 24 to 28, and offers a plethora of activities, appropriate for solo travellers and families. See the Opening Ceremony as the Carnival King Momo is given the city’s keys by the mayor; enjoy the musical performances throughout the city; and watch the Parade of Children’s Samba Schools. Kensington Tours offers a nine-day itinerary that takes in the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain and Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. From there travellers will take a flight to Foz do Iguaçu to visit Iguaçu Falls and make their way to the Amazon.
• The Rio, Foz do Iguaçu and Amazon tour (kensingtontours.com) starts from US$3,710 (Dh13,625) per person, based on a two-person stay, and includes accommodation, meals and taxes
The high season in Egypt runs from late November to April. Although there’s still a travel warning for much of the country, those looking to visit more frequented areas – such as Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel – should not have a problem. Visitors from the UAE can reach Cairo via a direct four-hour flight on Emirates, Etihad or Egypt Air (egyptair.com). Return flights start from Dh1,167 per person, including taxes. The Cairo Symphony Orchestra (cairo-symphony.com) will perform Beethoven’s Romance No 2 in F Major for Violin and Orchestra (Op 50) on March 13. Explore the Nile aboard the Steam Ship Sudan, the same vessel that hosted author Agatha Christie. A five-day cruise, in conjunction with French tour group Voyageurs du Monde, takes travellers on a similar itinerary as Hercule Poirot and his fictional counterparts in Death on the Nile. The tour begins in Luxor and heads to Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Aswan.
• The Dynastic package (steam-ship-sudan.com) starts from €1,050 (Dh4,210) per person, from October to April; and from €900 (Dh3,610) per person, from May to September, including accommodation, all meals, a tour guide and taxes
The beginning of high season means more crowds, but equally pleasant weather, perfect for enjoying the many festivals running this month. Rugby fans will want to head out to the USA Sevens Rugby tournament (usasevens.com), set to take place from March 3 to 5 at the Sam Boyd Stadium. Fans of John Williams’ classical scores can enjoy an evening of familiar tunes with Cabrera Conducts The Music of John Williams: Star Wars and Beyond, performed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic at Reynolds Hall (thesmithcenter.com). The W Las Vegas (wlasvegas.com) recently opened on Las Vegas Boulevard. The new property boasts 289 rooms, the 24-hour Fit gym, the Away Spa and several dining options including Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, Katsuya, Cleo and Umami Burger. Rooms are from US$169 (Dh6,210) per night, including taxes. The Grand Canyon Tour Company runs private VIP tours from Las Vegas to various parts of the Grand Canyon. The South Rim itinerary takes visitors to Mather Point, Yavapai Point and Bright Angel Lodge.
• The Luxury Tour to Grand Canyon South Rim (grandcanyontourcompany.com) starts from $200 (Dh735) per person, including transportation, lunch, refreshments and snacks, and taxes
This is the final month of the south-western Indian state Kerala’s seven-month peak season, when the weather is warm but comfortable. Visitors should book rooms now for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (kochimuzirisbiennale.org), which runs until March 29 and is organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation, an artist-led, non-profit charitable trust founded by artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari in 2010. Previous editions showcased works by more than 150 international artists. The biennale will be a great opportunity to explore many heritage properties, which are rarely open to the public, including Aspinwall House, and boutique hotels such as the Cochin Club (cochinclub.in), a 19th-century British colonial outpost. Residents in the UAE have a number of direct flight options – including Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Jet Airways, with prices starting from Dh600 per person, including taxes. Holi, the festival of colours, also falls on March 13.
• Kerala Connections (keralaconnections.co.uk) offers a 15-day package that visits Kochi, the hill station of Munnar, Periyar National Park and a backwaters cruise, from Dh11,100 per person, based on two sharing, including accommodation, some meals and taxes