Well, that’s Christmas all wrapped up — it’s back to kombucha and the latest instalment of Carry On Westminster. Not enthralled by the prospect of an abstemious and Brexit-shaped start to the year? You might feel that the only way to lift the spirits is to escape. You’re not alone — this Saturday is the peak time to book a holiday. Millions are expected to go online and book a summer getaway to haul them out of their seasonal funk.
Aptly dubbed “Sunshine Saturday”, the first Saturday of January sees a huge surge in bookings at the country’s biggest travel companies. This year Thomas Cook predicts there will be more than double the number of bookings of a normal weekend and expects Sunshine Saturday to be its “busiest day of the whole year”.
So where to go to kick back and shut out the noise? Here’s our round-up of the hottest destinations of 2019.
1. The quickie
With easyJet’s new route from Southend, and LOT Polish Airlines introducing a service from London City next month, now is the time to make like George Ezra and decamp to the Hungarian capital for a weekend of culture and healing waters. It’s easy to see the appeal — from Art Nouveau coffee houses to Baroque churches, Budapest is architectural catnip, while there are plenty of “ruin” bars — dilapidated buildings reimagined as quirky watering holes for those after a more hedonistic vibe. Top tip: a restorative soak in one of the city’s many bathhouses is the ultimate hangover cure.
This Central European hotspot has no shortage of opulent hotels but Juliet Kinsman, travel expert and founder of social enterprise Bouteco (bouteco.co), suggests swapping the grandeur for the more laid-back Brody House (brody.land/brody-house) in central Pest. Popular with the art crowd, the 11-room townhouse also doubles as a gallery and printing studio.
Rooms at Brody House from €80 a night (brody.land)
2. The party island
Croatia (the world’s most Instagrammable destination, according to Thomas Cook) is the place to cut loose this year. Bypass old favourite Hvar in favour of the previously uninhabited Obonjan, says Serena Guen, founder of Suitcase magazine.
“Obonjan’s summer-long festival is low-key, centred on wellness and recharging. Camp in a bell tent among olive trees, where everything from sunrise yoga to wild fitness and holistic treatments are on offer. At night there are art workshops and astrology, or you can visit the Forest Bar for drinks and live music.”
Ticket prices to Obonjan festival will be confirmed later this month.
3. The retreat
Despite its starring role in the 2016 film A Bigger Splash, featuring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, Pantelleria remains one of the Mediterranean’s lesser-known holiday spots. But the volcanic island between Sicily and Tunisia is a hidden gem, says Mr & Mrs Smith’s Julian Diment. “The whole island is like an open-air spa. You can swim in the husk of a volcanic crater at Lago di Venere and rub mineral-rich mud over your skin, then visit Grotta di Benikulà, a natural cave sauna heated by underground fumaroles.”
Stay at the new Sikelia Luxury Retreat — the first luxury property on the island — for spa treatments made from local products and administered beneath the palms of the hotel’s Arabic garden. New additions later in the year include hot and cold hydrotherapy baths, plus a hillside yoga deck for some downward dogging overlooking the sea.
Doubles at Sikelia Luxury Retreat start at £488 per night through Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com/luxury-hotels/sikelia-luxury-retreat)
4. The eco escape
The Datai, Langkawi
Green travel continues to be high on the eco-conscious millennial’s agenda, with sustainable luxury resorts popping up everywhere. “At last eco and chic are bedfellows,” says Kinsman. “It’s great news for those who are keen to do their bit yet shudder at the thought of compost toilets or sacrificing sexy interior design. Five-star hotels are waking up to us craving comfort but also having a conscience — superficial frills and fanciness for the sake of it have been superseded by more meaningful escapes that consider the greater good.”
Kinsman’s feelgood destination for 2019 is the Datai in Langkawi, Malaysia. The resort has undergone a lavish refurbishment for its relaunch, intended for this month. A luxury jungle retreat with immersive rainforest experiences, it will include “a resident naturalist who’ll introduce guests to the life story of every passing monkey, hornbill and otter.”
Soft opening, from £805 per person per night (thedatai.com)
5. The long-haul sun fix
A perennial favourite, the Maldives isn’t an obvious choice for a bargain break. Yet the Indian Ocean island nation has made it on to Lonely Planet’s top 10 “affordable adventures” in its 2019 Best in Travel list. Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk) is currently offering a great deal at the four-star Sandies Bathala in Sri Atol. Featuring new beach bungalows and water villas, the resort is just 25 minutes by seaplane from Malé. A new resort, Faarufushi Maldives, is scheduled to open in February.
Five nights all-inclusive, including flights on SriLankan Airlines from Heathrow, from £1,777 per person.
6. The big thrill
Thrillseekers should look no further than Western Norway’s Arctic fjord region. Lofoten and Sunnmøre are luxury travel agent Black Tomato’s top picks for this year. In Sunnmøre, an impressive area of peaks and summits off the tourist trail, you can climb, hike, surf and go on whale safaris. A new luxury tour in Lofoten takes guests sailing and skiing by private yacht to mountains so remote that no one else will have skied them before.
Black Tomato (blacktomato.com) can arrange seven nights in Norway’s Arctic fjord region from £5,700pp based on two travelling.
7. The camp with benefits
Want to travel like the other half? Forget five-star resorts — luxury in 2019 is yurt-shaped. “We’re seeing an increase in demand for simplicity,” says Jenny Graham of Quintessentially Travel, an offshoot of the members-only lifestyle management and concierge service.
For nomadic living 2.0, it’s got to be Mongolia. At Three Camel Lodge you can camp under the stars, spot snow leopards, watch the sunset at Flaming Cliffs and visit 40,000-year-old settlements. “Many of our lodge staff were raised here in the Gobi,” they say. “It’s definitely a place to get some head space and a whole new perspective.”
From £560 per person per night, threecamellodge.com.
8. The culture shock
Forget big in Japan — Japan is big everywhere else. Thanks to ancient culture, world-class food and everything from skiing to diving on offer, the country is tipped to be one of Kuoni’s most popular destinations in 2019.
With the Rugby World Cup kicking off in September and BA launching flights to Osaka from Heathrow at end of March, now is the perfect time to head east.
Inside Japan Tours (insidejapantours.com) is offering a series of itineraries for rugby fans (japanrugbytravel.com)