Sark, Channel Islands
One of only two Dark Sky Islands in the world (the other is Coll in the Inner Hebrides), this peaceful refuge nine miles east of Guernsey is set to be a key player in the rise of astro-tourism. With the exception of a few tractors, motorised vehicles are banned here, meaning air pollution is low, and there’s very little public street lighting. Conditions are therefore excellent for stargazing, particularly from a new observatory, which opened at the end of last year.
Stocks Hotel (sark.co.uk/stocks-hotel-103) offers rooms from £118.50pp per night. Flights from Gatwick to Guernsey start from £96 return with Aurigny (aurigny.com) then take a 50-minute ferry (sarkshippingcompany.com).
Last year 195 nations made a historic agreement to combat climate change, and one of the key species to potentially benefit is the vulnerable polar bear. See these creatures in their icy habitat of the Svalbard archipelago, the most accessible polar destination for UK travellers. This summer, award-winning photographer Paul Goldstein and zoologist Mark Carwardine will lead expedition tours onboard Russian research vessel the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. Explore the frozen wilderness in 24-hour daylight, searching for bears, seabirds and Arctic foxes.
Exodus (exodus.co.uk) offers 12-day departures on 22 June and 3 July from £3,899pp excluding flights.
Cast aside Band Aid images of poverty and famine; this East African country is one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent. The landscapes are equally flourishing, ranging from mountain peaks and sweeping plateaus to dense forest.
In March, the new Limalimo Lodge will open in the UNESCO-classified Simien Mountains, enhancing Ethiopia’s luxury accommodation options. Activities at the conservation-focused 14-room property will include treks through Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon and a chance to observe endemic Gelada monkeys. Combine with a stay at the equally-desirable Bale Mountain Lodge, set in another area of outstanding beauty.
The Ultimate Travel Company (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk) offers a 12-day tailor-made Treasures of Ethiopia tour from £3,825pp, including all meals, activities and flights.
Improved infrastructure and new hotel openings make this great-value Indian Ocean island even easier to visit in 2016. Golden beaches backed by rice paddies and tea plantations can be found along the south coast, with the most wild and tropical swathes lying west of Galle. Combine wildlife watching with sun seeking by staying at the new Uga Escapes Chena Huts on the beaches of Yala National Park, or head further along the coast to Sri Lanka’s first sustainable design hotel, Tri Lanka, set on a lake.
Ampersand Travel (ampersandtravel.com) offers 7 nights half board at Tri Lanka from £1,533pp including flights.
Santa Cruz, USA
California’s original surf city oozes cool, laidback charm, with residents championing a counterculture lifestyle. Even more people can embrace the city’s liberal leanings when British Airways launch a direct flight from Heathrow to San Jose on 4 May. Join world-class surfers in the crashing waves, stroll along the pier where eighties classic Lost Boys was filmed or hike beneath a canopy of giant trees in the Big Basin Redwood State Park. Spring also sees the reopening of the Brookdale Hotel, visited by the likes of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
America As You Like It (americaasyoulikeit.com) offers a 7-night Californian fly-drive, including flights, car hire, room-only accommodation and surf lessons from £1769pp.
Although long haul, the strength of the Sterling against the SA Rand makes South Africa a great-value option for families. Enjoy a safari in the game-rich Kruger National Park, spot whales from November to March in St Lucia and visit historical battlefields in the KwaZulu-Natal region. 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the formation of Zululand, with celebrations taking place throughout the year.
Explore (explore.co.uk) offer an escorted 12-day Kruger, KwaZulu and Coast trip to South Africa and Swaziland from £2,139 per adult and £1,999 per child (minimum age 5).
Costa Navarino, Greece
Despite economic crisis, Greece continues to be a popular holiday destination. On 30 April, British Airways will launch direct twice-weekly flights to Kalamata making the beautiful Peloponnese peninsula a viable option for a hassle-free, luxury break. Scott Dunn has chosen The Romanos Resort in Costa Navarino as one of the launch sites for their new Crew programme aimed at older children, offering 18 hours of hosted activities across six days. Restless teens can take part in paddle boarding, rock climbing and go-karting.
Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com) offers 7 nights’ half board at The Romanos from £1,580pp (four sharing) during May half term. Includes flights and two Crew places.
East Fjords, Iceland
Scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens have caused a surge of interest in Iceland, but those wishing to really get off the beaten track should head east to Egilsstaðir.
In May, Discover the World launch a charter flight from Gatwick, the first direct route to Iceland outside Reykjavik. Take a boat trip to spot puffins at offshore sanctuary Papey, visit the country’s third-highest waterfall, Hengifoss, and hike through the Dyrfjoll mountain range decorated with vast boulders and colourful ponds.
Discover the World (discover-the-world.co.uk) offers a 3-night Fjord Escape fly-drive from £589pp (two sharing) with breakfast and flights.
All eyes will be on Rio for the Olympics in August, but true adventure seekers should head to the Amazon rainforest. Covering more than half the country, it’s teeming with unusual species and home to tribes who still make their living from the land. Most visitors explore the region by water, but for a change of scenery try an ambitious tour through the forest canopy. Spend four days learning how to climb 200ft trees without ropes, and after reaching the top relax in canvas hammocks while watching birds.
Steppes Travel (steppestravel.co.uk) offer a 12-day adventure holiday to Brazil from £2,950pp (two sharing) including flights.
Atacama Desert, Chile
As one of the driest places on earth, Chile’s Atacama Desert is characterised by rugged scenery that seemingly belongs to another planet. Views of salt plains, volcanoes and wind-hewn rock sculptures are best enjoyed from above, and in May a new hot air balloon service will operate above the Valley of the Moon. Run by the team responsible for the popular Balloons Over Bagan in Burma, the three-hour journey will include a champagne breakfast. Combine with a stay in Chile’s capital Santiago, where the new Luciano K design hotel, housed in a classic art deco building, opened this month.
The Ultimate Travel Company (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk) offers a 14-day tailor-made trip to the Atacama Desert, Chiloe and Santiago from £5,750pp including most meals, flights, private car and driver.
All the world was a stage for William Shakespeare, so it make sense to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death (23 April) by visiting the fictional overseas setting for one of his best-loved plays. Head to the 13th century Casa di Giulietta in Verona, where Romeo supposedly declared his love for Juliet; the property’s famous balcony can even be booked for marriage proposals. Get in the mood for love by watching Baz Lurhmann’s kitsch interpretation, Romeo + Juliet, which was first released 20 years ago.
Inghams Italy (inghamsitaly.co.uk) offers 3 nights at the Hotel Firenze in Verona from £445pp (two sharing) including breakfast and flights.
Douro Valley, Portugal
Traditionally famous for its port wines, this region in northern Portugal now has a thriving wine industry. The opening of several new luxury hotels offers an alternative to river cruises, giving visitors an opportunity to really to soak up the scenery of steep-sided vineyards where 341 grape varieties are grown. Last year the excellent Six Senses Douro Valley launched and in April the Vintage House Hotel in Pinhão will reopen. The former 19th-century port warehouse has been revamped by the team behind the Yeatman in Porto and sits right beside the River Douro itself between Porto and the Spanish border.
Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com) offers a 7-night stay at the Six Senses Douro Valley and Yeatman from £1,750pp, including breakfast, transfers, flights and a private river cruise.