If you’re longing for a desert island, head to Fuseta, an almost empty spit of white sand in a turquoise sea that could be in the Indian Ocean (just a little more bracing). This is a relatively unspoilt fishing town about 12 miles east of Faro. It’s small and in summer has wonderful open-air restaurants grilling fish by the harbour. A locals’ favourite is Casa Corvo, where it’s hard to spend more than €18 for straight-from-the-sea dourada (sea bream) on the charcoal grill. Get to the mercado municipal early enough and you may see fishermen unloading their boats.
Fuseta has access to some of the best beaches in the Algarve, along the islands and inlets of the Ria Formosa. A small, inexpensive ferry runs to Fuseta Island, but a couple more euros buys a water taxi ride to deserted beaches such as Praia da Barra Velha or Praia do Homem Nu (“naked man beach”). Praia da Fuseta-Ria, near town, has warmer inlet waters, and sometimes boats selling doughnuts. A 10-minute drive away, Vila Monte (doubles from £150 B&B) is a boutique farmhouse with lovely pool, amazing breakfasts and a view to orange groves and the Moncarapacho hills.
The revamping of Europe’s night-train network is gathering pace. Many new sleepers started running last month, among them Basel to Dresden and Stuttgart to Venice. The new overnight train from Munich to Liguria is 15 hours of railway heaven and the perfect way to the Cinque Terre coast.
Travel by day from London via Paris or Brussels to Munich to join the 20.09 to La Spezia Centrale. Cruise south while you sleep, then enjoy breakfast in your compartment as the train slips by the dramatic monastery at Certosa di Pavia. A few minutes later, you’ll cross the River Po before taking to the hills, then dropping steeply down the coast at Genoa. The best is yet to come as the railway skirts the Ligurian coast with fine views of Cinque Terre villages such as Riomaggiore before arriving in La Spezia at 11.10. A shared sleeper compartment for two from Munich starts at €199.80. Book online at nightjet.com or raileurope.com.
Slovenia prides itself on its green credentials, which were boosted further when Kranj, its third-largest city, was given 2023’s European Destination of Excellence award for its sustainable tourism. It’s in the Slovenian Alps, halfway between Ljubljana and Lake Bled, and the 30 metre-deep Kokra river canyon runs through the heart of the city. The Kokra flows into the Sava to the south, where shaded riverside paths are a peaceful place to walk.
Beyond the church spires and terracotta rooftops of Kranj’s Renaissance townhouses rise the soaring peaks of Triglav, Grintovec and Stol mountains. A hike up to Šmarjetna Gora to the west brings even better views. In the handsome old town, cafe terraces fill mainly pedestrianised streets of pastel-coloured townhouses, one of which is home to Actum Hotel. Its pleasingly ornate rooms start at €83 B&B, but there’s a superior suite with hot tub from €143.
The north continues to fizz and pop, with exciting regeneration projects reaching completion and lots of hot tickets for cultural events as well as new hotel openings. Manchester Museum reopens in February, after a £15m redevelopment, with a sizeable extension including a new exhibition hall and visitor facilities clad in green-glazed tiles in homage to the Victorian and Edwardian buildings across the city.
In June, Manchester’s Factory International, set to be a flagship cultural centre, launches with a bang, showcasing the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, with plans for an immersive experience including giant dolls and eye-popping polka-dot spheres.
From spring, the Treehouse Hotel in the formerly dilapidated 15-storey Renaissance hotel in Deansgate will open its doors, with a new rooftop bar as well as the promise of excellent cuisine at two restaurants.
Liverpool will host Eurovision 2023 on behalf of 2022 winner Ukraine, with nine live shows (from 9 May). And the 12th Liverpool Biennial, the UK’s largest contemporary art festival, takes place across the city’s public spaces, galleries and museums from 10 June to 17 September.
In Northumberland, to mark the 125th anniversary of the death of Lewis Carroll, all 15 rooms at the new Tempus hotel in the grounds of Charlton Hall have been inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Over in County Durham the Faith Museum opening in autumn at Auckland Castle, claims to be the first museum in England to explore the story of religion in Britain.
It’s easy to see why there’s a buzz about Spetses. For two years in a row the Argo-Saronic isle has featured in Hollywood hits. First came The Lost Daughter, the drama based on the Elena Ferrante novella; then Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, a new whodunit romp featuring Daniel Craig. The picturesque island is bracing for an even bigger bounce in 2023.
“We’re all feeling blessed to live here,” says Yannis Manitaras, 74, who was born and bred on Spetses.
The trailer for Glass Onion opens with the Poseidonion Grand, an elegant hotel overlooking the waterfront. The brainchild of the Spetsiot tobacco magnate Sotirios Anargyros, the luxury hotel put the pine-clad isle on the tourist map in the 1920s, attracting a mix of Athenian high society and European aristocracy.
But the island’s old-world feel, neo-classical architecture, horse-drawn buggies and absence of cars have long made it a favourite for Athenians. And there are still bargain places to stay (the boutique Oltremare Inn has doubles from £110 B&B). It’s just over two hours by ferry from Athens’ Piraeus port.
A half-hour’s drive east from the Adriatic resort of Baška Voda is one of Croatia’s loveliest inland regions. Eleven lakes dot the karst landscape surrounding the town of Imotski, with the most dramatic, Blue Lake, bordering the town. Scrub-covered limestone cliffs rise from an enormous sinkhole filled with vivid blue water. This lake is swimmable by those who follow a serpentine path to the valley bottom. Along with Biokovo nature park, Imotski’s lakes are a contender for gaining Unesco status in 2023.
There’s plenty to do here: kayaking the Vrljika River, hiking the hills, taking in views from Imotski’s medieval Topana Fortress and touring vineyards. The stylish Boutique Rooms 76 has doubles from £56 room-only.
Margate will make news again this month with the release of Sam Mendes’s 1980s-themed flick Empire of Light. A new downloadable map (available on the Visit Thanet website from January) will allow visitors to navigate film locations, starting with free-to-enter Dreamland. Its kitsch-kicks roller disco (featured in the film) reopens in April, as does the theme park proper – with a new rollercoaster.
Olivia Colman, who stars in the film, liked Margate’s “three amazing restaurants”. We can think of six worthy of such praise, including the one within in the box-fresh Fort Road Hotel, headed by River Café alumna Daisy Cecil; locals’ favourite Dive for tacos; and the newbie Staple Stores for “cruffins” (a cross between a croissant and a muffin).
Margate’s art HQ, Turner Contemporary, will be the first UK venue to host Sonia Boyce’s award-winning multimedia installation Feeling Her Way (4 Feb-8 May). An ever-growing number of satellite galleries will fill a weekend of wandering, but be sure to include the eccentric new Crab Museum.
Of the 16 national trails in England and Wales, the Ridgeway Trail, which partly follows a prehistoric path, is a cracker, and is 50 years old this year. It runs for 87 miles from Avebury in Wiltshire through the North Wessex Downs and Chilterns to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. It’s probably one of the oldest routes in Britain.
Sections run through ancient beechwood holloways in the Chilterns, and a path links Wayland’s Smithy (a stone age tomb more than 5,500 years old, which can be entered and explored for free) and the mystical Uffington White Horse. Other stretches run across chalk downs to Avebury, home to the largest stone circle in Europe, all following the old ways of ancestors who shaped this landscape.
The Ridgeway is also a haven for wildlife, from rare moths to birds of prey and skylarks. This year’s special events include guided trail runs, family science days, arts competitions and history talks. Every Sunday night, a new #Ridgeway50 story will be shared online, with secret histories, spotting challenges and inspiration to discover something new.
Mary-Ann Ochota, archaeologist, broadcaster, walker and patron of the Ridgeway Trail’s 50th anniversary
Off-limits until recently on account of its proximity to war-torn Syria, Turkey’s Kurdish and Arabic south-east has exploded in popularity,
with visitors flocking particularly to the cities of Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa (usually called Urfa).
The Upper Euphrates Basin – the fabled Fertile Crescent – is rich in Roman, Arab, Crusader and Turkish culture. But its trump card is its neolithic remains, especially at the Unesco site of Göbekli Tepe (Taş Tepeler) near Urfa, where excavations have uncovered exquisite carved stone circles more than twice as old as Stonehenge.
There’s much more to the region, not least Gaziantep and Urfa’s atmospheric bazaars. Both cities boast outstanding archaeological museums (Urfa is home to the world’s oldest statue, dating from about 10,000BC). The supposed birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, Urfa is a pilgrimage site, but it’s also known for its sira gecesi (raucous alfresco evenings of live music and dancing) and as Turkey’s foodie mecca, full of baklava shops and renowned restaurants. The visitor influx has led to the reopening of mothballed hotels such as Anadolu Evleri, a period townhouse in Gaziantep’s old quarter.
The V&A’s upcoming exhibition Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance may inspire many to visit the birthplace of the “greatest sculptor of all time”. From the Uffizi Gallery to Brunelleschi’s cathedral, there are myriad Donatello sights in Florence, but the artist worked all over Tuscany during his long life, and cheap public transport allows a sculpture crawl of several Renaissance glories.
Among the wonders in Prato, 23 minutes away by train, is an unusual exterior pulpit on the cathedral’s south-east corner, decorated in white marble by Donatello. One of the main sights in Lucca, about one hour west, is the Guinigi Tower, with a group of large oak trees growing on its top. That family’s summer residence, Villa Guinigi, is now a museum, home to a tender pair of terracotta madonna and child sculptures made when the artist was barely out of his teens.
In Pisa, crowds flock to the cathedral and leaning tower, but in the city centre proper, a 15-minute walk away, San Matteo museum’s stunning collection includes a gilded bust of San Rossore by Donatello, said to contain the saint’s actual skull.
Donatello moved to Siena for three years in the mid-1400s and made several dramatic bronzes for the San Giovanni baptistry, plus sombre “virtue” statues Hope and Faith, and cheery putti (cherubs). Last stop Arezzo is slightly off the tourist trail but has a splendid medieval square, and a cathedral housing a luminous Mary Magdalene fresco by Piero della Francesca as well as Donatello’s marble relief of the baptism of Christ.
There are EM Forster views from Fiesole, up the hill from Florence, where Pensione Bencistà (doubles from £130 room only), a converted medieval convent, has been welcoming guests since 1927. It reopens in April after a winter refurb.
The northern region of Hauts-de-France has been named European Capital of Gastronomy 2023 for its enticing food experiences. Among the many initiatives are a route de la bière between the many craft breweries, cheese tastings, markets, food festivals, tours and workshops.
Lille is a good first stop: along with its craft beer and waffles, it has star chef Florent Ladeyn giving a modern, eco-friendly spin on Flemish cuisine. He sources all ingredients for canteen-style bistros Bloempot and Bierbuik-Bloemeke and the Michelin-starred Auberge du Vert Mont, at Boeschepe, from within a 50km radius.
Montreuil-sur-Mer has long been a gourmet hotspot. The Saturday market offers cheese, wine, chocolate and coffee, and restaurants include several from star chef Alexandre Gauthier. His newest venture, Sur Mer, will open in Merlimont in spring. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy a trip to Château de Chantilly for a taste of the true, decadent whipped crème de Chantilly, and can even learn to make it at fun workshops in the Atelier de la Chantilly ice-cream parlour.
Scotland is leading the way when it comes to “rewilding” initiatives, with myriad efforts to rebuild ecosystems. The most ambitious is Affric Highlands, a 30-year initiative on 500,000 acres of land between Loch Ness and Kintail. Launched by charity Trees for Life, Rewilding Europe and a coalition of communities and landowners, it’s the biggest project in the UK and aims to take nature recovery to a new level, restoring forests and habitats and benefiting wildlife from golden eagle and osprey to otters and mountain hare.
Within this area lies Trees for Life’s 10,000 acre Dundreggan Rewilding Estate, where the world’s first rewilding centre will open in spring. The aim is to encourage people to experience the forests, and learn about their history. Dundreggan is a base for conservation volunteers, but there will be new accommodation at the centre as well as workshops and talks.
Fans of sustainability, livability and design should make a beeline for Copenhagen in 2023, when it will be Unesco capital of architecture. Events, showcases and talks will take place all year; the best place to start is the Danish Architecture Center, which hosts a new exhibition on Danish architecture from 24 March. On the harbour, public pavilions will showcase the work of architects specialising in sustainability. Also by the water will be Opera Park, an urban green space designed for climate resilience.
Two events to look out for are Open House Copenhagen in March, which offers a peek into stunning buildings normally closed to the public, and the Architecture Run in February, July and September, a 5km route through museums and architectural gems.
Other reasons to visit include an upcoming digital art exhibition Refik Anadol – Nature Dreams in the south of the city, and a growing Asian food scene. In Christianshavn, new apart-hotel Kanalhuset (doubles from £75 room-only) is a pocket-friendly place to stay.
Leipzig may feel low-key in comparison with Dresden, but it has plenty to offer the curious traveller, from historic sites such as the Monument to the Battle of the Nations to buzzy nightlife. Wagner was born here, Bach, Mahler and two Schumanns lived and worked in the city, Goethe wrote some of Faust in the Auerbachs Kellar restaurant, and Schiller wrote Ode to Joy in the city too. These legacies can be enjoyed at museums as well as festivals including the Mahler Festival (11-29 May) and Bachfest (8-18 June). Leipzig’s ambitious “Whole city as a stage” campaign, will increase its cultural offerings throughout 2023.
Leipzig has become a contemporary art hub thanks to the Spinnerei, a 19th-century cotton mill turned into 13 galleries and hundreds of artists’ studios. The complex also has an indie cinema, a restaurant, a beer garden and tours. Don’t miss the Palm Gardens, with 19th-century bridges, pavilions and a theatre in an old petrol station. Eisenbahnstrasse in Volkmarsdorf offers multicultural food options, and Karl-Liebknecht-strasse (KarLi for short) is the street for bar-hopping.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, on 8 April, galleries across Spain are planning special exhibitions: eight in Madrid, three each in Barcelona and Málaga, and one each in A Coruña and Bilbão. Málaga, the artist’s birthplace, is particularly proud of its famous son. The Picasso Museum Málaga – also celebrating its 20th anniversary – has Picasso: Matter and Body (8 Aug-10 Sept) and Echo of Picasso (2 Oct-24 March 2024), and the Picasso Birthplace Museum is showing The Ages of Pablo (21 Jun-1 Jan 2024). Fans can also visit the church where he was baptised, the site of his school and the Malagueta bullring, where he watched bullfights with his father.
Málaga has more to offer art lovers than Picasso, though. Its 40 museums and galleries include the Pompidou Centre of Málaga, opened in 2015 in a striking cube by the waterfront; the Carmen Thyssen Museum of 19th-century Spanish painting; and the free Contemporary Art Centre of Málaga. The latter is in Soho, the city’s vibrant street-art district, which also has independent restaurants and shops, and a monthly makers’ market.
Art aside, the capital of the Costa del Sol has 16 beaches; historic sights such as the “one-armed” cathedral, Gibralfaro castle and the 11th-century Alcazaba; and local favourite espetos de sardinas (sardines on a skewer).
What was once an unlikely location for Europe’s second-largest railway station will become a destination hotel 910 metres up in the Spanish Pyrenees when it opens on 1 March. Canfranc Station Royal Hideaway hotel occupies the pharaonic station, whose various misfortunes earned it the epithet “the Titanic of the mountains”. When it was conceived in 1853, Spain wanted to show it was capable of a building on the scale of Europe’s great railway cathedrals, but by the time it was completed in 1928 it was outmoded.
During the second world war it served as a discreet place for the Nazis to hand over gold in exchange for Spanish tungsten, vital in tank production, and was also a crossing point for Jewish refugees fleeing Vichy France. The spectacular station, with its 365 windows and 200-metre-long platform, ceased to operate in 1970, but much of the original detail has been conserved in the 104-bedroom hotel (doubles from €230 room-only) with two restaurants and spa, all amid snow-capped mountains. The area is great for rock climbing, the Camino de Santiago runs through the village, and there are several ski stations nearby. It’s worth taking the scenic 16 mile train ride to the medieval town of Jaca. Canfranc can be reached by rail from Zaragoza (trains run twice daily).
In September and October the Rugby World Cup will take over nine host cities, including Lille, Nantes, Nice and Lyon. England and Scotland fans heading to Marseille for their teams’ first matches on 9 and 10 September will catch the late summer sun in this city known for beaches, and diverse culture. Wales and Ireland fans in Bordeaux that weekend can enjoy the city’s wine bars, its atmospheric Chartrons district, Cité du Vin wine museum and the relatively new Bassin des Lumières art-based light show set in a former second world war German submarine base.
There will be a lively atmosphere in all the stadiums, but the crowds in Bordeaux and Toulouse will be particularly impassioned. Toulouse is known as the Ville Rose for its old town’s pink bricks, and its student population adds to its vibrant nightlife.
Fans without tickets to its Stade de Toulouse can watch matches at Chez Tonton on Place Saint-Pierre, on the banks of the Garonne. By day, they can take a Taste of Toulouse food tour; have their minds boggled at the space centre Cité de l’espace; and admire the giant robotic creations at the Halles de la Machine. The giant robots’ creators hail from fellow host city Nantes, whose own collection includes a giant robotic elephant and three-storey, ocean-themed carousel.
The rolling hills and ancient abbeys of the south of Scotland are often overlooked by visitors making a beeline for the Highlands, but a new 250-mile coast-to-coast cycle route, from Stranraer to Eyemouth, will remind people of the beauty at the bottom of the country. The route, which weaves from west to east on quiet roads, will take riders to Newton Stewart and the Galloway Forest Park, the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. From there, a maze of leafy minor roads, with views over the Southern Uplands, lead to the 18th-century market town of Castle Douglas, Dumfries, where Robert Burns spent his final years, and the old mill towns and ruined abbeys of the Scottish Borders, following the River Tweed past Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford and a plethora of Mary Queen of Scots history. The trail finishes in the harbour town of Eyemouth, and is set to open in time for the UCI Cycling World Championships, running in Glasgow and around Scotland in August.
“The south of Scotland has a lot to offer, from Abbotsford and the abbeys to cultural events like book festivals,” says Markus Stitz, of Bikepacking Scotland. “The enthusiasm of the local people and their hospitality make it a wonderful area to explore.”
The south is already well known among mountain bikers for the 7stanes trail centres dotted around the region. It’s hoped that the new route will show that road cycling is just as remarkable.
The beauty of the Alps has long been exploited for the mass tourism market. Grand hotels, second homes, tacky ski resorts and a dense network of lifts are some of its many unaesthetic consequences. But not everybody longs for a sixth schnapps at a slope-side watering hole to the latest après-ski hit. For those who wish to enjoy the natural scenery in peace, away from consumerism and concrete, the Mountaineering Villages are the ideal choice.
This association of holiday destinations, managed by the Austrian Alpine Club, promises a “pure” mountain experience. The 36 villages in Austria (as well as in neighbouring Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Slovenia) are so small and sparsely populated that even locals would need a map to locate some of them. Nevertheless, the inhabitants strive to maintain their culture and traditions. Here, visitors stay in accommodation provided by the inhabitants and small businesses, instead of purpose-built chalet villages.
The mountains have to be climbed with one’s own legs, at one’s own pace – cable cars are a rarity. This is the perfect escape for frazzled city dwellers. I ask Bernhard, a visitor from Vienna, what there is to do in the Styrian municipality of Krakau. “Well, hiking”, he says. And when it rains? “Hiking in the forest.” The lodgings are simple, the population a bit reserved (lacking the professional friendliness of large tourist hubs), the mountain huts are excellent and the scenery formidable.
The association’s website gives detailed descriptions of mountain tours, a list of partner companies and an outline of the history of the area. “It is wonderful: there is nothing going on,” is how Aline, a Viennese woman in her mid-30s, sums up Krakau. She made a stopover in the mountains on her way from Vienna to Italy. Walking is the only thing on the agenda. And if it rains? “Pack a book”.
For many intrepid Dubliners as well as visitors to the city, the idea of a sea swim at the 12-metre promontory in Dún Laoghaire incites near-religious zeal. From late last year, another location has inspired a cult-like following among cold-water lovers in the Irish capital: the Dún Laoghaire Baths, reopened after a 25-year hiatus. A perfectly sited bronze sculpture of 1916 revolutionary Roger Casement towers skywards from the tip of a new 35-metre jetty. He casts his wide gaze over a new design for the area that includes gazebo, cafe, artists’ studios, changing area and beach garden.
After a bracing dip, cross the road to join the queue at Teddy’s for Dublin’s most popular 99 ice-cream cone. Newly opened bike lanes follow much of Dublin’s coastal trail, leading to the Martello Tower in Seapoint, another bathing spot that draws a loyal crowd at high tide. Nobel-prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney lived in Sandymount – that beach is the setting for his three-line poem The Strand. The coastal trail continues to Ringsend and the candy-striped Poolbeg Towers, the city’s unofficial symbol. Stretching three miles out to sea, the Great South Wall was the world’s longest sea wall when it was built in 1731.
Over the Liffey, the trail continues north to windswept Dollymount Strand, where kite surfers perform aerial acrobatics, and on to the cliff walk at Howth Head, finishing at Howth village, for some of Dublin’s best fish and chips. Skerries, in the far north of the county, completes the trail, where waterside pub Stoop Your Head serves Dublin Bay prawns and excellent Guinness.
With the BBC’s thrilling new drama about Marie Antoinette – starring Emilia Schüle as the 14-year-old future French royal – airing on BBC Two on Thursday nights in January and February, the Sun King’s dazzling abode is the p(a)lace to visit this year.
Apart from the lure of discovering sites linked to the controversial Austrian queen, perhaps the best reason to visit Versailles in 2023 is a thrilling immersive experience that gives visitors the chance to play Marie-Antoinette for the day. Staying at the new Le Grand Contrôle hotel, they can learn the queen’s beauty secrets at a fragrance workshop, then wander in the landscaped gardens of the Petit Trianon, where she once sought refuge from courtly etiquette, before dressing up in one of the elaborate pannier gowns and towering flour-powdered wigs seen in the BBC series (which premiered on 29 December).
It was known as the queen of roads – regina viarum. Completed in 190BC, the Appian Way runs for 350 miles from Rome to Brindisi, and the whole route is up for Unesco recognition this year. Named for magistrate Appius Claudius Caecus, it was ancient Rome’s first highway, and a marvel for its time, with expertly laid flagstones making a truly all-weather surface. But over the centuries most of this disappeared under farmland and villages – or evolved into the SS7 main road.
In 2015, photographer Riccardo Carnovalini and writer Paolo Rumiz used old documents and satellite images to walk the entire Appian Way (GPX of the route is available here). It is not an easy route to follow, though, which is why the Ministry of Culture has set aside €20m to develop the Appian Way into, it hopes, a pilgrimage route to match the Camino de Santiago, with refreshment and lodging stops.
While its beginnings at Rome’s Forum are long lost, an arrow-straight walkable section can easily be reached by bus (no 118). Near the tomb of Cecilia Metella, at the three-mile mark, the first of the original flagstones are visible, often with cartwheel grooves.
This year the road is being restored near Benevento in Campania, and Mesagne in Puglia. Follow progress on camminodellappia.it, and plan a walk to save the past for the future.
Wildlife, dramatic scenery, lace-like coast … there are lots of reasons to visit the Isle of Skye, but 2023 ups the accommodation ante with the opening of the Bracken Hide, a cool wilderness hotel. Forty-five en suite cabins dot the 52-acre site, and guests can gather at the Hub (home to Frasers restaurant, a whisky bar, a lounge and screening and games rooms).
It’s very eco-friendly, with cabins clad in sustainable timber and hand-dived scallops and local venison on the menu. There are Nordic saunas, plunge pools, a wild swimming pond and views across Loch Portree and the Sound of Raasay.
Run by the duo behind Skye’s Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse, the Bracken Hide marries hotel comfort with cabin wildness. Skye Adventure is a partner, offering activities from kayaking to climbing, and Portree is within walking distance. It opens in March (booking now), from £150 B&B for two.