The year that was

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to take stock. Here JAT  writer, Kaye Holland, shares her 2016 travel highlights

Biarritz, France

Biarritz's beautiful Hotel du Palais which Napoleon 111 built for his wife, in the shape of a giant E

Biarritz’s Hotel du Palais which Napoleon 111 built for his wife, in the shape of a giant E

Ah Biarritz. The biggest resort in south-west France is only an affordable (easyjet and Ryanair both fly to Biarritz) one hour plane ride away. What’s more, you can see a lot in a few days….
If architecture is your bag, make a beeline for the stunning scarlet-and-cream-coloured Hotel du Palais whose high profile former guests include Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and more recently Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their two children.
This Biarritz icon – which was built in 1854 by Napoleon 111 for his wife Eugenie de Montijo, in the shape of a giant E – proudly overlooks the Bay of Biscay and serves as proof that not all hotels are created equally. Make no mistake: if Jay Gatsby could be peeled from the pages of Scott F Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, and transplanted to Biarritz, you would find him here…
Yet it is surfing that this Atlantic Riviera destination is most famous and as such you’ll find excellent surf schools clustered all along Plage de la Cote des las Basques. By night dine al fresco on great tasting tapas and wine and start planning your return. This is the Europe you thought was done. Don’t wait: there’s no time like the present.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Back in my beloved Buenos Aires

The Paris of the South will cast a spell on you

To say that Buenos Aires has been through a lot in recent years is like saying Victoria’s Secret angels are hot: a major understatement.
The Paris of the South has survived a series of corrupt governments, coup d’etats, dictatorships, military rule and more – yet managed to maintain its joie de vivre.
And rightly so for, despite all its troubles, there is so much to enjoy in Baires (as the city is affectionately referred to) whose stately European facade belies its Latin soul.
Make no mistake: the fantastic food scene (Argentina’s steakhouses are legendary but you’ll also, thanks to Italian immigration in the past, find excellent pizza and pasta all washed down with copious amounts of Malbec), passion for futbol (football is a religion), tango (arguably Argentina’s greatest contribution to the world) and proud Portenos (BA residents) will warm even the most jaded traveller’s heart.

Lisbon, Portugal

lisbon-view-bairro-alto

Lisbon, with its heady mix of cultural offerings and culinary feasts, stands out as special

Lisbon endured an earthquake and tsunami in 1755, a huge fire in 1988, followed by the Great Recession which led to mass unemployment. Yet despite Lisbon’s turbulent history, it remains one of Europe’s loveliest cities.
Portugal’s  capital sits atop seven steep hills – it’s a bit of a slog to get to the top but trust JAT when we say that you won’t regret the effort for a second (unless you forget your smartphone), as stunning vistas of Lisbon’s postcard perfect pink and yellow tiled walls come as standard.
Seeing the sights from the back of a bus doesn’t cut it in Lisbon. Instead hop aboard one of the old fashioned trams: number 28 will take you to the colourful Feira da Ladra flea market (open Tuesdays and Saturdays) at Campo de Santa Clara. Alternatively, head west on number 15 to Belem for a culture fix. Arguably the jewel in Lisbon’s crown, this old worldly neighbourhood is packed full of maritime history (this is where the Spanish Armada assembled in 1588) and museums. Even if museums aren’t your thing, do make time to check out the Museum of Art and Technology (MAAT), whose striking construction was designed by Stirling Prize-winning British architect Amanda Levete. That being said, Belem is perhaps best known for its freshly baked pastels de nata (custard tarts) – sweet sugary, treats that are worth ditching the diet for.

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Magical Madrid

Madrid, Spain
Mention you’re going to Madrid and chances are Catalans (the people of the Catalonia region of which Barcelona is the capital), will tell you than the Spanish capital is the kind of place where your Gran would holiday.
The Catalans may have been correct circa 2006 when Barcelona – with its brilliant beaches, football team and world class art, architecture and design was regarded as one of the most desirable places on the planet – but cool never stays in one place for long.
Fast forward to 2016 and Barcelona has arguably become a victim of its success, while the once scruffy Madrid has upped its game and is now bursting with atmospheric barrios filled with friendly Madrilenos who need no invitation to tell you how great their city is.
There are many museums to take in including the Museo del Prado (Madrid’s best known attraction) and the Reina Sofia (an absolute must for art fans). For all that, Madrid is not about sightseeing per se, as it is about exploring: taking lazy strolls through flamenco soundtracked cobbled streets, dawdling the day away in an elegant cafe and eating a long late lunch in a tapas bar.
Make no mistake: in the fantasy game of “where would you like to live for three months” Madrid – with its heady mix of culinary feasts, cultural offerings, buzzing nightlife and friendly locals – would be on our list…

 

Oahu, Hawaii
Maui-Hawaii

Hawaii was declared the 50th US state back in 1959 but, compared to the mainland, it may as well be another country (and indeed some natives are seeking sovereignty). The difference is largely down to the tropical shirt and rubber flip flop clad Hawaiians themselves – and their love of the three Fs: food, family and fun. Hawaiians don’t ask for more from life than it can give and, as such, smiling faces are evident everywhere. From the taxi driver who starts crooning his favourite Bruno Mars track (the music maestro was born in Hawaii) to the supermarket assistant who greets each and every customer with a heart felt “alo-ha!”But let’s be honest: Hawaii is best known for its beaches (Hawaii does beaches better than pretty much anywhere else on the planet). Waikiki is the most famous, with Hanauma Bay– which has a reputation for the best snorkelling – also hogging the headlines. Beyond the beaches, waking early to head out to Pearl Harbor – the target of a Japanese attack that thrust Hawaii into America’s history that recently commemorated its 75th anniversary–  and pay your respects to those who lost their life on the 8 December 1941 at the USS Arizona Memorial is a rite of passage for any visitor to O’ahu. The island isn’t easy to get to, being some 2,000 miles from any country, but trust JAT when we say: you’ll leave happier for having visited.

Uruguay
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Long overshadowed by its giant neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay – (easier to pronounce, than it is to spell) is finally getting the attention it deserves. Make no mistake: Uruguay may be the second smallest country (after Suriname) in South America but it has a charm, energy and style all of its own, meaning a trip here is fully warranted in its own right.
Chances are Colonia del Sacramento – a characterful UNESCO world heritage listed town that’s resistant to bright lights and late nights – will be your first introduction to little Uruguay. There’s not much to keep you here for longer than a couple of days but, if you’re getting over jet lag, then peaceful Colonia del Sacramento is the perfect spot in which to do so.
From Colonia, move onto Montevideo – the  nation’s capital and home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population – before hitting up Punta del Este, a fun place to top up the tan with the stylish set by day and party hop by night. However if you’re in search of a more authentic Uruguay, push onto Punta del Diablo – a former fishing village, about 175km from flashy Punta del Este – where empty beaches and wild sand dunes abound and the focus is not on nightlife, but on the waves.
But wherever you travel, chances are you’ll reach the conclusion that while Uruguay may be small in stature compared to its cousins, it deserves its spot on any South American travel itinerary.

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