What's in store for travel in and around Europe in 2011? Here are some suggestions to get you booking that ticket.
London. Sorry to bang on but you’d better get used to it. There’ll be no escaping the world’s British capital next year as it provides the perfect setting for the Royal Wedding. And if you think this year’s a big one for London, just wait until its edgy east steps up to the starting line for next year’s Olympics. Just don’t get in my way on the escalator, ok?
Books. I’m typing this on a notebook. My phone is playing music at me and telling me if anyone emails. I’ve borrowed the Lonely Planet office iPad for the weekend and yes, it’s chock full of great apps. But in the same way that vinyl’s charms only became clear when seemingly superior technology came along, expect next year to be a big one for the humble book. It’s portable, never runs out of battery and has a 500-year head-start on whipper-snapper alternatives. Still not sold? Try dropping it off the side of a canoe. Now try doing that with your tablet. One will recover faster than the other.
Low-speed rail. You’ve read about the high-speed networks transforming European travel, and big plans for the same in Asia. But equally rewarding are the small, gently chugging branch lines that link distant outposts and often go through places where you can’t believe there are rails. Try the Cumbrian Coast Line in England, the Nice to Digne-les-Bains line in Provence or any of the Great Little Trains of Wales.
Beyond Berlin. This year may mark sixty years since construction began on the Berlin Wall, but it’s also a year to venture beyond Berlin, deeper into Germany. There’s nowhere more vibrant and interesting than Leipzig, one of the cradles of the revolutionary movement that led to the fall of the old East German DDR regime. You’ll find baroque palaces, beautiful squares and a vibrant arts scene, with a fraction of the crowds found elsewhere.
The Middle East meets west. Budget flights with easyJet from London to Luxor. Jordan’s tourism figures going through the roof. Beirut attracting the party crowd again. Gulf-based airlines shaking up that cosy European hegemony and offering fantastic connections throughout the region from around the world. Watch the Middle East go in 2011.
Iceland beyond Reykjavik. When Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 came out, everyone got so excited at the inclusion of Shetland and Newcastle, Australia, that another very notable entry was overlooked. I argued long and hard to get Iceland’s rugged Westfjords into the book, and heartily recommend it for a slice of European wilderness. The unique mix of wild, rugged country and seriously hip, edgy festivals and all the thermal bathing you can handle can’t be found anywhere else. Plus as soon as you get beyond the Golden Circle, what passes for a crowd in the country just melts away.
Paris Rediscovered. I’ve been arrested in Paris, got falling-down-drunk and gazed out over the city with my wife and young son. Not all on the same trip. I’ve also never been to the Louvre. Paris is never the same twice, but always fresh, cool to la max and reassuringly foreign at the same time. I’ll be going back for more this year with a to-do list as long as a fresh-baked baguette. I suspect I still won’t make it to the Louvre. Sorry, Winged Victory of Samothrace. We’ll meet one day.
Head to Mount Nemrut. Mount Nemrut, or Nemrut Dağı in Turkish, is not your usual mountain. It is home to a huge number of toppled statues, many with their heads removed, that once formed part of King Antiochus’ hilltop sanctuary in the first century BC. Now they’re scattered on the slopes of Mount Nemrut in one of world’s most unusual World Heritage Sites. There’s plenty more on the edge of Europe, where Turkey gives way to the highlands beyond. Eastern Turkey should be on any adventurer’s wishlist for 2011.
On the trail of The Trip. Cult BBC comedy series The Trip followed comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they ate and drank their way across northern England. Though the two actors' banter was brilliant, the real star was the countryside of the north and gems like the Forest of Bowland, quiet corners of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Each upscale restaurant featured has seen bookings shoot up as viewers get on the trail of the series. There’s no need to break the bank though: with a car and guidebook you can tour the area on whatever budget you please.
Algeria. I’m fascinated by former French colonies which despite their closeness to home are largely overlooked by English-speaking visitors. The best example is Algeria, which is shaking off years of instability to offer an up-and-coming alternative to Morocco. With a buzzing capital, Algiers, and ancient sites along the coast and incredible Sahara scenery in the south, I’m planning to make the most of Algeria being less than three hours away from London by plane.