Monday, April 29, 2013

Where to go in 2013, Part 1, Europe

Shangri-La Bosphorus

Istanbul, Turkey
Don’t be surprised if more and more travel talk turns to Turkey. The country—famously at the crossroads of Europe and Asia—is having a moment. The World Travel Awards selected the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism as Europe’s Leading Tourist Board in 2012, and the ministry’s hard work appears to be paying off with an increase in preliminary bookings for 2013.
A red-hot hotel scene makes Istanbul a stand-out destination. Home to the only Edition hotel in the world, this beguiling metropolis has witnessed a parade of recent openings, including the Marti and Pera Palace, the historic landmark that once pampered Orient-Express passengers and is now managed by Jumeirah.
Europe’s High-Speed Trains
Over the past several years, high-speed trains have become a preferred mode of travel across Europe, with the ultimate result that many airlines no longer offer short-haul flights, even internationally. In the time it would take to drive out to an airport, check in, check luggage, wait for boarding, fly, disembark, collect luggage and drive into the next city, travelers can simply go directly to a city-center train station just a few minutes before the train departs, ride for a few hours, disembark and walk right out into another city center. In the long run, it’s a time-saver (and much more environmentally friendly than flying). Another benefit is that travelers can stay in one city and take day trips to others by high-speed rail. For example, Florence is just over two hours away from Milan on the Frecciarossa train, and quick trips between London and Paris are popular on Eurostar trains.
Rail Europe offers a good range of ticket options and can help plan trips throughout the continent (and the UK) as well as one-day excursions. —Jena Tesse Fox  
“This beautiful city is one of the fastest growing destinations in the world,” said Sinan Yilmaz, general manager of the Shangri-La Bosphorus, opening this spring. As the first Asian hospitality brand to arrive in Istanbul, Shangri-La is pulling out all the stops with its hotel, located on a prime piece of Bosphorus real estate between the Dolmabahce Palace and Naval Museum. More than 60 percent of the guest rooms will have waterfront views. Raffles will follow suit in the summer with a luxury hotel in the Zorlu Centre, one of the city’s largest new developments.
For 2013, Turkish Airlines has inexpensive tickets for nonstop flights between the East Coast and Istanbul (compared to other European hubs). Istanbul is an easy sell for travelers looking to explore “new” destinations in Europe, after having checked Paris, London, and Rome off the list.  —Mary Winston Nicklin
More than 60 percent of the rooms at the new Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul, will have waterfront views.

Marseille-Provence, France
Another place to be in 2013 is the south of France, not just because of the sun and sea on the fabled Riviera, but also because Marseille-Provence has been elected European Capital of Culture, and is putting on a show that’s unrivaled in the history of the designation. The social calendar is brimming with exciting events (imagine thousands of horses crossing the Provencal plains and marching into the port during “TransHumance”!). As the oldest city in France, Marseille has long embraced the Mediterranean, and the city’s melting-pot diversity, along with 300 days of sunshine per year, is one of its chief assets. Recently this maritime hub has witnessed massive urban regeneration projects by the world’s starchitects (like Norman Foster), and is now buzzing with an undeniable energy.

The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the harbor in Marseille
The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the harbor in Marseille, France’s oldest city. Marseille-Provence is the 2013 European Capital of Culture.
Linda Miller of Avanti Destinations notes the healthy interest in Europe for 2013. “Our advance bookings are up 25 percent over a year ago. Paris continues to be the number one booked city, but Marseille is going to pop up more on the radar. There is a lot happening in the city, like the opening of MuCem on the Old Port, the only French National Museum to be built outside of Paris. The European Capital of Culture title is the perfect opportunity to introduce more long-haul travelers to Marseille; there will be many reasons for people to spend a few days and not just pick up their rental car and go to other parts of Provence.”
Easily accessible from Paris in three hours by high-speed train, Marseille is also connected to the world via the Marseille-Provence airport. In fact, XL Airways will launch twice-weekly service between Marseille and New York JFK on May 31.  —M.W.N.

Croatia, Dubrovnik and the Balkan Peninsula
The Balkan Peninsula is emerging as one of the great hidden gems of Europe, with increased brand-hotel development in cities like Zagreb. Dubrovnik is a city of living history, thanks to a law that forbids building new hotels until the older properties damaged in the wars of independence are repaired. As such, all new hotels in the city are built in historic properties.
For 2013, tour operators are stepping up their packages to the Balkans. G Adventures will be launching tours to Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia. Cruise companies are also increasing their stopovers along the Adriatic, and new luxury villas have opened in historic Dubrovnik buildings.
There are no direct flights to Dubrovnik from the United States, but the city gets plenty of air traffic from Paris, London and Rome, so transfers are easy.
Your well-traveled clients who have already toured France, Italy and Spain and their historic cities and beaches will appreciate the culture, architecture and coastline of Dubrovnik and other cities along the Adriatic coast.  —Jena Tesse Fox

Gstaad, Switzerland 
Famous for its ultra-swank chalets and picture-perfect mountains (not to mention the celebrities who call it home), Gstaad has been a perennial favorite among luxury travelers and dedicated skiers for decades. New for 2013 is Gstaad’s first new luxury hotel in more than a century: Alpina Gstaad opened its doors in December. At the same time, the iconic Gstaad Palace is celebrating its centennial this year.
While Gstaad does not have a major airport of its own, private planes can land at Airport Gstaad-Saanen. Otherwise, it’s best to rent a car and drive in from Bern Airport. Guests who love the luxe life or enjoy top-notch skiing are prime candidates for a vacation in Gstaad.  —J.T.F.

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