The most beautiful destinations for summer holidays
When a bucket and beach ball aren’t enough
If your holiday snapshots are all starting to look the same year on year, it may be time to step out of that comfort zone and try something different
There’s a reason why the Spanish Mediterranean coast is lined with Brits: it’s close, it’s hot and you can get a fry-up. For many, however, the ubiquitous sun, sea and sand packages start to lose their appeal over time, particularly when the kids, once happy to build sandcastles for six days in a row, start to demand a little more adventure. Throwing more money at your typical package deal often results in little more than bluer seas, stronger cocktails and longer flights. So the next time you’re drawn to that all inclusive resort surrounded with straw parasols and sun loungers, consider our list of beautiful summer destinations that could add a little variety to your photo album.
1. To get away from it all: Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
You’ll feel rather smug as the scores of tourists flock to the overcrowded ferry for Koh Samui while you make for the sleepy harbour of Bangrong, Phuket. It is here that the James Bond-esque (public) speedboat to the little known island of Koh Yao Noi awaits.This is the real Thailand, the traditional Thailand. You will not find beach bars selling luminous concoctions from a bucket; you will not find rows of market vendors overflowing with trashy t-shirts or Bob Marley banners. No, life on the “small long island” is rather more sedate. With only a handful of resort hotels and a scattering of thatched beachside bungalows along its coast, the island feels wonderfully exclusive without the rock star price tag. Towering stacks of limestone jut out from the turquoise ocean, and jungles teeming with wildlife (including the immense monitor lizard) hug the secluded beaches. It is paradise, without the thumping dance soundtrack.
2. For city-goers: Havana, Cuba
Yes, the beaches and all inclusive resorts are only an hour’s taxi ride away, but if it’s rooftop cocktails and culture you crave, and a taste of Cuba that the hotel buffets and poolside bars could never provide, add Havana to your to-do list. By day, explore the cobbled streets of the old town, wander the colonial Governor’s mansion, (complete with its own wooden road) and explore the tiny art galleries that open up in the back of artists’ homes. Under blazing sunsets, soak up the Latin American rhythms that fill the streets and squares and follow Hemingway’s footsteps from the home of the daiquiri to the home of the mojito. Rattan ceiling fans beat the thick air and churn the twisting cigar smoke as the bands play. The enigma of Cuba is still very much intact.
3. For families: Florida, USA
Put Mickey Mouse to the back of your mind for a week and enjoy the rest of the Sunshine State. A few hours’ drive can take you from the pink and fluffy wonderland of Orlando to the stunning Gulf Coast, with its blindingly white sands, transparent seas and knockout views. Head down to the Everglades National Park for strolls among the alligator lagoons or, for the more adventurous, take a ride in an airboat over the swamps. Further north on the Atlantic Coast, St. Augustine could have fallen from the pages of an ancient Spanish novel. Boasting a rich blend of culture, colonial architecture and pristine beaches, it’s the perfect place to de-Disney yourself.
4. For something a little different: The Gibbon Experience, Laos
Just getting to this place is an adventure. A two-day boat ride, a two-hour off-road jeep drive into the Bokeo Nature Reserve and then a two-hour hike into some of its deepest, darkest jungles. But the trip is worth it. Standing in the absolute middle of nowhere, the local guide will rig you up in a climbing harness and zip line attachment then lead you to your first cable. You’ve seen the YouTube videos but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. One by one, the other members of your group will hook onto the first of many high tension cables and disappear into the undergrowth. When your time comes, you attach your harness, grip the rubber brake, lift up your feet and let gravity be your friend. The ground will drop away below as you pick up speed and after whipping through the canopy, you will burst out into daylight, soaring hundreds of metres above the valley. The area is rigged with a network of cables and you’ll soon get used to the steep hiking when you know what awaits at the top of each hill. As night falls, zip into your own giant tree house which soars above the jungle below, offering 360 degree views of one of the most stunning landscapes you’ll ever see.