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Your ultimate 2021 travel guide

OK, so travel is off the cards for now - but daydreaming isn’t. From sleeping under the stars in South Africa to chic Swedish city breaks, Suzannah Ramsdale presents the ultimate itinerary 

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t’s the first Monday back (at the same makeshift desk), it’s dark, it’s cold and generally bleak. But, wait! A vaccine is being rolled out, freedom is somewhere on the horizon and holidays should be on the cards later in the year. 

Plus, in even better news, many of us, having spent most of 2020 grounded, now have extra annual leave to burn through. According to Skyscanner, 55% of people are planning to carry over 11 days into the new year. Time to start planning. 

World, we’re coming for you…

Babylonstoren

The long hauler: South Africa

While the new Covid variant takes South Africa off the list in the short-term, provided the situation improves, the postponed rugby Lions tour is still set to go ahead in July 2021 across South Africa and Skyscanner has already seen a surge in demand for flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg. Mix sport and safari with a Gane & Marshall’s seven-night itinerary timed to coincide with the first and second Tests, where you’ll spend four luxurious nights in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and three nights in Cape Town, all bookended with Lions matches (from £3,825pp; ganeandmarshall.com). Further north in the Kruger National Park go full bucket list with a stay at &Beyond’s solar-powered, sleep-beneath-the-stars Ngala Treehouse (andbeyond.com). Eye-to-eye encounters with giraffes are all but guaranteed. An hour from Cape Town, a visit to wineland is a must, and a stay at farm hotel Babylonstoren is essential. It’s by the people behind the Newt in Somerset so you know it’s good (from £374, Babylonstoren.com).

Ngala Treehouse, &Beyond

The city break: Gothenburg

People. Fashion. Power. Delivered weekly.

Sweden’s second city has been named the world’s most sustainable destination for the past four years and Lonely Planet has hailed it as the green city for 2021. Fact: about 65% of the city’s transport runs on renewable energy. Stay at boutique bolthole Pigalle (From £62 per night; hotelpigalle.se) for the central location and buzzy rooftop bar.  Once you’ve had your fill of fika at famous hipster coffee chain Da Matteo and experimental cocktails in the bars along Andra Langgatan and Tredja Langgatan, make a beeline for an ocean-sprayed stay at Pater Noster. One of Sweden’s most spectacular lighthouses, just 30km away by boat, it’s been luxuriously renovated with an bracing outdoor sleeping area on the cliffs, should you feel brave. Deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, kayaking and cooking lessons all available, as is a heated seawater hot tub (from £435 per night, paternoster.se).

Pater Noster

The classic: Spain

Overseas travel was off limits for most of us last year and, according to ABTA, for 2021 most people will be jetting off to the familiar. Think France, Italy and Greece (if Brexit doesn’t make European travel a complete faff). The most popular though is Spain. Madrid is an excellent option with the new Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) which, against all odds, opened in September. Another ultra-glam option is the impossibly opulent neoclassical Mandarin Oriental Ritz (mandarinoriental.com) which will finally fling open its restored doors in spring 2021. Over on the Balearics, luxury villa company The Thinking Traveller has declared Mallorca its next destination with seven new properties on the island, from an 18th century farmhouse to a characterful finca in a private 150-hectare estate at the foot of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains (thethinkingtraveller.com). On the smaller island of Menorca, the new Hauser & Wirth arts centre on Isla del Rey, due to open in 2021, is sure to attract people. Insight Vacations’ private bubble trips include an epic-looking 9-day Country Roads of Andalucia which will take in the sights, sounds and sherry of Jerez, Seville, Malaga and Ronda (from £1,976 per person; insightvacations.com).

The Thinking Traveller, Mallorca

The staycay: UK

Staycations are here to, erm, stay. “People have now discovered the ease and restorative nature of a staycation and will be hopping in a car or train, rather than a plane, for a quick weekend break,” says Serena Guen, founder of Suitcase magazine. Our collective obsession with the Highlands isn’t going anywhere. “Top of my list is New Hall Mains, a group of beautifully designed luxury cottages in Ross-shire” (newhall-mains.com). Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk) offers a new collection of UK & Ireland holidays and Riviera Travel (rivieratravel.co.uk) has launched its first range of UK tours, including ‘Walk and Discover’. On the south coast, Soho House is set to open a Brighton outpost and the much-lauded Pig chain is in the process of transforming Grade II-listed Madehurst Lodge in West Sussex into The Pig in the South Downs. There’s plenty to do on our doorstep too with the Mayfair Townhouse (from the people behind Cliveden and Chewton Glen), Nobu Portman Square and ‘super boutique’ The Londoner all ready to show us a good time in 2021.

The Mayfair Townhouse

The USA adventure: New York and beyond

Londoners have an enduring love affair with the second greatest city in the world. Skyscanner has seen a huge jump in searches for flights to the Big Apple, in fact it’s the most searched for destination. There’s lots to be excited about this year. Two good-for-the-soul spa hotels will soon soothe weary Manhattanites: AMAN New York is set to open in the spring and, across town on the banks of the Hudson, OG wellness group Six Senses won’t be far behind. Once you’ve had your city fix, make a bigger trip of it and head to The Finger Lakes. “Just a few hours from NYC, the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is a true hidden gem,” says The Travel Diaries podcast host Holly Rubenstein. “Not only is it abundant in natural beauty with countless towering waterfalls, far-stretching lush forests, and, of course, eleven spectacular finger-shaped lakes - it’s also home to some of the East Coast’s finest vineyards, breweries and farm-to-table restaurants.” Stay at the Inns of Aurora, a collection of historic lakeside properties which is expanding this spring to include a 15,000 sq ft hilltop spa surrounded by lavender fields - one of the biggest in New York State (innsofaurora.com/)

AMAN New York

The dream team: Montenegro and Croatia

“Montenegro has snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes for nature lovers, UNESCO protected medieval towns for culture, and the glamorous Adriatic riviera has 117 glorious beaches to choose from,” says Rubenstein. No wonder luxury hotel group One & Only has chosen it as the location for its first foray into Europe - One & Only Portonovi, on the unspoilt Bay of Kotor, opens in March. Pair with Croatia where Black Tomato (blacktomato.com) can organise an island-hopping yacht tour, from the vineyards of Primosten to the chic art-filled island escape of Lopud 1483 (lopud1483.com).

One&Only Portonovi

The nature fix: Norway

“I expect people to seek out wildernesses and areas of outstanding natural beauty where they can be assured plenty of open space, fresh air and immersion in nature - like Norway,” says John O’Ceallaigh, founder of luxury travel consultancy Lute.co. You’ll find fjords, waterfalls, sea fishing as well as the beautiful dancing Northern Lights in the winter and the eternal midnight sun during the summer months. Stay at 8-bedroom boutique Lyngen Lodge for cosy log fire nights on the shores of Lyngen Fjord (lyngenlodge.com). Over on Senja Island, Discover the World tour company has curated Local Lives experiences where just eight guests will be immersed with the people who live and work on the island. From coastal foraging to hidden coves, it’s a unique way to see the country (From £2,523; discover-the-world.com)

Nayara tented camp in Costa Rica

/ Nayara

The sustainable sanctuary: Costa Rica

Sloths! Crocodiles! Toucan! Rainforests! Costa Rica’s wildlife is the main event. Or is it the beaches? The surfing? Or the laidback locals? Whatever your jam, you’ll be doing it in one of the most sustainable tourism industries in the world. “The country runs on almost 100 per cent clean and renewable energy,” says Guen from Suitcase. “It has the lowest rates of coronavirus in Latin America and has a range of adventure eco lodges to suit all types of travellers.” Stay at the Nayara Tented Camp, one of three luxury eco retreats at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. Expect impossibly posh tents with outdoor showers, clawfoot tubs and private plunge pools with pinch-yourself-views (From £680; nayaratentedcamp.com).