Your New Year’s resolution? Get out of your comfort zone with these travel spots

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Travelers can find stunning sites in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
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The colorful Argentine capital will flourish as a hub for sports, politics and the arts throughout 2018.
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Bhutan is full of monasteries, fortresses and incredibly-dramatic landscapes.
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Ethiopia is a surprising destination for many.
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The ruins of the Zvartnos Cathedral in Yerevan, Armenia.
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Kenya’s island of Lamu is oozing with heritage.
Updated 02 January 2018

Your New Year’s resolution? Get out of your comfort zone with these travel spots

Planning your next big holiday is one of the joys of travel, but where do we even begin? Destination trends come and go, but whether you are a daydreamer or a high roller, it is always better to catch a trend before the crowd gets there first — so make 2018 the year of travel and choose from these 10 destinations to get the ball rolling.

South Korea, as they say, has Seoul. But beyond the Gangnam style of the capital city, travelers can find stunning sites in Pyeongchang County, known for Odaesan National Park, with trails crisscrossing the Taebaek Mountains. With Buddhist temples, rural vistas and winter sports galore, the cozy region is a nice contrast to the stereotypical high-rise life that most tourists would expect. The area will also host the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics – so expect this cool destination to get very hot, very quickly.

If it is global events you are after, the Argentine capital will flourish as a hub for sports, politics and the arts throughout 2018. The eyes of the world will be on the G20 Summit, almost every nation on earth will participate in the Youth Olympic Games and the yearlong Art Basel initiative will ensure bursts of visual brilliance around the city. But “BA” already has world-class art galleries and all the gourmet brilliance to bring out your inner bon vivant.

Bhutan, the last great Buddhist kingdom on edge of the Himalayas, is unsurprisingly replete with monasteries, fortresses (known as dzongs) and incredibly-dramatic landscapes. You will need a head for heights — and lungs for altitude — if you really want to explore some of the peaks, but lodgings vary for every budget. Expect ultra-affordable accommodations dotted around the diminutive nation, as well as luxurious new openings, such as Amankora in Bumthang. The country has only been developing tourism since 1974 — and just 287 visitors showed up that year.

Portugal’s volcanic archipelago is now served by more flights than ever. And while Sintra and the Algarve are impressive enough destinations, places like São Miguel Island are a hybrid of worlds, blending European culture with South American exoticism on the cobbled streets of Ponta Delgada and UNESCO’s Angra do Heroismo, a charming 18th century city. There is also oodles of nature across the nine main islands, with geothermal hot springs, incredible flora and whale watching at Faial or Pico, 1,643km west of Lisbon.

The cradle of human civilization and the birthplace of the coffee bean, Ethiopia is a surprising destination for many. Made famous for famine and crises, the nation is often written off as a destination for leisure, but Addis Ababa is a great base from which you can explore — and has much to offer in its own right. Highlights include the fourth century home of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant and the medieval castles of Gondar. And if you fancy yourself as the modern Indiana Jones, the 12th century churches of Lalibela, carved from stone, and the grass-roofed monasteries of Lake Tana, from where the Blue Nile flows, are essential viewing.

What sounds like an obscure location to the uninitiated, Uzbekistan was once the heart of the iconic Silk Road trading route, which passed through Bukhara and Samarkand. The modern former-Soviet nation has retained so much of its rich history, evident through its striking architecture, and the Muslim-majority nation is both affordable and safe for all-comers. People have inhabited Bukhara for more than 5,000 years and a visit to the UNESCO-listed city center is tantamount to a trip back in time. Expect a crossroads of cultures, with Persian and Russian influences, evident in food, art and more.

Norway is often hidden in the long winter shadow of its Scandinavian sisters, but the country’s capital is set to celebrate a special year. Queen Sonja and King Harald V with celebrate 50 years of marriage, while each blowing out 80 candles for their respective birthdays. Visitors can expect an incredible roster of events, including celebrations for the 10th birthday of the Oslo Opera House. But irrespective of when you visit, expect cultural delights at an array of museums and plenty of Instagram opportunities across the quaint city spots — not to mention the nearby scenic fjords.

While Sharm El-Sheikh has waned in popularity and Cairo is more stifling than ever, many Egyptian locals choose to staycation in El-Gouna. The modern resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea, near Hurghada, is built along the shore and on small islands and is known for its lagoons, coral reefs and sandy beaches. It is a kitesurf paradise and the bustling Abu Tig Marina is decked with vibrant restaurants and bars. Literally translating to “The Lagoon,” the dedicated tourist resort dates back to 1989 and boasts 18 hotels — one for every hole on the golf course designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples.

One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BCE and with the growth of the Armenian economy, tourism is now a delight. Gourmet restaurants, shops, and street cafés were not commonplace during the Soviet era, but the capital city now blends the aesthetics of its past with modern sensibilities — all for a snip of the price of many European alternatives. From the dancing fountains of the Republic Square to the ruins of the Urartian city of Erebuni, Yerevan has charm galore.

While millions are pinning Zanzibar on their Pinterest boards, there are alternative options along Africa’s east coast that deliver just as much for your money. With Arab and Portuguese forts, medieval towns and the deserted ruins of Swahili, the island of Lamu is dripping with heritage. Expect well-appointed, authentic townhouse accommodations, serene beaches, sleepy markets and surprises around every corner in the narrow streets of Lamu Town. Unlike other Swahili settlements which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has continuously been inhabited for over 700 years and it is no wonder UNESCO has named it a Heritage Site.

Winter at Tantora: Musical extravaganza at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula heritage site

Updated 07 December 2018

Winter at Tantora: Musical extravaganza at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula heritage site

  • Majida El-Roumi, Renaud Capuçon and Omar Khairat among top attractions at 8-week extravaganza
  • The last two weekends of “Winter at Tantora” will be headlined by Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and Greek composer Yanni

JEDDAH: One of the most important historically preserved sites for culture and heritage in Saudi Arabia is set to experience an enchanting reawakening in the near future.

Dec. 20 will mark the first of a series of eight consecutive weekends of themed musical, sporting, and agricultural events. Each is headlined by some of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in the world, and all will perform under the desert stars of Al-Ula.

A truly magical destination unlike anywhere else in the world, Al-Ula offers historic monuments spanning generations and civilizations. Notably, it is also home to Madain Saleh, the first Saudi site to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, the eight-week extravaganza titled “Winter at Tantora” will offer festival-goers a once-in-a lifetime experience that includes culturally themed heritage events, a spectacular equestrian experience, and a celebration of the winter planting season.

Inspired by Al-Ula’s tradition of marking the beginning of the planting season, guests attending the event’s first weekend can experience Al-Ula’s authentic old town by shopping in a traditional souk, wandering through the temporary art installations, enjoying traditional cuisine, and being treated to the weekend’s first headliner by famed Saudi singer, Mohammed Abdo.

The international artists making up the first half of “Winter at Tantora” include Lebanese vocalist Majida El-Roumi, French violinist Renaud Capuçon, and multiple award-winning Egyptian composer Omar Khairat.

On Jan. 18, renowned pianist Lang Lang, a virtuoso performer who has worked with leading orchestras worldwide, will bring his talents to Al-Ula. On Jan. 25, guests will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as they experience the late and much-beloved Egyptian singer Um Kulthum, as her extraordinary image and vocals will be showcased via hologram in Saudi Arabia’s first-ever “virtual” concert.

The last two weekends of “Winter at Tantora” will be headlined by Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and Greek composer Yanni. The former will be featured at the conclusion of “The Endurance Cup,” a demanding Arabian horse race that will bring competitors from the Middle East and Europe.  The Royal Commission for Al-Ula is constantly working with local, national and international experts as it continues to restore, preserve, and present Al-Ula’s rich natural heritage to the world.

“Winter at Tantora” aims to contribute by showcasing this destination to tourists. The festival, which runs from Dec. 20 to Feb. 9, will be all-inclusive. From transportation to accommodations, all ticket packages aim to ensure a relaxing, enjoyable, and unforgettable experience for all guests in attendance.

The reception area inside the hall will feature visual presentations of paintings by the world famous painter Van Gogh.