It was pandemonium in the office when we posed the who’s-going-where-next question. Everyone wanted to shout about the exotic places on their wish lists, and where they’ll be jetting off to over the next couple of months. With that in mind, we collated a list of our hot picks for summer – some are tried and tested favourite, while others might just surprise you. Take a look below…
Find a wine bar in…Madeira.
Remember when Peter Andre went into the jungle and the nation recoiled in horror, united in their flashbacks of greased-up curtains, dodgy dancing and too much body oil, circa Mysterious Girl? Well, somewhere between Mr Andre leaving the jungle and now, he’s become kind of cool. And it’s the same deal with Madeira. A couple of years back, lots of people thought this gorgeously green island was the official HQ of OAPs. But now they’re cottoning on to the fact it’s one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan spots. Stay in the capital, Funchal, and it’s all sleek wine bars, gourmet restaurants and designer shopping. Yes, there are flowers here, but you don’t have to be Charlie Dimock to appreciate them – we defy even stroppy teenagers not to be impressed with the bursts of fuchsia bougainvillea and lilac jacaranda trees.
Delve inside a baroque church in…Sardinia
If you’ve twizzled pasta in Tuscany and maxed out your credit card in Milan, consider Sardinia, an island 180 kilometres off Italy’s mainland. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just a condensed carbon copy of Italia, but it’s got a personality all of its own. Over the centuries, it’s been a service station for journeying empires, and 7 civilisations have left their architectural mark on the capital, Cagliari. The best heirlooms are the Roman amphitheatre and the Duomo, an edgy mix of gothic and baroque design. The city of Alghero, meanwhile, keeps the memory of its Spanish colonizers alive in its Catalan dialect and street signs. Foreign influences aside, the island has snow-white beaches that could have been shipped from the Caribbean. You’ll be glad to know the food is just as scrumptious as it is on the mainland, too. Expect countless pasta dishes, good wine, and island specialities like myrtle-stuffed wild boar.
Don’t worry, be happy…in Jamaica
When Bob Marley sang those famous words “every little thing, is gonna be alright”, he wasn’t joking. On the slow-going island of Jamaica, the locals’ laid-back, carefree vibe is absolutely infectious. Granted, if we lived somewhere that offered up perfect talcum-powder beaches, bath-warm turquoise waves and tropical jungle, we’d be a little more chilled out, too. But it’s not just the amazing scenery that makes us want to go. It’s the reggae-infused beach bars, the rainbow-coloured markets and the friendly locals that keep visitors grinning from dusk ‘til dawn. Hike through the mysterious Blue Mountains, swim with sea turtles, then find a hut on the beach in Runaway Bay to dine on sticky jerk chicken and Appleton’s white rum.
Discover Caribbean-worthy beaches…in Cape Verde
Tourism is still taking its early steps in Cape Verde, a group of 10 castaway islands scattered off the coast of West Africa. You need to act quickly, though, as it won’t be this way for long. The draw? Well, these tranquil isles offer up serious Caribbean credentials without the long-haul flight (you can be there in six hours). The most popular islands, Sal and Boa Vista, have dramatic, lunar-like landscapes. Think dusky pink rock stretching as far as the eye can see. Head towards the outskirts, meanwhile, and you’ll understand the Caribbean comparisons. Snow-white ribbons of sand washed by clear, turquoise waves, they’re the type of beaches you’d expect to see in Goa or Grenada. As for the towns? They’re brimming with rainbow-coloured houses, sleepy shops and barefoot kids playing football in the squares.
Escape the crowds in…Thassos
Greece’s northernmost island comes with a bit more elbow room than some of its neighbours. Don’t worry, all the clichés are present and correct – Thassos offers up sprawling olive groves, whitewashed hamlets and forgotten beaches with the best of them – but here, you can explore them without the tourist hubbub. Of all the Greek Islands, Thassos is also the true authentic. While others have added the likes of lively karaoke bars and all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants, this place has dug in its heels and remained a paragon of tradition. Thanks to its never-ending countryside, it’s a big favourite with walkers, but you don’t have to go on a full-on hike to appreciate the surroundings. Just fill a picnic basket with some crusty bread and feta cheese, and head up into the hills for the afternoon. Ouzo optional.