The weather has finally come good. As opposed to surprise the curtains are drawn to clear sky’s we start to become more expectant of good weather and bright days. You’ll be forgiven then, for perhaps casting your mind forward a touch, imaging what beach or foreign land you can research and explore when normality returns and travel is an option. We thought that, from the comfort of our own homes, the Brook Taverner team would put their heads together to provide a list of their best travel destinations.
Japan is almost as east as we can travel from the UK. With a travel time of 12 hours (direct flights are readily available) it is arguably a culture with the largest differences to our homeland. The landscape is formed from volcanic rock, and its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire provides wonderful scenery, an array of hot springs and a feel that only an island can provide, no matter its size. It’s capital, Tokyo, is a city unlike any other in the world. With an array of skyscrapers, a metro system with to-the-second punctuality and the busiest crossing in the world – The Shibuya Crossing – where over three thousand people cross at any one time, there truly is nowhere else like it.
It’s a city where sushi reigns supreme. The most recent fad consists of automated delivery in restaurants whereby an order is placed on a tablet screen and robots deliver the food automatically via tracks not too dissimilar to mini rollercoasters. If the hustle and bustle of Tokyo isn’t your scene then you are merely 40 minutes away from the famous Mt Fuji – the distinctively domed volcano is stunning and if you have the energy, is possible to climb up with unbelievable panoramic views as your reward.
In addition to Tokyo and Mount Fuji, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima are all recommended ‘must-dos’ and, if you have the freedom of choice, late March to early April see’s the duration of the Cherry Blossom season. With the stunning scenery and cultural significance, it adds yet another dimension to a fascinating location.
A touch closer to home and possible to visit on a far more economical budget. Belgium may only be a stone’s throw away in comparison to others on this list, but with flights available for less than £100 return if you find the right deal, the architecture, character and history makes it one of the best value-for-money city breaks. With Brussels and Bruges top of the list, it’s a location that transports you through time as you visit – even if you only walk ten minutes.
Brussels in particular offers architecture panning over hundreds of years, as well as providing modern and fascinating exhibitions. The Grand-Place of Brussels delivers a 360-degree view not too dissimilar to St Mark’s Square in Venice and is home to the fascinating Brussels City Museum and the Gothic Town Hall. The whole square lights up daily as soon as the sun sets, making it a fantastic place to take a breather and perhaps the odd local beverage or two – luckily it’s beer - it would be rude not to partake.
Nearby, the wonderful sites of the Parc De Bruxelles, the Royal Palace and the Palace of Justice can be found among numerous other wonderful sites; and just 20 minutes away you’ll find the newly built (relatively speaking) home of the European Quarters. This is all without evening mentioning the instantly recognisable Atomium, located just outside the city. Finally, as you’re only an hour away by train from the canal city of Bruges to the west, it would be impossible to ignore the temptation of the stunning city full of locally brewed beers, some of Europe’s best tasting chocolate and more waffles than previously thought possible.
Moving to the opposing end of the financial scale to one of the more expensive holiday locations means that, whilst your wallet may not thank you, the scenery is unrivalled and the people among the nicest in the world – making the experience well worth it. Whilst Toronto is one of the most liveable cities in the northern hemisphere, Niagara Falls is at the top of many people’s bucket lists (although beware of the city of Niagara – quickly being coined the Las Vegas of Canada!), this recommendation focuses on the West of the country, namely Vancouver, British Columbia and Banff, Alberta.
Vancouver may not be one of the first recommendations on many people’s lists, but it is certainly one of Northern America’s underappreciated cities. Nestled less than an hour north of the Washington State border and on the North Pacific coast, it has the mountainous views of the Alps, the seafood of Nova Scotia and the people of, well, Canada. With a sprawling city landscape located primarily on a headland, you’re never more than a ten-minute walk away from pristine sea’s and sandy beaches. With the tip of the headland dedicated solely to green land in the shape of Stanley Park, the opportunity to walk, cycle, swim and sunbathe is never far away.
A ‘short’ ten-hour drive inland will take you to Banff. Quite simply, the Banff National Park is one of the most picturesque, wildlife-rich and walk-friendly locations in the world. Whether it’s Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka or Peyto Lake, a quick search online will show you the pictures that words can’t describe. Due to glacial inlets, the water is an ‘azure’ blue colour unlike anywhere else. All are surrounded with dozens of walking trails to help you get away from the cluster of tourists. Whether it’s to take in the sights, trying your hand at kayaking the crystal clear waters or partaking in the ski season, Banff certainly isn’t a place you’ll forget any time soon.
With too much discussion about the two Baltic Nations, we decided to group together the (as good as) neighbouring countries of Croatia and Montenegro. Both locations offer a diverse culture, an extensive recent history in regards to the breakup of Yugoslavia, a fantastic range of fresh food options as well as the idyllic views and climate that come with Adriatic Sea. Separated only by a twelve mile stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovinian coastline, recommended cities consist of Split, Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Budva and Sveti Stefan (the wedding location of tennis player Novak Djokovic), but the two simply unmissable locations are Dubrovnik and Kotor.
Despite spanning across different countries with a Bosnian border in between, drive time is less than two hours and the cultural differences may not be as numerous as initially expected. Both host grand city walls protecting rustic and traditional old towns with uniformed red roofs, required to reflect the pleasant Adriatic sun. This sun, and their geographical locations, are perfect to provide enough warmth to travel at any time between April and September. No matter when you travel, you’re sure to be overloaded with the sheer impressiveness of the cities architecture and character.
If the great weather, fantastic food and drink, and stunning buildings aren’t enough for you, both locations are steeped in history. Not just the collapse of Yugoslavia but both Dubrovnik and Kotor have a long and rich history due to their favourable location as the gateway into the Mediterranean. As pinnacle trading posts throughout history, this brought both wealth and envy. With this, brought many time periods of different people, cultures and attitudes – all of which can be explored in great depth across both cities.