How do you enjoy your summer holiday

download-3We know what you’re thinking; Club 18-30 holidays, lager-swilling expats and tacky resorts. These preconceptions are not entirely unfounded – Tenerife was a pioneer of the “pile them high, sell them cheap” approach to package holidays – but the island has strived to shake off this reputation and attract a more salubrious clientele.

Posh new resorts, a burgeoning restaurant scene and spiritual retreats are helping Tenerife recast itself as a destination for the discerning holidaymaker, while its sandy beaches, volcanic landscapes and warm weather sell themselves. Flight time from Britain? Four hours.

Dubbed the “smiling coast of West Africa”, Gambia has long been Europe’s shortcut to the tropics. This former British colony might be the smallest nation in mainland Africa, but it punches well above its weight as a holiday destination… and it’s just five hours from London.

Most come to imbibe sunshine on sandy beaches, others to marvel at the world-renowned birdlife (Chris Packham is a regular). The more adventurous traveller can don hiking boots and trek through the jungle or cruise up the Gambia River in search of pygmy hippos and crocs.

Cape crusader: Cape Verde

Tourism is on the rise in Cape Verde, but you won’t be jostling for space on the beaches just yet. That will change, however, as holidaymakers arrive at this African archipelago in increasing numbers. Floating off the coast of Senegal, this former Portuguese colony boasts a surprising diversity of landscapes for such a small nation; sweeping sandy beaches, luscious mountain ranges and frozen lava fields are just part of the picture.

The golden beaches and limpid waters are the main draws, but the archipelago also offers excellent trekking, world-class windsurfing and a rich fusion of Portuguese and Cape Verdean culture – all within five hours of Britain.

Arabian allure: Oman

The jewel of Arabia, Oman is seven hours from London and this sunny sultanate is perfect for a midwinter getaway. With 1,700km (1,056 miles) of coastline, the country has no shortage of sandy beaches, which are glorious gateways to some of the best dive sites in the Middle East.

But sea, sun and sand are just part of the story; head inland and you can hike through verdant rainforests, camp with Bedouins and share epic vistas with mountain-dwelling shepherds. And spare a day for Muscat, the historic capital, where ancient palaces, grandiose mosques and bustling souks abound.

Caribbean beach is wonderful place for visit

download-4Couples looking to unplug and enjoy each other should head to Petit St. Vincent. With only one resort, boasting 22 cottages spread over 47 hectares (115 acres) of tropical woodlands and impeccable service, this place is the ultimate in seclusion. Hoist a yellow flag outside your cottage to have one of the butlers swing by and take a message, or fly a red one for “Do Not Disturb”.

Finding a private sliver of sand to picnic, swim or just relax on is easy, as the island is completely surrounded by a strip of sugar white sand, and when you’ve relaxed quite enough, find a perch at the beach bar where you’ll catch sunsets glowing fiery orange and purple whilst enjoying a cold beverage.

Need a little more than a beach to keep you entertained? St. Kitts and Nevis combines culture and relaxation brilliantly. On the island of Nevis, you’ll find the Hamilton House museum, the former residence of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the US, who was born on there in 1757. There’s also the Horatio Nelson museum commemorating the British naval hero, who got married on the island, and which houses the largest collection on memorabilia in the Americas.

Plan a visit to the many sugar plantation ruins that dot both islands to delve into their colonial past – the Eden Brown Estate is said to be haunted. If you weary of museums, Lover’s beach offers seclusion with tropical charm while Newcastle beach is ideal for a stroll.

If you’re a nature lover, Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) should be at the top of your list. While it has less in way of sandy beaches, this island is overwhelmed with jungle and trekking opportunities. A fantastic amount of flora and fauna thrive on the island – you’ll encounter brightly coloured parrots and 3m- (10ft-) long boa constrictors aplenty.

Need a beach to unwind on after a day of wildlife? Try Wavine Cyrique on the east coast. You have to hike to get there, but shrouded by the low-lying fog of the surrounding jungle and black sands, it certainly feels exotic.

Philippines island for travelling

download-5

The journey to Siargao should have taken an hour, but we’d already been in the air that long when an enormous cloud tore across the sky and chased us twice around the island.

When we finally touched down I realised that the runway we’d been circumnavigating was little more than a finger swipe through custard, a patch of scrubland disappearing into the jungle around it.

After hauling my bag from the prop plane, baffled at the lack of security checks, I climbed into a waiting jeepney, the ubiquitous and colourfully adapted American army jeeps used as public transport in the Philippines.

Bouncing along the dirt track was like stepping back in time. The only life in the dense palm jungle was around basic stilt huts clinging to the road edge. Bamboo frames held up corrugated iron roofs which acted as petrol stations. One litre of gas in a Coca Cola bottle would set you back 20p. Carabao grazed lazily in lush rice paddies; the smell of slow-cooked Lechon pig hung in the hot air.

Siargao (pronounced Shar-gow) is one of over 7,000 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. Perched 448km (278 miles) off the coast of cacophonic Cebu, the teardrop-shaped isle is relatively unknown, except to the surfing community, for whom it is a mecca.

Compared to neighbouring Boracay (an island with a 5-star Shangri-La resort, full moon parties and a busy airport), Siargao is a sleepy sibling. There are no direct international flights and volatile weather makes current airline timetables chaotic.

But all this will change from 2015 as more than £400,000 is set to be spent on improving and extending Siargao’s Sayak Airport over the next three years.

I was in Siargao to visit the legendary surf at Cloud 9, a break on the east coast made famous by the World Surf League in 2011. I also had a profound urge to set foot on one of the world’s last remaining undeveloped spots.

Whilst on the island I stayed at Buddha’s, a hippie collection of thatched bungalows and hammocks just metres from the beach. I’d rise each morning at 6am and make my way through palm fronds to the sand. I’d heave my board onto a waiting bangkang (a traditional wooden outrigger used to fish) that transported surfers beyond the reef.

By the time we’d reach the swell, the sun would be high and the heat intense. There were only ever a handful of other surfers to compete with, so I’d spend two blissful hours carving watery tracks before heading back for a breakfast of eggs, bacon and fresh calamansi juice. By 6pm I’d sit and watch another sunset, convinced I’d found a personal heaven, my own Cloud 9.

This feeling resonated with many of the expatriates I met on the island, including Gerry Degan, the owner of Sagana, a resort with direct access to the Cloud 9 surf spot.

Gerry and his Filipino wife moved here from Australia in 1995, when the tourism industry was non-existent. With the help of a local, Gerry bought a plot of land and opened the resort. The airport extension makes him anxious, but he’s pragmatic.

“It’s a catch-22,” he says. “We would all like to keep the charm of the undiscovered tropical paradise, but as word leaks out of course more people will come. As a business owner it makes things much easier, but as a surfer my concern is that the waves will become overcrowded and I came here to surf a quiet break.”

Cruise routes that you should know about

Enjoy one of the world’s last great unspoilt wildernesses with a cruise through Alaska, a land of eye-popping beauty and a thrilling array of animal and marine life. Imagine aqua-coloured, mile-high glaciers, soaring mountain peaks, rainforest-blanketed coastlines, and frontier towns little changed from the days of the gold rush. Look out for grizzlies and brown bears gorging on salmon, majestic bald eagles, the distinctive fluke of a humpback whale, seals and sea lions lazing on icebergs, frolicking dolphins, impressive orcas and more. Shore excursions in Alaska include wildlife viewing tours as well as the chance to appreciate the scenery from all angles: choose from helicopter trips and sea kayaking to glacier trekking and mountain biking.

Best time to go: Between May and September.
Ships to Alaska: Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Sea Cruises, Royal Caribbean International.
Alternatives: Antarctica, Galapagos.

Thanks to the geography of the region, many small islands can be crammed into a week-long cruise, making it a great choice if you’re time poor. Cruises tend to start from one of the islands, or from US ports in Florida or Texas. Eastern Caribbean cruises typically include Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St Croix, St Kitts, St Maarten, St Lucia and St Thomas; western Caribbean itineraries take in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Mexico while southern Caribbean cruises call at Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Tortola and the ABC islands.

Best time to go: November and May.
Ships to the Caribbean: Cunard, Fred Olsen, P&O, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises.
Alternatives: Australia, Fiji and Pacific

If you’re a cruise virgin, don’t be too ambitious; choose a week’s western Med cruise to earn your sea legs. Crammed with a medley of arts, culture, historical gems, beaches, cafes, shops, not forgetting mouth-watering food and wine, you’ll visit some of Europe’s most breathtaking cities such as Rome, Florence, Portofino (Italy); Barcelona, Alicante, Cadiz, Palma (Spain); Monte Carlo, Cannes, St Tropez(France); Lisbon, Portimao (Portugal), sometimes even sailing as far south as exotic Casablanca (Morocco). With a blend of large and medium sized ships, there is something to suit all budgets but bear in mind the former are likely to offer a more diverse blend of shore excursions.

Best time to go: All year around, but avoid the summer if you don’t like crowds and high temperatures.
Ships to the Med: Carnival, Costa Cruises, Holland America, Princess, Silversea and Windstar.
Alternatives: Baltic, or river cruises such as the Nile, Danube or Rhine

How Wonderful of Greece Island

When I was told I’d be visiting Skopelos, the Greek island on which the 2008 hit film Mamma Mia was set, I was more than a little bit excited. I know what you’re thinking, but what’s wrong with a 23-year-old male enjoying a musical based on the hit songs of Abba? Besides it’s the fastest selling DVD of all time in the UK, so chances are, whether you choose to publicly admit it or not, you probably love it too.

In my mind, striding (or crawling as I’d later find out) up the steps to the hilltop white chapel in front of which Meryl Streep sings The Winner Takes It All to a clearly uncomfortable Pierce Brosnan, would be a personal travel highlight, deeming previous trips to landmarks like the Eiffel Tower insignificant in comparison.
The island of Skopelos, home of the Mamma Mia church, was the last stop on my whirlwind tour of the Sporades, a lesser-known 24-island archipelago off the eastern coast of mainland Greece. Had I known then what I know now, perhaps I would have been in less of a hurry to skip right to the end of the trip.

Cheese pies

It was early morning and the sun was just beginning to prickle at the back of my neck as we meandered through the narrow streets of Alonissos’s Old Town. Even though I knew my heart lay in Skopelos, I had to admit that Alonissos struck an impressive first impression. Built into the remnants of a giant hilltop castle that once protected the island from roaming pirates, the Old Town appeared to me as the embodiment of traditional Greece, with tables from white-walled and orange-roofed restaurants spilling out into the winding streets, unoccupied mostly, except for the occasional local smoking a roll up black liquorish cigarette with a stray cat lounging at their feet.
We followed one of the weaving castle paths to a small courtyard with a collection of simple wicker tables overlooking the sea. This was Hayiati, a bar boasting the most scenic beer garden I’d ever seen.

Upon taking a seat we were greeted by a woman with wide hips and a huge smile, the owner, who insisted immediately that we try a home-made cheese pie. Before visiting the Sporades I had no idea that Greece was famous for cheese pie, but after being fed over a dozen of them during my short trip, I’m certainly well aware now. However, out of all the cheese pies I sampled, Hayiati’s was the best. A simple recipe: home-made dough topped with feta and spinach. I seized a few large slices and leisurely took in the view.

Surf is the intersting one if you travelling on beach

So this is it: the long-thought Gate of Hell; once the very edge of the known world, now the threshold to a very new one. As a turnstile to an eternal inferno, it’s not what I had envisioned.

Sure, the heat blisters. The sun, as a pre-curser to the Gate opening, is doing its blazing best as a warm up act. Yawning from a night shift, my watch is stretching its hands out at 0915, and already I’m in shorts.

Perhaps I expected something more apocalyptic than a rum-dark South China Sea; maybe someone more prophetic than the ocean goddess, Mazu, who busily kneads six foot waves into the soft, butter-blonde sands of Riyue Bay.

Whatever I’d conceived, it didn’t include a beret-bearing, oak-skinned Californian surfer called Brendan and an all but abandoned paradisiacal beach. Yet at Hainan Island, the most southerly point of China, that’s exactly what I’ve found.

Brendan has been shacked up here for around seven years. His Riyue Bay Surf Club on the southeast of the island has all the indicia of a self-shaped surf spot: the hand painted driftwood signs (“No Sharks”, “No Limitations”); an acoustic guitar; a bar made from a surfboard, serving imported beer; year-round waves.

For centuries, Hainan was the end of China’s civilised world. The island was a real-life Diyu (Chinese purgatory), where banished Dynasty dissents were left abandoned between the fruits of the Forbidden City and an imminently impending afterlife.

In the 800s, Tang Dynasty prime minister and aspirant poet, Li Deyu, coloured Hainan as the “Gate of Hell”, but as a consequence of China’s ever-quickening evolution, it’s an island still finding its identity. It swirls together the synchronised chaos of classic China (neon lights, noisy bikes and exotic street food) whilst alluding towards a future of homogeneous modernity (deluxe hotel chains, beach weddings and Western menus). Its lost coves, rainforest-rimmed mountains and deserted volcanic villages await rediscovery.

As my surf lesson with Brendan progresses from practising in the sand to lolloping upon grumbling tides, a school of local children ride waves further up the coast. They’re in the water wearing wetsuits and wilting straw hats. Face-kinis are also a regular sight on the beach.

“The locals don’t like to tan,” Brendan explains. “If they’re tanned, it means they work outside and people will think they’re poor. That’s why beaches are often empty in the day and get busier around five.”

Lets see sharks in Utila

Samantha Wilson heads to Útila in Honduras in search of Old Tom, the legendary barnacle-encrusted whale shark who has plied the waters for decades.

“Put your faces in the water, sharks don’t fly!”

Bobbing among the dark, slapping waves off of the Honduran coast I hear the shout of our captain over the gentle hum of the dive boat engine. My heavy, nervous breaths through my snorkel make it harder still.

I heed his holler, though, and dip beneath the glistening surface. Finally I get a glimpse of what I have been searching for: a whale shark, the biggest fish in the ocean.

At 9m (30 ft) long, it glides effortlessly beneath my fins, sashaying gracefully with every swish of its enormous, pointed tail. I swim breathlessly alongside, keeping up with it for several minutes until it dives and its blue and white spotted body disappears into the depths of the Caribbean Sea.

They tend to frequent warm, tropical seas and Utila’s plankton-rich waters are a major stopping point on their great migrations along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

Tilting their powerful bodies vertically, they open their wide mouths to gorge, creating a feeding frenzy which encourages small tuna to join in the feast. Known as boils, the tuna writhe in the water, their splashes alerting trained eyes to the presence of a whale shark just below the surface.

Local fishermen call them Old Tom after a legendary, barnacle-encrusted whale shark that plied Utila’s waters for decades. Back on the shore, in doorways of the stilted, pastel-coloured houses that make up the Honduras’ Bay Islands, they still tell rum-heartened tales about the great beast, which they say reached 18m (60ft) in length.

Whale sharks skim the north shore here throughout the year, but the best sightings are in March and April at the height of their little-understood migrations. Scientists have long been left baffled by their 5,000 mile-long (8,045 km) trips, and individual sharks have been tracked as far as the mid-Atlantic en route to South Africa after leaving the Belizean Reef. The mystery of where they give birth remains unanswered too, but that just adds to their magnetism.

Ulita was the island where unruly English pirates used to come in search of Spain’s golden treasures but now it lures in wannabe scuba divers with promises of PADI courses, a paradisiacal coastline and rustic eateries. The biggest prize on offer though, is a chance to see Old Tom saunter past.

Five best places to see whale sharks in the world

1) Santz Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
With a wealth of underwater life and reams of unafraid animal species, it is little wonder whale sharks can also be spotted at the Galapagos Islands. Your best chance of greeting the gracious giant is between June and November.

2) South Ari Atoll, Maldives
As a Marine Protected Area, the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives is limited to the number of human disturbances allowed to take place in its waters, which makes year-round whale shark spotting even more precious here.

3) Cabo San Sebastian, Mozambique
Cabo San Sebastian and the nearby Tofo Beach are popular whale shark dive spots for a reason: the wealth of plankton attracts the biggest number of whale sharks in Africa.

4) Donsol, Philippines
Not only does Donsol have some of the clearest depths in the Philippines, authorities only allow snorkelling in the area which reduces sea life disturbances. Ethical and magical, this is the spot where whale sharks were first recorded.

5) Anse Capucins, Mahé, Seychelles
If you happen to honeymoon in October and November, the dives around Anse Capucins to the south of Mahé in the Seychelles, are ideal for falling in love with something other than your partner: whale sharks. The fish are protected here and with warm emerald waters and regular sightings, you won’t want to leave.

An upgrade when you are flying

We all love the idea of getting something for nothing but the chances of getting a free flight upgrade these days are slimmer than Kate Middleton’s waist. Fluttering your eyelashes or flashing a Bond-like smile at check-in just won’t cut it. But it’s not impossible to work your way up from crushed cattle class to something a little cushier, especially if you know how to work the system.

Airlines always overbook so you may be asked at check-in if you’re willing to be bumped to another flight, and be offered cash for your trouble. If you accept the alternative flight, now is a good time to politely ask if you could possibly be upgraded as well, which sometimes works. If you don’t want to change flights however, ask if there’s any chance of an upgrade on the current flight instead.

This did the trick for Sue Jones, an office manager on her way back from vacation: “They offered me a different flight but I told them I just had to be on the one I’d booked to make a business meeting next day and they bumped me from economy to first class, which was brilliant!”

Sue’s case is rare however. I tried it once on my way to the Cannes Film Festival, having turned down the airline’s offer of around £300 compensation to fly next day. No luck. They managed to squeeze me onboard in my booked economy seat.

As with everything else, it’s often about who and not what you know and networking at 30,000 feet is no exception. If you have a family member or friend or even a friend of a friend who works for the airline, it can be worth its weight in gold so butter up those contacts.

You can also become ‘friends’ with your favourite airline. In fact, frequent flyer programmes are among your best chances of getting an upgrade, especially at check-in. Frequent flyer Richard Ellis, who’s had some success, said: “Show your frequent flyer card at check-in and politely ask if they are upgrading passengers that day. Offer to pay. Go to the business class queue. Explain that you’d like to get some work done and ask if there’s a waiting list you can go on. It helps if you are carrying a laptop.”

How to handle the lost luggage

So there you are, watching the same three pieces of luggage go round and round the airport carousel and wondering if your bags are going to show up. Have you lost forever the handbag you bought for your niece, or that fetching sarong from Phuket or are you going to be left without a stitch of ski gear for the ski holiday you are about to start?

A staggering 29.4 million items of luggage were ‘mishandled’ – that’s delayed, damaged or stolen last year, according to the 2011 Baggage Report from air transport experts SITA. That’s 12 bags for every 1000 passengers.

The good news is that around 98% of all airline luggage does turn up when and where it’s supposed to, according to theInternational Air Transport Association. IATA also says that missing items usually turn up within 48 hours, thanks to a global tracking system called WorldTracer.

It’s a huge inconvenience if you are one of the unlucky ones, but there are ways to improve your chances of arriving at the airport at the same time as your luggage.

The best way to avoid lost baggage is to stick to a carry on, especially if you are only away for a few days. Pack a capsule wardrobe and rinse things out overnight or send them to the hotel laundry. Take travel-sized toiletries and toss the empty containers before you return home to make room for any souvenirs you’ve acquired. Another tip is to pack a change of clothes and everything you need to survive for the first 24 hours in your carry-on in the event your luggage gets delayed or lost.

If you must take a suitcase, travel with one bag rather than two to lessen the risk and make it the expandable kind to accommodate items bought abroad. Avoid the ubiquitous soft-sided black bag on wheels –it’s all too easy for some weary traveller to pick it up by mistake. If you can’t live without black, tie some bright ribbons to the handle or use colourful stickers or a coloured strap. Some airports offer a baggage wrapping service for extra security.

Make sure your contact details are on the outside and inside of the bag, though leave off your home address. Locks are a moot point – in the US, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) may break them open if they are not of an approved kind.

Take advantage of new technology and get a smart tag. Several companies including Back2you.com offer traceable tags using an online database for the price of an annual subscription which could pay for itself if you travel frequently.

How to get first class on cabin

Cathay Pacific Airways offers the crème de la crème of first class travel – and that’s official. TheHong Kong-based airline scooped the latest World Airlines Award title for best First Class Airline seat. And when you check out the details, it’s not difficult to see why. Among the longest and widest in the sky, the first class seat is 92cm (36 inches) across and can quickly recline into a whopping 206cm long (81 inches), 180-degree flat bed.

Private screens on the aisle help transform the ergonomically-perfect foam seat or bed into a private relaxation suite. When you’re in need of 40 winks, don your complementary sleepsuit and dive under a luxurious duvet. Feeling peckish? Indulge in the first class, made-to-order Asian and international cuisine on offer, or watch the latest movies on your own personal 43cm (17 inches) widescreen TV. Fancy some pampering? Reach for your own top range beauty kits (Acca Kappa products and Ermenegildo Zegna travel bags from Italy for him and Aesop products from Australiaand Ipa-Nima travel pouches for her).

With only nine first class seats on Cathay’s Boeing 747-400s and just six seats on the Boeing 777-300ERs, you can fly smug in the knowledge that you’re one of the privileged few.

Qatar Airways has rapidly built a stellar reputation since it first took to the skies in 1994, bagging the coveted title of world’s best airline in 2011.

As you might expect, you’re treated in style from the minute you clamber onboard the aircraft. The service is personable and professional, and the dining exquisite, with 10-course meals cooked to perfection by award-winning chefs. Loosen your belt and feast on caviar, lobster and Arabic specialities, before washing it down with fine wines and champagnes. Then sink into your ultra comfortable, 56cm (22 inches) wide seat and switch on the built-in massager to ease away any lingering tension. When sleep beckons, enjoy a personal turn down service and the privacy and comfort of a 200cm long (79 inches), 180-degree flat bed complete with a feather duvet.

If you really want to join the high rollers, Singapore Airlines’ suites, exclusively available on board the A380 aircraft, are even more decadent. Twelve suites featuring roomy, armchair-style seats, hand-stitched by Italian craftsmen, are complemented by leather and wood finishes. And in an exciting innovation for airline travel, there are separate, standalone beds measuring 198cm long (78 inches) shielded by sliding doors for unparalleled privacy.

Emirates

Ever felt the need for a revitalising shower when you’re on a plane? Now you can wash down weary muscles as a first class passenger on board Emirate’s A380 Airbuses in one of two fancy walnut-and-marble designed shower spas which have all the trimmings of a world-class hotel bathroom.

Head for the onboard lounge where you can socialise over ice cool drinks with other high rollers or instead retreat to your personal suite where the seat converts to a fully flat bed with a mattress, measuring 58cm wide (23 inches) and 218cm long (86 inches). Equipped with its own sliding door and adjustable privacy divider, you can relax in your private sanctum complete with a personal mini-bar, touch-screen TV offering 600 channels, music and games, adjustable ambient lighting, vanity table, mirror and even a wardrobe.

A dine-on-demand service means you can tuck into seven courses of delicious international cuisine whenever you feel.