The year that was

It’s been a busy year of travelling and it’s time to take stock. Here Just About Travel contributor and travel enthusiast, Kaye Holland, shares five of her favourite 2014 travel destinations

 

Hamburg (Germany)
Tired of the same German city breaks (think Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt et al?). Then head to Hamburg – Germany’s second metropolis and a city so full of character you may just want to move there. Admittedly Hamburg doesn’t make it into too many tourist brochures but when you get there it’s hard to see why not: the Port City boasts urban beaches, a buzzy market vibe, great galleries, gourmet eating and a thriving maritime scene (with two inner-city lakes, one river, almost 2,500 bridges, a world-renowned sea port and two oceans close by, Hamburg is first and foremost a maritime destination).
But above all it’s about enjoying a banging night out: Hamburg rivals Berlin  – not to mention most cities in Europe – when it comes to nightlife, which as varied as it is plentiful stretching from trendy dive bars to smart clubs, edgy discos and live music venues. The aforementioned only really get going around midnight but panic not. You can stay out until sunrise without worrying about getting a dirty look from the hotel receptionist because absolutely everybody in the city does it. My last night in town ended late, natch, but while I woke up the next morning  with my head ringing, my heart was singing. Underrated Hamburg may just be my favourite European city.

Limone Pimeonte (Italy)
Decided that 2015 will be the year that you give skiing a go? Then look to Limone Piemonte in Italy. Never heard of it? Prepare for that to change. Located approximately a 90 minute drive south of Turin,  Limone Piemonte is late out of the tourism starting gate and doesn’t attract the constant influx of skiers that Courchevel and Cortina do. But we can probably all survive a skiing trip without bumping into the Sloane rangers… Limone may be something of an overlooked  skiing land, but it’s one worth acquainting yourself with if you want character and local charm  – rather than inflated prices.
Spend your days swishing through perfect  powdery snow and nights tucking into fabulous five course meals.  But while Riserva Bianca is best known as a winter destination, it’s actually a location for all seasons. Visit in spring and you can witness nature emerging from its slumber. Visit in summer and you can hike and bike along the miles of mountain trails. Come in autumn and explore the charming small town or simply enjoy the quiet of elevated territory.

Tel Aviv (Israel)
Can’t choose between perfect beaches and bronzed bodies, a buzzy city atmosphere or architectural treasures? Israel’s largest city delivers them all – along with gastronomy, history and culture -  in spades.
Of course Tel Aviv has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons but don’t be deterred from visiting: travelling to Tel Aviv – whose name means ‘Hill of the Spring’ – no longer constitutes an active threat.  Tourists have rarely been targeted and you’ll be warmly greeted by Israelis looking to shed their country’s international reputation.
In fact I defy you to to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – locals who will bend over backwards to help you during your sojourn in the White City. Those that I was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Harrow, I don’t know my neighbours – absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.
All told if you want to put the pep back in your step, if you want to live life to the full and be bold, bright and fabulous, Tel Aviv delivers. It’s an easy journey being only a short four hour flight away from Blighty but – at the risk of gushing – I’d travel to the ends of the earth for a little time out in Tel Aviv.

Tulum (Mexico)
There’s something of a buzz building around Tulum: The Sunday Times’ Michael Hennegan hailed Tulum as the “only place to be on New Year’s Eve” while Louis Vuitton has even gone so far as to name a bag after the town. However compared to its cousins, Cancun and Playa del Carmen, it’s still without the crowds (but with the character).
Individuality, you see, is what Tulum does best so you won’t find identikit chain hotels and restaurants catering mostly to tourists here. Rather you’ll find boutiques, bakeries and cantinas (traditional Mexican watering holes). Other assets include sugar-like sands and azure waters but only a philistine would come to Tulum without seeing the world famous Maya ruins which, without a doubt, is one of those travel benchmarks.
The scenery – think ancient ruins set against a backdrop of golden beaches and blue Caribbean sea – is so beautiful it will bring a tear to your eye. Rich in natural splendour and culture, Tulum will warm any traveller’s heart.

New Orleans
Louisiana’s favourite city takes some beating when it comes to diversity (the former French colony was given to the Spanish in 1763, until America took control in 1863) and its’ colourful history can be felt in the medley of architectural styles, think trademark Creole townhouses, shuttered windows, Spanish courtyards and ironic ironwork balconies. The South’s foremost city has  resisted the pressure to become the same as everywhere else, or as a slogan I spied on a t-shirt  in a shop targeting tourists near the port put it: “In New Orleans, normal is a setting on a dryer.” For make no mistake: Nola boasts an infectious joie de vivre found in few places on earth.
Of course all this partying will make you hungry. Fortunately food is another part of New Orlean’s pleasures: apply the ‘never eat what you could have at home’ rule and get stuck into good tasting local specials such as beignets, jambalaya, gumbo (magic in a bowl), boudin and crawfish.
Much like Tennessee Williams – who once famously remarked “America has only three cities,  New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland” – I am forever smitten.