Rio

How to holiday like a celebrity

Want to holiday like a Hollywood star? Kaye Holland has the low-down on the addresses to hit

Bermuda, North Atlantic Ocean
Thanks to its romantic pale pink sands and ridiculously pretty pastel houses that belong in a watercolour painting, Bermuda has long been a favourite haunt of the rich and famous. Rumour has it that Chelsea Clinton was conceived in Bermuda when Bill and Hilary were on holiday and John Lennon stayed (and played) here in the summer of 1980 while writing his last album Double Fantasy. Meanwhile movie stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were so taken with Bermuda that they bought a house, while former tennis ace Pat Rafter also has also called Hamilton (the Bermudan capital) home since 1994.
Golfers can take to the fairways (Bermuda has more golf courses per square mile than any country in the world) while sun seekers can toast themselves on Bermuda’s famous beaches . In the words of Mark Twain, Bermuda is “the perfect country for a jaded man to loaf in.”

Dubai, UAE
Dubai - one of seven emirates that make up the UAE - has become a permanent fixture on the celeb winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe. One of Dubai’s breathtaking projects is the Palm - aka three palm-shaped man made islands that are often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world owing to the fact that they, along with the Great Wall of China, can be seen from space. This awe inspiring engineering feat is home to scores of swanky apartments (Becks has bought a place on The Palm as have Freddie Flintoff and Frank Lampard) and sumptuous resorts such as the marine themed, Atlantis - the cast of Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians have been spotted hanging out here. Meanwhile model, Claudia Schiffer, makesa beeline for the The Burj Al Arab describing the Dubai property as her “favourite hotel. When I think of luxury, I think of this hotel.”

Mission Hills Haikou, Hainan Island, China
Keep it under your hat, but there’s more to China than the Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors. Say hello to Hainan - an island oasis that sits on the same latitude as Hawaii. Sanya marks the southernmost tip of the island and, owing to its sandy beaches, is where most stars choose to fly and flop. There’s an ever increasing number of five star hotels to choose from including the Ritz-Carlton (whose corridors and fountains have been inspired by Beijing’s Summer Palace) but if you want to bump into the A list likes of Christian Slater, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey, make for Mission Hills Haikou -  home to the world’s largest spa and volcanic mineral springs. The aforementioned have all left doodles in the guestbook when playing in theMission Hills ‘Star Trophy’ (an annual, pro-celebrity golf tournament).

Rio, Brazil
An intoxicating city of sun, samba, football, food, beaches and Bossa Nova, Rio has been attracting celebs for decades. The neoclassical Copacabana Palace – whose recent £20 million refurb has only served to up the decadence quota - has hosted the heads of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers (the pair immortalised the Palace in their film, Flying Down to Rio) Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise (the Top Gun star insisted on being served breakfast at 4am), Princess Diana and Justin Bieber. It’s impossible to exaggerate the glories of this property with its dazzling white facade. Elsewhere Copacabana’s more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, is home to the hip Hotel Fasano. Designed by Philippe Starcke, the Fasano attracts a cool crowd – here’s looking at you Beyonce – who flock here for its sleek rooms, gorgeous rooftop pool and glam bar.

Sandy Lane, Barbados
When Europe is under a dark blanket, every celeb seemingly heads abroad to Barbados to bask in some winter sun. Music industry mogul, Simon Cowell, his partner Lauren Silverman and ex Sinatta all seek out Barbados’ fabled west coast (nicknamed the Platinum coast) where they check into luxury beach-front resort, Sandy Lane. If you can’t afford to follow in Simon’s cuban heeled footsteps and stay at Sandy Lane, celeb spot at Lime Grove. This overdraft shattering shopping mall - within a stone’s throw of Sandy Lane - affords fabulous people watching opportunities. Mr Nasty aside, Sir Philip Green and daughter Chloe, Tulisa Contostavlos and Mariah Carey have all been spotted soaking up the sun in Barbados. As has local girl done good, Rihanna. The Bajan beauty regularly returns to her homeland for some R&R.

Gansevoort, New York
The Big Apple - home to Bloomingdales, the Empire State Building, Tiffany’s, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Central Park, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and iconic yellow taxis - has been mesmerising celebs for years. Where do they stay in the city that famously never sleeps? It’s got to be the glamorous Gansevoort - named for a nearby Dutch-christened street - in the hip Meatpacking District. Songstresses Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry like to call the hotel - whose rooms afford arresting views of the Empire State Building to the north and the Hudson River to the west - home, when in town. And of course Kim Kardashian and her then-husband Kris Humphries famously resided in the US$7,000 per nightPresidential Suite while shooting Kourtney and Kim Take New York. The real must see, however, is the hotel’s heated rooftop swimming pool (complete with underwater music!) and Plunge bar: think people watching at its best.

Necker Island, BVI
Where do the stars head when their romantic lives turn a little bit Bridget Jones? Take a bow Necker Island. This is where One Direction heart throb, Harry Styles, retreated after his break up with America’s sweetheart Taylor Swift. Located in the beautiful British Virgin Islands, Necker Island is Sir Richard Branson’s private island paradise which was recently the subject of a BBC2 documentary Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island. Hazza isn’t the only A lister that the island has welcomed: past guests include Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, Kate Winslet, Kate Moss and more. Branson's 74-acre Caribbean retreat - with its army of 100 staff- could be yours too… for a spend of £40,000 per night.

Amansala Eco-Chic Beach Resort, Tulum, Mexico
There’s something of a buzz building around Tulum - Louis Vuitton has even gone so far as to name a bag after the town. However compared to its Mexican Riveria 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) and thediscreet Amansala Eco-Chic Beach Resort (Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore are both fans of the property’s bikini bootcamp). Other assets include sugar-like sands - Ryan Phillippe, Sienna Miller, Jamie Bell, Kate Bosworth and Neil Patrick Harris have all been spotted on the beach - and azure waters but only a philistine would come to Tulum without seeing the world famous Maya ruins, truly a travel benchmark.

Miami, USA
Want to make merry with the stars? Miami - the East coast’s hottest and hippest city for fun and sun - is where it’s at. This is a shamelessly glitzy city where star sightings (Shakira, Matt Damon, Jo Lo, Enrique Iglesias and Anna Kournikova, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan – oh and OJ Simpson –  all own homes here) are ubiquitous. If you want to see the likes of Li Lo doing something tabloid worthy, book a table atupscale Chinese eatery, Philippe. It’s not cheap (the bill is as over the top as the nightly noodle show which sees a mound of dough beaten into submission before emerging as fine strands of noodles) but it’s worth it for the chance to dine alongside Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Seacrest on crispy seaweed and shrimp toast. Then dance off any excess calories consumed at achingly cool club, The Mansion. Expect to queue (the line of people pleading to be allowed past the velvet rope snakes around the block), but once inside you can revel in the company of luminaries like JT and Jessica Biel.

Kauai, Hawaii
Want to share a beach with Beyonce et al? Say aloha to Hawaii (the home state of US President Barack Obama and entertainer Bruno Mars). Stars - including Reese Witherspoon, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Charlize Theron, Kimye and Cameron Diaz -  flock to Hawaii in their droves during winter and for good reason.

True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a piece of sunny paradise.  Hawaii is home to eight different islands but Kauai (Hawaii’s fourth largest island) represents your best chance of bumping into a celeb. Increase your chances further by checking into the sumptuous St. Regis Princeville. Nestled among verdant sea cliffs, the resort boasts an incredible 19 dining options, an 11,000 square foot spa, working cattle ranch and two award winning golf courses. Sure a stay here isn’t cheap but it is unforgettable.

 

 

 

 

Memorable mid winter getaways

It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. KH has the low-down on 10 destinations where sun, sand and sea come as standard

Palm  Springs, America
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet.
Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles along Hwy 111, Palm Springs is where the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies headed when they wanted to escape the intensity of Hollywood. However it wasn’t just Dean, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr who flocked to this desert jewel. Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable: name your star and they’ll almost certainly have had an extravagant home here. The question isn’t so much who has stayed and played in Palm Springs, as who hasn’t? The Best of the Best’s ‘Rich And Famous Tour’ shows you the estates of the all of the celebs who helped put Palm Springs on the map.
But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.

South coast, Barbados
When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge, the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the  flue, in Barbados it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan hot.
Even better: it doesn’t require a string of vaccinations to get there and everyone speaks English. The majority of Brits make a beeline for Barbados’ fabled west coast which isn’t nicknamed the Platinum coast for nothing: this lap of luxury is where the jet set (think leggy models, real estate gurus, playboys and socialites) hang out.
Yes the west coast is good at showing off, but sometimes less is more right? So if, like me, you can survive a holiday without bumping into Simon Cowell and co, head south where you’ll find pockets of paradise that have not yet been lost. There’s no such thing as a bad beach in Barbados, but Brownes beach, Miami beach and Accra beach – all on the sun kissed south coast – are exceptionally fine spots to toast on a sun lounger and then spend longer in the paint box turquoise water than a dolphin.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but right now the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) is positively sizzling! The world’s best footballers were in Rio last summer for the FIFA 2014 World Cup and they’’ll be followed by the Olympic flame in 2016.
Most visitors touch down and make a beeline for the beach – be it the world famous Copacabana or its more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, both of whom have been celebrated in song and film. Regardless of where you to choose to stretch out your beach towel, expect to see Cariocas (aka residents of Rio) from all walks of life – families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sunglasses and sarongs, and socialites in huge sunglasses – coming together to get their groove on.
It would be easy – and perfectly understandable in light of the recent Siberian weather conditions in Blighty – to spend all of your time frying yourself silly on the golden sand. But Rio offers more than just a day on the beach and only a philistine would visit without ticking off the 125ft statue of Christ the Redeemer who stands, arms outstretched, on the summit of Corcovado Mountain – and ascending Sugarloaf Mountain (also referred to as Pao de Acucar).

Sanya, Hainan
A few weeks from now you could a) be counting the shades of gray in a February day or b) lying on the sand in Sanya (there’s more to China than the Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors), working on the tan.
This oasis that sits on the same latitude as Hawaii hasn’t received the recognition it deserves, having only been opened to visitors 20 years ago. As a result, it’s not as fashionable as other Asian beach destinations, but it can only be a matter of time…
Sanya marks the southernmost tip of the island of Hainan, which is roughly the same size as Belgium. Dubbed “the end of the earth” (or the “tail of the dragon” due to its remoteness in relation to Beijing), this tropical city is famous for its beaches and doesn’t disappoint. Dadonghai Bay and Sanya Bay are both fine spots for those who want to fly and flop but, budget permitting, aim to base yourself 15km east at exclusive Yalong Bay. The beach here is the best and, unless you’re mad enough to go over Chinese New Year, it’s virtually empty.

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 we 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 Britain, 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.

Riveria, Mexico
If the weather is really getting you down, fret not. Simply pull out your sense of adventure and make for Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a perfect mix of winter sun, beautiful beaches,  sea as turquoise as glass, ancient temple ruins, fine food and loud and proud Latin culture – in short everything you could want from a Mexican holiday.
Cancun is the gateway to this pocket of sunny paradise but his resort lined strip only gives you a limited view of what the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced Kin tah nah roh) has to offer. Instead push onto Playa del Carmen which manages to be hip as well as hot. The postcard charmer has decades of experience of welcoming European and Americans sun seekers who flock here to see and be seen on Playa’s Bounty advert beaches. World class snorkelling and diving (the underwater world here is a paradise for snorkellers and divers of every ability) can fill your days or you can just drift off a beachside bed and ogle the mahogany flesh – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – that is always on display before hitting Quinta Avenida which hums with activity at any hour.

Boracay, The Philippines
No visit to the Philippines is complete without spending some time on the island of Boracay whose pristine beaches and balmy waters provide a welcome escape for weary travellers. Yes, grass-roofed, fixed umbrellas are everywhere. And yes, hawkers do patrol the beach looking to sell their crafts. But it’s still possible to secure a stretch of sand for yourself, settle back and enjoy the unhurried pace of life. Some whinge that Boracay has become commercialised – that the island has too many resorts, eateries and bars (there’s even a shopping mall). Yet, while there are signs that the island is going upmarket  (Shangri La hotel has taken up a tenancy), Boracay still lags way behind any of its Thai equivalents, as far as rampant development goes.
At night, the island comes alive. Filipinos certainly know how to party. Head for the landmark beachfront bar of Hey! Jude or Bom Bom Bar – a sizzling hot sundowner spot. Under the setting sun and the blare of pop hits, you can enjoy timeless and unpretentious Filipino fun that modernity can’t surpass.

Cape Town, South Africa
It was back in 1850 that Sir Francis Drake described Cape Town as the “fairest cape in the whole circumference of the earth”. Fast-forward a few hundred years and Drake’s declaration still rings true. After a few grim decades, when the thought of visiting Cape Town and feeling the sun on your face was heavily tempered by the specter of violent crime, the city is once again back on the map, having firmly established itself as a travellers’ haven.
It might be possible to have a bad time in Cape Town, but it’s hard to see how. For in the aptly named ‘Rainbow Nation’, visitors can effectively combine a spectrum of different holidays in just one trip. The tourist target boasts an embarrassment of riches: its got awesome mountains, game reserves galore, cultural rewards in the shape of the city itself, scores of scenic attractions and yes – world class beaches where you can ogle the effortlessly gorgeous, long limbed locals basking in the sunshine. (You won’t see many soaking up the surf as the waters are cold enough to keep even the keenest of swimmers out of the ocean). Other pluses? Prices are reasonable, if not remarkably cheap and there’s no jet lag to contend with.

Dubai, UAE
As recently as two decades ago few Brits had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe.
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity.
However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakia  and the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks. Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Nha Trang, Vietnam
If you’ve ever wondered what Goa looked like before the hippies or Thailand before the high rise hotels, then Nha Trang could be your last chance to find out. Vietnam’s beach capital may not have previously figured on your mental map, yet when you get there it’s hard to see why not.
Allow me to paint the picture… the sea is the colour of Bombay sapphire, the sky is perpetually blue and the sand is platinum blonde and squeaks when you walk on it. Right now it’s warm rather than scorching, but six hours of sunshine a day is still a distinct improvement on Blighty. To the beach you can add cultural treasures, great surf and dive sites, good retail therapy, lively nightlife, fabulous food and everything from hostels to super swish resorts.
When night falls, seek out The Sailing Club: a friendly bustling establishment on the beach that’s a great spot for a night out. As you stand watching the waves crash onto the shore with a cool beer in hand while a calypso throbs in the background, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

The best of Brazil

Unless you have been living on another planet, you’ll know that the FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Brazil. But there’s more - much more -  to the fifth biggest country in the world that’s also the fifth most populous  than the ‘beautiful game’. Here Just About Travel reveals what we love most about Brazil

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The beaches
Regardless of whether you to choose to stretch out your beach towel along the world famous Copacabana or its more sibling Ipanema, expect to see Brazilians from all walks of life – families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sarongs and socialites in huge sunglasses – coming together to get their groove on.

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Havaianas
The humble rubber sandals are Brazil’s biggest export – two billion plus pairs have been sold since the company’s inception in 1862 – and come in every colour of the rainbow. In homage to the homeland, Havaianasoften sport a small Brazilian flag logo on the straps of their flip flops.

Coffee
The South American country produces 285 billion cups of coffee a year - that’s more than 40 per cent of the world’s coffee. Or as Frank Sinatra once sang: “Way down among Brazilians, Coffee beans grow by the billions, So they've got to find those extra cups to fill, They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.” Brazilian coffee tends to be much sweeter than elsewhere in the world owing to the copious amounts of sugar that is added.

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The Copacabana Palace
The neoclassical Copacabana Palace recently underwent a £20million refurb ahead of the FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics - and the results are incredible. An exercise in measured elegance, it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the glories of this property with its dazzling white facade that has hosted everyone who is anyone.

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Bossa Nova
While in Rio, take a trip to Toca do Vinicius in the Ipanema district. This small music emporium – named after lyricist-poet, Vinicius de Moraes, credited with creating the distinctive Bossa nova style of music – is the place to purchase your Bossa Nova CD. Don’t forget to factor in a visit to the tiny yet intriguing upstairs museum, dedicated to the life and works of the Brazilian music legend.

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Caipirinhas
The national cocktail made from cachaca (cane liquor), lime and two teaspoons of brown sugar is the tipple of choice in Brazil but be warned: they’re seriously strong (nothing like the weak, watered down imitations served in Blighty). They’re also highly addictive, given the purse pleasing prices: a caipirinha in a streetside bar will set you back around £2.35 (R$9).

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The parties
Make no mistake: Brazilians know how to party – and not just when Carnaval rolls round. Yet despite staying out dancing until dawn (this is how Brazil rolls) we guarantee you’ll return home energised and happy - and convinced that there is no more enticing place on the planet than the South American giant.

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Iguacu Falls
The crashing cascades occupying an area more than 80m high and 3km wide have the wow factor and no other water falls in the world can compete. Little wonder then that Eleanor Roosevelt gasped “Poor little Niagara” when she came up close at Iguacu. The 275 falls (shared between Brazil and Argentina) are so bedazzling that it comes as no surprise to learn that Hollywood covets them for one blockbuster after another– scenes from Miami Vice, Mr Magoo, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and The River were all shot here.

Feijoada
 Brazil’s national dish is the feijoada - a hearty black bean and meat stew that’s served with rice, typically on a Saturday. If you try just one local dish when in Brazil, make it feijoada but be warned: feijoada is very filling - you won’t want to eat again that day.

And finally...

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Football
Brazilians are futebol mad and, even if you’re not crazy about the beautiful game, it’s worth watching a match for the atmosphere alone: passionate singing, samba drums and smoke bombs are all part of the colourful experience. Furthermore, unlike Premiership games back home, match tickets don’t have a perturbing price tag. Result!

Words and pics: Kaye Holland

The year that was

It’s been a busy year and it’s time to take stock. Here travel writer and enthusiast, Kaye Holland, shares her 2013 holiday highlights

Las Vegas
Las Vegas – the desert town that exploded from a dusty backwater into a fast moving global playground back in the 1930s – has gone decidedly upmarket in 2013. Sure the never ending buffets, free flowing drinks and lens friendly reproductions of the Egyptian Pyramids, Eiffel Tower et al are all still present and correct. But Sin City is also revelling in the luxurious side of life thanks to a new new breed of hip hotels (Aria anyone?), fine dining – here’s looking at your Hakkasan – designer cocktails and great golf. The anything can happen playground is also much easier to reach these days: there are direct flights to the flashy new McCarran International Airport, only a stone’s throw away from the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip. Just remember: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Palm Springs
Staying in North America, Palm Springs (the hangout of the Rat Pack back in the 60s and 70s) proved to be a travel highlight in 2013 – the 75th anniversary of the decadent, desert oasis. Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet. No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without seeing the homes of the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies and taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the summit of San Jacinto. But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.

Temecula
Temecula Valley may not have previously figured on your mental map -  the likes of LA, Anaheim and San Diego typically top the SoCal sightseeing agenda – but when you get there, it’s hard to see why not. Only 90 miles southeast of LA and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is Southern California’s premier wine growing region and a good place to disappear for a long, lazy weekend. You’ll find around 40 wineries free of crowds and mercifully, without Napa’s perturbing price tags - after all, the last person you want to be chatting to on your hols, is your bank manager. Yet while vines and wines do dominate proceedings, Temecula Valley  isn’t just for oenophiles. Much of Temecula’s appeal lies in its heart stoppingly pretty old town – a beguiling place for camera clad tourists owing to its wooden boardwalks and unique shops.With so much on offer, it can only be a matter of time before Temecula becomes the next Napa so explore, enjoy and get there before everybody else does.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but in 2013, the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) positively sizzled. Pope Francis chose Rio for his first overseas tour in July 2013 while the world’s best footballers will be arriving in Rio in 2014, followed by the Olympic flame in 2016. Despite staying out dancing until dawn in the dance halls of Lapa (Cariocas - aka Rio residents - know how to party and not just when Carnaval rolls round) I returned home energised and happy, convinced that there is no more enticing place on the planet than Rio de Janeiro. This is an intoxicating city of sun, samba, football, food, beaches and Bossa Nova, that truly justifies every word of the hype. And with interest (and prices) in Rio only set to rocket following the FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, now is a great time to go. Get it while it’s hot.

The Iguacu Falls
Confession time: I very nearly didn’t make it to the Iguacu Falls – being too busy topping up the tan on Rio’s Copacabana Beach, but boy am I glad I did. The crashing cascades occupying an area more than 80m high and 3km wide have the wow factor and no other water falls in the world can compete. Little wonder then that Eleanor Roosevelt gasped “Poor little Niagara” when she came up close at Iguacu.The 275 falls (shared between Brazil and Argentina) are so bedazzling that it comes as no surprise to learn that Hollywood covets them for one blockbuster after another– scenes from Miami Vice, Mr Magoo, Indiana Jones and theCrystal Skull and The River were all shot here. All told the spotlight will inevitably fall on Sao Paulo and Rio when the Olympic flame arrives in 2016, but do add the Iguacu Falls to any  Brazilian itinerary.

Ilha Grande
Just when I was beginning to think that the whole world had been completely Google mapped and Starbucksified, I stumbled across the Brazilian island of Ilha Grande – a two and hour half bus and boat trip away from Rio. Far quieter and less developed than the rest of the Costa Verde, this pristine car free island is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoiled world. Yet while Ilha Grande may lack the crowds, it most definitely has the character. The island retreat was once a pirate’s lair, then a leper colony and lastly a penitentiary, holding some of Brazil’s most violent criminals. For decades the island’s less than salubrious reputation deterred developers and consequently tourism is still in its infancy. Translation? Avisit – which involves a thrilling boat journey – remains a genuine adventure. There’s little internet access, no roaming phone signal, an absence of automobiles and ATMS, and a refreshing lack of Western hotel chains.

Paraty
Brazil’s Costa Verde coastline has plenty of places to entice travellers who manage to tear themselves away from Rio de Janeiro but, in my mind, peaceful Paraty – particularly the old colonial centre – is the state’s star attraction. The colonial centre’s cobblestone streets (ladies, don’t even think about wearing heels) are closed to cars, making it an enchanting place to amble around. For Paraty isn’t about sightseeing, though museums do abound, but about wandering the backstreets, stopping for a sweet, strong coffee, eating a long, late lunch and, if you’re feeling flush, chillaxing in an elegant old town pousada. Our pick would be Pousada Ouro, whose high profile past guests include Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall and Tom Cruise. After dark, Paraty resembles something of a party town – barely a month goes by without some festival or other, filling the cobblestoned streets - and places such as Paraty 33, in the heart of the historic centre, are pumping on any given night.

Brandenburg
Brandenburg’s big headliner grabber maybe Berlin but the rest of the region has plenty to recommend too – particularly for history buffs – as I discovered in 2013. The state’s small towns, churches and series of low hills serve as a welcome antidote to the hustle and bustle of Berlin’s bewildering array of bars, museums and modern buildings. For me, Potsdam – with its fabulous fountains, follies, palaces and gardens – was a particular standout. Most people associate Potsdam with the aftermath of the Second World War: Potsdam’s Schloss Celcilienhof is where the victorious Allies arrived on 2 August 1945 to work out details of the division of Germany and Europe. But if you’re after a holiday not a history lesson, make a beeline for the buzzing Dutch quarter – teeming as it is with trendy shops and cafes. Or check out charming towns such as Wolfshagen and Wittenberg – both within easy reach of thebright lights of Berlin.

Dubai
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about  malls and modernity. However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel,) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakiaand the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks.Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.

Abu Dhabi
Dubai may have been confirmed as the host of the 2020 Expo but isn’t the only UAE city creating a buzz. Abu Dhabi - the country’s capital - is making a name for itself at the Gulf’s cultural hub. Sheikh Khalifa has signed up several star-chitects to oversee a plethora of prestigious projects including theworld’s largest Guggenheim gallery – and the only one in the Arab world – and the first ever branch of the world famous Parisian art museum, The Louvre. But Abu Dhabi isn’t all about art. The more subdued Islamic state is also emerging as a sporting haven thanks to the success of the Formula 1TM Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the only twilight race on the F1 calendar. Yet while Abu Dhabi has spent more than US$100 billion on developments and events,  it has managed more successfully than most to modernise itself and remains significantly richer in local colourthan its bling-tastic brother.

What were your 2013 travel highlights? Let us know by posting a comment below!

Where the experts holiday: Ben Anderson, author, filmmaker and a winner of the Foreign Press Award

Acclaimed war journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, Ben Anderson, has travelled to some of the world's most fearsome hotspots. He shares his travel experiences with CD-Traveller readers

What do you like to do on holiday?
The great frustration with filming abroad for a living is that you don’t get time to just wander around and soak up a place- having casual conversations with strangers, getting lost, being surprised and changing plans on a whim. So now, when I do go, I have to have something to do, and learn, to try out a whole new lifestyle and culture. The problem is, when I start enjoying it, I want it to be my life.

Where did you last go?
For work- it was Rio. But I was with the drug gangs, militias and police who run many of the cities favelas. It’s a military occupation by three different groups, so what I saw was the exact opposite of all the images that spring to mind when you think of Rio. It was an eye opener - I used to love that city, until I saw the violence and corruption that exists just a few miles from the famous beaches. The last holiday I had was two years ago. I went to Round Hill in Jamaica and for the first time in my life, I spent five days relaxing in a small villa that had an open-air living room. I haven’t felt so good, or slept so well, anywhere else. I now want to hibernate to a place like that every winter, just to read, write, and recharge.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Colombia, CAR, Bangladesh and hopefully the literature festival in Jaipur and the film festival in Sedona. I’d love to get back to Jamiaca after all that.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
It’s a strange thing. I’ve almost died in Afghanistan a number of times, and seen some horrendous things, but I love the place. The people are some of the kindest, most hospitable and humble I’ve ever met, even when they have nothing and are in the middle of a seemingly endless war. Jason Elliot captured it perfectly in his book An Unexpected Light. And there are so many lies being told about what we’ve done there- so that we can leave with our pride intact, that I feel committed to reporting what we’re actually leaving behind there, which is a terrifying future for most Afghans.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I had a long lost many years ago, there are just four places left from that original list- Ethiopia, Buenos Aires and Beirut. I would also love to one day visit the safer provinces of Afghanistan- Mazar I Sharif, Bamiyan and Herat. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that I only ever visit, and report on, the worst places.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides? Daunt bookshop on Marylebone High Street. The Joint in Brixton Village (for the best BBQ wings, ribs and pulled pork buns in the world). York Hall in Bethnal Green for boxing matches. St. Johns Bakery in Bermondsey for the best doughnuts in the world! And I’d love to see Speakers’ Corner become as important as it was many decades ago.

How do you plan your holiday?
I like the Bradt guides, but I mostly try and read really good travel writing. If I do get a few days in a nice hotel, Tablet hotels is always reliable. I’ve never had a bad recommendation from them.

How often do you go away?
At the moment a few times a month. It’s too much. You need a month somewhere, at least, to even begin to understand a place. My job means I often have to leave just as I feel I’m beginning to learn, which is frustrating.

Who do you travel with?
For the time being I’m travelling with two cameramen, because I’m working on a series Vice make for HBO. But I prefer travelling alone. You’re forced out of your comfort zone, living with the people whose stories you’re trying to tell, 24 hours a day. You form bonds and learn things you’d never learn if you were there with a group. You’re also free to follow your curiosity wherever it takes you, which is the greatest freedom to have when travelling.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
I’m fairly depressed with tourism in London. There’s a London for tourists that Londoners avoid unless they work there. Like Times Square in New York. The London that tourists see isn’t the same city I live in. And because so many areas are looking for the tourist money, they are all looking and feeling the same. Maybe things like Airbnb will change that. I hope so.

Ben Anderson  has filmed, presented and produced over 40 films, including The Battle for Marjah for HBO Films. His first book, based on 300 hours of footage he shot while embedded in Afghanistan, is NO WORSE ENEMY: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan