In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Juliet Kinsman: Sometimes quality isn’t written in the stars
Stars. Diamonds. Rosettes. Are these classifications much cop? I first came to question their relevance when a pal booked us a luxury girls’ weekend and we ended up at a charmless chain hotel off an industrial estate. Yes, it was “five-star”, but only thanks to a phalanx of fax machines, a soulless chlorine-fumed pool, a strip-lit restaurant, and a lot of meeting rooms packed with cheaply suited salesmen. Sexy.
The sea change in the relevance of traditional classifications came with the new wave of Nineties boutique hotels, when fancy facilities were superseded by a hotel’s soul. Certainly, style is subjective, whereas quality shouldn’t be, but it has become harder than ever to trust the so-called rankings when there’s no globally recognised system. Somewhere “superior” might well be decked out in doilies and Royal Worcester figurines, but still meet requirements to be given the nod by the old guard of hotel inspectors.
I have heard this from many frustrated owners of stylish self-catering stays. Venn Farm in Devon opened a new converted barn with Ercol and Eames chairs, Timorous Beasties wall coverings, and very cool graphic design pieces this autumn. The reason this architectural triumph missed out on the tourist board’s top category? Because its designer teacups didn’t have saucers and there were no ramekins.
Similarly in Sorrento, Maison La Minervetta is fairly “basic”; this Italian guesthouse built into the cliffside has only 12 bedrooms, a sitting room, a pool and not much more. But what you can’t express in stars is that this colourful majolica-tiled cutie, resplendent with modern art, has a jaw-dropping Bay of Naples view from every window and the most spectacular buffet breakfast. Just don’t expect a Corby trouser press, fine dining or a bell-boy if you need one at 2am.
Travel news roundup: hotel for teens, bargain visit to Santa, plus snow watch on Europe’s big freeze
Kids might love a hotel room complete with games consoles, or a trip to see Santain Lapland. Parents will enjoy cheaper lift passes and plenty of snow in Switzerland.
The Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc has a new international airport (phuquoc-airport.com), replacing a domestic one built by the French in the 1930s. VietJetAir (vietjetair.com) will start flying there from Bangkok in February, and Air Mekong and several other airlines are also sniffing around. Among idyllic places to stay is the Mango Bay collection of 40 thatched huts, from £25 a night through i-escape.com.
Hamburg’s Town Hall Christmas market is the world’s first to be run by clowns – professional clowns, that is. Performers from Germany’s Circus Roncalli are serving punch and selling gifts to visitors at the market, and there are circus- themed stalls.
• 10am-9pm daily to 23 December. Easyjet (easyjet.com) has returns from Gatwick from £112
A family of four can take a last-minute trip to see Santa in Lapland for £1,399, including return flights from Gatwick on 11 December. The price includes three nights’ half-board at Hotel Tunturi in Saariselkä, a reindeer sleigh ride, husky sledging, and a private meeting with the big man.
• 01483 791945, santaslapland.com
Where’s hot now?
• Bangkok, Thailand 34C
• Cochin, India 32C
• Dakar, Senegal 29C
• Buenos Aires, Argentina 29C
• Tucson, Arizona, US 21C
Accessible tourism campaign planned
VisitEngland has unveiled plans for a national marketing campaign from next summer to promote accessible holidays.
The domestic tourist board will work with five destinations around the country to develop a range of itineraries aimed at visitors with disabilities.
The campaign is described by VisitEngland as the first of its kind, and will involve tourism bodies in Leicestershire, Brighton, Newcastle and Gateshead, Bath, and Cheshire. Attractions and accommodation in each destination deemed to provide a “particularly excellent” level of service for visitors with access needs – including those with hearing and visual impairments and wheelchair users – will be identified and promoted under the scheme.
The campaign has received the backing OF Ade Adepitan, the Paralympic medallist and television presenter, who describES it as a “fantastic example of Paralympic legacy”.
He added: “Promoting destinations in England which are easily accessible and cater to the needs of disabled visitors should inspire all of us to take a break here at home, with the peace of mind that our specific needs will be met so that we can enjoy our holidays to the full.”
James Berresford, VisitEngland’s chief executive, said it would provide a “huge boost” to accessible tourism in England – a sector worth almost £2 billion to the domestic tourism industry as a whole.
Tourists head to Apocalypse parties to mark start of a new Mayan era
Tourists have already flocked to archaeological sites where celebrations are being held to mark a new Mayan era on December 21, 2012.
Gonzalo Alvarez, who had just arrived in Cancun for two weeks of revelry linked to a major milestone in the Mayan calendar, seemed reasonably cheerful for a man about to swallowed up by the Apocalypse.
“We came to party and to get ready for the beginning of a new era,” said the 39-year old architect, as he gathered his luggage from a baggage carousel at Cancun’s airport.
Alvarez had traveled to Mexico from Florida to witness firsthand the beginning of a new Mayan era on December 21, 2012, which will be marked with celebrations throughout southern Mexico and Central America.
Mexico is one of five countries preparing to observe the date, which marks the end of a more than 5,000-year era, according to the Mayan “Long Count” calendar, which began in 3114 BC.
For many people in this region, December 21 will be a date for celebration.
The start of the new Mayan calendar also is big business in this region, with tourism offices in no fewer than five countries aggressively promoting the date.
Millions of tourists are expected to flood into the region for celebrations that will include fireworks, concerts and other spectacles held at more than three dozen archaeological sites.