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Travel: Hip; holidays; Want to beat the crowds to the best beaches? Be the first among your friends to visit this year's must-see places? We suspected as much, so here's our insider's guide to the coolest hangouts to explore in 2002...

Byline: Text by Gill Williams

THE NEW EXOTICS

Outback Australia

After 30,000 years of quiet the desert comes alive this month as Aussies start celebrating their Year of the Outback. Visitors are invited to join in 12 months' non-stop partying, from the Boots 'n' Bush Country Music Festival to dusty 4WD rallies, sheep-shearing competitions and horse races. Ride a camel through the bush or join the Anangu people on an expedition into Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park around Ayers Rock. Soothe the aches of the trail with a massage at Sails in the Desert spa in the Ayers Rock Resort. Then book a table for the Sounds of Silence dinner, where you'll sip champagne and listen to Aboriginal tales under the night sky.

Fact box: A ten-night holiday with Austravel starts at pounds 1,246 for flights, five nights in Sydney, two nights in the outback and three nights at Sails in the Desert with the Sounds of Silence Dinner before 31 March; call 0870-166 2070. For festival details, see www.outback2002.com.

Laos

First came Vietnam, then Cambodia, and this year travellers at the cutting edge of exploration are crossing the border into undiscovered Laos. Known as the Land That Time Forgot, Laos was screened from the outside world until the '70s and only recently encouraged tourism. Explore some of the lush green islands of the Mekong River - about 4,000 at last count. Visit the ancient wats (temples) within the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, once the royal capital of Laos and better known as the City of the Golden Buddha. Stay, too, in the modern capital Vientiane, a quiet city with sagging French colonial buildings where bicycles outnumber cars. Shop for wrap-around silk or cotton skirts, silver belts and jewellery in designs you won't see outside this secluded South-East Asian country.

Fact box: Two-week trips into Laos start at pounds 1,205 departing London 1 February, including 15 nights' B&B, some dinners plus local transport in Laos. Book through the Imaginative Traveller; call 020-8742 8612.

HOT EUROPE

Costa de la Luz

Discover the real Spain by holidaying on a costa that's resisted fish and chip shops and faux English pubs. The Costa de la Luz, meaning Coast of Light, stretches from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Portuguese border. British tour operators have booked rooms at a few hotels this summer but the region is still a favourite with Spaniards, so take your phrase book. Beaches here are sandy and white. Stay in quiet resorts like Isla Canela, shopping in the market town of Ayamonte or buying fish from the wharf at Isla Cristina. Follow trails around the wetlands of the Donana Nature Reserve and make a day trip to Jerez, where vineyards produce sherry as different from our lukewarm vicarage tipple as Dom Perignon is from Strongbow.

Fact box: A week's half-board with flights from 1 May at the Hotel Riu Atlantico in Isla Canela starts from pounds 429 with Thomson Platinum; call 0870-550 2555.

Sardinia

The opening of reasonably priced, all-inclusive hotels means holidaymakers who aren't wealthy yacht owners and First Division footballers will be joining the rich and famous in Sardinia this summer. If you want to snare your own millionaire, hang out on the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia's answer to the Riviera. The smartest bars are around Porto Cervo, the largest yacht marina in the Med. Sardinia is midway between Italy and Tunisia and constant sea breezes have put it on the map as a windsurfing and yachting resort year-round. You don't need your own kit - hotels such as Capo Testa offer use of the latest catamarans and high-tech boards as part of the package.

Fact box: A week at the Capo Testa (adults-only except May half-term and the summer school holidays) starts at pounds 535 for flights, full-board with wine, plus watersports and entertainment through Mark Warner; call 0870-770 4222.

COOL EUROPE

Slovenia

This Eastern European country has food as good as Italy, dancing horses like Austria and mountain chalets as picture-postcard pretty as Switzerland - all without the prices to match. Yet due to war further south in the Balkans, Slovenia has only recently become recognised as a holiday destination. Follow footpaths through the Triglav National Park, staying in alpine villages like Laski Rovt overlooking a glacial lake. You can hire mountain bikes, canoe or visit stables to ride really good horses. Trails for hikers run through gorgeous gorges, across meadows and high passes along the Karavanke mountain range near the Austrian border. Be prepared to puff and pant as the altitude rises.

Fact box: Eight days' walking holiday with adventure operator Exodus costs pounds 569 in June or July for B&B, flights and treks. An extra pounds 70 covers picnic lunches and dinners on five days, call 020-8675 5550.

Ireland

Cheap fares across the Irish Sea are bringing recession-conscious holidaymakers back to Ireland. While Dublin continues to be a favourite for short breaks (our third most popular city after Paris and Amsterdam), the trend is toward longer self-catering holidays in cottages and castles. The Irish have been quick to install luxury fittings, such as at Caher Lodge overlooking Bantry Bay in County Cork, which has its own indoor pool, sauna and tennis courts. Or stay in a converted stable complete with grand piano at Ross Castle, County Kerry. The castle was built by O'Donoghue Mr of Ross, a chief and wizard who locals claim still keeps watch from beneath the dark surface of the lake.

Fact box: A week in a bungalow at Ross Castle with car ferry tickets costs pounds 107.25 each when four share. Caher Lodge sleeps eight and costs pounds 263.38 each for a week in February with car ferry tickets. Both with Hoseasons; call 0870-902 3112.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2002
Words:963
Previous Article:Travel: tour guide.
Next Article:Travel: H otel of the week.


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