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The year of experience-led travel: Alternative bucket list holidays and destinations to visit in 2021

By Phoebe Hughes  |  December 31, 2020

With plenty of annual leave saved up, a little extra money stored away from refunded trips and a sense of adventure ready and waiting to burst from our skin, many people are ready and raring to go all out on their next big holiday.

2020 has certainly taught us all what matters the most to us and, for many people, along with relationships, it’s those memory-making trips they’ve missed out on that they’ll be reclaiming in 2021.

Looking to inspire those dreaming of long-awaited, sun-drenched escapes, we’ve rounded up the best bucket list, experience-led holidays to book for next year. These aren’t your typical destinations either, so prepare to be surprised, inspired and ready to start planning all at once.

Yachting: Swap Monaco for Croatia

With D-Resort Šibenik

Whilst Monaco usually takes centre stage for HNWI and their superyachts, travellers can embark on a bucket list style yachting and sailing holiday of their own in 2021 in one of the Dalmatian Coast’s lesser-known holiday spots. Šibenik is Croatia’s oldest city boasting 950 years of rich history and natural beauty, along with crystal-clear waters and cascading waterfalls.

Announcing a series of new trips and excursions, the five-star D-Resort Šibenik invites exploration of some of Europe’s most beautiful hidden gems. With an award-winning marina located just steps from the resort, guests can embark on guided tours or rent their own motor yacht, for a true taste of luxury living.

Visitors can take a trip to National Park Kornati, known as the pearl of the Adriatic Sea, with 140 uninhabited islands, numerous coves and underwater cliffs perfect for diving, before stopping to explore the quiet charm of Prvić Island and a fresh seafood lunch.

There’s also the option for a day trip to one of the most breath-taking and culturally rich places in Šibenik, the 4.4km St Anthony Channel with the famed Fortress of St Nicolas, before a stopover in Zlarin – a small island known for its unrivalled hours of sunshine and unspoilt beauty with olive trees, pebbled beaches and unique red corals.

Sleek and minimalist in design, D-Resort Šibenik is home to a D-Spa and D-Gym, three á la carte restaurants and bars, an infinity pool overlooking the marina, a kid’s club and even a rooftop running track, as well as stylish rooms, suites and exclusive villas that blend seamlessly into the Mediterranean landscape.

Room rates start from €135 (approx. £122) per night, based on two people sharing. For more information or to book, visit dresortsibenik.com.

Surfing: Swap Hawaii for the Maldives

With COMO Maalifushi, Maldives

As the only resort in the Thaa Atoll, COMO Maalifushi is entirely surrounded by a thriving house reef. Under the waves, explore a circus of branching corals, parrot fish and octopus and even go shark spotting, before heading above water to learn the secrets of surfing with TropicSurf.

Several Maldivian atolls have coastlines that capture swells from numerous directions for excellent surfing conditions. COMO Maalifushi Surf Pass offers an expedition to the finest breaks and best kept secrets of the region, surfing at three secluded atolls – the ‘Surf Machines’ at Laamu, ‘Kasabu’ at Dhaalu and ‘Farms’ at Thaa, a popular site with a contoured reef-corner that delivers mechanical-shaped waves, ideal for different styles of surfing.

A TropicSurf guide is based exclusively on COMO Maalifushi from April to October, helping guests learn from scratch or simply brush up on their board skills.

Above the waves, guests can find their zen with daily complimentary yoga classes at the overwater pavilion, have dinner on a castaway island or relax with a signature COMO Shambhala treatment. Adventurous travellers can try their hand at kayaking, paddle boarding or windsurfing, before taking the ultimate splash net dolphin cruise in search of pods migrating through the Thaa Atoll.

Surf Pass is priced at US$245 and includes access to the Laamu, Dhaalu and Thaa Atolls, as well as the high-speed motorboat and guide. For more information or to book, visit comohotels.com/maalifushi.

Skiing: Swap France for Turkey

With Argos in Cappadocia

Skiing enthusiasts may not have ever thought of Turkey when it comes to planning their next ski break, but the region of Cappadocia in ancient Turkey with fairy-tale style chimneys, pigeonhole valleys and a rugged, mountainous landscape covered in sugar white snow makes for a winter wonderland, and the perfect active holiday. From November to May, travellers can head to Mount Erciyes’ Ski Centre for magnificent views and 34 ski slopes ranging from 2150-3400m, suitable for both beginners and experienced skiers alike.

Located just an hour and a half away, the five-star concierge service at Argos in Cappadocia – nestled on the ancient hilltop village of Uçhisar within a 2000-year-old network of ancient ruins, caves and underground tunnels – offers guests help organising private ski lessons, renting equipment and also runs a private transfer to the Erciyes Ski Centre.

When guests aren’t taking advantage of the snowy landscapes, Argos in Cappadocia can organise an incredible sunrise hot air balloon journey to admire the mesmerising beauty of the region, over valleys scattered with archetypal pigeon houses, the region’s most beautiful vineyards and the peak of Mount Erciyes. 

Framed by striking canyons and mountains, suites at Argos in Cappadocia are spread through seven revived mansions boasting rustic chic interiors combining traditional Turkish crafts and modern furniture. The hotel is home to Cappadocia’s largest underground wine cellar with a capacity of 70,000 bottles, as well as the organic SEKI Restaurant, a therapy room and an outdoor infinity pool.

Argos in Cappadocia offers a private return transfer to the Erciyes Ski Centre for €225 (approx. £202) for a group of up to 10, while prices of other concierge services differ depending on request. For more information or to book, visit argosincappadocia.com.

Scuba Diving: Swap Australia for Greece

With CAYO Exclusive Resort and Spa

Surrounded by Crete’s crystal-clear waters, CAYO Exclusive Resort and Spa is the perfect destination for those seeking a short-haul scuba adventure in 2021. Poised on its own private swathe of seafront, the island’s newest design hotel overlooks the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominee, the Spinalonga Islet and is just a short drive from Mirabello Bay, with its abundance of colourful marine life and captivating wreckages – some of which date back to the 1940s.

With impressive visibility and inviting temperatures, the bay is the perfect site for both snorkelling and scuba diving and from amateurs to aficionados, guests of all abilities are invited to explore Crete’s mesmerising underwater ecosystem.

Scattered across the bay, visitors will find numerous dive centres, and whether it be a night dive in the depths of the house reef where divers will encounter an array of marine life, from octopi to vibrant flabellina, or full-day excursions around Elounda, exploring ship wrecks, with sights of amberjacks, trumpet fish and sting rays – there’s an underwater adventure everyone.

Back at the resort, guests will find a variety of accommodation, from spacious suites to expansive villas, private plunge pools and vast terraces, perfect for basking in the Grecian sun. Dine at one of four gastronomic restaurants, each with a farm-to-fork ethos and menus designed by chef Lefteris Lazarou, the first Greek chef to be awarded a Michelin Star.

Rates at CAYO start from €340 (approx. £310) on a bed and breakfast basis. For further information or to book, visit cayoresort.com.

Wine-Tasting: Swap Bordeaux for the Maldives

With Velaa Private Island

While you might not immediately think of the Maldives as a place to indulge in wine tasting, the ultra-luxe Velaa Private Island offers an excellent experience in an unforgettable setting. A luxury resort in a class of its own, the island offers a large range of impressive (and educational) epicurean experiences for gastronomy and wine lovers.

Nestled within the constellation of islands that form the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives, Velaa possesses one of the Maldives’ largest wine cellars within its famous ivory white Tavaru Tower, providing guests with the opportunity to become a wine and/or champagne master in this breath-taking tropical island setting.

Hosted by the island sommelier, with many visiting wine masters throughout the year, guests will sample some of the most sought after bottles in the world. Home to more than 500 bins, holding a spectrum of marques from boutique wineries to the most prestigious names in the world, guests have the honour of being able to sample rare treasures such as a 1956 Domaine de la Romanée Conti ‘Romanée Conti’, rare vintage Salon Champagne, and a centuries old fortified 1870 Blandy’s ‘Verdelho Solera’, all on this beautiful private island.

Rates at Velaa Private Island for a Beach Villa start from £1,900 per night (inclusive of tax and service). For more information or to book, visit velaaprivateisland.com.

Safari: Swap Kenya for Rhodes

With Lindos Grand Resort and Spa

Set to officially open in May 2021, Lindos Grand Resort and Spa is Rhodes’ most stylish new adults-only resort boasting 120 sleek and modern rooms with breath-taking views across the sandy shores of Vlycha Bay.

Situated on the eastern coast of Rhodes near the traditional and charming village of Lindos, home to the ancient Acropolis with ruins dating back to 300BC, guests are invited to soak up the culture and beautiful scenery of the resort’s unique location on a variety of exciting excursions, organised through a new guest app and digital concierge service.

Whilst you may immediately think of an African safari, Lindos has put their own unique spin on this once-in-a-lifetime holiday adventure with their own Jeep Safari experiences, where travellers will be taken off-the-beaten-track to try-off road driving and for a chance to explore areas such as Seven Springs with verdant woodlands and pine-tree shaded walking trails, and Butterfly Valle.

Located nearby, this beautiful 600-acre nature reserve offers a chance to witness the natural phenomenon of thousands of colourful butterflies congregating amongst the lush greenery and beautiful waterfalls of the valley. The Jeep Safari experience also includes stopovers for beach barbecues and tours of traditional Greek villages, for the ultimate fun and immersive experience into Rhodes.

Rates at Lindos Grand Resort start from £120 a night. For more information or to book, visit lindosgrand.com.

Wellbeing: Swap Bali for Ibiza

With Amàre Hotel Ibiza

Known for being one of the world’s most magnetic points, Ibiza, is one of the most soulful islands on the planet. Making the surrounding Mediterranean Sea thought to be full of healing, energising and magical energy, the White Isle is the ideal destination for a 2021 spring break, when the weather is perfect to experience the tremendous nature of this charming destination.

Set to reopen for its first full season in April 2021, the beachfront Amàre Hotel Ibiza, located just in front of the Bou Cove, is an adults-only paradise where guests can relax and energise after almost a year of home confinement. The hotel is home to Belvue Rooftop Bar, a rooftop panoramic infinity-pool; the pop-up dining outlet, Hayaca restaurant, curated by Michelin-star chef Mauricio Giovanini; a state-of-the-art gym overlooking the Mediterranean; and treatment rooms where guests can indulge in luxury rituals by brand Germaine de Capuccini.

The hotel’s wellness team will take guests on a fitness journey involving inspiring yoga on the rooftop, personal training and a range of organic treatments for the face and body. An extensive choice of healthy, yet tasty meals, like the green vegan wrap, healthy toast and acaì bowl, complete the offer.

On the spa menu are specific rituals aimed at counteracting the negative effect of technostress: book the Balance Concept – a complex treatment that combines detox, serene and energy rituals – to restore the physical balance of your body and mind by inducing sleep.

Room rates at Amàre Ibiza start at £125. For further information or to book, visit amarehotels.com/amare-ibiza.