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5 dream holiday destinations to add to your bucket list

Half the fun of travel is the planning. Here’s our pick of dream holidays to fantasise about – and maybe book.

We’ve all done our share of armchair travel over the past couple of years. Now it’s time for those exotic dream holiday ideas to make their way off the bucket list and become an actual itinerary.

To help ignite your wanderlust, here’s a round-up of some restorative destinations for 2022.

Best relaxing holiday: The Trang Archipelago, Thailand

To experience the quieter side of Thailand you can head to The Trang Archipelago. About 800 kilometres south of Bangkok, this is a string of more than 46 islands boasting some of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in the world.

A long boat or ferry from Hat Yao Pier will take you through azure waters dominated by huge limestone formations to your chosen island destination.

Koh Mook (also known as Koh Muk) is perhaps the most popular, with daytrippers seeking out the treasures of Emerald Cave. Brave a swim (or kayak) through a pitch-black cave and you’ll be rewarded with a white sandy beach surrounded by high cliffs covered in greenery. Fun fact: this lush lagoon is rumoured to have once been a pirate hideout.

At dusk, head to Garnet Beach and take a seat at one of a handful of beach bars, where you can enjoy the sunset.

A 15-minute boat ride from Koh Mook is Koh Kradan which, with its turquoise waters and colourful coral reef, is a magnet for snorkellers.

Beach-lovers will adore Koh Ngai, thanks to its powdery white sand and shady palm trees. With a total area of less than 5 square kilometres, this island is certainly small, but the tiny idyll makes up for its size with incredibly beautiful beaches and some lovely resorts. There’s not much to do here – although that’s part of the appeal for those looking for a quiet family holiday or couple’s retreat.

Best adventure holiday: Banff, Canada

If you’ve ever heard of the annual Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, you might also know the Canadian Rockies resort town where it takes place is one of the most adrenaline-charged destinations on the planet. The world-renowned festival showcases exhilarating short films that celebrate the mountain and adventure sporting world the area is known for. From climbing and skiing to kayaking, biking and more, Banff is a magnet for many thrill-seekers.

With its mountainous surroundings and subarctic climate, Banff is built for winter sports. But don’t worry if you’re not there to ski or snowboard. The town located in Canada’s oldest national park boasts some of the most stunning scenery in the world – ideal for activities like canyon hiking, dog sledding or ice-climbing up frozen waterfalls. And, to wind down, there are natural hot springs or the spectacular Northern Lights to take in.

Banff is an evergreen, year-round dream holiday destination that offers a huge range of outdoor activities. Into rafting? Head for Kicking Horse River (or fly across it on a zipline). Mountain biking? There are more than 360 kilometres of trails to explore in Banff National Park. Sightseeing? The Banff Gondola is a cable car that affords heady views from the ridge of Sulphur Mountain.

Then there’s the mesmerising Lake Minnewanka. Cycle or hike the loop around the shoreline, hire a boat to fish for trout, or scuba dive to see the eerie once-resort town of Minnewanka Landing, which was sacrificed for the dam built in 1941. And if all this sounds a bit too adventurous, simply take a scenic cruise or have a picnic on the shore.

Best wilderness holiday: Stewart Island, New Zealand

If your dream holiday revolves around a simpler, slower pace of life – one that runs to the rhythms of the sea and the bush – get yourself to Stewart Island at the very south of New Zealand. The Maoris call it Rakiura, meaning ‘the land of glowing skies’; it’s named for the Aurora Australis – or Southern Lights – that illuminate the night sky in parts of the southern hemisphere between March and September.

Most of Stewart Island is national park, and visitors come for scenic hikes (the 3-day Rakiura Track showcases the area’s wild beauty) and birdwatching. It’s a haven for the native kiwi or tokoeka (which far outnumber people on the island), little blue penguins that waddle and forage for food along the shore, and wading godwits. Ulva Island in the Te Wharawhara Marine Reserve – a predator-free bird sanctuary that protects many native species – is also worth a visit.

For an island with a population of just 400, there are plenty of places to stay, from lodges and retreats to self-catering apartments and full-service hotels, all situated around Halfmoon Bay.

Stargazers, look up. Stewart Island was awarded Dark Sky Sanctuary status by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2019 – clear skies and low light pollution make it one of the best places to stargaze in the world.

Best foodie holiday: Marrakech, Morocco

Exotic spices, slow-cooked tagines and colourful North African salads: a holiday based in the Moroccan city of Marrakech will have all your senses singing. Since the 11th century, the Jemaa el-Fna – one of the city’s main cultural spaces – has been a vast food market. A bustling hive of activity, the square is full of traders selling an array of fruit, meat, bread and more from under their canvas tent tops. Come nightfall, they’re joined by a carnival of musicians, dancers and storytellers in a display so dazzling, UNESCO declared the space a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.

Follow your nose to stalls selling flash-fried seafood and kebabs. Or, for a more leisurely meal, head to the restaurants on the south side of the square, where you can sit down to a hearty Berber stew or delicate fish dish. You’ll also find rows of copper urns brewing ginger tea, served with a wedge of spicy cake.

A 700-metre walk north brings you to Rahba Kadima, a vibrant and chaotic open-air marketplace, or souk. Here, you’ll find spices aplenty, like saffron, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, coriander and cinnamon, plus homemade spice mixes. Pyramids of fruit and vegetables sit alongside baskets of roots, bark, herbs, leaves and seeds.

If you don’t want to get lost, a guided tour or a cookery class is the way to go in this beautifully chaotic cultural melting pot of a city. 

Best restorative holiday: Siquijor, Philippines

Throughout the Philippines, Siquijor is known as the Mystic Island of Central Visayas because of its mountain-dwelling mangkukulam (healers), who practise “healing arts” that claim to restore energy and more.

Alternatively, you can visit the Healing Tree, a 400-year-old balete tree (banyan tree) that stands with its roots and vines cascading over a natural spring. Sit under it with your feet in the water and small fish will nibble the dry skin off your toes.

Of course, Siquijor isn’t all mystical. This serene spot – a one-hour ferry trip from Dumaguete in the Philippines mid-south – is a haven for nature-lovers, with an interior of rainforest and picturesque waterfalls surrounded by white sandy beaches and snorkel-happy reefs. Despite its isolation, Siquijor has a healthy respect for tourism with stunning hotels and sunset beach bars serving cocktails to toast the end of the day.

Words by Sara Mulcahy
First published May 2022

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