Holidays to book now for 2015

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The hottest tickets, from Europe’s last solar eclipse before 2026 to a trip to the North Pole, need booking now

See the solar eclipse
The hot ticket next spring will be viewing the last total solar eclipse visible in Europe before 2026 — and the prime position on March 20, 2015 will be Spitsbergen, on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. It’s also the chance to go wild in the Arctic Circle, snowmobiling, ice caving, dogsledding — as well as hunting for the Northern Lights (March is an equinox month, so tip-top for aurora activity). Most small ship cruises have sold out, but there’s still some space on land-based trips.
Details: Wexas Travel’s (020-7590 0618, wexas.com) six-night tour still has places and includes two nights in Oslo and four nights in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen. It starts at £4,995pp, based on two sharing and including flights.
Reference: carolinehardy.co.uk

Cherry blossom in Japan
It’s not just the Japanese who go cherry blossom crazy. Many small group tours to Japan for the peak weeks (usually the first half of April in Tokyo) sold out months ago. But there is still a handful of places on an eight-night Spirit of Honshu trip if you want to see the pink and white flowers explode into bloom (and, possibly, sneak off to McDonald’s for a cherry blossom burger in a pink bun). Tokyo, Nikko, Kyoto and Nara are all on the itinerary and accommodation is in deluxe ryokan, with futons on tatami floors.
Details: InsideJapan’s (0117 3709751, insidejapantours.com) trip starts at £2,900pp, including most meals and first-class travel on the bullet train. Flights are extra and cost £667 with KLM.
Exclusive Italy
The attraction of inside-track tours and invitations to dine with grand families means that Sir Roy Strong’s Italian tours for the Ultimate Travel Company sell out almost immediately. His sixth jaunt as guest lecturer will be Roman Gardens: Renaissance to Modern from September 3-10, and will include two hosted lunches at Castello Ruspoli and La Landriana, plus dinner at the Villa Habsburg, overlooking the dome of St Peter’s.
Details: From £3,395pp including most meals and flights (020-3051 8098, theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk)
Carnival in Rio
The word is that thanks to Brazil’s profile being raised by the World Cup and the fact that the strong pound has made Brazil the most affordable it’s been in years, the carnival, from February 13-18, will sell out faster than ever before, especially if you want to do it in style. Dragoman can arrange centre-stage tickets to a parade at the Sambadrome, a half-day guided tour of Corcovado and another to Sugarloaf Mountain, a visit to a favela, a walking tour and five nights in a four-star hotel near Copacabana beach.
Details: The five-night trip costs £2,780pp B&B, excluding flights, which cost about £660 (dragoman.com)
Pig on the Beach
The new Pig on the Beach hotel, on Studland Bay, Dorset, is the epitome of middle-class seaside chic — and already selling out for next summer. It’s a five-minute walk from the nearest beach and when you’re not playing French cricket on the lawn or sneaking off for a facial in one of the shepherd’s huts, you can graze on pizza baked in an outdoor oven and New Forest strawberry blancmange.
Details: It costs £2,485 for a family of four to stay for a week, room only, in July in two interconnecting rooms (01929 450288,thepighotel.com)
Boat safaris in Sri Lanka
If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-track wildlife viewing in Sri Lanka, it doesn’t get much more remote than Gal Oya National Park in the southeast, the only place in the country to offer boat safaris: these head out to watch “the Crossing”: wild elephants swimming from island to island on the vast Senanayake Samudra lake. The newly opened Gal Oya Lodge is the only luxurious place to stay in the park and with just nine bungalows (with outdoor showers and huge floor-to-ceiling windows that open up on to verandas) it’s essential to book now if you want to travel during the East’s dry season, between May and September.
Details: A six- night trip starts at £1,935pp B&B through Black Tomato (020 3740 2872, blacktomato.com), including flights and safari experiences
Rugby World Cup
If you haven’t been successful in the Rugby World Cup 2015 ticket ballot, the best way in will be via a package. One of the most civilised is England Rugby Travel’s three-night Rugby Weekend Escape, where you can combine seeing England take on Fiji at Twickenham after the opening ceremony on September 18, followed by watching France playing Italy the next day.
Details: Prices start at £1,339pp, including match tickets and three nights’ B&B at the Four Seasons Hampshire, based on two sharing, with transfers (0844 7884074, Englandrugbytravel.com)
Visit Iran
UK tourism to Iran took off again this year and escorted tours for 2015 are already filling up. Spectacular ancient ruins, including the citadel of Persepolis and the palace of Pasargadae, mosques, bazaars, royal gardens and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, which holds its crown jewels and the Sun Throne (also known as the Peacock Throne, are all highlights — along with a warm welcome.
Details: Wild Frontiers (020-7736 3968, wildfrontierstravel.com) has a ten-day Persian Explorer tour that costs £1,995pp and takes in Tehran, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd and Isfahan, or a more detailed 15-day Iran Unveiled tour for £2,895pp. Prices include full board and excursions but flights are extra, at about £390. Trips leave in April, August and October
Dive in Micronesia
A contender for the best wreck-diving destination in the world is Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, home to an entire “ghost” Japanese fleet, sunk in 1944 and complete with sake cups and skeletons, jeeps and tanks still tied up on board and fighter aircraft waiting in the hangars. It’s essential to book months ahead to get a space on the 16-berth Odyssey and have the chance to dive with its wreck experts.
Details: Dive Worldwide (0845 130 6980, diveworldwide.com) has seven nights’ full board on Odyssey with nitrox tanks, weights, up to five dives per day, a four-night B&B stay at the Blue Lagoon Resort and one night’s B&B at an hotel in Manila from £3,995pp including flights
Mail boat to St Helena
Next year it will be 200 years since Napoleon was exiled to the South Atlantic island of St Helena and it’s also the last chance to travel on the RMS St Helena — one of the last working royal mail ships in the world and presently the only means of getting to the island — before the airport opens in February 2016. Places are filling up fast, especially on a stargazing tour in May led by Stargazing for Dummies author Steve Owens, which combines St Helena, once home to the observatory of Edmond Halley, with a visit to South Africa’s national observatory in the Western Cape.
Details: The 19-day tour, departing Cape Town on May 4, costs from £2,695pp full board in a two-berth cabin, B&B in St Helena, all tours and some meals, but not flights, which are about £590 (rms-st-helena.com/tours/stargazing-tour)
Special cruise on the Rhine
Huge fireworks displays and a parade of illuminated ships are the highlights of the Rhine in Flames festival which marks the end of Germany’s reisling grape harvest each September. If you want to be slurping a glass or two on board one of the ships, book now to nab a cabin on the River Cruise Line’s MPS Lady Anne which, unlike most river cruise vessels, gets to join the flotilla because it’s small.
Details: The River Cruise Line’s (0844 5446437,rivercruiseline.co.uk) eight-day Rhine in Flames cruise departs September 9. From £1,079pp in a superior cabin on the promenade deck, including ferry crossing and coach travel
Peru’s Inca Trail
If you fancy a saunter along Peru’s Inca Trail there’s no time to waste. Just 500 daily permits are available and only 200 go to trekkers, so booking six months in advance is the rule — and even earlier if you want to go in May, the best month to travel because the weather is dry and the nights don’t get as nippy as in June, July and August.
Details: Rainbow Tours (020 7666 1260, rainbowtours.co.uk) has a ten-night stay in Peru including four days on the Inca Trail and a visit to Machu Picchu from £2,320pp, including flights, permits, and accommodation based on two sharing a double room in cities and a tent on trek
Ice breaker to the North Pole
The nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory will embark on her last voyage to the North Pole in July before returning to escort duty in the Russian Arctic. The ship will power through ice up to 3m thick to reach the North Pole, and during the 15-day holiday there will be the chance to explore the islands and archipelagos of the Russian Arctic en route. The ship will reach 90deg North on July 25 —for a barbecue on the polar ice cap.
Details: The trip departs from Helsinki and costs £18,385pp, all inclusive (0845 6035764, captainschoice.co.uk)
Palio races in Siena
Don’t expect to get a room in Siena and a decent, up-close vantage point for next year’s Palio races (in June/ July and August) unless you reserve many months in advance. What you really want is a private lookout. Book with Black Tomato and, on the afternoon of the race, instead of enduring the crush, you’ll be spirited away from the chaos of the Piazza del Campo to a room overlooking the start line.
Details: A seven-night night trip starts at £3,459pp, including flights, B&B at the Grand Hotel Continental, tickets and Palio-related excursions (020-3740 2872, blacktomato.com)
Enchanted Village at Alton Towers
Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire opens an Enchanted Village, with a fairytale hideaway theme, in April and bookings are already open for its 120 fairytale lodges and five treehouses —which will have kitchens and private hot tubs as well as a 50in TV and games console.
Details: The lodges start from £135pp based on four sharing, B&B, and the treehouses start at £750 for eight in four bedrooms (0871 2221100, altontowers.com)

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