Short breaks: This year’s love

Short breaks: This year’s love

Image credit: Christoph Leder

Suggest short trips to these 10 cities in 2015, says Joanna Booth

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10 of the best cities to visit in 2015

Short breaks are simultaneously easy and hard to sell. They’re not vastly expensive and don’t require huge amounts of forward planning, but clients may lack a timely motivation to get on and actually book.

They’re more nice-to-have than necessary.We’ve earmarked 10 cities that not only have compelling reasons to go, but reasons to go now. From new flight routes to events and openings, each has a trigger to help you sell a break there sooner rather than later.

1. Vienna

The host city for this year’s 60th Eurovision Song Contest scores ‘douze points’ as a short-break destination. Those who love the cheesiest music competition on the block should book quickly to visit between May 18 and 23, where there will be nine shows in the Stadthalle.

A few tickets remain, but otherwise all shows can be watched live at the big screen in the Eurovision Village on the Rathausplatz. Guided city walks are being organised throughout the festival, lasting two hours and costing €15. There is even a self-guided Song Contest-themed walk – full information is on the tourist board website.

It’s also a big year for Vienna outside Eurovision, as it’s the 150th birthday of its most famous street, the Ringstrasse. ‘Street’ doesn’t do this grand boulevard justice, as it’s home to many of the parks, monuments and mansions that make Vienna special, including the State Opera, Imperial Palace, National Theatre, Parliament and Stock Exchange.

Visitors can walk it, bike the special Ring cycle path or take the Vienna Ring Tram. There are special guided tours of many of the public buildings throughout the year to mark the anniversary. A ‘Sound of the Ring’ cocktail has been created for the occasion, which is available at many of the city’s bars.

As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also the 450th anniversary of the city’s Spanish Riding School, so there’s even more reason to see the beautiful white Lipizzaner horses give one of their choreographed performances.

Fred Holidays offers two nights’ B&B at the Hotel Johann Strauss from £309, including flights from London.

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2. Brussels

Battle of Waterloo Reenactment - Image credit: Phil Thomason
Image credit: Phil Thomason

Clients who think of Abba when you say ‘Waterloo’ should already have been packed off to Vienna; those who hear it and immediately start talking about Napoleon and Wellington should be marched off to Belgium instead.

It’s the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo this year, and battle-buffs will want to book in for the re-enactment commemorations from June 19-21 – there’ll be 5,000 people, 300 horses and 100 cannons on the original site, about 10 miles south of Brussels.

Tickets to the two re-enactments start at €16, and a visit to the recreated encampment sites from €7. Great Rail Journeys offers an itinerary with rail travel, accommodation, excursions and the re-enactments included.

Leger Holidays has a walking tour of the battlefields on dates throughout the summer. Those who visit independently can visit the sites and the Napoleon and Wellington museums, which face off in Waterloo village.

Back in Brussels itself, the Royal Museum of Army and Military History has a huge collection of Napoleonic uniforms, weapons and equipment. There is also plenty for those who are less interested in military history, from world-class art galleries to the chance to sample the Belgian staples of waffles, chips, chocolate and beer.

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3. Seville

Spain isn’t short of cities that make perfect short-break destinations, but there’s always room for one more – especially when it’s so Moorish. Sunny Seville was once the capital of the Moorish empire, and this year its UK visitor numbers will surely feel the benefit of the new British Airways service flying five times a week from Gatwick.

There’s a real grandeur to the Andalucian capital, with its immense cathedral – the largest in the world by volume – and the stunning, intricate Alcazar Palace. But many visitors are also bewitched by the more domestic charms of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, all narrow streets lined with orange trees and white houses where vivid flowers wrap around the iron-grilled windows.

The Spanish spirit seems to flow with particular passion through Seville – maybe because it’s one of the birthplaces of flamenco. Here, the frilly polka-dot dresses and nail-capped shoes aren’t merely tourist spectacles but beat out the pulse of the city’s cultural heartbeat, with performances at many bars as well as organised shows.

Osprey Holidays offers two nights’ B&B at the Gran Meliá Colón from £335, including British Airways flights from Gatwick.

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4. Salzburg

Puppet Sound Of Music - Image credit: Tourismus Salzburg
Image credit: Tourismus Salzburg

Those who prefer sing-a-long to sultry Spanish dance steps should head for Salzburg. It’s the 50th birthday of the most successful film musical in history – The Sound Of Music – this year, and much of it was filmed in Austria’s fourth-largest city.

There’s a gala event on October 17 with songs from the musical and special guests, but that’s not all. Until October 1, there will be performances at the Salzburg State Theatre, and even a puppet version at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, where from this month, there’s also a special exhibition on the musical in the foyer.

There’s a guided tour of the real family home, Villa Trapp, at noon every day, plus plenty of film location tours, which visit spots in the city and surrounding countryside by bus, bicycle or even rickshaw.

Beyond Von Trapp tourism, visitors will find a gorgeous baroque city with a stunning mountain backdrop, which – of interest for those with musical inclinations that range beyond Julie Andrews – was the birthplace of Mozart.

On the accommodation front, suggest the newly refurbished Goldgasse Hotel, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member in the historic quarter where all 16 rooms are named after operas.

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5. Philadelphia

Those who aren’t scared of a long flight can look across the pond for a short break – and not just at New York. With new direct flights to Philadelphia coming online this spring, it’s getting a whole lot easier to access the ‘City of Brotherly Love’.

Delta Air Lines launched a daily flight from Heathrow last week, while American Airlines added a second daily service on the route last month. Flight durations are about seven hours, so a longish short break is feasible.

Once there, there’s plenty on offer to rival the Big Apple’s attractions. There’s no sales tax in Philly, so shopping, either downtown or at nearby outlet malls, is great value. And in summer, the city will get its own Top of the Rock-style high-rise viewing platform, which will open on the 57th floor of One Liberty Place.

And when it comes to history, well, as the first capital of the US, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, it’s certainly not short of that – including the iconic Liberty Bell.

For LGBT clients, there’s an extra reason to visit in 2015. It’s the 50th anniversary of the first gay-rights protest in the city, and there are commemorative events from July 2-5 – in addition to the Philly Pride Parade and Festival on June 14, and Philadelphia Outfest on October 11.

Funway Holidays offers three nights at the Holiday Inn Express Midtown from £979 in June, including flights with Delta.

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6. London


If the thought of a seven-hour flight for a long weekend gives clients a headache, then keep them closer to home. They can have plenty of fun – and celebrate our version of the Constitution – in London.

It’s the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta this year, and the four original copies are being united at the British Library where major exhibition Law, Liberty, Legacy will run until September 1.

Clients could even stay at the 17th-century Beaumont Estate hotel in Windsor, just a five-minute walk from the Magna Carta Memorial, which sits on the spot where the document was sealed – the hotel can organise picnic hampers to carry down there if guests fancy sandwiches overlooking the cradle of democracy.

If history isn’t their thing, you could tempt them with tickets for a Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham, Wembley or the Olympic Stadium in September or October.

If they’re more into music than sport, send them over to the O2, where Newmarket Holidays can offer overnight stay packages with tickets to see now-a-trio Take That on June 8 or 11 (from £175), or entrance to the largest Elvis retrospective ever staged in Europe, featuring cars and costumes, which runs until August 31 (from £125).

The V&A’s current Alexander McQueen exhibition has made headlines, and the National Portrait Gallery’s Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon, which opens on July 2, is set to be a tantalising draw.

Plus, the capital isn’t short of a new hotel or three for clients to test out. The Montcalm group is slated to open two properties this year: the citizenM Tower of London, which overlooks the Tower, and the M by Montcalm London Shoreditch Tech City, which is in a futuristic building by architect Will Alsop.

Also in Shoreditch is the newest property from budget-boutique chain Z Hotels. At the other end of the scale, renovated icon The Lanesborough reopens this spring, bringing a new level of luxury to its enviable location opposite Hyde Park.

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7. Lyon

Eurostar’s service to Paris has become a weekend away staple, so the stops on its new direct route to the south of France must be expecting an influx of British city-breakers.

Clients might initially be bewildered as to why they’re making the four-and-a-half-hour journey to Lyon, as France’s third-largest city is better known for commerce and cuisine than as a tourist destination.

But with easier access, this reputation should change. Subdivided by the Rhone and Saône rivers, visitors can choose between the grander 19th-century boulevards of the Presqu’ile district and the cobbled alleyways of the medieval old town – or take the funicular to the top of Fourvière hill and overlook both.

The city’s art galleries, museums, ballet and opera are worth visiting, and that reputation for food should also be tested, whether in one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants or in small ‘bouchon’ – bistros where great-value, local cuisine is served to a very high standard. The city’s position between Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais means the wines are rather special, too.

SuperBreak features eight hotels in the city and will soon be expanding the range. Three nights at the three-star Axotel Perrache starts at £215 in July, including Eurostar tickets.

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8. San Sebastian

San Sebastian

Foodies will be extra happy this year, as Spanish as well as French hotspots become easier to reach. British Airways’ new service to Bilbao from Heathrow – hot on the heels of easyJet flights from Bristol – brings nearby San Sebastian into play as a potential weekend destination.

At the cutting edge of the culinary scene, this Basque city has more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world, and is particularly famed for its pintxo.

Visitors can take a pintxo crawl, moving from bar to bar and trying the house speciality of these bite-sized snacks. If clients really want to immerse themselves in the cuisine, they can go on a food tour with San Sebastian Food, or take a lesson at the cookery school the company opened last month at the five-star Hotel Maria Cristina.

As well as superlative food, there’s the pretty 19th-century Centro Romantico to explore, and excellent city beaches to relax on. Or clients can add on time in Bilbao itself, with its vibrant art scene, anchored by the metallic curves of the Museo Guggenheim.

Cox & Kings offers three nights’ B&B at the Hotel Astoria7 in San Sebastian from £465, including British Airways flights and car hire.

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9. Malaga

When it comes to Spanish art, there’s a new kid on the block challenging Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao for the crown. Málaga started making its mark on the art world’s canvas in 2003 with the opening of the Picasso Museum, and its latest masterpiece launched last month – the first outpost of the Pompidou outside France.

This pop-up will host a selection of artworks from its French ‘maman’ in an architectural glass cube in Málaga’s revamped port area.

Once this is ticked off, clients can check out the Picassos – the artist was born here – and then visit the Contemporary Arts Centre for something super-modern, or the Museo Carmen Thyssen for 19th-century Spanish paintings.

Then there are Roman ruins, a Gothic cathedral, a Moorish fortress, a 19th-century market, parks and gardens, and the city’s beaches to experience.

Kirker Holidays offers three nights’ B&B at the four-star Molina Lario in the old town from £498. The price includes flights from Gatwick, private transfers, and Pompidou tickets.

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10. Porto

Porto Skyline - Image credit: Paulo Magalhaes
Image credit: Paulo Magalhaes

Regional flight access can be the deciding factor when it comes to short breaks – no one wants to spend half their already-brief trip getting to or from an airport.

So with easyJet launching direct flights to Porto from not one or two but three UK airports, clients may well be tempted to book a weekend in Portugal’s second city – especially if they’re within easy reach of Bristol, Luton or Manchester, from where the airline’s services launch on April 19, April 26 and June 16 respectively.

Founded in the 12th century, Porto is where the Portuguese nation was born, and this Unesco World Heritage Site is built on the hills overlooking the Douro River, so clients shouldn’t be afraid of steps if they’re going to weekend here.

Mitigating factors abound, however, from the pretty cobbled streets and colourful houses tumbling down to the river, to the tipple on offer – Porto is the birthplace of port, and visitors will be surprised how diverse a drink it can be.

The best place to sample it is in the suburb of Gaia, across the river from Porto proper, where many of the cellars are, which also offers a great view of the city.

Porto may be smaller than Lisbon, but a raft of gallery, restaurant and boutique openings has made the city a cosmopolitan cultural hub. The latest major launch is the World of Discoveries interactive museum and theme park, where visitors can take boat rides recreating the epic journeys of 15th-century Portuguese explorers.

Cruises along the Douro are popular, with many day trip options on offer. But those who want to kick back and relax could use the new flight routes to make Porto a gateway for a stay at the first Six Senses resort in Europe, which is 88 miles from the airport.

Opening this spring, the luxury property will be home to 71 rooms and suites, a wine academy and a large spa.

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More new flight routes

Adria Airways, Slovenia’s national carrier, will start flying three times a week from Southend to Maribor between June and October. Slovenia’s second city was European Capital of Culture in 2012 and is located in a major wine-growing area.

Monarch has launched twice-weekly flights between Leeds Bradford airport and Naples, departing on Mondays and Fridays. The Italian city is more than a gateway to the Amalfi Coast – it has great art and archaeology, a historic centre and is where pizza was invented.

EasyJet will launch twice-weekly flights from Luton to Essaouira in Morocco on May 1. With a pretty white-walled medina and sandy beaches, the stylish coastal town combines the best aspects of Marrakech and Agadir.


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