Quito, American Capital of Culture 2011 + Fiestas de Quito
Quito, Ecuador's magnificent capital standing nearly 3,000m above sea level on the eastern slopes of the Pichincha volcano, is the American Capital of Culture for 2011 and all year the city has been celebrating with a full programme of concerts, festivals, outdoor events and gastronomic fairs.
The emphasis in the last few months of the year is on the capital's ancestral, cultural and popular heritage, and the annual Fiestas de Quito, from November 26 to December 6, promises to be a particularly memorable one.
Founded in the 16th century, the city has a 130ha historic centre with 130 monuments and 5,000 heritage properties. In 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco, and over the last decade investments of more than $250m (Dh918m) have been made to restore the picturesque centre, so that the historic theatres, cultural centres, plazas and patios in which the Capital of Culture events take place are looking at their very best.
The Bolshoi main stage, Moscow, reopens with Ruslan and Lyudmila
The most famous ballet company in the world has, for the last six years, been deprived of its rightful home. The main stage of the historic Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow closed for major renovations in July 2005 and events were moved to the smaller new stage, which opened in a separate building in 2000.
Three theatres have stood on the site of the main stage since the Bolshoi company was founded in 1776; they have endured fires and aerial bombardment over the centuries, and the current reconstruction project has suffered from delays and a spiralling budget. When it opens today, the theatre will have absorbed US$730m (Dh2.7bn), and with a spend like that we expect the new-look building to be truly spectacular. Among other things, the original acoustics of the theatre, largely lost during Soviet-era renovations, have been restored. The first show to premiere there, on November 2, will be Glinka's opera Ruslan and Lyudmila, directed by Dmitry Chernyakov - surely the year's hottest ticket for ballet fans.
Tickets are available from www.bolshoi.ru/en/
St Regis opens on Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, November 1
In line with the enormous ambition of the Saadiyat Island project, which a few years from now will boast the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the world's largest Guggenheim Museum, the New York hotel brand St Regis opens its first Middle Eastern resort on November 1 and it's set to be very grand indeed.
The Saadiyat Island resort features 380 rooms and no fewer than seven themed restaurants on its beachside premises, next to the 72-par, championship standard golf course designed by golfing legend Gary Player. Adjoining the hotel will be a separate residence with 259 apartments of one, two and three bedrooms, as well as 32 exclusive villas going for between Dh22m and Dh25m. It also features more than 3,000 sq m of meeting and conference space and a function area able to serve 1,500 guests: not a small project, this. The resort, which has drawn inspiration from Mediterranean coastal retreats, is a mere 15 minutes drive from downtown Abu Dhabi.
Double rooms at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort (www.stregissaadiyatisland.com; 02 403 6577) cost from Dh1,554 per night, including taxes.
Thanksgiving and Black Friday in New York, November 24-25
There may be more virtuous reasons for visiting New York towards the end of November - celebrating Thanksgiving on the 24th would be one - but hitting the sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is surely the most fun. Black Friday marks the start of the Christmas shopping season and stores all over the city put on one-day-only sales to promote it. Many retailers open as early as 4am to take advantage of the annual rush. It's a hectic experience and you'd be wise to scout out your intended shops ahead of time.
The Flatiron Hotel, on Broadway at 23rd Street, is perfectly located between the upscale retailers in Midtown and the trendier outlets in Greenwich Village. The most eye-catching feature in this brand new hotel is the 76,000-litre cylindrical aquarium in the reception area.
While you're in the area, be sure to check out the hugely popular High Line (www.thehighline.org), a public garden on an old elevated railway line which has recently expanded from the West Village up to West 30th Street.
A double room at the Flatiron Hotel (www.flatironhotel.com; 001 212 839 8000) costs from US$369 (Dh1,355) per night, including taxes.
Christmas market, Tallinn, Estonia
The medieval Town Hall Square in Tallinn, capital of Estonia, was once home of one of Europe's famous Christmas markets but was abandoned during the Soviet era. Eight years since the market was revived, it is fast regaining its reputation as one of the best in Europe. From November 26 to January 8, 64 wooden stalls selling handicrafts, souvenirs and hot food will be set up in the magnificent square, with a huge Christmas tree as the centrepiece, a practice that began in 1441. The square will also feature an outdoor ice rink.
Another reason to visit is because Tallinn is in its final month as European Capital of Culture, and events, concerts and exhibitions throughout December. Don't miss the Tallinn Black Nights film festival (2011.poff.ee/eng) in the capital from November 18 to December 4 and featuring more than 500 films from 75 countries.
Voyage to Antarctica
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Captain Scott, famous for his daring expeditions to Antarctica and the South Pole. The Antarctic will be very much in focus in the coming months, and what better time to see the world's most remote and mysterious continent for yourself, albeit in much safer and more comfortable conditions than Scott endured.
Antarctic Dream is offering two 11-day cruises to the continent in December, leaving on the first and 11th of the month. Both trips depart from and return to Ushuaia in the south of Argentina, and cross the legendarily rough Drake Passage, via the South Shetland Islands, en route to the Antarctic Peninsula. Along the way, you'll have a chance to see albatrosses, minke whales and large colonies of gentoo penguins, as well as impressive ice formations and an active volcano at Deception Island. The especially brave will have the chance to swim in Antarctic water at Pendulum Cove: even Captain Scott would be impressed by that.
An 11-day voyage with Antarctic Dream (www.antarcticdream.com; 00 562 481 6913) costs from US$6,900 (Dh25,344) each sharing a double-bed cabin, including tax.
Journey to North Korea
North Korea is easily the most solitary country on earth - the communist state has been almost entirely cut off from the world for more than half a century. Tourism is controlled by the government and the few outsiders allowed in have had severely-limited access to the country. Recently though, there have been signs of change, with a border opening in the north and freedom of movement now permitted in some designated areas.
That makes this a good time to visit, and the United States based travel company Remote Lands can take you there on a tour tailored to your interests. All visits include the capital Pyongyang, with its striking communist architecture. Other places to see include the isolated Mount Paekdu, the white-sand beaches of Songdowon and the Demilitarised Zone on the border with South Korea. Remote Lands stresses that it does not endorse the autocratic regime, but promises "an enlightening, one-of-a-kind experience that can lead to a greater understanding of the last closed country in the world".
An eight-day North Korea tour with Remote Lands (www.remotelands.com; 001 646 415 8092) costs from US$6,000 (Dh22,038) based on dual occupancy and including taxes.
Song Saa resort, Cambodia, from December 24
In Khmer, "song saa" means "the sweethearts", and that's the name locals use for the tiny islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong off the coast of southern Cambodia, in the untouched Koh Rong archipelago. The islands, connected by a footbridge, have now been carefully converted into a luxury resort by an Australian couple, who liked the local name and decided to use it.
Song Saa officially opens on February 13 but it will have a soft opening from December 24, and for the first three months all 27 luxury villas - situated over water, in the rainforest or on the beach - will be available for half price if you stay for four nights. It's a good opportunity to take advantage of the two-bedroom Royal Villa, which has its own private jetty (the coastal city of Sihanoukville, and its international airport, is 30 minutes away by speedboat). Activities, including hiking, kayaking in the estuaries and snorkelling, are included in the price, as are meals and drinks at the resort's restaurant, overseen by accomplished chef Neil Wager.
Villas at Song Saa (www.songsaa.com; 00 855 236 860 360) cost from $668 (Dh2,453) per person per night, including taxes.
New ski hotel The Mooser, St Anton, Austria
The people behind a legendary mountaintop cafe in St Anton, Austria's best-loved ski resort, are just about to open a stylish new hotel a step away from the resort's world-class slopes.
The Mooser will have a rustic Tyrolean feel but (as its name suggests) with a distinctly contemporary edge - think clean lines, exposed brick and an attractive brown and cream colour scheme. Opt for one of seven good-sized suites, each with a private balcony and deep-soaker tub. The hotel is ski-in/ski-out and its location next to the Galzig cable car base terminal means you have direct access to 280km of beautifully-maintained slopes, as well as the mind blowing off-piste which makes St Anton such an attractive prospect for snowboarders. The resort also recently gained a pro-level snow park. The hotel opens at the start of December, but January should bring more reliable snow conditions.
Double rooms at The Mooser (www.mooserhotel.at; 00 43 5446 2644) cost from €206 (Dh1,052) per person, including taxes.
Northern lights, Yellowknife, Canada
According to Nasa, the northern lights in 2012 will be at their brightest for more than 50 years. The phenomenon, also known as Aurora Borealis, is caused by solar winds bombarding our atmosphere, and it is most concentrated at the Earth's poles - but this winter experts predict that the northern lights will be visible at least as far south as Rome. For one of the best places to see this, head to Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories where on cloudless nights the dancing, swirling lights get so bright you can read a book by them.
Trout Rock Lodge, on a remote island on the Great Slave Lake, far away from city lights and traffic noise, is an ideal viewing location. The only lodge in the 100-mile "north arm" of the lake, it also offers ice fishing (for metre-long pike) and the chance to see bald eagles and giant wood bison - as well as the greatest light show on the planet since 1958.
A three-night Aurora viewing package at Trout Rock Lodge (www.enodah.com; 001 867 873 4334) costs from $1,360 (Dh4,994) per person including transfers from Yellowknife, guides, food and taxes.
Festival of Timket, Ethiopia
One of the world's oldest and most-secluded countries, Ethiopia has a remarkably well preserved cultural heritage and many of its ancient traditions are still enacted, largely unchanged, to this day. To witness these traditions in action, go during the annual festival of Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Every January, crowds flock to religious sites to watch colourful processions and have blessed water sprinkled over them. It's an extraordinary spectacle, best enjoyed in the northern town of Gondar, and an excellent excuse to stop by some of Ethiopia's other attractions.
The travel company Exodus offers 14-day Discover Ethiopia tours starting and finishing in Addis Ababa and visiting the fabled city of Axum, with its monolithic stelae, and Lalibela, with its rock-hewn churches. As well as historical sites, the tours (departing January 13 and 15) take in places of great natural beauty such as Bahar Dar, the source of the Blue Nile, and the hot springs resort of Wendogenet, where colobus monkeys, baboons and parrots play in the trees.
A Discover Ethiopia trip with Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk; 00 44 20 8772 3936) costs from £1799 (Dh10,351), excluding flights, including all taxes.