The historic old town of Cartagena de Indias, a melting pot of myths, legends and cultures. / SUR

Ten destinations to inspire you to dust off your suitcase

From Asia to Africa, the Mediterranean to the Americas, the world is opening to leisure travel. Let's make the last few months of 2021 count, with an unforgettable trip

ANDREW FORBES

Langkawi, Malaysia

Malaysia is set to reopen Langkawi to international tourism on November 15, under a pilot scheme. This natural haven, an archipelago that reaches out into the Andaman sea, is undeniably the place for autumn/winter sun, dreamy beaches and superb hotels. You also have the chance to explore protected rainforests and feel connected with the local Malay culture. November is the shoulder between the wet and dry season, so consider the main island for a perfect Christmas destination.

Golden Triangle, India

India is also reopening to international tourism from November 15. Unfortunately, this means that visitors will miss this year's Diwali, the festival of lights. Yet the attractions of the famous 'Golden Triangle' are there waiting. The triangle, made up of three of India's most visited cities, Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, highlights iconic sights. The circuit is one of the most popular introductions to this extraordinary, incredible subcontinent. Most people start in Delhi, the sophisticated and dynamic capital, but once you leave this wealthy, urban metropolis you need to be prepared; not just in practical terms like inoculations, but ready emotionally for the intensity and extremes of life in India, from palatial wealth to heart-wrenching poverty.

Agra, one of the points of this notional triangle, is home to the graceful Taj Mahal, with its beautifully crafted marble walls, inlaid with semi-precious (and at one time precious stones) and surrounded by gardens designed in perfect harmony and symmetry. It is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Golden Triangle experience. This is a well-trodden tourist trail, yet one that makes for an excellent introduction to the remarkable culture of India.

Fez, Morocco

This North African city is open again to visitors, and with prices for direct flights from Malaga at less than 10 euro each way, it makes for a tempting autumn break. Fez is a captivatingly authentic city with one of the Arab world's most remarkable medieval medinas. Founded by the Idrisid Dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries, Fez has grown to have three distinct parts. Firstly, the original medina, known as 'Fès el-Bali' (Old Fez), is a Unesco World Heritage site and home to a thriving community for thousands. This is one of the oldest living medieval cities in the world.

'Fès el-Jdid' is called New Fez, even though it was founded in the 13th century by the Marinids dynasty. Here the Mellah, the walled Jewish quarter, is distinctively different to the secluded riads of the medina. Finally, there is 'Ville Nouvelle,' the contemporary commercial city of Fez built at the beginning of the 20th century by the French.

Together, these distinct parts of the city combine to offer an enthralling visit.

Cape Town winelands.

Cape Town, South Africa

This is the African city where oceans meet, cuisines collide and creativity blossoms. It's in my mind one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

At first Cape Town might feel quite European, a little traditional, and conservative. Yet this is an African city so to feel the vibe you need to head downtown. Buy a generous bunch of glorious proteas from Trafalgar Place Flower Market and navigate the buskers and street vendors in the city centre.

With a history that has encompassed colonialism, slavery, apartheid and now democracy, Cape Town is a multicultural, cosmopolitan African city. Colourful Cape Malay townhouses in the Bo Kaap district spill into the trendy and progressive De Waterkant village, whilst the super-rich are found in their overtly luxurious homes of Camps Bay and Clifton.

Even without leaving the city limits, you can experience the wine culture of the Western Cape, in Constantia, one of the country's first wine growing areas. Dating back to the 17th century, this is one of Cape Town's most established and upscale neighbourhoods, and home to the must-visit Kirstenbosch botanic gardens.

This African metropolis, lovingly called the 'Mother City' is also the gateway to South Africa's Cape Winelands - the country's beautiful food and wine destination. The towns of Stellenbosch and Paarl, Franschhoek form a triangle encompassing some of the best places to visit, eat and stay.

Cartagena, Colombia

The historic old town of Cartagena de Indias, a melting pot of myths, legends, and cultures, offers a fascinating Caribbean escape that not only has quintessential white sandy beaches and coral atolls but also embraces history, culture, and gastronomy.

The fortified, historic quarter of this coastal city maintains a romantic atmosphere, whilst also being home to stylish boutique and luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and upscale retail stores.

It's a far cry from the outdated view of a country struggling with narcotic-fuelled organised crime. Now Colombia has reclaimed its position on the global tourism stage, with a culturally-rich offering for visitors.

In colonial times it was a strategic port for the Spanish, exporting gold, silver, and emerald wealth to Andalucía. Constantly under threat from competitive European navies and sponsored pirates, this wealthy trading city adopted fortress-like architecture with tightly-packed merchants' houses with heavy studded doors, protected behind thick city walls that remain today.

Within these ancient city walls is the historic heart of Cartagena, a place Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia's most celebrated author, called home for a few years when he was a young journalist on a local paper. The city's streets left an indelible mark on his psyche, shaping and defining the flavour and atmosphere of his fictional locations in works including 'Love in the Time of Cholera'.

Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

With an average yearly temperature of 27 degrees, a range of new boutique properties, 'instragammable' beaches, authentic Huichol art and culture and an abundance of authentic seafood restaurants, Riviera Nayarit, located on Mexico's Pacific coast is an attractive autumn/winter destination. Expect over 300 kilometres of striking coastline, the Sierra Madre Mountains, the spectacular Banderas Bay, and protected natural areas. Riviera Nayarit is home to the resort town of Nuevo Vallarta, the historic village San Blas, the exclusive celebrity haven Punta de Mita as well as the 'boho-chic' surf community of Sayulita and a variety of picturesque fishing villages. Activities include golf, zip lining, diving, and surfing to bird watching, and whale watching.

Big Sur, California

The USA opens to international tourism from November 8th, so why not head to the Golden State, and enjoy a road-trip along California's iconic the Pacific Coast Highway. Open since the 1930s, State Route 1 is one of the most scenic in America. The highway runs some 1000 kilometres from the forests of northern California to the warmth of San Diego. My favourite is the 150 kilometres of stunning coastline of Big Sur and its wild interior, including the Pfeiffer Big Sur Park. Here amongst the swathes of wilderness, one finds trees as old as 800 years, towering up to 90 metres. Some are older than 1200 years with circumferences of 10 metres.

Val di Noto, Sicily

If you fancy an autumn road trip but want something closer to home, then consider Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, a remarkably diverse autumn destination. The adventurous can head south to the Val di Noto for an unforgettable self-drive adventure. In 2002 Unesco designated eight towns in the region as World Heritage sites: Caltagirone, Militello, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa, and Scicli. Each offers remarkable 17th and 18th century, late Baroque architecture, romantic landscapes of vineyards and olive groves, and wonderful food served in informal trattorias, and fine-dining restaurants.

Lanzarote, Spain

The Canary Islands are a dependable and enjoyable winter sun destination. More than ever, the archipelago needs the support of tourism, following the impact of Covid and of course the on-going volcano eruption on La Palma (the island remains open to visitors).

Of the bigger islands, my favourite remains Lanzarote. Although it has the expected beach resorts, on the whole this protected island is all about small town and village charm, a striking volcanic landscape, punctuated by the verdant green of grape vines, and the cultural legacy of César Manrique. Book a sight-seeing tour of Timanfaya National Park too - the most extraordinary insight to the violent birth of the island.

Madrid, Spain

Staying in Spain, I'd also recommend a trip to the capital this autumn. Madrid is grabbing the headlines this season, with the opening of prestigious new hotels that are putting the city in the global spotlight. Rosewood (Villa Magna) Mandarin Oriental (Ritz Hotel) and Four Seasons (El Palacio de la Equitativa) have all launched flagship properties in iconic Madrid buildings. A city break is also the perfect opportunity to take in some of Madrid's seasonal art exhibitions at the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Reina Sofia, as well as concerts, as performance spaces reopen.

The freedom of travel can no longer be taken for granted, so this season why not seize the opportunity to widen horizons and see a little more of the world.