Despite the shift to online booking and travel agencies shutting up shop along high streets, the trusted travel agent has seen a comeback since the pandemic. Abta’s latest trends report found that more than a third of people it surveyed had booked a holiday with a travel professional in the past year, driven largely by a desire for value.
As well as securing the best deals, travel agents can also guide holidaymakers to the perfect destination. But look beyond the brochures and you might find somewhere completely new, far from the crowds but high on impact.
All you have to do is ask.
With that in mind, i asked travel agents for their tips for places for unusual adventures and off-the-beaten-track destinations, and where they like to holiday themselves…
“I’ve been visiting this Catalonian town for 30 years – and I’m amazed it still isn’t on more British tourists’ radars. It’s only 30 minutes south of Barcelona by train, and has more than two miles of sandy beaches, museums and a lively LGBTQ+ scene.
“I love NEM for tapas with an Asian twist, sundowners at the Melia Hotel’s rooftop bar, and the brilliant Queenz Cabaret drag dinner.
“Sitges is a town of fiestas: there’s one of Spain’s biggest carnivals in February, Pride in June, and October sees the horror and fantasy film festival (complete with zombie walk) come to town.” Matthew Ruth, The Personal Travel Agents.
Istanbul by rail
City breaks in Istanbul are nothing unusual, but going flight-free is. “It’s a true adventure to travel to Europe’s border with Asia by rail and sleeper train,” says James Hill at Byway Travel. “Approaching slowly means experiencing many cultures, languages and cuisines along the way.
“Once there, try Balıkçı Lokantası, a restaurant in Kadıköy that serves some of the best fresh fish I’ve ever eaten. Or order a coffee in the old ferry terminal in Moda, which has been converted into a public library and café.
“Travelling to this captivating city by train isn’t luxurious, but it is an amazing experience.”
“Like well-trodden Marrakech, Tangier is warm, inviting and seductive – but with an under-the-radar appeal,” says Black Tomato’s Jihane Sejai-Smith. “It’s brimming with museums, art galleries and music, including the Tanjazz festival in September.
“There are some amazing hotels, like the serene Villa Mabrouka in Yves Saint Laurent’s last home, and intimate Villa Augustine.
“The recent move of the main downtown port to a prime seaport along the coast means Tangier has tidied up its act. It’s a cerebral, creative and artistic city with much to offer couples and families with older children.”
“The architecture is similar to the better-known islands: think white hillside houses and a huge, blue-domed church, but it’s much less touristy. Visit Syros’s bustling capital, Ermoupolis, with its cobblestone lanes lined with tavernas, or stroll along the promenade at gorgeous Galissas Beach.
“This is an island of festivals. The summer brings non-stop concerts, theatre performances and dancing. And Syros has some fascinating archaeology, including the prehistoric settlement of Kastri.”
Syros isn’t the only alternative Cyclades island loved by travel agents – Catherine Garvey at Barrhead Travel recommends Tinos. “Take a 20-minute boat ride from Mykonos and immerse yourself in quaint villages and the local way of life.
“Tinos produces its own wine, olive oil and cheese, and has an emerging food scene. I love San to Alati, a ‘land-to-sea’ fish taverna, and To Koutouki tis Elenis, on a narrow lane in Tinos Town.
“With one of the best surfing spots in Greece in the north and scenic cycling, it suits action-seekers too.”
Upstate New York, US
Most people who fly to New York are there for the bright lights of Manhattan, but there’s more to discover upstate. “Dutchess County and Upstate New York are an Amtrak ride – and worlds away – from the city,” says Jade Semple at Barrhead Travel.
“Home to the Culinary Institute of America, Dutchess County has a thriving food scene. There’s also plentiful nature, history and attractions. Take a propellor plane across the Hudson River from the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, visit Legoland in Goshen, or head to Buffalo and sample the famous wings – from there, Niagara Falls is just a 20-minute drive.”
That Brits love the Balearics is no secret, but the smallest of the islands, Formentera, offers a much calmer escape than its neighbours.
“I love Formentera,” says Heather Dooley at Hays Travel. “The crystal-clear seas are perfect for swimming, snorkelling and diving, and the white sandy beach at Ses Illetes has (unsurprisingly) been called one of the best in the world.
“Formentera has all the seaside scenery and good restaurants of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza – but without hordes of tourists. It’s easy to reach, too: just a (beautiful) one-hour ferry crossing from Ibiza. I recommend the family-friendly, four-star Riu La Mola, right on Migjorn Beach.”
“I visited Croatia in early May and fell instantly in love with Cavtat,” says Daisy Hawkins at loveholidays. “It’s the most southerly Croatian resort: a small, laidback town with a gorgeous waterfront and quirky bars.
“I kayaked through glistening sea right up to Beach Bar Little Star. Pull up on to the beach and join the guests sipping Aperol spritz under fragrant pine trees. The bar is built into the rocks of a cove and is a popular spot for sunset.
“There are lots of historical sites and restaurants and a pretty old town. Cavtat is much cheaper than the more famous Dubrovnik, but if you did want to visit, it’s easily reachable by bus or boat. Cavtat is also well-placed for visiting beautiful Montenegro.”
“Slovenia’s got it all: pristine coastlines, vibrant cities, plus lakes and mountains to rival those in Austria, Switzerland and Italy – and it’s excellent value for money,” says Ashley Quint from TravelTime World.
“Enjoy seaside relaxation, outdoor adventure or a vibrant city break – or fit all three into one amazing holiday.
“The Venetian port of Piran is delightful and reminiscent of Croatia. Try the delicious salted chocolate made with local sea salt. Lakes Bled and Bohinj offer boat trips, hiking and cycling with a breathtaking backdrop.
“And capital Ljubljana is a dynamic, young city beneath a hilltop castle. The architecture is striking, similar to Vienna in parts, but at a fraction of the cost.”
“I worked as a holiday rep in the Algarve for years, and one of the best places I discovered was the small village of Alte,” says Cheryl Shapland at loveholidays.
“It became a favourite of mine – I loved mingling with the locals and experiencing the region’s traditions. Amid street art-adorned walls, you’ll find charm and character – from small bars and cafes to locals wearing traditional costume.
“Alte has more culture to offer than the coastal resorts. And the village’s ‘Queda do Vigário’ waterfall is an amazing sun-soaking spot.”