15 minutes to book your 2015 holiday
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15 minutes to book your 2015 holiday

  • TN-CapeSpearampSignalHillCanada
  • 19 Jan 2015

2015 brings plenty of fresh and exciting destinations for holidays and short breaks alike. With these new non-stop routes from Heathrow, where you go could simply be a question of timing. The Independent’s Senior Travel Editor Simon Calder picks his favourites.

15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: choose a holiday

Bilbao, Spain

Flight time 2 hours: a high-intensity weekend for romance and discovery

Fly to the capital of Spain’s Basque lands, and celebrate the Guggenheim coming of age. In 1997, the image of this fascinating Basque city was transformed by a spectacular new structure beside the River Nervion. Eighteen years on, debate continues about whether it ranks as architect Frank Gehry’s greatest work – or merely a selection of offcuts from the Airbus factory across the Pyrenees. Form your own opinion of the Guggenheim Bilbao, then discover more of the northern Spanish powerhouse. Nibble your way through ancient streets on delicious pinxtos (Basque tapas) and shop for cutting-edge fashion. Then go one step beyond: hop on the Norman Foster-designed Metro system to reach the adjacent beach resort, Plentzia, or hop aboard the antique narrow-gauge railway which winds through the spectacular Basque hills to the east and west.

Bilbao, Spain
Image: Bilbao, Spain © Simon Calder

Get there: British Airways will fly twice daily from Heathrow to Bilbao from 29 March.

Split, Croatia

Flight time 3 hours: living history on a family holiday, with endless fun attached

Fancy some island hopping? Greece is good, of course, but for a combination of pretty islands shimmering in deep blue water – and some astonishing history – Dalmatia’s central coastal city offers a grand Adriatic base. Roman emperor Diocletian chose the seafront metropolis of Split for his marble pleasure palace, and the fortress-like building has been continuously occupied for 17 centuries. A maze of ancient lanes and alleyways bears the scuffs and scars of human occupation, while beyond the honey-hued walls is that relative rarity: a good city beach, at Bacvice. From the summit of nearby Marjan Hill, you can look across to about 101 Dalmatian islands. Hop over to Solta, an hour away: a backwater bestowed with spectacular scenery, where Diocletian used to exile his opponents. Lucky them.

Solta, Croatia
Image: Solta, Croatia © Simon Calder

Get there: British Airways will fly four times a week to Split from 1 May.

St. John's Canada

Flight time 5 hours: unlimited adventure in North America’s first port of call

Dozens of the daily departures from Heathrow to North America fly over Canada’s Newfoundland – but only one actually touches down on the continent’s easternmost city, St John’s. And thanks to the short flight, you can leave London shortly after 11am and by lunchtime be strolling along the shore, hopefully spying whales breach from the ocean. The Avalon Peninsula, just a fraction of the whole island, offers sea kayaking, hiking and mountain biking in splendid isolation. Going beyond, each spring Newfoundland’s ‘Iceberg Alley’ along the north-east coast offers an astonishing parade of giant fragments from 10,000-year-old glaciers. The island has a history of heroic pioneering – and human tragedy, most poignantly in its Titanic heritage.

St. John's, Canada
Image: St. John's, Canada © Simon Calder

Get there: Air Canada has extended its summer-only Heathrow-St John’s flight to a year-round service.

Bogota, Colombia

Flight time 11 hours: South America, in a single country

The astute traveller seeks out destinations that, for reasons of reputation, get far fewer visitors than they should. And the new non-stop link from Heathrow to the Colombian capital opens up a country that is the most perfect example of this genre. Bogota itself has blossomed after decades as a dark and dangerous city, and now celebrates its colonial history and dramatic topography. Heading north through the most misunderstood nation in Latin America, you can sample the colonial jewel, Cartagena, and the cheerful holiday resort of Santa Marta. Just hours away lie the remains of pre-Columbian civilisation in the Sierra Nevada. This is the world’s greatest coastal range – reaching a height of 18,700 feet only 25 miles from the seashore. Elsewhere, explore coffee country and Amazonian rainforest, before choosing your perfect spot on a Caribbean beach.

Bogota, Colombia
Image: Bogota, Colombia © Simon Calder

Get there: Avianca flies four times weekly from Heathrow to Bogota.

Tioman Island, Malaysia

Flight time 13 hours: tropical escape to the ‘South Pacific’

Since Tony and Maureen Wheeler found their way across Asia on a shoestring and founded the travel publisher Lonely Planet, millions of travellers have revelled on the beaches of south-east Asia. The Indian Ocean islands of Phuket in Thailand, and Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia, have become deservedly popular. Yet the eastern side of the Malaysian peninsula has always been the coast less travelled – punctuated by drowsy fishing villages and a hinterland where you can stay in environmentally sound resorts amid virgin rainforest. The real prize, though, is to be found by taking the ferry from the town of Mersing to Tioman Island – shared between a small community of divers, hikers and backpackers who drifted in and stayed, and high-end resorts with their own private bays. How alluring are the beaches? Well, South Pacific wasn’t filmed in the South Pacific, but right here in the South China Sea.

Get there: Malaysia Airlines flies twice daily from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, with an all-Airbus A380 service. BA will join the route on 27 May.

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