With 2024 in full swing, you’ll most likely be making travel plans, for the upcoming Eid escape, summer, or just a week away from it all. While hotspots like the Amalfi Coast and Mykonos from the GCC are perennially popular, try something different (but not too different) this year with our destination dupes. Here are the destination dupes and alternative spots to visit this year for all the beauty and excitement, without the crowds and sky-high price tags.
Swap Mykonos or Santorini for Paros and Antiparos
The Greek island of Paros has gained more attention in recent years, thanks to its picturesque white fishing village of Naoussa and Parikia, its cobbles reminiscent of Mykonos town and its general chic party vibe. Located in the Cyclades Islands – the same group as Mykonos and Santorini, and therefore the same architectural style, volcanic landscape and vibes – Paros has become increasingly popular since travellers discovered it one of the best destination dupes. But while Paros is on the up (not still at Mykonos or Santorini‘s levels, but on the up), the adjacent islet of Antiparos remains relatively off the radar. Accessed by boat from Paros, this rugged, windswept island is so idyllic that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson even call it home. Stay at The Rooster Antiparos – a chic boutique hotel set on a 30-acre plot of cedar trees, where converted old local homes have been transformed into stunning hotel suites with ocean views.
Swap Lisbon for Palermo
Palermo’s grandeur is not to be disputed, but while it’s always been the capital of Sicily – one of the most stunning and popular places to visit in Italy – its reputation has long preseeded it, with travellers and hotel brands opting for spots like Catania and Taormina instead. Once known for being gritty (with dubious ties to the Mafia), Palermo’s reputation has dramatically changed. Now, travellers are returning to its stunning faded streets filled with grand Byzantine and Arab-Norman architecture and the most wonderful and authentic trattorias. Putting Palermo firmly back on the map is Rocco Forte, who opened Villa Igea in 2022 in a restored 19th-century private villa just outside town. Palermo’s architecture, winding lanes and seafront location are strikingly similar to Lisbon in both look and vibe, but with fewer crowds.
Swap Portofino for Alassio and San Remo
The iconic image of Italy’s Portofino is undeniably enchanting – pastel-hued buildings clinging to the cliffs, almost tumbling into the cerulean waters below. Located in Liguria, this famous destination has become an elite hotel and celebrity hotspot. However, 185km west, almost on the border with France, travellers will find a string of equally charming towns and villages, with pastel buildings, seafront restaurants, chic boutiques and shops and some beautiful hotels, but with an entirely local crowd and barely untouched by international tourism (the locals love it). Head to San Remo – the largest town on this stretch – with its famous film festival, Japanese garden, palm trees and ancient olive groves, and book into Grand Hotel Alassio. The Wes Anderson-esque old-world establishment sits right on the Mediterranean. It emulates the feel of Italy’s great tourist hotels – with a waterfront restaurant, aperitivo terrace, old-world Italian bar and private beach packed with loungers.
Swap Cannes for Menton
While picturesque, glitzy and steeped in glamour history, Cannes can become a nightmare in summer. The seaside town’s reputation worldwide as a host of the famous Cannes Film Festival and other world-famous events sees its cobbled lanes team with holidaymakers each summer, local restaurants overtaken by pricy big-name brands and the ones that remain perennially packed. While its allure is what brings readers to this stunning part of the world, an hour’s drive east, this same vibe can be felt at – but with a lot less pretentiousness and price – in Menton. The last stop on the Cote d’Azur before Italy, Menton is known for its pebble beaches, garden, faded belle Epoque architecture and Russian Orthodox churches (once a glamorous and popular holiday spot for aristocracy in Tsarist Russia). The hilly medieval town is a showstopper – and from the beach clubs opposite is the most iconic shot of the French Riviera. Menton is home to some of the best Italian and French restaurants on this coast, beautiful shops (make sure to buy Menton lemon products) and art galleries like the Musée Jean Cocteau collection Séverin Wunderman. This is one of the best destination dupes for summer 2024.
Swap Tuscany for Piedmont
Tuscany is a Reisannance painting – a true masterpiece – but despite being, arguably, one of the most beautiful, elegant and manicured of Italy’s bucolic regions, it’s also one of the busiest – and summers can see its capitals like Florence and hilltop towns become flooded with tourists. For one of the year’s best destination dupes, swap Tuscany for Piedmonte, Italy’s northernmost region on the border of France and Switzerland, where its cities are authentic and untouristic, its winemaking villages some of the best in the world and its restaurants on a true another level. Gavi, Asti, and Barolo are all here, along with Alba (famous for hazelnuts and white truffles) and brands like Lavazza, Ferrero and Martini. Piedmont is often regarded as the culinary capital, not to mention the home of the former Italian capital – the elegant and impossibly stylish Turin. Come to Piedmote to explore Turin (Torino), its museums, aperitivo culture and glamourous squares, and dine in a rugged hilltop restaurant in the Langhe valley – and drink a whole lot of vermouth and exquisite wine. Weather can be scorching in summer, so book a hotel or agriturismo with a poolside.
Swap London for Liverpool
Of course, London will always be London, and few cities on the global stage compare to its magnetism and offering, but head north of England this year and explore what is, arguably, the country’s second most cultural city – Liverpool. Liverpool is a true travellers ‘ gem, perched on the docks overlooking the Irish Sea and spilling out onto historical lanes of museums, bars, restaurants and shops. The former capital of culture is the hometown of The Beatles and in 2023, hosted Eurovision, plus there are some beautiful hotels (check into the Titanic Hotel Liverpool – a glorious restored property in the historic docks that once housed the ill-fated namesake ocean liner (from as little as £99 a night – about AED460).
Swap Venice for Ljubjiana
Venice’s allure is undeniable, and the city will continue to capture the heart and lure travellers worldwide for centuries to come. But the city is deteriorating, with the ancient canals and infrastructure not designed to cater to masses of people. Escape the crowds and help preserve Venice by heading to Ljubjiana- Sliovenia’s enchanting capital. Known for its university population, green spaces and the curving Ljubljanica River lined with charming cafes, it’s one of Europe’s most picturesque – and underrated – cities. Museums include the National Museum of Slovenia, displaying historic exhibitions, and the Museum of Modern Art, home to 20th-century Slovene paintings and sculptures.
Swap Amalfi and Positano for Puglia
During the long Italian summers, the Amalfi Coast town of Positano swarms with tourists, who come in via yacht, car or helicopter to explore its magnificent surroundings. The pastel-hued vertiginous town is the epitome of La Dolce Vita, but it’s also become more and more unbearable due to its hoards of travellers. East, in the boot heel of Italy, Puglia poses and penumbral foil to Positano and the Amalfi Coast’s shininess -offering the same sun-bleached landscapes, charming towns and sparkling seas, but with fewer crowds and cheaper price tags. Explore Lecce, the Florence of the south, with its ruins and galleries, visit the famous Polignano a Mare town, dine in the trattorias of Bari, explore the Matera caves (now hiding boutique hotels), white-washed Ostuni and enjoy Puglia’s laidback, sun-baked cities and towns. Make sure to dine on tomatoes, olive oil and Puglian wine – the epitome of summer living. This is one of the destination dupes you’ll be thankful for.
Swap Athens and Greece for Albania and Saranda
The Albanian Riviera is having a moment, and for the past two summers, much talk has been had about its up-and-coming seaside towns, crystalline waters, ancient ruins, and laid-back vibe, not to mention its affordable price tag. Swap your trip to Greece for an Albanian adventure, and experience a culture and cuisine very similar (thanks to its geographic location), sparking Ionian waters and authentic hospitality. Head to Saranda, the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera near the Greek border, with beautiful ocean vistas, apartments, olive groves, the archaeological remains of a 5th-century synagogue, promenade, golden beaches and the 16th-century hilltop Lëkurësi Castle.
Swap Dubrovnik for Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia’s seafront walled city of Dubrovnik is world famous – for its appearance in Game Of Thrones and also for being a beautiful summer destination. The historic city is one of the brightest gems of the Dalmatian Coast, but while once lesser known, tourists have flocked and prices and crowds are rising. Swap Dubrovnik and your Croatian escape for a trip to Bosnia, Croatia’s Balkan neighbour coming into its own (or simply add it onto the end, with the Bosnian border just a short drive from Dubrovnik). The beautiful southern European country has medieval villages, rivers, lakes and the beautiful Dinaric Alps, and its capital, Sarajevo, is unmissable. The capital is home to a well-preserved old quarter, Baščaršija, famous landmarks like the Ottoman-era Latin Bridge (the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) and excellent coffee shops, galleries and boutiques. For those wanting to explore Croatia with a difference, however, there’s no better way than with Croatia Elegance Cruises – small ship experiences that take in the stunning coastline in seven days.