With several new and refurbished luxury hostels opening throughout the country, plenty of British musicals hitting the West End and a 15% annual growth in cycling, VisitEngland has released its predictions for English vacations in 2014. (They involve words like “poshtels” and "lycra," but also words like "art," so it all balances out.) Here's what to expect in the coming year:
Check into a poshtel
Glamping will go one step further in 2014, with fiscally conscious travelers opting for the homier comforts of a poshtel (a portmanteau of "posh" and "hostel"). The YHA has recently spent over £10 million on refurbishments, creating not just private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, but bridal suites with roll-top baths and four-poster beds and even on-site art galleries – YHA York now has a six-foot art installation charting the history of the Rowntree family. It also has a brand new hostel on the South Downs, offering a contemporary take on country life. In other poshtel news, Hoax is a new luxury hostel brand which launched with its first opening in Liverpool in August, and there's the Safestay Hostel in London’s Elephant & Castle, recently awarded four stars in VisitEngland’s accommodation quality assurance plan. The hostel, situated in an 18th Century Georgian building (formerly the Labour Political Party Headquarters), has private twin rooms and family rooms with 40” plasma TVs and is one of series to open across London over the next three years.
Check Out the Art
If 2012 was the year of sport and 2013 was the year of culture (Benjamin Britten’s centenary and 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, to name just two events), 2014 seems poised to be the year of the arts. Manchester will get two key openings: The Manchester Central Library will open in the spring as the city’s “living room,” a unique space with a brand new lending library and performance, exhibition and creative spaces, including a BFI "mediatheque" that offers free access to films from the National Film Archive; the Whitworth Art Gallery will reopen following a £15 million investment that has funded two entire new wings. The West End will also see a bumper year with six new British musicals opening. The Commitments has kicked off the spate of homegrown shows and will be followed by Tim Rice’s From Here to Eternity, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward, I Can’t Sing – the X-Factor Musical and American Psycho, starring soon-to-depart Doctor Who Matt Smith. Outdoor art options will include Hauser & Wirth Somerset opening at Durslade Farm on the edge of the ancient town of Bruton, where visitors will can see new and innovative pieces of contemporary art and architecture designed to mirror the Somerset landscape. Also new is Alex Chinneck’s From the knees of my nose to the belly of my toes, a remarkable trompe l’oeil installation which appears to show the front of a house slipping into the front garden. More arts projects will be announced in January 2014, as part of VisitEngland’s three-year partnership with the Arts Council to help fund cultural experiences.
Saddle up The so-called Bradley Wiggins ‘Wiggo’ effect (not to mention 2012 Olympic cyclists Hoy, Pendleton and Storey), has seen a large number of people jumping into the saddle. The cycling market is growing 10-15 percent per year and will be worth over £3 billion by 2015. As such, investment in infrastructure abounds - £160 million will be spent cycle-proofing Britain’s roads, National Parks are investing £12 million in cycle paths, seaside towns are opening up their promenades to cyclists and new city-center cycling hubs are in the pipeline. VisitEngland’s research has found that 25 percent of the population (3.8 million) are keen to go cycling on vacation, and cycle they can! In March 2014, the Lee Valley VeloPark opens to the public, allowing access to its four cycling disciplines (track, BMX, road and mountain biking) and L'Eroica, the famous historic Tuscan bike tour dubbed as 'the most handsome bike race in the World' is coming to the UK in June 2014. L'Eroica Britannia will travel through the Peak District National Park on a three-day festival known as 'The Great British Adventure.' Adventurers can choose a 30-, 50- or 100-mile route to attempt on pre-1987 bikes. In addition, the Tour de France will start in Yorkshire next year. Yorkshire’s Grand Départ 2014 will see two stages of the world’s largest annual sporting event taking riders from Leeds to Harrogate, then York to Sheffield before the Tour moves south for a third stage from Cambridge to London.
A recent survey by VisitEngland found that gastronomic hotels (gastrotels—because why not?) are more popular than ever. Stats reveal that 13 million day visits last year involved a trip to a food festival or farmers’ market, and 26.2 million residents want to go to a food festival on their next vacation. Research also reveals that nearly 8/10 (76 percent) of the population want to dine at restaurants serving local dishes, so these hot new openings should find a very receptive audience from locals and visitors alike: The Pig, currently consisting of two “restaurants with rooms” in the New Forest and Southampton, will expand with new properties in Bath (Feb 2014) and Studland, Dorset (May 2014), both of which will offer the 25-mile menu; Heckfield Place, a manor house hotel in Hampshire, has been reunited with its 330 acre farm, which means its restaurant – overseen by Skye Gyngell, of London’s Petersham Nurseries fame – will be stocked with hyperlocal produce when it opens in spring 2014. Also in Hampshire, Laverstoke Mill, a Bombay Sapphire Distillery, is also set to open in the spring. Thomas Heatherwick has designed the glasshouse, which will house Bombay Sapphire's 10 botanical ingredients. Bonus: There will be a bar school on site.
The evolution of the stately home
In a bid to woo tourists (many of whom want their own Downton Abbey experience), historic houses are welcoming a new generation of visitors. 2013 saw the introduction of a new flower show at Blenheim Palace, a "glampsite" at Leeds Castle and the world’s biggest assault course – aka The Dirty Weekend – at Burghley House. These will all be back again in 2014, as will half-marathons, car rallies, jousting tournaments, gigs and dog shows.
Battling the elements
VisitEngland has noticed a distinct trend towards vacations that connect with nature and pit people against the elements. Wild swimming and barefoot walking are both fairly recent phenomena and new openings last year included WildRootz at Pensthorpe Wildlife & Gardens in Norfolk, where children can get up close and personal with nature, and Bear Grylls Survival Academy in Surrey, which delivered the ultimate in self-preservation skills. Next year will see the opening of The National Forest Way, a 75-mile footpath from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to Beacon Hill Country Park in Leicestershire that showcases the transformation from a rural landscape, through industrialization and its decline, to the modern-day creation of a new forest. English Heritage, meanwhile, is working on a series of underwater trails of some of the shipwreck sites off England’s coast, complete with waterproof guidebooks and seabed signage.
Next year also marks the centenary of the start of World War I, a time for reflection and commemoration. The Imperial War Museum is co-ordinating a program of cultural events throughout the country and over 1,400 partners have signed up so far, from museums to music and art organizations. Events will range from new works for the English National Ballet, inspired by the Great War, an exhibition of works by celebrated war artist Stanley Spencer at Somerset House and, of course, the reopening of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) London following the £35 million refurbishment of its First World War galleries. August 4, the day England entered the war, will be marked with a candle-lit vigil of prayer at Westminster Abbey finishing at 11pm, the time that war was declared.
For more vacation ideas, visit www.visitengland.com.