Spring has long drawn associations of change, rejuvenation and new beginnings. In the spirit of the season, we decided to find cities around the world that have flourished – catapulted into the public conscience through periods of economic boom, artistic injection and favourable political landscapes – over the past five years. What’s changed, what’s been happening and why should you go?
Continuing our series, we’re turning to French travellers and the global cities increasingly on their radar.*
Get a shot of Madaba's cityscape and its towering Central Mosque
The ancient, pale patchwork that is Madaba’s cityscape is seductive. Clusters of sand-coloured stone town houses constellate around the Madaba Mosque, where gold domes and romantic spires loom magnificently overhead. It's a city widely known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics and is stitched together in almost artisan fashion; blocky buildings slot together like a jigsaw puzzle that – when seen from above – takes on the appearance of an elegant sand-swept fortress. Like many Jordanian cities, Madaba is flourishing, reaping the benefits of years of stability and economic growth. A new university has opened, bringing an influx of students and with it an increasingly welcoming and tolerant atmosphere.
Of course, the past and the ancient still thrive here – no trip to Madaba would be complete without visiting the Madaba Mosaic Map in St. George’s Church. It’s the world’s oldest example of Middle Eastern cartography and the oldest known floor map in existence. Spend a morning admiring the intricate stencils of the map, before heading over to the shaded patio of Haret Jdoudna for lunch. Opt for a generous mezze spread of hummus, fattoush and oven-baked Sawani chicken, and walk it off as you meander back to the peach-coloured Mosaic City Hotel.
The Notre Dame d'Afrique is one of Algiers' most beguiling sights
Beguiling and effervescent, Algiers is an enthralling city. Over the past few years it has been rebuilding its reputation as a hub for tourists, distancing itself from a torrid political past – mainly by promoting its wealth of cultural heritage and gorgeous natural beauty. Algiers has a distinct grandeur to it, with influences that range from Phoenician to Ottoman, pretty boulevards and ornate basilicas such as the Notre Dame d’Afrique. But its allure is never more evident than in the ancient hillside Casbah; A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s the traditional medina of Algiers and the city’s swirling soul. Sweeps of ecru-coloured buildings and umber roofs are layered in labyrinthine fashion, while the streets themselves are thick with the heady scents of pine, coffee and grilled meats. Daytime exploring starts here and when you’re done, be sure to head over to La Grande Poste d’Alger – Algiers’ old post office that's now been turned into a museum. It's an exquisite example of Moorish architecture, with domed arches, honey-coloured colonnades and mosaic displays. End the day with a sizzling plate of mechoui – roasted lamb on the bone – at Le Caïd, and later a coffee on the balcony at Lamaraz Arts Hôtel.
Nizwa is known for its forest of date palms
One of Oman’s oldest cities and former capital, Nizwa is quickly becoming one of its most popular. It's an ancient desert city populated with swaying date palms, blooming orchards and cradled by the colossal Hajar Mountains. And it has blossomed off the back of Oman’s push for modernisation. Huddles of souks and grand fortifications have been restored and polished, giving it a fresh look that’s still in keeping with tradition.
Nizwa Fort is one of the town’s most hypnotic sights; Oman’s most visited national monument, the sand-coloured walls have long been a reminder of the city’s stoicism in times of turbulence. Steer your way through a maze of curling staircases, where missing steps – that were once used to capture invaders who would fall through to the pit below – are now covered with glass, to find enchanting views from the top. The panorama of the golden city reaches towards the remote plateaus beyond, and is fantastically disarming. When you climb down, you may be tempted to explore the mountain range and area beyond the city, such as the soaring Jebel Shams peak. Before you head off on another adventure however, get a good night’s sleep at the traditional Antique Inn.
Lay out on one of the floating terraces and look out over the turquoise lake
Otherwise known as the Lagoon of Seven Colours, Bacalar has swathes of tropical charm. A small town in southern Mexico, its rise in popularity is down to its quieter atmosphere compared to towns further up the coast (think Tulum andCancun) and its unusual body of water. The freshwater lake of Bacalar is a kaleidoscope of blue – with over seven shades of it, you can watch dark stormy blues curl around lapis lazulis, while sheens of turquoise crest the mangrove-laden shores. Head down to one of the many tiny jetties, half-sheltered by thatched huts, where you can dip your toes into the water’s magnetic blue, or sail out onto the water for the very best views, navigating your way towards a stretch once frequented by pirates.
Beyond the lake, the town itself has a wonderfully weary feel to it, with crumblings walls depicting bold street art haunt the hushed, dilapidated streets. Local crafts shops jostle with modern eateries, while the Fort of San Felipe rises above them all in the backdrop. Wander up here at sunset for one of Bacalar’s most enticing vistas, followed by a short trip back to your own private terrace at Hotel Aires Bacalar.
Medellín's skyscrapes are cradled by the rugged surronding mountains
Once dubbed the most dangerous city in the world, Medellín has proved that it’s never too late to make a comeback. For a long time, it continued to linger in the shadow of one of its most infamous residents, Pablo Escobar. However, innovative urban planning heralded in a new era for the city and the past five years has seen Medellín establish itself as a top tourist destination. Initiatives like the eco-árbol (a tree-like structure that doubles as an air purifier) and newly-created spaces such as Jardin Circunvalar de Medellín (which works as a belt of parkland to cut off urban sprawl while providing extra greenery to the city) are just a few of the city’s new features that are rebranding it as a hub for entrepreneurial initiatives.
Beyond its evolving urban identity, Medellín is already attractive; built on a hillside between two Andean mountain ridges, high-rise buildings skewer the skyline in dramatic fashion, while cable cars drift overhead. Its temperate climate has earned it the nickname of the 'City of Eternal Spring', meaning there’s never really a bad time to visit. When you do, make a stop at the Museo Casa de la Memoria, which is a harrowing reflection of the city’s urban conflict through the eyes of survivors of Colombian wars. After that, a cycling tour is a great way to see the lesser-seen sides of the city, before ending the day at Celestino Boutique Hotel.
**The data scientists at Booking.com looked at cities that had seen the highest growth in bookings from 2015 to 2018 (with 500 bookings considered the minimum benchmark).