Got wanderlust? We’ve got your ticket. The National Geographic Traveler editors present the new year's 20 must-see places.
Photograph by Caro, Alamy
Playground of the tsars
The Crimean Peninsula, with its voluptuously curved Black Sea coast of sparkling cliffs, is paradise—with Riviera-grade vistas but without Riviera prices. Balmy with 300 days of sun a year (“It is never winter here,” said the writer Anton Chekhov, who had a dacha near Yalta), the place served as the playground of tsars and Politburo fat cats. Russians practically wept when, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Crimea was pulled out of the orbit of Russian rule and became part of an independent Ukraine.
A trace of Soviet hangover endures in the form of unsmiling babushkas and concrete block architecture. Visitors can tour the once secret nuclear-blast-proof Soviet submarine base in Balaklava, a piece of Cold War history, now a museum. Afterward, retreat to one of the briny health resorts of the west and east coasts for a therapeutic mud bath, or go for a run down to Livadia Palace in Yalta, scene of the 1945 conference that reconfigured postwar Europe.
Summer is high season, crowded with Russian and eastern European tourists (North Americans are still rare). In autumn the air turns soft and it’s harvest time at vineyards like Massandra, built in the 19th century to supply wines for Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar. There you may have the pleasure of tasting a Riesling with the scent of alpine meadows, port the color of rubies, and a nectar called “Seventh Heaven,” of which a recent visitor said: “I could kneel in front of this wine.” —Cathy Newman
When to Go: May-October
Where to Stay: Newer (opened in 2011) Crimea Breeze Residence is a posh, southern peninsula oasis with low-rise stucco-and-stone luxury villas, seawater pools, and a helpful English-speaking staff.
How to Get Around: Marshrutka (minibus) routes crisscross the region. Private and public bus and train routes connect most cities, and taxis are readily available. Luxury train tour options include the two-week Crimean Express Railway Journey from St. Petersburg to Yalta.
Where to Eat or Drink: Sample traditional Crimean Tatar dishes like lagman (spicy noodle soup), chee-börek (meat turnover), and plov (rice pilaf and lamb) at Harem in Yalta, Kafe Marakand in Simferopol, and, in summer, at the small beach stands and cafes in Koktebel and Sudak.
Cultural Tip: English isn’t spoken widely outside the major tourist areas. Bringing a Russian phrase book and learning a few basic phrases before your trip will make it easier to ask directions, order food, and interact with locals.
What to Read Before You Go: Lady With the Little Dog and Other Stories (1896-1904), by Anton Chekhov (2002). The legendary Russian playwright and modern short story master penned these 11 tales during his final years, spent living in a Yalta villa.
Fun Fact: Joseph Stalin stashed wines confiscated from the tsars’ palaces in the Massandra vineyard cellars, located in underground tunnels. Temporarily relocated during the 1941 Nazi invasion, these rare vintages remain the jewels of Massandra’s estimated million-bottle collection.
Helpful Links: Travel to Ukraine
Photograph by Ed Kashi, VII/National Geographic
France’s new capital of culture
On a once derelict jetty, opposite the stone ramparts of 17th-century Fort St. Jean, a new glass-and-steel building shimmers behind a lacy spider’s-web facade of finely cast concrete. Poised between lapis sea and Marseille’s sun-drenched hills, the National Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) stands at the entrance to the Vieux-Port, the city’s historic heart. And when it opens in May 2013, MuCEM will be a bold symbol of Marseille’s reemergence as a flourishing pan-Mediterranean hub.
Cities may rise and fall, but the great ones—and Marseille is among them—always rise again. Founded by ancient Greeks, France’s second largest city was already 500 years old and a bubbling stew of many cultures when Caesar laid siege in 49 B.C. A 20th-century wave of immigrants from Algeria and some other former French colonies led to Marseille’s modern reputation as a city far removed ethnically and psychologically from the rest of France. Despite recent headlines about drug-related crime, Marseille still stands tall as a world-class city.
These days Marseille has every right to act the cagou (slang for a show-off) as it and the surrounding Provence region assume the role of 2013 European Capital of Culture. “There is a new energy in the city, especially in music, theater, and museums,” says MuCEM director Bruno Suzzarelli. Young, multiethnic crowds gather for cutting-edge happenings at La Friche la Belle de Mai, a tobacco factory turned art and performance center. Major renovations have polished up many of the city’s 20-plus museums, including the Musée Cantini, whose trove of Picassos and Mirós is housed in an elegant 1694 town house. For all the new energy, Marseille’s old pleasures remain as alluring as ever: a stroll along the narrow lanes of the Panier Quarter, the lusty aromas of a good bouillabaisse, a boat ride into the fjordlike inlets called calanques. It’s no wonder that visitors are becoming fadas (big fans) of France’s southern gateway. —Christopher Hall
When to Go: June-August for beaches, April-May and September-October for comfortable temperatures and lighter tourist traffic.
How to Get Around: The Régie des Transports de Marseille public transportation network includes metro, bus, and tramway lines. Consider a tourist City Pass for one or two days’ travel, museum admissions, and tours. March-September, a batobus (water shuttle) runs between the Vieux Port and Pointe Rouge. Kitschy, blue-and-white tourist trains wind through the streets of the oldest districts.
What to Buy: Wander through the maze of indoor and outdoor stalls at the Marché aux Puces and the daily Prado Market. Shop for santons (clay crèche figures), olive and lavender soap, olive oil, navettes (small, rowboat-shaped orange or lemon cookies), and pétanque balls.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Fanny Trilogy (Marius, Fanny, Cesar), 1948 (DVD 2004). Beloved 1930s French films (English subtitles), adaptations of the plays by Marseille’s preeminent writer, Marcel Pagnol, are considered national cultural treasures.
Fun Fact: France’s newest national park, Parc National des Calanques, is located on the outskirts of Marseille. Created in April 2012, the land (lagoons, cliffs, beaches) and sea (dolphins, turtles, seabirds) preserve is accessible only by foot or boat.
Photograph by Daniela Dirscherl, Getty Images
An emerging island Eden in Indonesia
Raja Ampat has been dubbed the Amazon of the Oceans. Is that hyperbole? Not really. There are single reefs here containing more species than the entire Caribbean. A mini-archipelago of rain-forest-clad islands, cays, mangroves, and pearlescent beaches off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia, this marine frontier brims with life. Expect close encounters with recent discoveries such as Raja Ampat’s walking shark and pygmy seahorse, along with more familiar creatures—manta rays, leatherback turtles, and bumphead parrotfish. Not to mention three-quarters of all known coral species.
The scenery proves just as spectacular above the surface. On Wayag, steep limestone karsts drenched in jungle bisect a cobalt lagoon. Tree canopies filled with rare birds offer lofty theater. It’s well worth rising at 3 a.m. to witness the amorous, flamenco-like mating dance of the endemic red bird of paradise.
Remote doesn’t mean rough here. Cruise the region aboard an upscale conversion of a traditional phinisi schooner or stay at a hideaway such as Misool Eco Resort, with its swanky overwater bungalows. Diving is the draw, but kayaking and trekking are picking up. This is nature at its most vivid, above and below the water. —Johnny Langenheim
When to Go: Late September through early June. Be aware that mid-June through mid-September is monsoon season, with rains typically contained to the afternoon.
Where to Stay: Exclusive Misool Eco Resort is a secluded tropical hideaway on the remote, private island of Batbitim. Book your personal water cottage-on-stilts (veranda stairs lead directly into the translucent lagoon) to snorkel and dive in one of the world’s most biologically diverse marine environments.
How to Get Around: Travel by boat from Sarong to Wasai. Longboats, speedboats, motorboats, and dive boats connect Wasai to other islands. Outside the resorts, on island travel is primarily by foot or ojek (motorcycle taxi).
Where to Eat or Drink: If you’re not staying in an all-inclusive resort or on a dive boat, Raja Ampat dining options are limited to the small stores, outdoor markets, and warungs (family-run cafés/stores) in Wasai, Raja Ampat’s capital. Another option is to stock up in Sarong before traveling to Wasai.
What to Buy: In the established tourism villages Arborek and Sauwandarek local women make and sell wood and orchid bark nokens (string bags), pandan leaf hats and bags, and wood or banana fiber skirts.
What to Read Before You Go: Raja Ampat Through the Lens Of, by the Raja Ampat Research & Conservation Centre (2009).This coffee table hardcover is a 288-photo journey above and through the Realm of the Four Kings. Proceeds support local conservation efforts.
Fun Fact: On Raja Ampat’s Um Island, bats circle the blue skies by day and seagulls take flight at night. The compact island (one lap around takes about 15 minutes) is dotted with caves, home to the diurnal bats that feast on ripe fruit.
Helpful Links: Indonesian Tourism
Photograph by Marco Moretti, Anzenberger/Redux
A vibrant historical mosaic in Italy
At first glance, there hardly seems to be any comparison between Ravenna and Rome: Ravenna is smaller, sleepier, and without Rome’s domed skyline or ruins. But back in the fifth century, it was Ravenna that served as capital of the Western Roman Empire. In this burgeoning city, Roman rulers built monuments celebrating both Christianity and their own power—monuments famous, then and now, for their sweeping mosaics.
Seven of Ravenna’s eight buildings from the fifth and sixth centuries are spectacularly decorated with examples of this ancient art. “In the past, many people couldn’t read or write,” says tour guide and Ravenna native Silvia Giogoli. “Mosaics were a way to explain the religion, and the political situation, to the people.”
At the Basilica of San Vitale (above), a bejeweled Empress Theodora stares across the apse at her husband, Justinian. At Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, two rows of larger-than-life saints march toward the apse. But in Ravenna, mosaics aren’t just historical remnants. Visitors admire pieces by contemporary mosaicists including Chagall, Mathieu, and Vedova at the MAR (Museo d’Arte Ravenna) or poke into cluttered bottegas (workshops) where modern artists use the same methods as their Byzantine forebears. At the Parco della Pace, locals relax beside mosaic sculptures; even the city’s street signs glitter with glass fragments. At the 2013 RavennaMosaico, mosaic mania takes hold. Visitors can gawk at new pieces, listen to musicians, and learn to make their own masterpieces. —Amanda Ruggeri
When to Go: June-October; weather is pleasant in April and May but historic sites can get crowded with school groups.
Relevant Dates: RavennaMosaico, a mosaic festival, next takes place in October-November 2013.
Where to Eat or Drink: Housed in a former movie theater, two-story Ristorante Cinema Alexander blends 1940s Hollywood décor with homemade Emilia Romagna pasta courses (tortellini, tagliatelle, passatelli) and attentive service (helpful in translating the menu). For fresh seafood, try Osteria L’Accigua and Da Buco.
What to Read Before You Go: Ravenna in Late Antiquity, by Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis (2010), provides a wide-ranging look at the city’s art, architecture, and history.
Fun Fact: Ravenna’s oldest monument is Battistero Neoniano. The surrounding street level has risen nearly ten feet since the octagonal baptistery was built in the fifth century, creating the illusion the building has sunk belowground.
Great Bear Rainforest
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic
Canada’s fragile coastal wilderness
Sometimes you can see both the forest and the trees. The Great Bear Rainforest, the planet’s largest intact coastal temperate rain forest, is an untamed strip of land stretching 250 miles along British Columbia’s coast that harbors extensive tracts of giant hemlock, Sitka spruce, and red cedar. The mighty trees rise high above a moist and ferny forest floor patrolled by coastal wolves, minks, Canada’s largest grizzly bears, and rare white Kermode spirit bears.
This tranquillity has recently been rocked by a proposal to send tar sands crude oil from Alberta to a terminal at Kitimat in the Great Bear Rainforest. The project would entail two pipelines crossing some of the world’s largest salmon-producing watersheds and a steady procession of supertankers plying the narrow channels. The local First Nations and environmental groups are vehemently opposed, fearing the catastrophic effects of an Exxon Valdez–type spill. “This is a wilderness sanctuary, a very spiritual place,” says Ian McAllister, founding director of Pacific Wild. “The pipelines would fundamentally alter the coast forever.” A decision on the pipelines could come by the end of 2013. —Robert Earle Howells
When to Go: May-September
Where to Stay: At luxurious King Pacific Lodge (accessible only by floatplane), all-inclusive amenities include gourmet meals, whale-watching, and guided kayaking tours. Spirit Bear Lodge, a tour/lodging outfitter in Klemtu, is owned and operated by the local Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation community.
Where to Eat or Drink: Reserve a table (and one of the day’s homemade desserts) at tiny Cow Bay Café, a funky, dockside lunch and dinner hotspot in Prince Rupert.
What to Watch Before You Go: Last Stand of the Great Bear, DVD, National Geographic (2004). Wilderness detectives embark on a 250-mile adventure through the Great Bear Rainforest in search of the rare white spirit bear.
Fun Fact: The rain forest’s most celebrated resident is the Kermode bear, or spirit bear. A recessive genetic mutation causes these black bears to be born with cream-colored fur. One in three black bears on Gribbell Island is white.
Photograph by AfriPics/Alamy
Africa’s liquid asset
Locals call it the “Lake of Stars,” and it’s easy to see why. After nightfall, paraffin lamps illuminate Lake Malawi with a constellation of firefly-like flickers; fishermen in dugout canoes work the glassy waters as they have since before the era of the Maravi kingdom.
Deep and clear, the teal lake—Africa’s third largest—glimmers in the Great Rift Valley. Bordering Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, Malawi is an increasingly steady presence within a dynamic continent. Last year, a political transition introduced the world to Joyce Banda, a progressive new president and the second female chief of state in sub-Saharan Africa. More than a domestic shift, this turning point presents an invitation to explore Africa’s best kept secret.
“When you make friends with a Malawian, they watch out for you,” says Moses Mphatso Kaufulu, a blogger from the historic British capital of Zomba. “The depth of African experience rests on friendship—this is what makes my country second to none in the world.”
Where better to befriend a local than by the lake? Swimming boys laugh as a kaleidoscope of brightly colored fish glitter to the surface. The only high-rise in sight is a jumble of sunbleached boulders. Malawi offers much more than serene lakes. Dusty roads connect towns, and mountains give way to plains of green maize punctuated by baobab trees. But the nation’s heart is a watery realm where waves lap the sand, leaving streaks of silt. —Andrew Evans
When to Go: For lake and big game safaris, go in the dry seasons, April/May and October/November. Between January and March more than 200 species of orchids bloom in Nyika National Park, making this prime time for orchid lovers and bird-watchers.
Where to Stay: Guests at the rustic, six-room Red Zebra Lodge at Kambiri Point can join underwater safaris to view Lake Malawi’s diverse aquatic life, including the intensely colorful African cichlid fish. Remote Chiofu Camp, accessible only by a 3.5-hour boat ride east from Kambiri Point, offers bare-bones beach camping in light tents secured under the trees.
Cultural Tips: Comfortable, casual dress is the norm, but reserve beachwear (tank tops, bathing suits, short dresses, and shorts) for vacation resorts.
What to Buy: Handcrafted baskets, intricate wood carvings, and Dedza Pottery including hand-painted tableware and figurines depicting Malawian life.
In-Country Travel Tip: Foreign currency is widely accepted. ATMs dispensing local currency are located in Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu.
What to Eat or Drink: Try the traditional staple nsima, a thick cornmeal porridge molded into a ball and served alongside ndiwo, a relish-like meat, bean, or vegetable side dish.
What to Read Before You Go: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. It's the inspiring true story of Malawi native Kamkwamba’s extraordinary boyhood quest to transform life in his village by building a windmill.
Fun Fact: In Chichewa, Malawi’s most common indigenous language, the word for Lake Malawi’s brilliantly hued cichlid fish is mbuna. Hundreds of species of the tropical fish (coveted by freshwater aquarium enthusiasts) live in the crystal clear lake.
Helpful Links: Malawi Tourism Guide
Photograph by Casa Gangotena
The fresh face of Ecuador’s old city
Surrounded by bunches of bright sunflowers and chamomile, Rosa Lagla gently performs soul-cleansing limpia treatments in a market just a few blocks from Plaza de San Francisco, hub of Quito’s restored Old Town. Rubbing handfuls of stinging nettles, sweet herbs, and rose petals into the skin drives out bad energy, she says, working the plants to a pulp. With botanicals brimming from plastic bags, Lagla brings the Andean healing practice to guests of the newly restored Casa Gangotena on the plaza. Healer and hotel span two worlds, the traditional and the modern, both reinvigorating this city of 1.6 million.
For too long, travelers have neglected Ecuador’s capital city en route to the nation’s marquee attraction, the Galápagos Islands. Though its Spanish colonial center has been enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, the area has more recently undergone a renaissance warranting longer stays. In the past decade, city officials have invested nearly $500 million to make improvements to its historic quarter. At Quito’s heart, cobblestoned streets and pastel-colored mansions hem the revitalized San Francisco Church. Many restorers of the landmark learned to apply gold leaf, inlay wood, and chisel statuary in a nearby workshop with a mission to teach skills to impoverished teenagers with an aptitude for art. People are primary in Quito’s new museums. Emphasizing storytelling, Casa del Alabado arranges its pre-Columbian art and artifacts thematically to dramatize the mystery of the ancients. Quito’s historic center is now beginning to cultivate a vibrant nightlife. On Calle La Ronda, music sings out from restaurants and bars. But Lagla lifts spirits the old way. Sweeping up sage post-ritual, she says, “Se fue, el espanto. La energia vuelve—It’s gone, the fright. Energy returns.” She could be speaking of Quito, too. —Elaine Glusac
When to Go: June-September (dry season, cool temperatures)
Where to Stay: Casa Gangotena combines luxury lodging with numerous cultural immersion opportunities supporting Quito’s Heritage Guardians program.
How to Get Around: The extensive transportation network includes private and public buses, the Trolebus (trolley bus), and trains. On a clear day, take the TelefériQo scenic gondola up the slope of Pichincha Volcano for panoramic views of the city and the Andes.
Where to Eat or Drink: Assemble a group of at least six to book a private, three-course dinner at indigenous community-owned Kallari Café in La Mariscal. The $7.50 per person tab includes a brief Kichwa language and cultural presentation, plus an inside view (and taste) of Kallari’s single-origin artisanal chocolate and coffee production process.
What to Buy: Pick up tchotchkes in the La Mariscal craft stalls, and stroll along Calle La Ronda during the day to soak up the colonial past. For authentic Ecuadorian tapestries, straw fedoras, masks, and tiles, visit the esteemed Olga Fisch Folklore Gallery and Museum.
What to Watch Before You Go: Prometeo Deportado (Prometheus, Deported). This 2009 film from Ecuadorian director Fernando Mieles explores how immigration has affected Ecuadorian society, which counts some three million of its people living and working abroad.
Fun Fact: Sitting 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito is one of the world’s highest capital cities. Its formal name, San Francisco de Quito, reflects both the city’s pre-Inca, indigenous Quitu culture and nearly 300-year (1534-1822) Spanish colonial period.
Photograph by Scott Stulberg, Corbis
A spiritual awakening in Myanmar
The once isolated nation at the culturally rich crossroads of India and China is a land that imbues even the most jaded traveler with a sense of wonder.
In Myanmar, government reforms since 2010 and the election of democracy activist (and Nobel Peace Prize recipient) Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament have propelled a profoundly gracious land, formerly known as Burma, onto the world stage. It’s about time.
Decades of reclusion have preserved a vibrant culture deeply steeped in Buddhism; especially outside the major urban centers of Yangon and Mandalay, daily life has remained largely untouched by Western trends. Rudyard Kipling’s words in Letters From the East still ring true: “This is Burma and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.”
The best Burmese travel experiences require a bit of planning, but the rewards are great—especially in Bagan, the arid, pagoda-studded plain along the Ayeyarwady River in Upper Burma where the first Burmese Buddhist kings, their courtiers, and other merit-seeking patrons built thousands of religious monuments from the 11th to 13th centuries. According to Burma scholar Donald Stadtner, these 16 square miles—despite the misguided restoration of some temples in the 1990s—rank among Southeast Asia’s most significant sacred ancient sites.
Secure an early morning bird’s-eye view of the monuments by booking a Balloons Over Bagan hot-air-balloon-and-sparkling-wine trip; profits fund community service projects on the ground. Spend the afternoon exploring dusty trails by bicycle. At sunset, find a perch and gaze over the panorama of castle-like structures shimmering in the golden light. —Ceil Miller Bouchet
When to Go: Late October-March (dry season)
Relevant Dates: Balloons Over Bagan operates daily October through March.
Where to Stay: Head north of Old Bagan to Nyaung U for budget-friendly options like Aung Mingalar Hotel. In Bagan, the Hotel at Tharabar Gate is close to the main gate of the ancient east wall. South, in New Bagan, view temples and pagodas from your balcony at Kumudara Hotel.
How to Get Around: Horse-drawn carts and rental bicycles are readily available. For guided tours and small groups, choose an established outfitter like Woodland Travels.
Where to Eat or Drink: Try the grilled fish and fresh baked bread at Star Beans, located near Annanda Temple, and a little bit of everything (Burmese to burgers, plus free Wi-Fi) at Weather Spoon’s on the No. 5 Main Road.
What to Buy: Shop for lacquerware at the small local workshops where artisans use raw thitsi tree lacquer to create decorative and durable bamboo boxes, bowls, trays, and furniture.
Cultural Tip: Dress conservatively (no shorts, short skirts, or ball caps), especially when visiting religious sites.
What to Read Before You Go: Finding George Orwell in Burma, by Emma Larkin (2004), chronicles the year the American writer spent tracing the steps of Orwell, who lived in British-ruled Burma (Myanmar) in the 1920s.
Fun Fact: During Bagan’s golden age, temples were built from kiln-fired red brick, covered with stucco, and then whitewashed with lime. Erosion, vandalism, and some restoration efforts have turned most of the white monuments an earthen, rusty red.
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
Nova Scotia’s treasured island
During the 18th and 19th centuries, fishermen and settlers from France and Scotland came to Cape Breton Island, drawn by its rich fisheries, ample timber, and the chance of a better life. Originally settled by the ancient ancestors of the Micmac people, this island off Nova Scotia now lures visitors with its abundant wildlife, natural beauty, and assembly of French, Micmac, and Celtic cultures.
One-fifth of Cape Breton is preserved as a national park, laced by 25 hiking paths and looped by the Cabot Trail, a 186-mile driving route frequently ranked among the world’s most spectacular. “I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps, and the Highlands of Scotland,” said inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who spent 37 summers here. “But for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.”
The mingling of cultures means you can seek a clan tartan at the craft shop at Gaelic College/Colaisde Na Gàidhlig in St. Anns, then explore the French-founded Fortress of Louisbourg on the east coast. In 1745 this garrison withstood a 48-day siege by New Englanders, backed by British naval support, before surrendering. In 2013, the reconstructed fortification celebrates the 300th anniversary of the founding of the French colony of Île Royale (present-day Cape Breton). —John Rosenthal
When to Go: May-October; Celtic Colours annual international music and cultural festival, early October
Where to Stay: Family-owned Highland Heights Inn combines homey rooms and home-cooked meals (try the traditional Nova Scotia fish cakes) with breathtaking views of the Bras d’Or Lakes. Spend a day immersed in Gaelic culture next door at the 40-acre Highland Village living history museum.
How to Get Around: Drive the Cabot Trail loop counterclockwise beginning in Baddeck.
Where to Eat or Drink: Rusty Anchor Restaurant in Pleasant Bay serves up fresh seafood chowder, fish and chips, and some of the Cabot Trail’s best lobster rolls (pure lump meat and a bit of butter). Watch the ocean, and maybe even a whale, from the outdoor patio. Open May-October.
What to Read Before You Go: Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald. This multigenerational tale set on early 20th-century Cape Breton was the Canadian playwright's debut novel, earning her the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
Fun Fact: Most of Nova Scotia’s endangered Canada lynx live in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The mostly nocturnal cat is built for stealth. Its fur ear tufts act as hearing aids and its large, furry feet function as snowshoes.
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic
Africa’s new frontier
Uganda, once the cornerstone of Africa’s Grand Tour, is today bypassed by most visitors. The nation and its people have been brutalized by dictators, battered by warlords, and negatively portrayed by viral videos. Safarigoers line up in next-door Kenya and Tanzania, with only a few coming to Uganda to see the famed mountain gorillas.
The land mixes savanna, enormous lakes, rain forests, and the glacier-clad Rwenzori Mountains, one of Africa’s tallest ranges. The headwaters of the Nile originate here, then burst through a cleft in the rocks at Murchison Falls. Uganda’s parade of animals is amazingly diverse. Hippos graze along the shores of Lake Edward in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, while lions lounge in the trees of Ishasha, in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The star in Bwindi is the mountain gorilla, a species down to about 720 animals visible in their tiny habitat.
Uganda has tough decisions ahead. Oil lies beneath the Rift Valley, right inside Murchison Falls National Park. Extraction seems inevitable. But tourism dollars could provide an easier coexistence between banana-loving gorillas and banana farmers in Bwindi. —David Swanson
When to Go: The best times are during the drier seasons, January-March and June-August.
Where to Stay: Embark on guided boat trips, hikes, and safaris from rustic Jacana Safari Lodge on Lake Nyamusingire (Uganda’s largest crater lake) in Queen Elizabeth National Park, or from thatched-roof Mihingo Lodge on the secluded edge of Lake Mburo National Park.
How to Get Around: Public and private transportation options include minibuses, taxis, luxury coaches, rental cars, and inland ferries. Tour operators can arrange travel for day trips, safaris, and complete itineraries.
Where to Eat or Drink: In Kampala, head to Nalongo in suburban Katwe for traditional luwombo: a mixture of meat, vegetables, and (sometimes) peanut butter steamed in banana leaves. Funky Mish Mash in Kololo serves an all-day breakfast in a laid-back art gallery-tree house-café-garden setting.
What to Buy: Local crafts, including mats and baskets handwoven from elephant grass and palm leaves, are sold along roadsides and at outdoor markets.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Last King of Scotland (2007). The fictionalized chronicle of the rise and fall of brutal dictator Idi Amin was the first feature film completely shot on location in Uganda. Forest Whitaker’s chilling portrayal of Amin earned an Academy Award and Golden Globe.
Fun Fact: Small farms employ four out of every five Ugandans. Using mainly traditional, chemical-free methods, an estimated 200,000 organic farmers produce fresh matooke (plantain), pineapple, apple bananas, and ginger for local use and international export.
Helpful Links: Uganda Tourism Board
Photograph by S. Falke, laif/Redux
New York’s original art show
Not even Rip Van Winkle could sleep through the cultural clarion of today’s Hudson Valley. The legendary snoozer in Washington Irving’s tale might descend from his Catskill Mountains hollow to find some of the country’s best folk musicians at the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson. Founded by now 93-year-old Pete Seeger, the festival marks its 35th anniversary in 2013. “The Hudson must surely be one of the world’s most extraordinary streams,” says Seeger. “Other rivers are longer and start higher, but my wife and I and our daughter look every day from the windows of our two-room house and see the Hudson. Bless it!”
Just a couple hours north of New York City, this is a land of mom-and-pop shops, “u-pick” wildflower fields, and organic farm stands where “chain” is a four-letter word. Between the Culinary Institute of America grads too enchanted to leave Hyde Park and the influx of NYC chefs realizing the land is greener (and apartments bigger) here, area eateries such as Blue Hill at Stone Barns are stoking locavore passions.
Artists of all media find their muses here. Take a drive to the newly expanded Hudson River School Art Trail to see 17 sites in New York that inspired America’s great mid-19th-century landscape paintings. “The views that compose the art trail are a national treasure,” says Elizabeth B. Jacks, director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Or visit museums such as the outdoor Storm King Art Center sculpture park to see the work of contemporary visionaries.
Some villages marry art and music famously. In the wonderfully weird and artsy Woodstock, indie performers and music icons rub elbows and grab crusty loaves at Bread Alone Bakery. Budding musicians bring their bongos to the weekly hippie drum circle on the Village Green.
Much like Rip, Hudson Valley wanderers often wake up to find this is where they long to rest their vagabond souls. —Sascha Zuger
When to Go: May-October; fall foliage and harvest festivals mid-September through October.
Where to Stay: The Olde Rhinebeck Inn’s mid-Hudson Valley location north of Hyde Park and easy access to the New York State Thruway (I-87) make the historic bed-and-breakfast an ideal base for area day trips. Original architectural details in the restored 1745 farmhouse include wide plank living room floors and hand-hewn chestnut beams.
How to Get Around: Driving offers the most flexibility. From New York City, drive north on either side of the Hudson River via I-87 (tolls) or U.S. 9W on the west or the scenic Taconic State Parkway or Route 9 on the east. Add a boat cruise (May-October, Hudson River Cruises) or scenic train ride (Metro-North Railroad).
Where to Eat or Drink: Book a table two months in advance at elegant Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Menus list the day’s fresh ingredients. Identify any you don’t want in your Farmer’s Feast (five courses, $108; eight courses, $148; 12 courses, $208).
What to Read Before You Go: Hudson River Valley Farms: The People and the Pride Behind the Produce, by Joanne Michaels and Rich Pomerantz (2009). Illustrated, insider’s portrait of 44 Hudson Valley farmers and their farms includes driving directions to each featured farm, plus a directory of nearly a hundred local farmers markets.
Fun Fact: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the final resting place of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving. Other notable residents include Harry and Leona Helmsley, whose lavish mausoleum offers Manhattan skyline views (on a stained-glass window).
Helpful Links: Hudson River Valley Tourism
Photograph by Peter Schickert, Alamy
A bolt of Greece lightning
Thessaloniki’s sparkling harbor is almost empty—a good thing. It remains one of the last urban seafronts in southern Europe not hemmed in by a giant marina. Instead, wooden caïques still ply the quiet bay while footpaths trace the meandering waterfront of Greece’s second largest city, some 320 miles north—and a world away—from chaotic Athens.
Although the euro crisis has caused ripples of discontentment here, it’s the century-old street markets filled with ripe fruits and barrels of fresh feta that symbolize this city. Tucked between relics of Byzantine and Ottoman antiquity are art galleries, bohemian nightclubs, and culinary hot spots, all part of a grassroots vision turned reality by Thessaloniki’s large (about 50 percent of the population) do-it-yourself youth culture. “We are driven by our optimism and positive energy for a new way of living that embraces our heritage,” says Vicky Papadimitiou, a university graduate who helped Thessaloniki garner official status as the 2014 European Youth Capital.
The best way to get the feel of this mission-driven city is on foot, walking from the ruins of Ano Poli to Aristotelous Square on the waterfront. Then cozy up to a café to nibble grilled calamari washed down with dry Macedonian wine. —Costas Christ
When to Go: High season is July-August. June and September offer summerlike weather but lighter crowds.
Relevant Dates: International Thessaloniki Film Festival is every November; the annual International Book Fair is in May.
How to Get Around: Blue and white OASTH (Urban Transport Organization of Thessaloniki) buses are a safe, efficient, and affordable option for city and area-wide travel.
Where to Eat or Drink: Try Nea Diagonios for soutzoukakia (spiced meatballs) and gyros, 7 Thalasses (Seven Seas) for mithopilafo (mussels with rice), and Mpakaliarakia tou Aristou for fish and chips. Save room for Thessaloniki’s signature sweet, trigona. The syrup-soaked baklava stuffed with cream is handmade at Trigona Elenidis pastry shop.
What to Buy: Shop for exotic spices and sample fresh fruits at traditional markets, including glass-roofed Modiano and the Kapani food market, and in the shops around Athonos Square.
What to Watch Before You Go: Never on Sunday, a 1960 comedy classic in which popular Greek actress turned politician Melina Mercouri introduced international cinema audiences to the natural beauty, bouzouki music, and joy of Greek life.
Fun Fact: In 316 B.C., Macedonian King Kassandros renamed the village of Therma Thessaloniki after his wife, the half sister of Alexander the Great. Legend says the queen (murdered by her middle son) lives on as an Aegean mermaid.
Helpful Links: Greek National Tourist Organization
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
Caribbean with a smile
It’s one of the last truly Caribbean islands, not yet overwhelmed by resorts and cruise ship crowds. The charm of this lush island lies beyond the white-sand beach of Grand Anse and its string of hotels.
Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, is one of the prettiest towns in the Caribbean, its jumble of orange roofs tumbling down to the harbor. There, the gray stones of Fort George evoke a history that runs from 1705 through the dark days of 1983, when a military coup by a Communist hard-liner prompted President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of the island.
That was an unhappy exception to a happy rule: Grenadian traditions are an amiable mix of African, Indian, and European—much of it coming together every April on the country’s little Carriacou island. The Maroon Festival features drums, string bands, dances, and the “Shakespeare Mas,” in which costumed contestants hurl island-accented recitations from Julius Caesar at each other. Really.
The weekly “Fish Friday” festival in Gouyave, Grenada’s seafood town, offers a marine taste of true Caribbean. Vendors fill the air with scents of fish cakes, shrimp, conch, and beer. Street music makes it a party, with visitors welcome. For most Grenadians, tourists are guests, not sales targets.
Nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and mace made Grenada the “Spice Island,” and culinary opportunity persists today. The Belmont Estate serves up such local fare as callaloo soup and bergamot ice cream. The dark slabs from the Grenada Chocolate Company are so determinedly organic that chocolate bars exported to Europe have been shipped by wind power on a square-rigged brigantine.
With mangrove-fringed coastlines and coral reefs just offshore, there’s plenty of nature. At Mount Hartman, with the right guide at the right time, you might see the national bird: the shy Grenada dove. Fewer than 150 remain on Earth. Indeed, Grenada is becoming a rare bird itself. —Jonathan B. Tourtellot
When to Go: Dry season, January-May. (Hurricane/rainy season is June-December.)
Relevant Dates: The three-day Carriacou Maroon & String Band Music Festival is typically held in late April.
Where to Stay: All 12 rooms at La Sagesse Nature Centre, a 25-minute drive from St. George’s, are steps from the intimate resort’s palm-shaded beach. Stay in the former plantation’s original manor house or a duplex suite, cottage, or low-slung oceanfront guesthouse. The beachside restaurant (open to the public) serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and its signature chocolate mousse (prepared with local organic chocolate) seven days a week.
How to Get Around: For island-wide touring, rent a car at the airport. Public minivan routes connect St. George’s to Grand Anse Beach and the island’s other major cities. Taxi service is readily available from the airport. Several local tour operators offer group and private transportation and sightseeing options.
Where to Eat or Drink: The open-air restaurant at Belmont Estate serves a three-course lunch buffet spotlighting homegrown spices, fruits, and vegetables. Lunch is served Sunday-Friday beginning at noon.
What to Buy: Locally grown and produced ground spices and essential oils from the Market Square in St. George’s; The Grenada Chocolate Company organic dark chocolate bars at Belmont Estate.
What to Listen to Before You Go: Grenada: Creole and Yaruba Voices, Caribbean Voyage: 1962 Field Recordings, produced by Alan Lomax. Legendary folk music hunter Lomax recorded the rich linguistic and stylistic variety of the English-, French-, and Spanish-speaking eastern Caribbean on a six-month, 1962 field trip to the Lesser Antilles.
Fun Fact: According to legend, Grenada owes its Isle of Spice status to an East Indies doctor who brought the first nutmeg trees to the island in the 1830s. The tree produces the island’s principal export crops—nutmeg and mace.
Helpful Links: Grenada Board of Tourism
Photograph by Karl Lehmann, Getty Images
Norway’s gateway to the Arctic
Flying into Bodø, the plane descends over a seascape covering thousands of isles, while the final approach offers a close-up view of the majestic glaciers and peaks guarding this small capital of Norway’s Nordland Province. Arriving by sea (often and deservedly called “the world’s most beautiful sea voyage”), the famous Hurtigruten coastal ships give passengers a glimpse to the northwest of the imposing 62-mile chain of spiky mountains that forms the mythic-seeming Lofoten archipelago.
Bodø is less than one degree north of the Arctic Circle. Without the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, the landscape would be a frozen, inhospitable waste at this latitude. In fact, Bodø offers cycling, skiing, hiking, caving, climbing, and fishing. Many visitors come here for the unique Arctic light, whether the soft pastels of winter that crescendo in a display of aurora borealis or the orange glow of summer’s midnight sun (the best viewpoint for both is from the Landegode lighthouse). Don’t leave without seeing the Saltstraumen sound, where deep, swirling eddies form every six hours with the change in tides as the equivalent of 160,000 Olympic-size pools of water surge through a narrow passage. Above all, northern Norway has this to offer: the absence of distractions and the chance of an intimate encounter with awe-inspiring nature. —Arild Molstad
When to Go: Early June-early July for the midnight sun; September-April for northern lights.
Where to Stay: The waterfront Rica Hotel Bodø and newly renovated Clarion Collection Hotel Grand Bodø (breakfast and a light evening buffet included) are conveniently located near shops, restaurants, and museums.
How to Get Around: In town, walk (airport is less than a mile from the city center) or take the local bus. Hop a fast ferry for island and coastal day trips. Take the Nordland Railway south to Trondheim, or a bus for destinations north.
Where to Eat or Drink: Try harborside Bryggerikaia for grilled tørrfisk (cod), fish soup, and fresh prawns. For drinks, panoramic mountain and sea views are included at the Radisson Blu Hotel’s Top 13 Rooftop Bar.
What to Read Before You Go: Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (2007). The award-winning novel by the acclaimed Norwegian novelist is a hauntingly mesmerizing introduction to the quiet, stark beauty of remote, northern Norway.
Fun Fact: Norway is home to Europe’s largest breeding population of white-tailed eagles, an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 pairs. The massive raptor (Europe’s biggest) has eight talons, a wingspan of over eight feet, and can live 20 to 25 years.
Photograph by Frank Tophoven, laif/Redux
Chile’s soulful port apart
Generations of creative pilgrims have been hooked by Valparaíso’s weathered beauty and bohemian vibe. Travelers have followed suit, coming for the romantic allure of its 42 cerros (hills) that ascend sharply from the water. Stacked high with faded mansions, 19th-century funiculars, and battered cobblestones, Valparaíso stands in contrast to the glitzy Viña del Mar resort town to the north. As Chile’s vital harbor, it retains the signature grittiness and edge that often endow ports. But Valparaíso is also welcoming a boom of eateries serving inventive Chilean fare, quirky bars offering hoppy microbrews, and antiques-packed B&Bs.
Pablo Neruda, whose former home, La Sebastiana, still lords over Cerro Bellavista, wrote Valparaíso-inspired verse: “I love, Valparaíso, everything you enfold, and everything you irradiate, sea bride … I love the violent light with which you turn to the sailor on the sea night.” A meander through its tangle of steep alleyways and stairways reveals eye-catching street art and ocean views from pedestrian passages that hug the slopes. Then a cool breeze comes off the Pacific, night falls, and silhouettes of hills appear against darker skies, infusing Valparaíso with poetry that seeps through its every pore. —Anja Mutić
When to Go: November-March (Southern Hemisphere summer)
Relevant Dates: The city is packed at the end of December for the raucous Carnaval de Valparaíso, culminating in a New Year's Eve fireworks show over the harbor.
How to Get Around: Use buses, trolleybuses, and shared taxis (colectivos) for local travel, and Metro Valparaíso, called Merval, for regional trips. Ride the remaining (about 15) funky funicular railways (ascensores) up to hilltop neighborhoods.
Where to Eat or Drink: Wander among the fresh fruit, vegetable, flower, and fish stalls at El Mercado Cardonal (closed Sundays), then head upstairs to any of the market's small, affordable seafood restaurants. Grab beer and chorrillana (a local fried steak, egg, potato, and onion concoction) at a traditional port pub like Bar La Playa on Calle Serrano.
What to Buy: On weekends and during holidays, browse through rare and secondhand books at Feria de Antiguedades y Libros La Merced.
What to Read Before You Go: Inés of My Soul: A Novel, by Isabel Allende (English, 2006), is a sweeping tale about Chile’s founding mother, Doña Inés Suárez, woven with historical facts and engaging storytelling.
Fun Fact: Valparaíso’s funiculars operate on the basic 16th-century pulley-track concept engineered at Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria. One major difference: The original incline railway employed prisoners, then oxen, to power the pulley, while Valparaíso’s uses engines.
Helpful links: National Tourism Service of Chile
Missouri River Breaks
Photograph by Christian Heeb, Aurora
Big sky, bigger adventures in Montana
Today Lewis and Clark wouldn’t recognize most of their route from St. Louis to the Pacific. But there’s one place they’d know in a heartbeat: a 149-mile stretch of the Missouri River in north-central Montana. It still contains the “scenes of visionary enchantment” the explorers found in 1805, where rugged sandstone canyons meet the river, then climb to a seemingly limitless prairie full of life. Bighorn sheep and elk sip from the river while antelope scamper. Eagles scream, coyotes sing, and prairie dogs do that funky dance. Even bison are back, thanks to the American Prairie Reserve, a group stitching together three million acres of public and private land for wildlife.
For locals, this place where erosion slashes the prairie is simply “the Breaks.” Some people explore it by canoe, often starting at Fort Benton (make time for the frontier history museums) and paddling for days and days. Others keep their feet dry, but the one thing everybody can find is quiet, the kind of hush that amplifies birdsong, a flutter of leaf, the melody of wind, your own heartbeat.
It’s not easy country. You’ll find more cactus and prairie rattlesnakes than people. You’ll expose yourself to weather that can peel your skin, freeze your flesh, bake you to the bone. Bring sturdy shoes, lots of water—and an open mind. In the Breaks, you can fill it with something good. —Scott McMillion
When to Go: Summer (Memorial Day weekend through September 30)
Where to Stay: Camp at one of the Missouri River sites used by Lewis and Clark. Get the campsites’ GPS coordinates at the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center in Fort Benton. Or, bunk in an authentic homestead cabin or in a period room above the historic mercantile in Virgelle, a restored homestead-era ghost town located just upstream from the Upper Missouri’s White Cliffs.
How to Get Around: Much of Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument is inaccessible by road. Guided canoe/camping tours can be booked through experienced, local outfitters like Upper Missouri River Guides and Missouri River Canoe Company.
Where to Eat or Drink: Reserve an outdoor table (seasonal) for dinner (closed Tuesdays) at upscale Union Grille Restaurant, located on the main floor of Fort Benton’s historic Grand Union Hotel. Seasonally fresh, local ingredients are featured on the fine dining and, more casual, Tavern menus.
What to Watch Before You Go: Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (National Geographic, DVD, 2002) is a visually stunning re-creation of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey, narrated by actor Jeff Bridges and shot in original expedition locations.
Fun Fact: At the turn of the 20th century, the remote, rugged terrain made the Breaks a hideout for outlaws like Harvey Logan, also known as “Kid Curry,” part of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s infamous Wild Bunch.
Helpful Links: Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument
Photograph by Russell Kord, Aurora
Florida’s fountain of youth
History books taught us that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León “discovered” Florida 500 years ago in 1513 while seeking the fabled fountain of youth. But before the peninsula was claimed by de León, it was home for more than 12,000 years to Paleo-Indians who built civilizations around its water-filled sinkholes and left behind archaeologically rich middens (giant piles of oyster shells) as proof of their bayside existence.
Today, finding a genuine slice of “Old Florida” can be a scavenger hunt. The breezy Spanish colonial city of St. Augustine is an exception to the rule. A pair of marble lions greets visitors crossing the regal Bridge of Lions into the walled city. Looming over it is Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century fort surrounded by a moat and occupied at various times by Spanish, British, Confederate, and U.S. soldiers. The fort’s warren of chambers echoes with the stories of pirates, three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Spanish-American War deserters, and even Seminole Chief Osceola, who was incarcerated here in 1837 for leading the native resistance against the U.S.
Along King Street sit historic Flagler College and the Lightner, an antiquities museum housed in an 1887 Spanish Renaissance Revival masterpiece. It was commissioned by oil tycoon Henry Flagler, who is credited with salvaging the city and planting Florida’s tourism seeds. St. George Street, St. Augustine’s main drag, may have become overly touristy and crowded with T-shirt emporiums and fudge shops, but the side streets still harbor scrubby garden courtyards and off-the-radar bars, such as the 130-year-old Mill Top Tavern, where you can imagine what Old Florida was like before it became the Sunshine State. —Adam H. Graham
When to Go: Spring (March-early June) and fall (late September-November) average temperatures are a comfortable 70-85ºF. Keep in mind that Atlantic hurricane season is June-November.
Where to Stay: Stroll from the intimate St. Francis Inn bed-and-breakfast in Saint Augustine's brick-paved historic district to nearby restaurants, shops, galleries, and museums. Or watch the sun rise over the Atlantic from the oceanfront House of Sea and Sun, a comfortably elegant 1920s Flagler heiress’ home turned bed-and-breakfast on St. Augustine Beach.
How to Get Around: The Old Town Trolley narrated tour route encompasses 22 hop-on and hop-off sightseeing stops, plus a free shuttle to St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Purchase three-day passes online ($21.32 adults, $9.27 ages 6-12).
Where to Eat or Drink: The Floridian puts a local, somewhat lighter twist on traditional Southern fare. Farm-to-table favorites include blackened fresh fish atop a stuffed cornbread stack and chicken 'n' waffles topped with pickled peaches. What to
What to Read Before You Go: Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians, by Milanich Jerald (1999), details the little known history of the Apalachee, Guale, and Timucua Indians who built Spanish Florida’s missions, including St. Augustine’s imposing stone Castillo de San Marcos.
Fun Fact: St. Augustine’s Fort Mose Historical Park is the site of North America’s first free black settlement. Escaped slaves from the British-controlled Carolinas found sanctuary here in the 1700s and left for Cuba with the Spanish in 1763.
Photograph by Bob Bronshoff, Hollandse Hoogte
Tennessee’s fast track
It’s easy to forget about Memphis, a mid-size American city wedged into the southwest corner of Tennessee. Our collective memory of Memphis seems frozen in the mid-20th century: Elvis and Graceland, B. B. King and Beale Street, Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “Mountaintop” speech—the last he’d give before his assassination on the balcony of Memphis’s Lorraine Motel in 1968.
Certain aspects of Memphis’s past stifled the city for decades, snuffing the spirits of residents and scaring away visitors. But there’s something newly electric in the air.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located on the grounds of the famous Stax Records, is at the forefront of that revival. The museum, along with its Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School, celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2013 with concerts, parties, and Stax to the Max, a huge outdoor music festival. It’s far from a solo act.
All around Memphis, locals are pursuing grassroots projects more often associated with Brooklyn or the Bay Area. The nonprofit Project Green Fork has certified dozens of Memphis restaurants as sustainable, linking chefs with farmers and stimulating a vibrant local food community along the way. Running the culinary gamut from down-home Central BBQ to upscale Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, the eateries are held to admirably high standards in sourcing and sustainability.
And there’s no better setting for a grassroots revival. Memphis claims one of the largest urban parks in the country: the 4,500-acre Shelby Farms Park, with 6.5 miles of urban trails and a working farm. The Office of Sustainability supports the city’s plans to expand the existing 35 miles of bike lanes to 85 miles and to build a greenway that will link Memphis with cities in Arkansas and Mississippi. “We get to innovate,” says city administrator Paul Young. It’s a fitting description for Memphis. —Julie Schwietert Collazo
When to Go: Memphis in May International Festival is a monthlong arts, culture, and culinary celebration that includes the Beale Street Music Festival (May 3-5, 2013) and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (May 16-18, 2013).
Where to Stay: The traditional Peabody Memphis and contemporary Madison Hotel offer easy access to Beale Street and other downtown landmarks. Visitors flock to the Peabody’s Grand Lobby at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily to watch the hotel’s resident ducks take a dip in the lobby's travertine fountain. The vibe is decidedly more subdued at the luxurious Madison with its intimate rooftop garden.
How to Get Around: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) vintage trolley cars cover three tourist-friendly routes: Main Street, Riverfront Loop, and Madison Avenue. Buy a trolley pass (daily $3.50, three-day $9) to hop on and off at destinations like the National Civil Rights Museum, River Walk, and FedEx Forum.
Where to Eat or Drink: Share a slab of Memphis-style ribs at Central BBQ. Order half wet (smoked with a secret blend of spices and BBQ sauce) and half dry (spices only) with a side of homemade potato chips.
Fun Fact: Memphis-based Stax Records (named for the first two letters of founder Jim Stewart’s and his investor-sister Estelle Axton’s last names) cranked out more than 800 soul and R&B singles and close to 300 albums during the '60s and '70s.
Helpful Links: Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau
Photograph by Justin Guariglia, National Geographic
Meditation and modernism in Japan
One of Kyoto poet Buson’s most famous haikus reads: “On the one-ton temple bell a moon-moth, folded into sleep, sits still.” If Japan is the temple bell, Kyoto is the moth—tranquil, delicate, intricate, and wildly mysterious, centuries after the first outsider was drawn to its woodsy hilltop Shinto shrines and rarefied Buddhist temples. The city is about to get an influx of luxury hotels, making room for more tourists, but for now a golden-hour walk along the Kamo riverbank still reveals the gentleness and gracefulness of Japan’s ancient capital, as does a self-guided tour of the 1.1-mile canalside Philosopher’s Path in the Higashiyama neighborhood.
Transfixed by Kyoto’s wealth of historic structures, visitors sometimes overlook the city’s compelling modernist sites. The Shigemori Residence features a dynamic Zen garden designed by mid-20th-century landscape architect Mirei Shigemori. Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando’s eccentric Garden of Fine Arts features oversize portraits of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and an underwater version of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.” Some 30 miles east, the Miho Institute of Aesthetics, with an edifice designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 2012. His stainless steel teardrop-shaped chapel is a minimalist architectural marvel that conveys Kyoto’s cutting-edge energy. —Adam H. Graham
When to Go: Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season typically is late March through mid-April. July’s monthlong Gion Matsuri festival is one of Japan’s oldest and largest events. Fall foliage peaks in November.
Where to Stay: The 535-room Hotel Granvia Kyoto is conveniently located above the Japan Railway Kyoto Station Building, which includes a sprawling underground mall. Spend at least one night in a traditional wooden inn like the 12-room Ryokan Shimizu.
How to Get Around: Take the Japan Railway Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to connect to Kyoto’s efficient transportation network of buses, trains, subways, and taxis. Explore the Higashiyama neighborhood’s shrines, temples, and museums on foot. The Kyoto Tourist Guidebook includes numerous walking tour routes.
Where to Eat or Drink: Many restored machiyas (traditional wooden townhouses) house bars and cafes. Try Urume (lunch only) for heaping bowls of soba noodles. Leave room for freshly made kinako (soybean powder) ice cream from Gion Kinana.
What to Buy: Traditional Kyoto artisanal products include Nishijin fabrics and kimonos, furoshiki (gift wrapping cloth), wood block and rubber stamps, hand-carved wooden hair clips and combs, and Kiyomizu yaki pottery.
What to Read Before You Go: Sake & Satori: Asian Journals-Japan by Joseph Campbell (2002) gives a snapshot of 1950s Japan based on the author's journeys and offers a basic understanding of Kyoto culture and history.
Fun Fact: Its shiragikui (white chrysanthemum) spring water has made Kyoto’s southern Fushimi district a nihonshu brewing hub since the 17th century. In Japan, nihonshu means Japanese alcohol (known as sake elsewhere), while the word sake refers to any alcohol.
Photograph by Juergen Ritterbach, Alamy
A Roman holiday in the Jordanian sands
A warm desert breeze whispers softly through Jarash’s hundreds of Roman columns, the bruised and fallen, the proud and unbending alike. It swishes about the Oval Forum, witness to this city’s ancient glory. Just 30 miles north of Jordan’s capital, Amman, Jarash was a part of the Decapolis, a set of semiautonomous cities that stretched across the Levant. With the visit of Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 129, it became the temporary seat of an empire. A new city has arisen, but Jarash remains home to some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world.
“The city was covered by sand for so many years. Today, you can still feel how these people lived,” says tour guide Ayman Khattab. You can see the scars of chariots on the original stones along the Cardo Maximus. At the Hippodrome, you can almost hear the clash of gladiator battles. And at the South Theater, contemporary sounds emerge. Its annual summertime showcase of national and international music and poetry is Jordan’s preeminent cultural event. A modern concert surrounded by these ancient stones deserves a standing ovation. —Benjamin Orbach
When to Go: Mid-April through June and September-October
Relevant Dates: The Jarash Festival of Culture and Arts is a multiweek, midsummer event typically beginning in early July.
Where to Stay: Lodging is limited in Jarash and abundant in the capital, Amman. Indulge in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel Amman or the newly renovated (November 2012) Sheraton Amman Ali Nabil Hotel & Towers.
How to Get Around: Jarash is an easy day trip from Amman. Public buses are available, but hiring a taxi, private driver, or rental car is more efficient.
Where to Eat or Drink: In Amman, head downtown to Hashem for quick and cheap local eats (falafel, hummus, hot mint tea), and to stately Fakhr El-Din Restaurant for a sumptuous Lebanese feast. Save room for the dessert: Halawet el Jebn (sweetened cheese with semolina).
What to Buy: Skip the tourist bazaar in Jarash. Instead, spend an evening meandering through the coffee shops, boutiques, and shisha (hookah) cafés lining Amman’s lively Rainbow Street. Buy spices, kaftans, and trinkets from the traditional souks along King Faisal Street.
Cultural Tips: Dress conservatively. Revealing clothing is inappropriate and shorts are rarely worn outside of hotel pool areas.
What to Read Before You Go: Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar (2005). Originally published in France in 1951, this first-person narration blends fact and fiction to reveal inner workings of the emperor and his time.
Fun Fact: The wall in Britain is not the only place to get a feel for the extent of Hadrian’s empire. One of Jerash’s main attractions is Hadrian’s Arch, built to commemorate the emperor’s visit in A.D. 129.
Helpful Links: The Jordan Tourism Board
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