National Geographic Traveler presents the New Year's must-see places. Whether it’s India’s literary hub or Switzerland’s mountain majesty, these 20 go-now destinations will send you packing.
Photograph by Marc Dozier, Corbis
Napoleon's Soulful Island Home
Two hundred years after Napoleon Bonaparte suffered his final military defeat, Corsica, his birthplace, stubbornly resists its own cultural Waterloo. Though this Mediterranean island has deep, historic ties to Italy and has been part of France since 1769, its 300,000 inhabitants retain a fierce pride in their own unique culture, including the proverb-rich Corsican tongue. But to keep that birthright vibrant in the face of tourism and its homogenizing effects, their battle remains constant.
Fortunately, most of the island’s three million annual visitors come for the undeniable pleasures of the coast or for the thrill of visiting historic La Maison Bonaparte, in the city of Ajaccio. All of which leaves the island’s mountainous interior largely untouched. “Go inland and you will find the soul of Corsica,” advises Jean-Sébastien Orsini, director of a traditional Corsican polyphonic choir in the foothill town of Calanzana.
Olive groves and quiet villages dot the slopes and isolated valleys of the interior, vast swaths of which are protected by the Parc Naturel Régionale de Corse, which covers more than 40 percent of the island. Hiking trails lace forests of oak and pine. In the villages here, you encounter Corsicans who still feel passionately the adage “Una lingua si cheta, un populu si more—A language is silenced, a people die.” —Christopher Hall, @HallWriter
When to Go: May-June and September-October for walking, hiking, biking, and horseback riding; July-August (peak tourist season) for beaches and water sports
How to Get Around: Corsica has four commercial airports: Bastia (northeast), Ajaccio (southwest), Calvi (northwest), and Figari (south). Although driving is the most convenient way to travel around the island, many roads are narrow and winding. For shorter trips, hike, bike, or walk. Classic Journeys offers a six-night, seven-day Sardinia-Corsica cultural walking tour, and Corsican Places leads guided, weeklong cycling trips, including bike rental. Sign on with Tour Adventure to trek interior Corsica’s bucket list-worthy GR20, a challenging 112-mile hiking route.
Where to Stay: Carpe Diem Palazzu, a six-suite, pastoral estate in the village of Eccica-Suarella, is a convenient base for both sea and mountain activities. Access to the Ajaccio airport, beaches, and water sports (including sailing, scuba diving, and jet skiing) is about 20 minutes away by car. Hotel staff can also arrange various inland adventures, such as horseback riding, canyoning, river kayaking, and fishing. To stay in the mountains, pitch a tent or rent a rustic cabin at Alivetu campground in Corte. Open May-September.
Where to Eat or Drink: Castagne (chestnut) is the flavor of Corsica. Look for chestnut-flavored ice cream, Pietra ale brewed from chestnut flour, suppa di castagne (chestnut soup), and chestnut-flour beignets stuffed with brocciu, Corsica’s ricotta-like cheese (made with goat or ewe’s milk).
What to Buy: Look for homegrown products such as fig jam, Muscat wine, and honey at the farmers market on Boulevard du Roi Jérôme in Ajaccio (closed Mondays). Pottery, stoneware, baskets, and knives are some of Corsica’s best known artisanal items. Visit metalworker and cutlery maker Patrick Martin’s atelier (workshop) in Calvi to see how Corsican knives and daggers are crafted and to buy a traditional shepherd’s knife with a curved ram’s horn handle.
Practical Tip: Bonifacio is touristy but worth a visit for the spectacular views. Walk the cliff-top path out toward Capo Pertusato just before dawn to see the cliffs change from chalky white to warm orange as the sun rises.
What to Read Before You Go: Jérôme Ferrari's philosophical Corsican epic The Sermon on the Fall of Rome (MacLehose Press, English edition, 2014), 2012 winner of France’s top literary prize, follows a young philosophy student whose idealistic dreams are dashed by violence and corruption.
Fun Fact: The likelihood of spotting one of Corsica’s European mouflon (wild sheep) is greater if you hike in the mountains, but the odds still aren’t very good. The wild and wily sheep with outsize, sickle-shaped horns (males only) are nocturnal and live in the island’s thickly wooded and rugged interior.
Insider Tip From Christopher Hall: In bakeries across the island, look for golden brown fiadone, a classic Corsican cheesecake of lemon zest and ricotta-like brocciu cheese made with sheep’s or goat’s milk.
Photograph by Heiko Meyer, laif/Redux
Famous for Flowers. Yes, Flowers.
Call it the Medellín miracle. Colombia’s second city still has its vices, but the world’s former cocaine capital has been rehabbed. Terrorism has ceded to tourism, thanks to visionary social policies that have transformed the once menacing city into a model metropolis. Slums where police feared to tread are now linked to the innovative business and cultural hub by the well-policed MetroCable, whisking visitors aloft to Barrio Santo Domingo, a new tourist hot spot where the black cubist España library perches dramatically over the shanties. Downtown, in the valley below, sunlight glints on skyscrapers and avant-garde architecture framed by Andean mountains—proof that a jewel is made complete by a stunning setting.
Art-filled public parks lie at the heart of the city’s holistic makeover. Voluptuous sculptures by Medellín native Fernando Botero stud Plaza Botero, where the Museo de Antioquia displays paintings by Botero and Picasso. Nearby, office workers strolling Plaza de los Pies Descalzos ("barefoot park") cast off shoes and socks to rejuvenate amid a sensory Zen garden. Families flock to Parque Explora, with its interactive science exhibits and world-class aquarium. Self-assured young people in designer jeans swell Parque de Lleras, the city’s epicenter for chic nightlife. Art-mad Medellinenses have even morphed a former steel mill into the Museo de Arte Moderno. Its Bonuar restaurant serves Creole fusion fare spiced with live American-style blues.
Tradition? Relax. It scents the air when the City of Eternal Spring bursts into mid-summer bloom for the annual Feria de las Flores in August. The 58-year-old flower festival fills the streets with kaleidoscopic color, a winsome testament to Medellín’s metamorphosis. —Christopher P. Baker
When to Go: Year-round, average temperature remains about 72ºF every day; December-February is the dry season; May and October are the rainiest months; early August, Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival), a ten-day celebration of regional Antioquian culture; December, elaborate holiday light displays
How to Get Around: Use the modern Metro system to travel around the city for about a dollar per ride. For the best aerial views of Medellín, ride the Metrocables (cable cars) up the eastern slopes of the Aburra Valley (and over some of the city’s poorest, mountainside favelas). Transfer (for about two dollars each way) to the scenic Metrocable line that extends up to the Parque Arvi nature preserve.
Where to Stay: The six-story Art Hotel Medellin in the upscale El Poblado neighborhood has an industrial loft vibe: brick walls, polished concrete floors, and exposed steel and wood beams. Rooms facing the atrium can seem cavelike, so book a brighter Superior or Executive room with a window overlooking the street. Walk a block to Parque Lleras, Medellín’s popular restaurant and nightlife district.
Where to Eat or Drink: Two go-to Antioquian staples to try are mondongo—slow-simmered tripe and vegetable stew topped with a savory tomato and onion criollo sauce—and bandeja paisa, a platter piled high with filling foods like beans and rice, ground beef, avocado, plantain, and chicharrón (fried pork belly) and topped with a fried egg. The aptly named Mondongos serves both dishes at two Medellín locations.
What to Buy: Medellín’s supersize malls are worth a visit for people-watching alone. At Poblado’s posh El Tesoro Parque Comercial, fashion-forward Paisas (Medellín residents) stroll, dine, hang out on the atrium’s cozy couches, and shop at upscale retail stores, including Arturo Calle and Tennis. The four-story, open-air mall also has a movie theater and a pint-size amusement park with a Ferris wheel and train.
Cultural Tip: Only tourists wear flip-flops, and local men are rarely spotted wearing shorts. To look more like a Paisa, leave the beachwear at home. Pack long pants and jeans instead.
What to Read Before You Go: Medellín native Héctor Abad’s memoir Oblivion (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reprint edition, 2013) is a profoundly moving tribute to his father, who was murdered by Colombian paramilitaries in 1987.
Fun Fact: From Medellín, it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride east to La Piedra del Peñol, or El Peñol (the Stone), a 721-foot monolith towering over the Embalse del Peñol hydroelectric dam. A switchback concrete staircase (built into a vertical crevice) leads up 649 steps to the top of the rock. Make the extra climb up the three-story observation tower for panoramic views of the islands and man-made lakes below.
Insider Tip From Christopher P. Baker: The Art Hotel Boutique, steps from Parque Lleras, embodies Medellín’s chic sophistication.
Photograph by Jeremy Horner, Panos Pictures
Let There Be Enlightenment
The austere heart of Japanese Buddhism beats loudly at Koyasan, a monastic complex that lies two hours by train south of Osaka. Koyasan marks its 1,200th anniversary in 2015.
Established by revered scholar-monk Kobo Daishi in 816 as the headquarters for his Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism, Koyasan remains one of Japan’s most pristine and sacred sites, manifesting a masculine side of Japan worlds away from the hostesses and Hello Kittys of Kyoto.
“Koyasan is purity,” says a monk after a crack-of-dawn fire ceremony, where a priest burns wooden wish-tablets to the boom of a taiko drum and the sprinkling of herbs and oils on high-leaping flames. Staying in one of the temples that welcome guests here opens a portal onto everyday monastic life. Waking to enshrouding mists, visitors are invited to join morning chants swirled by cymbals, gongs, and incense. At night, no-nonsense monks who began the day hand-scrubbing wooden hallways roughly plop vegetarian feasts in front of visitors.
Kobo Daishi is believed to live here still, sitting in eternal meditation in an elaborate mausoleum, and through the centuries, Japan’s most rich and powerful have built palatial sepulchers here as well. At night, a ghostly lantern-lit trail winds among the moss-covered stones deep into the mystery and majesty of ancient Japan. —Don George, @don_george
How to Get Around: At Osaka’s Namba Station, purchase Nankai Electric Railway’s Koyasan World Heritage Ticket, which includes round-trip transportation (train, cable car, and bus) and discount coupons for admission tickets and stores. Take the Koya Line to the last stop, Gokurakubashi Station (about 90 minutes). The Koyasan cable car boarding area is inside the station. From here it’s a steep, five-minute cable car ride up to Koyasan Eki-mae Station and the Nankai Rinkan bus terminal. Board the tourist bus to stop at all major Koyasan sites, including the Koyasan Tourist Association office, where you can pick up a map.
Where to Stay: Fifty-two of Koyasan’s temples offer guest accommodations, called shukubo. Rates, comfort levels, and amenities vary from dormlike to spa-retreat minimalism. Breakfast and dinner are typically included. Get up at dawn to observe the monks’ devotional morning chants and fire ceremonies. Make reservations via the official Shukubo Koyasan website, or book directly with temples such as Fukuchi-in, Eko-in, and Kumagai-ji, which have English-language websites.
What to Eat or Drink: Shukubo guests are treated to shojin-ryori (devotion cuisine), the strictly vegan and subtly flavored (no garlic or onion) fare of Japanese Buddhist monks. The multicourse Koyasan shojin-ryori dinner—typically served in tiny lacquer bowls either on trays in your room or in a separate dining room—often includes sticky goma-dofu (sesame tofu), plus rice, tea, and dishes such as koya-dofu (freeze-dried tofu), vegetable tempura, and sashimi konnyaku (thin slices of a gelatinous core made from the yamlike konjac root).
What to Buy: Visit Juzuya Shirobe (a World Heritage Ticket discount-coupon partnering store) to shop for Shingon-style Buddhist juzu prayer beads and bracelets, small jisuzu bells, incense, and other Buddhist devotional items.
Cultural Tip: For an English-language Koyasan tour, rent a Koyasan Audio Guide from the Koyasan Shukubo Association, or book a two- or four-hour walking tour or custom trek with the Koyasan Interpreter Guide Club.
What to Read Before You Go: Anthropologist, writer, and filmmaker Christal Whelan’s Kansai Cool: A Journey Into the Cultural Heartland of Japan (Tuttle Publishing, 2014) includes a chapter devoted to the Koyasan Buddhist monastery.
Fun Fact: The anniversary of Kobo Daishi’s eternal meditation (March 21 on the lunar calendar) is the only day each year when the public is permitted to enter the sacred Miedo building in Koyasan’s Danjo Garan complex. A revered portrait of Kobo Daishi painted by his disciple Imperial Prince Shinnyo is enshrined in the aptly named Miedo (hall of the honorable portrait).
Insider Tip From Don George: Staying at thousand year old Ekoin Temple, a three-minute walk from the entrance to Okunoin, allows visitors to participate in the morning goma fire ritual, an unforgettable experience.
Photograph by Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin
Boldly Old World
In the historic Land of Maramureș, the hills are alive with ways long forgotten elsewhere in Europe. “My cows don’t like grass that is cut with a machine,” Ion Pop says while harvesting his meadow near the village of Botiza. “They prefer the clean taste of handcut.”
The splendor is not just in the grass. In this remote northwest corner of Romania 300 miles from Bucharest, the schedule is set by the seasons, the weather, tradition. In each of the five valleys, with their meandering rivers and haystack-dotted fields, life plays out as it has for hundreds of years—though one recent change is telling. Rather than asphalting roads that are mainly used by horse and carriage, Maramureș has newly upgraded its bike trails—pathways to experience the region at the pace it deserves.
Maramureș is a wooden world. The farm tools are made of wood, and wooden gates, chiseled with century-old motifs, form the glorious entrances to modest yards around wooden, steep-roofed houses. UNESCO-designated churches from the 17th and 18th centuries tell stories of faith and glory, saints and sinners, crime and punishment, through still vivid paintings on their wooden walls.
Many of the colorful wooden crosses at the Merry Cemetery in the village of Săpânța are inscribed with lighthearted epitaphs written in verse. They laugh in the face of death—and hence celebrate immortality. —Pancras Dijk, @Pancras_NatGeo
When to Go: May-June for wildflowers; July-September for hiking; September for harvest events like the Chestnut Festival (Baia Mare), Onion Festival (Asuaju de Sus), and Autumn in Chioar (Remetea Chioarului).
How to Get Around: Baia Mare is the region’s largest town and its transportation hub. From Bucharest, the quickest option is the 85-minute direct flight to Baia Mare International Airport. Rent a car at the airport to travel regionally, and walk, hike, or bike in villages and rural areas. The English-speaking staff at the Maramureș InfoTurism office in Baia Mare (open weekdays) can provide biking, driving, and hiking itineraries, plus information about public transportation and bike rentals.
Where to Stay: Small, family-run guesthouses are located in many villages. Rates typically include breakfast or all meals. The Village Hotel in Breb has three guest rooms in the main house and three small cottages, each restored or built using reclaimed local materials. Owners Duncan and Penelope Ridgely, who started developing the bucolic Village Hotel compound in 2007, are as close to local as British expats in Maramureș can get. In addition to lodging, the Ridgelys can arrange biking and walking tours.
Where to Eat or Drink: The Casa Iurca de Calinesti hotel, located next to Elie Wiesel’s birthplace in Sighetu Marmatiei, has an adjacent restaurant offering traditional Maramureș tastes, such as palinca (fruit brandy) and ciorba de burta (tripe soup). Weather permitting, sit in the courtyard and watch the chefs spit-roast a whole lamb or pig over the open fire or grill vegetables, sausages, and trout on the hearth.
What to Buy: Hand-carved wood spoons and crucifixes, ceramic pots, brightly colored woven vests, and traditional clopuri (straw hats) are among the items crafted and sold by local artisans. Follow the self-guided Way of the Crafts tour to meet village craftspeople and purchase Maramureș-made creations.
What to Read Before You Go: William Blacker’s memoir Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania (John Murray Publishers, 2010) is an insightful look into the customs and cultural traditions of rural Transylvania and Maramureș, where the author lived from 1996 to 2004.
Fun Fact: There are close to a hundred wooden churches in Maramureș, and, while most are locked, it’s usually possible to find the key. When faced with a locked church, get a local’s attention, point at the door, and say, “Cheia?” (pronounced kay-ya), Romanian for “key.” Chances are good that the person you ask can locate the church’s key keeper to let you in.
Insider Tip From Pancras Dijk: Spend a clear night in the village of Breb and watch the most beautiful Milky Way you may ever see.
Photograph by Kevin Lanthier, Getty
The Sounds of Silence
The quiet is what strikes people here most on Haida Gwaii. On this 180-mile-long archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, labyrinthine coves snuggle up to dense forests with towering cedars. Beneath the ground, scientists have found evidence of human habitation stretching back 12,000 years.
“We brought students—minus laptops and cell phones—to the forest,” says Guujaaw, a Haida leader. “They could carry a pencil and tablet for sketching. A couple hours later, one student said the sound of the pencil scratching on the pad was too loud.”
Thirty years ago it wasn’t so quiet. In 1985 the Haida people, alarmed by the ecological damage caused by clearcutting, blockaded the logging road. This nonviolent protest led to Canada's creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. In the village of SGang Gwaay, Haida Watchmen share their culture with visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage destination.
“You use your listening sense more,” says Ernie Gladstone, a Haida who is superintendent of Gwaii Haanas. “You hear the water washing down the beaches, clams squirting, and ravens, eagles, and songbirds in the forest.” —April Orcutt
When to Go: Summer (May 1-September 15) is the best time to visit, since tourist services (tours, cultural events, restaurants, and lodging) are readily available. Winter (October-May) is surfing season.
How to Get Around: Flying from Vancouver is the most convenient way to get to Haida Gwaii. In summer, there are twice daily Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Sandspit. Pacific Coastal Airlines also flies daily year-round between Vancouver and Masset on the northern end of Graham Island. There isn’t any islandwide public transportation, so rent a car, then book an Inland Air Charters Ltd. floatplane tour or Moresby Explorers Ltd. boat tour (they also rent kayaks) to visit more remote areas.
Where to Stay: The Haida House at Tllaal is a Haida-owned post-and-beam cedar guest lodge. Haida guides, formally trained to serve as cultural ambassadors for the Haida nation, lead hikes and tours such as studio visits with Haida weavers and carvers. The lodge's ten rooms (eight with a double and single bed, two family rooms with extra bedroom) are styled in the traditional Haida colors of red and black. Views are of either the tidal Tlell River or forest (with the dunes and ocean beyond the trees). All-inclusive packages (other options are available) include meals, accommodation, flights from Vancouver, ground transfers, and ambassador/guide fees.
Where to Eat or Drink: The Haida House dining room menu changes frequently to feature what’s fresh from the garden, forest, and ocean. Local favorites include dried fish, smoked salmon, octopus, razor clams, and black cod (sablefish). Open to the public for dinner May 1-September 24. Closed Mondays. Reservations recommended.
What to Buy: The Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay gift shop in Skidegate sells local Haida arts and crafts such as argillite carvings, silver jewelry, masks, and woven goods. Before shopping, view the center’s current art and cultural exhibits and tour the working canoe, weaving, and totem pole studios. Closed Sundays in June; open daily July and August; closed Sundays and Mondays, September to May.
What to Read Before You Go: Set in Haida Gwaii’s old-growth forest, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed (W.W. Norton & Company, 2006) by John Vaillant tells the story of how logger turned activist Grant Hadwin’s obsession to protect a 165-foot-tall Sitka spruce led to its destruction.
Cultural Tip: Locals, both Haida and non-Haida, sprinkle bits and pieces of Haida language into conversations. The most important phrase to know and use is haawa (how-a), which is Haida for “thank you.”
Fun Fact: The modern-day Haida Gwaii archipelago was unnamed until 1787, when British naval captain George Dixon, commander of the Queen Charlotte, named the islands after his ship. The Queen Charlotte Islands officially became Haida Gwaii (Islands of the People) in December 2009 as part of a reconciliation agreement between the British Columbian government and the Haida nation.
Insider Tip From National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis: You can dig up enough razor clams on Graham Island's North Beach for a good meal of chowder in a matter of minutes. But be like the Haida, and don’t take too many.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Photograph by Walter Bibikow, Getty
Pride of the Plains
Oklahoma City has never been “mighty pretty,” despite the shout-out from Bobby Troup’s iconic “Route 66.” To look at, it’s been more like the beer-gut metropolis spilling across the Great Plains. But things have changed.
The central Oklahoma River has a community boathouse and a new West River Trail. An 11-acre white-water rafting center is due in 2015. Local architect firms and coffee roasters that wouldn't be out of place in Portlandia now line once dormant Automobile Alley. And then there’s MidTown. Not long ago a den of crackhouses and abandoned lots just north of downtown’s 1995 bombing site, MidTown has sprouted condos, a boutique hotel, and Dust Bowl Lanes, a Tulsan import, with its 1970s-style bowling alley. The city even plans to add a streetcar loop downtown in 2017.
This is Oklahoma?
“We’re such a blank canvas that even people from Austin are moving here,” says Hunter Wheat, who launched MidTown’s Blue Garten last year, a one-block food truck complex with open-air movies and live bands. “I’m just happy to see it’s growing into the city I always knew it could be.” —Robert Reid, @reidontravel
When to Go: April 26, Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K, which supports the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum; June 10-14, deadCENTER Film Festival; October 2-5, Oklahoma Regatta Festival.
How to Get Around: From Will Rogers World Airport, rent a car or take the shuttle bus for the 15-minute ride downtown or to Bricktown, the city’s entertainment district. Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer also runs daily between Fort Worth, Texas, and Bricktown’s Sante Fe Depot. Downtown, walk or use Spokies, Oklahoma City’s bike-share program. Daily memberships are $5 and include unlimited 30-minute rides. For longer explorations, ride the Oklahoma City EMBARK public buses or rent a bike at Schlegel Bicycles in the Automobile Alley district.
Where to Stay: Housed in OKC’s first skyscraper (built in 1910) and restored to its original grandeur in 2006, the luxurious 12-story Colcord Hotel combines convenience (free downtown shuttle service) with pampering (complimentary coffee or tea wake-up calls delivered to your room). The Colcord is within walking distance of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, and Chesapeake Energy Arena, home to the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
Where to Eat or Drink: Join the local “Que-heads” at Back Door BBQ, where the daily Beast-wich (such as pulled pork piled high and topped with mustard, mayo, spring mix, sweet pickle relish, red peppers, and red onions) could be enough to cover both lunch and dinner. Or follow the aroma of smoky pecan wood to the Wedge Deep Deuce Pizzeria, where handcrafted pies such as the Truffle-Shuffle (truffle oil, sage, cremini mushrooms, spinach, roasted chicken, parmesan, and mozzarella) are baked bubbly and golden brown in a wood-fired oven.
What to Buy: Support Keep It Local OK’s locally owned and operated shops, such as hip and playful Plenty Mercantile in the historic Automobile Alley district. Located in a building that housed a 1920s Chevrolet dealership, Plenty specializes in consciously produced home goods, foods, and gifts, including Oklahoma-made Strong Tonic, Kize Bars, and Always Greener turf doormats. There’s also a rooftop event space, where Plenty regularly hosts community workshops, gardening classes, wine tastings, intimate dinners, and brunch.
What to Read Before You Go: The hero of master storyteller Elmore Leonard’s 40th novel The Hot Kid (HarperTorch, reprint edition, 2006) is a quick-draw U.S. marshal in Depression-era Oklahoma.
Fun Fact: It only took a day for Oklahoma City to become a city. The day was April 22, 1889, when the federal government held the first “land run” into the Unassigned Lands (territory not designated for a specific Indian nation) of modern-day western Oklahoma. More than 10,000 men, women, and children moved to Oklahoma City that day, founding the city that would become the state capital in 1910.
Insider Tip From Robert Reid: For very authentic Vietnamese food—like Saigon-style beef noodle pho or banh mi sandwiches—head to the so-called Asian District around N.W. 23rd Street and Classen Avenue.
Photograph by Lindsay Mackenzie, Redux
New Day in North Africa
Byrsa Hill, in Tunis’s upmarket suburb of Carthage, makes a dizzying aerie to watch the sun set into the bay. The vantage point might be the Light Bar at the decidedly 21st-century Villa Didon, but Phoenician streets lay deep beneath and, down on the waters’ edge, the scalloped foreshore traces a Roman naval port. Inland, the coils of the ancient medina and the colonial grid of the early 20th century French city tell other chapters of Tunis’s story of conquest, resistance, flux, and assimilation, from mythic Dido to the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.
The city’s layered charms are something that many pre-revolution visitors missed entirely, on their way to the Sahara or the Mediterranean beach resorts of Hammamet and Sousse. These sun-holiday tribes all but abandoned Tunisia after 2011, but with a relaxation of most travel warnings to the country, a new breed of traveler has replaced them. They come to discover Tunis’s past, yes, and now also its cultural energy, what Ahmed Loubiri, the organizer of international electronic music festival Ephemere, sees as a widespread “urge to be creative.” Loubiri says this ranges from “random jam sessions in garages and coffee shops to humongous festivals.” Galleries such as Selma Feriani and Hope Contemporary continue to thrive in the neighborhoods of La Marsa and Sidi Bou Said, and Tunis’s antiquities museum, the Bardo, has reopened with an ambitious new wing.
“It’s a Tunisian habit to know how to receive guests. We get back as much as we give,” says Marouane ben Miled, who runs La Chambre Bleue, a medina B&B, suggesting that this fresh popularity might also mark the beginning of a fertile conversation. —Donna Wheeler
When to Go: April-October (summer) for beach vacations; November-March for golf and spa vacations
How to Get Around: Take a metered yellow taxi from Tunis-Carthage Airport (cabs queue up outside the terminal) to your hotel. Use yellow taxis and white louages (shared cars or vans) with red stripes painted on the front and sides to get around the city. Travel in the medina is on foot. A light-rail route connects the city center to Carthage; however, trains are overcrowded during commuter hours.
Where to Stay: The Residence Tunis has 155 rooms and nine suites, each elegantly appointed with ivory Alicante marble floors, private balconies (request a sea view), and calming beige and white tones. Moorish architectural features, including domed ceilings, arched alcoves, and cupolas, pay homage to Tunisia’s Arab-Andalusian heritage. The resort’s opulent Spa and Thalasso offers massage therapies and other restorative treatments incorporating natural northern Tunisian elements such as sea salts, heated seashells, and marine mud.
What to Eat or Drink: Northern Tunisian cuisine is an aromatic, cross-cultural melange blending Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and African influences. Exotic herbs and spices, including anise, cloves, ginger, saffron, and potent harissa (hot chili-pepper paste) are used to season popular dishes such as couscous au poisson (with fish), merguez (lamb sausage), and kabkabou (baked sea bream with tomatoes and capers). Sip mint tea and sample authentic Tunisian dishes in style at the venerable Dar El Jeld, housed in an 18th-century palace on the western edge of the medina. Reservations recommended. Closed Sundays.
What to Buy: Look for perfume, incense, gold and silver jewelry, silk, and other gifts in the medina’s lively souks—and be prepared to bargain. Shops and stalls are clustered by trade in specific areas, making it easier to compare prices and quality. At the Souq des Chéchias, watch artisans shape knitted tubes (dyed red and dried) into traditional Tunisian red caps, or chéchias.
What to Read Before You Go: In Tunis, family storytelling traditionally is a women’s ritual that takes place in private. Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Oral Narratives in Tunis (English translation, Rutgers University Press, 1996) is a collection of 47 of these stories told by three Tunisian women from the city’s prominent Beldi community.
Cultural Tip: Tourists are easy targets for con artists, thieves, and pickpockets (particularly in the city’s crowded marketplaces). If you are a crime victim, immediately contact the U.S. Embassy in Tunis.
Fun Fact: The painted doors found in the medina are brightly colored for a reason. There’s a special meaning in each color, including yellow ochre (the color loved by God in the Koran); green (the color of paradise); and blue (recalling the blue of Sidi Bou Said village north of Tunis).
Insider Tip From Donna Wheeler: Up the stairs from the push-and-shove of the medina’s heaving main drag is El Ali, a serene, book-strewn café and cultural center where tangy citronnade with almonds is served on a terrace facing the Almohad-style minaret of the ancient Zitouna mosque.
Photograph by Piotr Redlinksi, The New York Times/Redux
The Original Machu Picchu
The Inca emperors had quite the eye for spectacular real estate. Upon taking power, each of these great lords picked a breathtaking piece of property for a new royal residence. The emperor Pachacuti likely built the most famous of these royal digs—Machu Picchu—on a mountainous ridge of cloud forest northwest of Cusco. But his successor, Topa Inca, was no slouch either: his presumed estate, Choquequirao, drapes temples, plazas, and fountains along an orchid-strewn mountain 61 miles west of Cusco.
At an elevation of 9,800 feet, it lacks easy access by railway or bus. But the cardio-intensive climb is well worth it. Choquequirao looks much as it did when the Incas finally abandoned it. And travelers often have the place nearly to themselves: only 20 to 30 people journey there each day in the high season. “It’s like Machu Picchu in the 1940s,” says Gary Ziegler, an American archaeologist who has written a book on Choquequirao.
But all that may be changing. The Peruvian government is studying the possibility of constructing a tramway to Choquequirao, hoping to lure travelers away from the crowded vistas of Machu Picchu. It’s a prospect that saddens Ziegler. Choquequirao, he says, “may be the last pristine royal Inca estate in the mountains.” —Heather Pringle, @hpringle
When to Go: June-August (winter), the dry season, is the best time for hiking. Be prepared for overnight temperatures below freezing.
How to Get Around: Choquequirao’s remote location makes joining a small group tour or booking a custom trek the most convenient option. Cusco-based Bioandean Expeditions offers four- and five-night Choquequirao-only tours (plus Choquequirao-Machu Picchu options) led by bilingual (Spanish/English) guides. From Lima, take the one-hour flight to Cusco, followed by a roughly four-hour ride to Cachora, the starting point for Choquequirao hikes. Tours by Bioandean Expeditions include all ground transportation, plus meals, tent camping, and porters to haul your gear.
Where to Stay: Built as a family home in the early 1800s, the intimate Hotel Andenes al Cielo in Cusco has 15 guest rooms off a tri-level, open-air courtyard. The design and name (andenes are cultivation terraces, cielo is sky) were inspired by the surrounding panorama, which you can take in from the rooftop patio. Rates include airport transfers, breakfast, and, if needed, oxygen to help you acclimate to the high altitude.
Where to Eat: The local specialty is cuy (guinea pig), typically whole-roasted with teeth and ears intact. If you’re game, Pachapapa restaurant in Cusco’s San Blas Square is the place to try cuy (allow 45 minutes) and other traditional Peruvian dishes, such as alpaca anticuchos (skewers) and pachamanca (meat and potato stew baked in an underground oven).
Where to Shop: The nonprofit Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco works to preserve Andean ancestral textile traditions by supporting Cusqueñan weavers. The center’s nine partnering communities use plants, insects, and minerals to dye the wool that's woven into brightly colored blankets, shawls, bags, and other textiles sold online and in the center’s Cusco museum store. Each item is tagged with the name and photo of the weaver, who earns the full purchase price when the product is sold.
What to Read Before You Go: Anthropologist, documentary filmmaker, and writer Kim MacQuarrie’s 522-page The Last Days of the Incas reads like an epic novel, yet it is a balanced, detailed, and sweeping history of the empire.
Practical Tip: Spend a couple of days in Cusco to get acclimated to the high-altitude environment before attempting the hike to Choquequirao.
Fun Fact: Researchers believe that the placement of Choquequirao’s famous llama-shaped stone inlays wasn’t random. Viewed from a distance, it appears that the animals are grouped in compact packs led by a dominant llama and following a figure thought to be a llamero (shepherd). This deliberate formation is a realistic reflection of how domesticated llamas would have traveled.
Insider Tip From Gary Zieglar: Look closely at the walls and you will see patches of light-orange tinted plaster. In its prime, Choquequirao would have looked like the adobe pueblos of Santa Fe.
Sark, Channel Islands
Photograph by Elke Bock, laif/Redux
Tradition's Last Stand
In Sark, time flows like molasses. Sarkees will mark the 450th anniversary of feudalism in 2015; the tiny Channel Island off the coast of Normandy abolished the medieval form of governance in 2008. But old ways linger: The two banks have no ATMs; the unpaved roads lack street lights; cars are banned.
Signposts usefully give distances in walking minutes, for in this unhurried place ambling is what one does—or cycling, or riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Wander country roads bordered by fieldstone walls and storybook cottages, past foxgloves and bluebells and 600 other kinds of wildflowers, taking note of butterflies, seabirds, Guernsey cows. Destination? Perhaps the sea caves of Gouliot Headland, to find anemones. Or La Marguerite Cottage, to buy duck eggs from Sue Adams’s streetside honor box. Or Venus Pool, for a swim at low-tide. Or especially La Coupee, to walk the skinny track atop an isthmus 300 feet above the sea.
A visitor’s daytime choices abound. But late at night, there’s just one: the sky. Sark is the first island certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. Time may have swept feudalism aside. The stars are timeless. —Peter Johansen
When to Go: April 3-May 11, 2015 Channel Islands Heritage Festival celebrating the 70th anniversary of the islands’ liberation from occupying German forces; July 3-5, Sark Folk Festival; July 17-19, Sheep Race weekend; September 11-13, the inaugural Opera Weekend, including master classes, an evening opera gala, and islandwide events
How to Get Around: Sark only is accessible by boat. From London Gatwick, fly to Guernsey, then take the 50-minute Isle of Sark Shipping Company ferry from St. Peter Port Harbour to Sark. Travel on Sark is on foot or by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. There are no paved roads and no motorized vehicles for transportation.
Where to Stay: The 23-room (including suites) Stocks Hotel is a comfortable, family-owned estate with a storied history. The Smugglers Bar section of the original granite farmhouse dates to 1741, and during German occupation in World War II, the hotel housed German officers (their former escape tunnel is now a wine cellar). Dogs are welcome in designated ground-floor guest rooms, and several rooms connect to accommodate families.
Where to Eat or Drink: Freshly caught seafood (lobster, scallops, crab) is available at most restaurants, and menus often also include island-raised beef, lamb, and pork. For dinner, try the roasted sea scallops with garlic butter at the La Sablonnerie Hotel restaurant. The hotel’s outdoor Tea Garden serves another Sark must-try: cream tea—a piping hot pot of tea plus fluffy scones topped with cream and homemade jam.
What to Buy: Stop by the Caragh Chocolates factory to buy handmade sweets, including Sark cream and tiramisu truffles, Sark cream and champagne chocolate “horses," and fresh walnut ganache. Look in local shops for Sark’s Larder relish, chutney, sauces, pickles, jelly (such as mint, tarragon, rosemary, chili), and peach and brandy conserve.
Practical Tip: Label your luggage with your name and where you’ll be staying. When you arrive on Sark, leave your luggage on the boat. Ferries and charters contract local porters to load visitors’ bags into a tractor-drawn wagon for delivery to local hotels, guesthouses, and inns.
What to Read Before You Go: Co-authored by Annie Barrows and the late Mary Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (The Dial Press, 2008) is a novel set in post-World War II England and crafted out of a series of letters written between Channel Island locals and a London author.
Fun Fact: Although its approximately 600 residents are British citizens, Sark isn’t officially part of the United Kingdom. Sark, Guernsey, and Alderney are administered by the bailiwick of Guernsey, which is not represented in British parliament or the European Union. So if you’ve purchased travel or health insurance for coverage in the U.K., you may want to confirm that you’re also covered in the Channel Islands.
Insider Tip From Peter Johansen: The restaurant at Dixcart Bay Hotel, once a haunt of exiled French novelist Victor Hugo, was last year named the British Isles’ sustainable restaurant of the year.
Photograph by Parikshit Rao
A Diamond Is Forever
Stories of Hyderabad’s poetic past weave amid strings of programming code in this southeastern India city that was home to one of the richest men in the world, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last ruling nizam of Hyderabad. Now a seedbed for many global IT brands, Cyberabad (as it’s dubbed) is where you can hear the muezzin’s call above the trafffic din generated by aging Urdu scholars and young software engineers alike. Here, ancient boulders guard the peripheries of HITEC City, while new rooftop bars hem in lakes and gardens. The opulent Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel perches atop a hill overlooking the Old City, where Irani cafés thrive alongside fifth-generation pearl merchants and the finest fountain pen makers. Prone to exaggeration, the Hyderabadis’ conversations within these cafés often linger over three cups of chai and four hours.
A good Muslim ruler was expected to be an expert with the pen as well as the sword; the city’s founder, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, is credited with the first published anthology of Urdu poetry. The later ruling dynasty, the Nizams, provided patronage to poets within their court. Attend a mushaira (poetry symposium) for a good introduction to the city’s literary legacy. There’s also the Hyderabad Literary Festival in January, followed by February’s Deccan Festival, during which the most passionate performances involve qawwali, an 800-year-old form of Sufi music. Another evocative setting to witness qawwali is Chowmahalla Palace, the recently restored residence of the Nizams. “Dakhan—Hyderabad—is the diamond, the world is the ring,” says historian Narendra Luther, quoting the court poet Mulla Vajahi. “The ring’s splendor lies in the diamond.” —Simar Preet Kaur
When to Go: November-March (dry season) for relatively mild temperatures (about 85º to 95°F); January 23-26, Hyderabad Literary Festival; February 25-March 1, Deccan Festival celebrating the varied cultures of the Deccan, a vast area stretching from the Maharashtra in the north to Karnataka in the south, Goa in the west, and Andhra Pradesh in the east
How to Get Around: Hyderabad is just over a two-hour flight from New Delhi or about a one-and-a-half-hour flight from Mumbai. Many large hotels offer airport transfers, and taxis are readily available. Hiring a private car and driver or booking custom day tours with a local company like Detours India are convenient ways to visit historic sites. Travel around the Old City on foot. For short trips, use the yellow auto rickshaws (three-wheeled mini-taxis). Before getting in, ask about any preset fees and insist that the driver turn on the meter.
Where to Stay: The regal treatment at the sumptuous Taj Falaknuma Palace includes airport transfers for guests in the Grand Presidential and Grand Royal suites (nightly rates starting at about $2,000). For a more budget-friendly Taj Group option, stay at the sleek wood-and-glass Vivanta by Taj-Begumpet, Hyderabad (from $120 per night). The nine-story hotel has 181 rooms and suites, an outdoor pool, and four restaurants.
What to Eat or Drink: Try the ubiquitous Hyderabad street food biryani (fragrant rice with meat, egg, or vegetables) at no-frills restaurants like Hotel Shadab in Ghansi Bazaar and Grand Hotel in Abids. And although Tata Starbucks (the joint venture between Starbucks Coffee Company and Tata Global Beverages Ltd.) was scheduled to open its first Hyderabad location in late 2014, the city’s signature brew remains Irani chai, a sweet, milky tea typically served with Osmania biskoot (sweet and salty biscuits).
What to Buy: At the open-air markets and bazaars around Charminar, shop for Hyderabad’s famous pearl jewelry (necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and pendants) and handcrafted bangles. Jewel-studded, enamel-covered, and glittery gold bangle bracelets are stacked floor-to-ceiling in the Laad, or Chudi, Bazaar.
Cultural Tip: While English is widely spoken in Hyderabad and throughout the state of Telangana, Telugu is the official and most commonly spoken language, followed by Urdu.
What to Read Before You Go: Samina Ali’s Madras on Rainy Days: A Novel (Picador, 2004) is set in modern-day Hyderabad, where the Indian-American protagonist is preparing for an arranged Muslim marriage to a near-total stranger.
Fun Fact: Hyderabad is home to Ramoji Film City, which, according to Guinness World Records, is the largest film studio complex in the world. The 1,666-acre site has 47 sound stages, with permanent sets that include replica railway stations and temples. In addition to the working movie and television production facilities, Ramoji Film City includes a Disneyesque theme park.
Insider Tip From Simar Preet Kaur: Hyderabad takes its culinary pursuits seriously. Try biryani at Paradise Restaurant, haleem during Ramadan, and a cup of Irani chai with native Osmania biscuits in the Old City.
Port Antonio, Jamaica
Photograph by Huber, Sime/eStock Photo
Blithe Spirits in Paradise
When a hurricane blew his yacht off course in 1942, Hollywood heartthrob Errol Flynn discovered paradise in Jamaica’s Port Antonio, purportedly proclaiming it “more beautiful than any woman I have ever known.” This haven on the island's northeast coast first boomed when American millionaires such as Alfred Mitchell and his heiress wife, Annie Tiffany, built estates in the early 1900s. Flynn’s arrival cued a second swell, drawing Noel Coward and Katharine Hepburn.
Now a new generation has discovered Portie’s pleasures, from the smoke-fogged jerk grills lining Boston Beach to the log rafts that drift down the lazy Rio Grande. British music producer Jon Baker opened Geejam, a seven-room boutique hideaway. And with Portie-born, Toronto-based financier Michael Lee-Chin, he has relaunched two formerly faded properties, the Trident Hotel and the Castle. Together they are reviving the Blue Lagoon, the famed swimming hole.
“The Blue Mountains are our natural filter,” says Baker of the forested highlands that lie between Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and its most pristine coast. “You have to try harder to get here, and dig a little deeper for the reward.” —Elaine Glusac, @ElaineGlusac
When to Go: December-April (dry season)
How to Get Around: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston is the closest commercial airport to Port Antonio. With advance notice, most resorts will arrange airport transportation. Otherwise, hire a car and driver, take a charter (private) taxi, or rent a car. Driving from Kingston to Port Antonio takes two to three hours, depending on the route. Travel locally on foot and by charter taxi or route (shared) taxis, identified by their red license plates.
Where to Stay: Port Antonio’s exclusive Geejam Collection includes the ultraposh Trident Hotel (13 one- and two-bedroom minimalist villas with private plunge pools) and the secluded Geejam Hotel. The Geejam has one suite, two villas with private pools, three deluxe cabins, and a recording studio (Gwen Stefani and No Doubt recorded the Grammy-winning album Rock Steady here), all nestled between the jungle and the sea. New for 2015: the five-bedroom Blue Marlin and four-bedroom Panorama villas. For privacy and panoramic sea views, book the Geejam’s signature Drum and Bass suite, located under the recording studio.
Where to Eat or Drink: At the Mille Fleurs restaurant at Hotel Mockingbird Hill, the focus is on natural, earth-friendly foods grown and produced by Jamaican suppliers. Visit on a Meatless Monday (launched in 2010 to help reduce greenhouse gases and support local farmers) to try local vegetarian dishes such as pumpkin coconut soup and jerk-spiced tofu with papaya salsa.
What to Buy: Woodcarvings, masks, pottery, paintings, and other original Afro-Caribbean arts and crafts are on display at Great Huts Resort, an oceanfront eco-lodge in Port Antonio. Great Huts regularly hosts art and cultural exhibitions, and the staff can provide gallery and contact information for the Jamaican artists (such as acclaimed sculptors Gene Pearson and Nakazzi Hutchinson, whose works are featured at the resort).
Practical Tip: Mountainous terrain, winding roads, and obstacles ranging from potholes to goats can make driving in Jamaica a real adventure. If you do rent a car, take it slow, avoid driving at night, and remember to stay on the left side of the road.
What to Read Before You Go: Jamaica-born Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s coming-of-age tale The Pirate’s Daughter (Random House Trade Paperbacks; reprint edition, 2008) is based on screen legend Errol Flynn’s final years, spent on Navy Island off the coast of Port Antonio.
Fun Fact: Ian Fleming wrote all 14 of his James Bond spy thrillers at his northeastern Jamaica hideaway, GoldenEye (now part of the exclusive Island Outpost properties owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell). Jetsetter GoldenEye guests can arrive via charter plane at the Ian Fleming International Airport, about a seven-minute drive from the resort.
Insider Tip From Elaine Glusac: Go bodysurfing and gorge on jerk chicken at nearby Boston Bay Beach, said to be the birthplace of spicy grilling on the island.
Photograph by Yang Liu, Corbis
Out of China's Shadow
As China gets mightier and smoggier, Taiwan feels calmer and cleaner. When China restricted access to the internet, Taiwan provided free Wi-Fi islandwide. When China marginalized its ethnic groups, Taiwan reintroduced indigenous Formosan languages to schools. Taiwan ranks in the top 50 (out of 178) on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), while China sank to the 118th spot.
But Taiwan is much more than China’s contrarian runaway bride. The sweet-potato-shaped island—a tad smaller than Switzerland (but no less mountainous)—has a high-tech global urban sector and a thriving aboriginal society. In one decade, "Made in Taiwan" went from being a sign of bad quality to a national statement of pride.
Skyscraper-filled capital Taipei, with a population of seven million, has been named 2016’s World Design Capital. A flurry of new buildings opens in 2015, including a performing arts center designed by Rem Koolhaas's firm.
More than anything, Taipei lives up to its reputation as a food paradise. “Forget about breakfast at the hotel,” says Peray, a popular Taipei food blogger. “In the early mornings, at food stalls, you can get clay oven rolls, charcoal grill sandwiches, rice with chicken, and rice noodle soup with pork. The challenge here is staying hungry.” —Adam H. Graham
When to Go: Fifteenth day of the first lunar month, Taiwan Lantern Festival, Nantou; mid-April to mid-June, Mondays and Thursdays, Penghu Ocean Fireworks Festival, Magong City; Mid-July to late August, Keelung Midsummer Ghost Festival, Keelung City; October 2014-January 2015, Taiwan Hot Spring and Fine-Cuisine Carnival, multiple locations
How to Get Around: Traveling by train is the best, and most affordable, option. The Taiwan Railways system (not Taiwan High Speed Rail) loops all the way around Taiwan, making it possible (with transfers) to visit most regions. Train stops are typically located near downtown areas. In Taipei, use the Taipei Rapid Transit city metro.
Where to Stay: Indulge in a moonlit, mineral springs bath at the Hotel Royal Chiaohsi, a minimalist contemporary retreat located in the countryside about 18 miles south of the New Taipei City border. Both Western and Japanese rooms and suites (featuring beds and layered tatami mats, respectively) are available. Try both styles in the Complex suite, a Western-Japanese hybrid with sliding wall dividers creating two separate sleeping areas. Take the hotel shuttle from the Chiaohsi train station (advance reservations required).
Where to Eat or Drink: Snack your way through Taipei’s ubiquitous street food markets, such as Shida Night Market and Raohe Street Tourist Night Market. Vendors hawk all manner of irresistible xiao chi (small eats), including xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings), pan-fried bao (buns), mochi (rice balls), braised pork, and the Taiwanese go-to snack: deep-fried—and pungent—stinky tofu.
What to Buy: Shop for Chinese medicinal herbs; textiles and fabrics; and tea, dried fruits, and candy in the storefronts lining Taipei’s Dihua Street. A commerce center since the 1850s, Dihua Street has been significantly spruced up in recent years, yet it retains its traditional Taiwanese vibe and original architecture—a historical hodgepodge of mainly single-story Fujian-style homes and neo-baroque buildings constructed during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945).
Cultural Tip: Smiling and using two Mandarin phrases—xiexie (thank you, pronounced “sheh sheh”) and ni hao (good day, pronounced “NEE how”) is a good way to feel more at home.
What to Read Before You Go: Although Zhuoliu Wu’s autobiographical novel Orphan of Asia (Columbia University Press, paperback English translation, 2008) was completed at the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, his insights into Taiwanese identity remain relevant and provide a frame of reference for some current Asian tensions.
Fun Fact: A free eco-guesthouse powered by solar energy and the contributions of community volunteers welcomed its first guests in late 2014. Opened on a trial basis, the two-story Sun Self Hotel in Taipei City was designed by Japanese artist Jun Kitazawa. Guests help collect energy to power the hotel’s electricity by wheeling a cart equipped with solar cells as they tour the surrounding neighborhood.
Insider Tip From Adam H. Graham: The Shilin Night Market is wildly popular with tourists. Perhaps too popular. To really get to know Taiwanese night market food, go to less touristy ones like Ningxia Road Night Market, where you can sample octopus balls, geoduck clams, oyster omelets, and pig's blood cake with locals.
Photograph by PatitucciPhoto
Peak of Perfection
Why would a remote farming hamlet turn into a first-class travel destination that attracts 1.5 million visitors a year? The answer is simple: Because it’s there.
Zermatt, the only village on the Swiss side of the Matterhorn, has been luring travelers ever since British adventurer Edward Whymper made the first ascent of the mythical 14,692-foot peak 150 years ago, on July 14, 1865. Nowadays car-free Zermatt witnesses a colorful procession of chocolate-nibbling tourists searching for cow souvenirs, sunbrowned hikers and climbers clomping around in big boots, and the fashionably rich lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars on Swiss watches. Yet, one activity bonds all: Nobody can resist pointing a camera up to that majestic wonder of nature. The Matterhorn isn’t the highest peak in the Swiss Alps, but its nearly perfect triangular shape makes it one of the most photographed in the world.
Only a five-minute walk from most hotels, the Kirchstrasse bridge makes an ideal location to watch the sunrise awakening of the mountain. But the closest to the summit a visitor can get without donning a climbing rope is via a helicopter ride with Air Zermatt. “I’ve flown around the summit some 5,000 times now, but it’s still an amazing experience,” says pilot Gerold Biner, who was raised in Zermatt. “Sometimes we can even see the smiles on the faces of the climbers.” —Menno Boermans, @menno_boermans
When to Go: Year-round for skiing at the Matterhorn Zermatt Bergbahnen; April 14-18, Zermatt Unplugged acoustic music festival; July and August, The Matterhorn Story performed in the new Zermatter Freilichtspiele (Zermatt open-air theatre); August 7-9, Swiss Food Festival
How to Get Around: The closest Swiss airport is Zurich. Trains connect the airport to Zermatt, about a three-and-a-half-hour ride south. Zermatt is car-free. Travel around the village on foot, bike, or by electric-powered eBus and eTaxi.
Where to Stay: The Grand Hotel Zermatterhof more than lives up to its name: old-world tea service in the cozy Ruden Bar; 78 individually styled rooms and suites (some with balconies and Matterhorn views); and attentive service (the concierge can book private mountain guides and ski instructors). Rates include a breakfast buffet, Zermatt station transfers via horse-drawn carriage or electric bus, and use of the Alpine Spa center, including indoor pool, gym, sauna, and ice grotto.
Where to Eat or Drink: Salute the 150th anniversary of Edward Whymper’s Matterhorn ascent at Whymper-Stube (German-only website), the rustic fondue restaurant named in his honor. Located in the lower level of the Hotel Monte Rosa, where Whymper stayed before his legendary climb, the Whymper-Stube is the place to try the signature Swiss Alpine comfort food, raclette, made from a wedge of local raclette cheese that’s melted on a special grill, scraped off, and served gooey hot with potatoes, pearl onions, and pickles. Reservations recommended. Closed May and the last two weeks in October.
What to Buy: Bahnhofstrasse (the main street connecting the train station to the Kirchplatz) is lined with posh European retailers, including Berlin-based Mykita eyewear and Jet Set luxury sportswear. The main WEGA store located opposite the post office is a convenient one-stop shop for souvenirs (such as Swiss Army knives, cuckoo clocks, watches, and cowbell key chains) and books about the Matterhorn.
Practical Tip: Fat-tire dirt scooters give visitors ages nine and up the chance to zip around the north face of the Matterhorn slope without skiing—or pedaling. Typically available mid-June to mid-October.
What to Read Before You Go: Anita Brookner’s stylish and Man Booker-prize-winning novel Hotel du Lac (Vintage Books, 1995) is set in an end-of-season Swiss lakeside hotel where the heroine, a British romance novelist, has been exiled by her friends following a social indiscretion.
Fun Fact: Meta Brevoort, a New Yorker living in England, nearly became the first woman to climb the Matterhorn. That honor, however, went to Englishwoman and fellow mountaineer Lucy Walker, who happened to be in Zermatt when Brevoort was on her way to Switzerland to attempt the ascent. Walker quickly got a team together and made it to the summit on July 22, 1871, before Brevoort arrived.
Insider Tip From Menno Boermans: Finish your grand day outdoors at the Whymper-Stube. Not only did the first ascent party stay here before their launch to Matterhorn's summit, but according to many locals this is also the best place to dip your bread in the hot and bubbly käse (cheese) and enjoy a glass of regional Fendant.
The Presidio, San Francisco
Photograph by Ron Niebrugge, Mira Images
From Spanish Conquistadores to Star Wars
If the San Francisco Peninsula resembles a forearm ending in a fist, then the Presidio is the topmost knuckle-by-the-Bay. The virile park of viridian woods and knockout vistas can make travelers forget its original function was for war, not Instagram. To San Franciscans, it’s both muse and playground—with the latest addition being the newly reopened Officers’ Club, reimagined as a local hub for exhibits, performances, and dining.
Established by Spanish conquistadores in 1776, the military garrison of Saint Francis and its 2.3 square miles defended the bay from any invaders tempted by the riches of Alta California. For the next 218 years, soldiers stood guard against the machinations of empires. But the English, Russian, Japanese, and Klingons—Star Trek’s Starfleet Command is headquartered here—never came. The base became a coveted U.S. Army assignment. Officers dream of three things, the saying went: “to make colonel, to die and go to heaven, and to be posted to the Presidio.”
In 1994, ownership passed from the Army to the National Park Service. Now the Presidio is a self-sustaining trust, thanks to rents paid by one-percenters like George Lucas, whose Lucasfilms office here blessed with a Yoda sculpture on a fountain. (Critics prefer sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s nearly hundred-foot-tall “Spire,” near the Arguello Gate.) But why nitpick? Instead, savor a hot chocolate after a hike on Crissy Field. Listen for the whiz-whir generated by bikers pumping down Lincoln Boulevard above North Baker Beach’s clothing-optional sunbathers. Delight in the eucalyptus-scented footpath called Lovers Lane. The Presidio, young Skywalker! The Force is strong with this one. —Andrew Nelson, @andrewnelson
When to Go: April, May, October, and November typically are the best months to visit due to the warm, sunny weather and minimal fog (providing better views of the Golden Gate Bridge). Weekdays are less crowded.
How to Get Around: From San Francisco International Airport rent a car, or ride BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the Embarcadero station. From here (at the corner of Drumm and Market Streets), take the free Presidio shuttle bus (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m on weekends).
Where to Stay: Built in 1903, the gracious Georgian Revival-style Pershing Hall (formerly used to house unmarried and visiting U.S. Army officers) was restored in 2011 and reopened in April 2012 as the Inn at the Presidio. The main inn includes five guest rooms and 17 suites replicating the layout of the original officers’ quarters. The adjacent, single-level Funston House (built in 1889 and opened to guests in 2013) has three guest rooms and one master suite. When the weather is clear, many of the third-floor main inn suites have Golden Gate Bridge views. Rates include a continental buffet breakfast and an evening wine and cheese reception (milk and cookies for younger guests).
Where to Eat or Drink: Housed in the former mess hall, The Commissary at the Presidio serves light breakfasts, eat-in and takeout lunches, and a full dinner menu (reservations recommended). Award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins mainly uses locally sourced ingredients to prepare the Spanish-influenced California cuisine (salt cod fritters, Marin Sun Farms burgers, and roasted chicken with Marcona almonds and dates). Most seating is communal. To watch the chefs prepare your meal, request a place at the bar surrounding the open kitchen.
What to Buy: At the Presidio, Warming Hut Bookstore and Café, located at the west end of Crissy Field; the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion; and the Fort Point Bookstore have the best selection of Presidio-related souvenirs, gear, and books.
Practical Tip: To stay warm (and avoid looking like a tourist) wear long pants and several light layers if visiting the Presidio in summer (June-August) when the weather is typically cold and foggy.
What to Read Before You Go: Set at the Presidio, The Enlisted Men’s Club (Running Meter Press, 2014) is the first in a trilogy of military-life novels penned by late author and Vietnam War veteran Gary Reilly.
Fun Fact: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the executive order authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans was issued at the Presidio. At the same time that their family members were being relocated to internment camps, Japanese-American linguist soldiers were training at the Presidio for critical military language duties such as translation and negotiation. The soldiers’ training site, which reopened in 2013 as the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) Historic Learning Center, is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m.
Insider Tip From Andrew Nelson: Got a yen for nine pins? The old army base supports its own late bowling alley. Presidio Bowl is open every day and until 2 a.m. on the weekends.
Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Photograph by Christophe Migeon, Invision/Redux
Rolling In the Deeps
“Forbidden Islands” sounds like something from a fairy tale, and stories about Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago do seem like a fantasy: hundreds of undiscovered white-sand beaches, dense unexplored jungles, and clans of the mysterious Moken sea gypsies. Klaus Reisinger, who co-directed a documentary titled Burma's Forbidden Islands about the island chain, calls the area “one of the last paradises left on Earth.”
The Burmese government kept the area off-limits to foreigners until 1997. Since opened to a handful of tour operators, the 800 islands scattered off the southern coast of Myanmar, in the Andaman Sea, are so seldom visited that many of them are known only as numbers on navigation charts.
Wildlife sightings include monitor lizards, sea eagles, and long-tailed macaques. Despite years of unregulated dynamite fishing, snorkeling and dive spots still reveal an aquatic festival of life, with swarms of eagle rays, schools of sharks, and the occasional whale shark. The nomadic Moken people, now largely forced into settlements, maintain their fishing traditions as they have for countless generations. As an epic of the Moken goes, “The Moken are born, live, and die on their boats, and the umbilical cords of their children plunge into the sea.” —Bill Fink, @finktravels
When to Go: November through April is sailing season (calm seas, sunny skies). Mid-December to mid-January is peak season, while March and April are the best months for diving and snorkeling (lighter winds, clearer water).
How to Get Around: Currently, foreign visitors to the archipelago must be part of a guided boat tour. Tours depart from Kawthaung pier at the southernmost tip of Myanmar near the Thailand border. For a small group (two to eight people) charter or private yacht cruise including airport transfers, lodging, and meals, sign on with Burma Boating. Tours can be customized to fit specific themes, such as a photography and video safari. They also accept credit cards, rare among archipelago boat tour operators.
Where to Stay: The archipelago’s only existing hotel, Myanmar Andaman Resort on Macleod Island, is closed for major renovations (scheduled to reopen late 2015). So the boat tour you choose will determine your comfort level. Before or after your cruise, stay at The B in Ranong. The ultramodern guesthouse has a rooftop infinity pool, floating beds, and playful Lego-look square designs on the exterior concrete walls.
Where to Eat or Drink: Burma Boating’s onboard chefs prepare fresh squid and cuttlefish bought from local fishermen, as well as an assortment of Thai dishes such as curries and soups. Guests are also welcome to catch the main course—tuna, barracuda, mahi mahi, and snapper are possibilities—for a barbecue on white-sand Pila Island beach.
Cultural Tip: Credit cards are rarely accepted in Myanmar. Bring cash (U.S. dollars and Thai baht).
What to Read Before You Go: Courage of the Sea: Last Stand of the Moken by Thom Henley and Moken Geo and Jok Klathalay details the daily lives, challenges, and disappearing culture of the Mergui Archipelago’s indigenous people. Book sales directly benefit the Moken community.
Fun Fact: The seafaring Moken escaped the worst of the devastation from the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by paying attention to signs in nature, such as receding water levels and uncharacteristic behaviors in marine wildlife and birds. Many Moken living off the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand relocated to higher, solid ground before the deadly tsunami waves hit.
Insider Tip From Bill Fink: Make like the Moken sea gypsies and travel the islands via a live-aboard boat rather than staying at one of the two current resorts in the area.
Sea Islands, South Carolina
Photograph by Peter Frank Edwards, The New York Times/Redux
Pathway to a Forgotten Past
Cruise highway 278, the main road on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, and it may seem that little has changed in the 59 years since entrepreneur Charles Fraser developed this sultry Lowcountry sea island as one of America’s first "eco-planned" resorts. But visitors are beginning to learn that some of the most important chapters of American history took place here, right beneath their vacation-tanned feet. Take Mitchelville, for instance, a settlement established by freed slaves in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. On St. Helena, the Penn Center stands as one of the first schools in the South to educate Gullah people.
These spots surprise and intrigue visitors, who arrive knowing little, if anything, about them. Why? “Well, who writes history?” Joyce Wright asks rhetorically, eyebrows arched. Wright is executive director of Mitchelville Preservation Project, one of the member organizations in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Here, visitors experience Gullah culture through storytelling, sweetgrass basket weaving, and sampling traditional food. Though the corridor cuts through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, Hilton Head and St. Helena are the heart of living Gullah culture, where once forgotten stories find voice. —Julie Schwietert Collazo, @CollazoProjects
When to Go: March 9-14, 30th Annual Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival; late May, 29th Annual Original Gullah Festival, Beaufort; October 12-19, 10th Annual Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival, Bluffton; November 6-9, Penn Center Heritage Days celebration of Gullah culture, music, and art, St. Helena Island
How to Get Around: A car is required to visit the Sea Islands and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor sites in South Carolina (extending north and south of U.S. 17 along the Atlantic Coast and 30 miles inland). St. Helena Island and Hilton Head Island are located east of I-95, between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. There are international airports in both cities, as well as a regional airport on Hilton Head. Rent a car at any airport. From I-95, take exit 33 for Beaufort and St. Helena, and exit 8 for Hilton Head.
Where to Stay: Beaufort is a convenient home base since it’s only five miles west of St. Helena and less than 35 miles north of Hilton Head. The city’s National Historic Landmark district is home to numerous bed and breakfasts, including the Rhett House Inn, a restored antebellum manor house and celebrity favorite (past guests include Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand). There are ten guest rooms in the main inn, seven rooms with gas fireplaces and private patios or decks across the street in the Cottage (built in 1864 as one of the first southern schools/stores for freed slaves), plus the two-bedroom Newcastle House overlooking the gardens. Rates include a full breakfast, and the option to create an all-southern plate: eggs, biscuits, grits, country ham, and a tall glass of sweet tea.
Where to Eat or Drink: Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s is as close as it gets to eating in a Gullah grandma’s kitchen. Dye Scott-Rhodan is the chef, and her relatives—including a ten-year-old niece—pitch in as servers at the small restaurant. Hours are limited and reservations are required, but it’s worth the minor hassle to reserve a seat at Dye’s table. Try authentic Gullah dishes such as “old fashion church tater salad,” “okra matoes stew,” and the specialty of the house, Malaysia "sweet tater" bread pudding.
What to Buy: On South Carolina rice plantations, hand-woven sweetgrass baskets were used as sieves to separate seed from chaff. Today, local weavers craft and sell the sweet-smelling, coiled baskets (available in various sizes and designs) daily at the historic Charleston City Market and regularly on St. Helena Island at venues such as the Penn Center and the Red Piano Too Art Gallery.
What to Read Before You Go: Pat Conroy’s memoir The Water Is Wide (Dial Press Trade Paperback, reprint, 2002) chronicles his year spent teaching Gullah children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina (fictionalized as Yamacraw in the book).
Fun Fact: The Gullah/Geechee people living in the Lowcountry and Sea Islands are descendants of enslaved West and central Africans forced to work on coastal rice plantations. The isolation of the Sea Islands enabled the Gullah/Geechee to develop a separate Creole language and distinct culture from African Americans living in other parts of the United States.
Insider Tip From Julie Schwietert Collazo: The annual Gullah Celebration is held in February. The monthlong festival showcases music, food, and arts.
Mont St. Michel, France
Photograph by Thierry Seni, Hemis/Corbis
Faith and a Feat of Human Genius
For about a thousand years, travelers have gasped when the Abbey of Mont St. Michel has loomed into view, rising from a bay fed by tides that are among the highest and most treacherous in Europe. What makes the sight transcendent is the play of light, sky, and weather that can shift hourly here off the coast of Normandy. Total isolation was the point, and pilgrims had to wait for the tide to recede to make their way across the flats to the abbey.
In 1879, a causeway was built to ease the approach to Mont St. Michel. That and years of agricultural development, though, led to a buildup of silt and sea grass. Rather than lording regally over an expanse of water, Mont St. Michel now stood at the end of a massive mudflat. A reclamation project began in 2005 with the goal of returning the abbey as much as possible to the maritime context the monks envisioned.
“What is important is not that we are restoring it to its original state,” says Patrick Morel, who is heading up the massive reclamation effort that includes a dam and a pedestrian bridge leading to the foot of the mount. “We are restoring the original spirit.” The work is on schedule to finish in 2015, when, with deliberate calibration, 50 times a year, Mont St. Michel and its great monastery will once again seem to float in the water that surrounds it. —Marcia deSanctis, @marcialdesancti
When to Go: Visit during high tide to witness the water surging in and surrounding the Mont, and at low tide to walk across the tidal flats with a guide.
How to Get Around: Walk or ride the free shuttle over the new bridge connecting the mainland parking lot and Information Center to Mont St. Michel. The new connector (opened in 2014) features two wood-plank pedestrian walkways and a central concrete roadway for shuttles and service vehicles. Both options have scenic overlook stops providing panoramic views of the Mont and the bay.
Where to Stay: Spend at least one night at a small historic hotel inside the walls to experience the medieval city (and walk the abbey ramparts) after the crowds leave for the day. Les Terrasses Poulard has 29 rooms (some with bay views) in two separate buildings. It’s a short walk from here to the abbey, but getting to your actual hotel room could require climbing steep stone steps (no elevator). To make the climb easier, pack a small overnight bag for your stay. Lock and store any large luggage in your rental car or at the reception desk (baggage storage available).
Where to Eat or Drink: Despite being a tourist favorite, La Mère Poulard is worth a visit for the legendary three-egg omelets cooked over an open wood fire. Go in the late afternoon when there’s a limited menu (including omelets) and fewer patrons. Omelets are served with baguettes and coffee.
What to Buy: The beekeepers at Le Manoir des Abeilles in nearby Pontorson (6.7 miles south of Mont St. Michel) sell jars of local honey, plus a host of honey-based products, including cakes, gingerbread, assorted fruit jams, and nougat candy.
Practical Tip: Learn about the restoration project, the tides, and the area’s flora and fauna (as well as the history and legends of Mont St. Michel) on a barefoot, low-tide hike across the bay with local, English-speaking tour operator Julien Avril. Since the changing tides, quicksand, and other obstacles can make tidal flat crossings hazardous, it’s safer—and more informative—to follow a local guide.
What to Read Before You Go: First published in 1938, Roger Vercel’s novel Tides of Mont St. Michel (Kessinger Publishing, LLC, facsimile reprint, 2005) depicts the isolation and daily lives of people living on Mont St. Michel.
Fun Fact: On approximately 15 to 20 days per year (likely early in the morning or late in the evening), the Mont will be completely inaccessible for two hours due to exceptionally high tides completely submerging the new concrete-covered “reservation” (a raised ford, or earthen platform, and esplanade) connecting the causeway to the Mont. This phenomenon will occur, on average, during 35 of 705 tides, and mostly in spring and autumn.
Insider Tip From Marcia deSanctis: Go in wintertime and spend the night in one of the hotels on the Mont. The weather is dramatic, and the crowds are thinned out to nearly nonexistent.
Esteros del Iberá, Argentina
Photograph by Paul Spierenburg, laif/Redux
Realm of the Jaguar
A day’s drive north and a world away from Buenos Aires, a glittering web of lakes and marshes inundates 3.2 million acres in Argentina’s northeastern Corrientes Province. The Guaraní call it Y Berá, “brilliant water.” This entire immense area of wetlands, or esteros, was declared a natural reserve in 1983, with 40 percent protected within the boundaries of Iberá Provincial Park. Iberá is one of South America’s most important reserves of fresh water, offering refuge for a vast cast of birds and other creatures. No vertical peaks dazzle the visitor from afar; it is a horizontal landscape that one must enter to know its intimate, surprising beauty.
The jaguar was the stealthy lord of the esteros until intensive hunting drove it out in the 1950s. But attitudes have changed. “What obliges us to care for these wetlands is the fact that they have always been and will continue to be instrumental in shaping what it means to be a Correntino,” says Perico Perea Muñoz, a rancher and environmental leader. “Without the Iberá wetlands, Corrientes is simply not Corrientes.” Now a reintroduction project is bringing the jaguar back.
In 2015, with any luck, the first wild jaguar cubs in over half a century will be born in Iberá. And Corrientes will truly be Corrientes again. —Beth Wald
When to Go: Summer (December-February) can be uncomfortably hot yet ideal for seeing flowering plants and migratory birds. Fall (March-June) is low tourist season and the best time to see wildlife. Winter (June-September) is peak tourist season due to monthlong Argentine holidays. Spring (September–November) is the rainy season.
How to Get Around: Iberá tourist services are centered in Mercedes, located about 75 miles from the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Since most roads leading to the reserve are unpaved and often muddy, booking a guided small-group or custom tour with Class Adventure Travel (CAT) is a convenient option. CAT excursions typically start in Buenos Aires and include domestic flights to Corrientes or Misiones, followed by land transfers (seven hours from Corrientes, five hours from Posadas) to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini.
Where to Stay: Built in 1896 and operated by the Conservation Land Trust (CLT), Estancia Rincón del Socorro is a 29,652-acre former cattle ranch located on the southern edge of Iberá. Rates include meals, activities such as night safaris and horseback riding, and lodging (six rooms in the main Spanish-style hacienda, plus three adjacent cottages). Book the grass-roof Ñandubay cottage to sit on the screened-in porch each evening and watch egrets roosting in the adjacent pond
Where to Eat or Drink: There are few food options beyond the guest meals served at lodges and hotels. Local specialties often featured on the menus include chipá (cheese bread made with cassava starch); asado (meat cooked over an open fire), Argentina’s national dish; and the ubiquitous maté, an earthy drink made by steeping the leaves and stems of the yerba maté plant.
What to Buy: The shop inside the Centro de Interpretación (visitor’s center, closed Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini sells books and DVDs about Iberá. You can also make a donation here to help support marshland conservation efforts and can watch short documentaries about the park’s flora and fauna. Outside, look for the packs of capybaras that regularly hang out on the grass.
Cultural Tip: If staying at Estancia Rincon del Socorro, ask lodge manager Leslie Cook to arrange a visit to the local gaucho community, where you can see working cowboys braid rawhide bosals (nosebands) for their horses.
What to Read Before You Go: Naturalist and ornithologist William Hudson’s 1917 autobiography Far Away and Long Ago: A Childhood in Argentina (ReadaClassic.com, 2010) describes the wildlife and wild places of Argentina’s past, a natural setting similar to what can be experienced today in the Iberá wetlands.
Fun Fact: Corrientes Province is the birthplace of folk hero Gauchito Gil, Argentina’s favorite non-Catholic “saint.” According to local legend, Gil was a benevolent outlaw who robbed the rich to help the poor. Look for the roadside Gauchito Gil shrines (often marked with red flags) and consider stopping to leave a small offering, since in addition to the poor, Gil is known to protect motorists and travelers.
Insider Tip From Beth Wald: One of the oldest historic estancias, or cattle ranches, in Corrientes, Estancia San Juan Poriahu is a working ranch on the edge of Ibera Provincial Park, with 4,000 cattle, hundreds of horses, traditional gauchos, and a faded, colonial charm.
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Photograph by Lacey Ann Johnson, Getty
The Great Unfinished Work
History is a meandering river, not a straight line. And yet Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the new federal city sketched out a tidy grid of grand boulevards, gardens, and monuments—as if geometry alone could create a nation.
At the heart of his original scheme for Washington, D.C., was a mile-long stretch of green, a blank slate for an emerging America. As the nation’s fortunes grew, so did the National Mall, and by 1922 the park spanned two miles, from the Capitol grounds to the newly dedicated Lincoln Memorial.
Changing times called for evolving landscapes. Where Victorian plants once bloomed, congressional staffers in fluorescent knee-highs now play kickball. Where Mary Ann Hall’s high-class brothel prospered during the Civil War, the National Museum of the American Indian stands. An effort to protect “high-tech turf,” recently planted by the National Park Service, threatens to push popular annual festivals off the green lawn.
The Mall is embraced as hallowed ground not because architects willed it but because people chose it. Citizens congregate on the Lincoln Memorial steps—where Marian Anderson sang “America” in 1939 and where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963—to contemplate democracy’s “unfinished work,” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address words, etched in the monument to his legacy.
With the rise of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to open in 2015, the National Mall marches toward what it should be: not just a formal park in a federal city, but also a central space for self-expression and equal representation. In short, a field where dreams can come true. —George W. Stone
When to Go: March 20-April 12, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Tidal Basin (adjacent to the Mall); June 24-28 and July 1-5, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, in front of the National Museum of the American Indian; July 4, Fireworks for America; October 26, Marine Corps Marathon
How to Get Around: The National Mall extends from Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues to the north, First Street N.W. to the east, Independence and Maryland Avenues to the south, and 14th Street N.W. to the west. Walk or bike (with some restrictions) around the Mall. Use public transportation (Metrorail and Metrobus) to get to the Mall from hotels and from Reagan National (the closest airport). Several Metro stations provide easy access to the area. Check the interactive Metro map to locate the station closest to your destination.
Where to Stay: Located just four blocks from both the Mall and the White House, The Jefferson hotel is convenient, luxurious, and historic (guest room windows are etched with 18th-century handwritten text from the Declaration of Independence,and eight original pieces signed by Thomas Jefferson hang in the foyer). New for 2015, all 95 guest rooms (completely renovated in 2010) will receive upgrades, including vanishing LED TVs in bathroom mirrors. Choose one of the 17 suites (individually styled to reflect a particular Jeffersonian theme) and enjoy a bonus wine pairing selected specifically for that room, such as Arise, a red blend by Blackbird Vineyards, paired with the Music Suite. Saturdays, ask the in-house historian for expert insights into the museums, memorials, and parks you’re about to see.
Where to Eat or Drink: At the National Portrait Gallery’s airy Courtyard Café, a wavy steel-and-glass vaulted ceiling, fully grown trees, and four walk-on-water scrims create the illusion that you’re picnicking outdoors. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, desserts (cheesecake, cupcakes, ice cream), plus beer, wine, coffee, and free Wi-Fi. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
What to Buy: Each Smithsonian Institution museum store features items inspired by the museum’s collections, such as Navajo beaded bracelets and hand-knit alpaca wraps at the National Museum of the American Indian; wooden dinosaur toys and Ming vase ornaments at the National Museum of Natural History; and kites, model planes, and kid’s astronaut boots at the National Air and Space Museum.
Practical Tip: You’ll need a ticket to visit the Washington Monument. Free same-day, timed tickets are available on a first come, first served basis beginning at 8:30 a.m. daily (line forms much earlier). Limited advance tickets are available online for $1.50 per ticket. Closed July 4 and December 25.
What to Read Before You Go: Murder in the Smithsonian (Fawcett, 1985) and Murder at the National Gallery (Fawcett, 1997), two titles in Margaret Thurman’s best-selling Capital Crimes series, are set in and around the National Mall.
Fun Fact: The “secret” symbols found at the Lincoln Memorial are hidden in plain sight. Although various symbolism legends (most notably that Gen. Robert E. Lee’s image is carved into the back of President Lincoln’s head) have been attributed to the memorial, the most important actual symbols are the multiple fasces (a bundle of rods bound by a piece of leather) found throughout the site. When the memorial was designed and built, fasces symbolized strength through unity.
Insider Tip From George W. Stone: As the world marks the centenary of World War I, there is still no national monument to the Great War. But there is a District of Columbia War Memorial located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial. It was dedicated by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.
Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Photograph by Brian Elliott, Alamy
Eat, Drink, Play, Repeat
Though Sydney might argue the point, Melbourne has established itself as Australia’s food capital, home to innovative culinary ideas such as micro coffee roasters, nonprofit cafés, and expat pop-ups (British chef Heston Blumenthal is moving his Fat Duck from England to Melbourne for six months next year). Melbourne’s chief wine region is the nearby Yarra Valley, but an emerging source of bounty is the rugged Mornington Peninsula, about an hour’s drive south from downtown via a recently opened roadway. The peninsula distills the flavors of down under in one boot-shaped cape: paddock-to-plate restaurants, down-to-earth wineries where the vintners themselves work the tasting rooms, and small sustainable farms such as 2 Macs and Green Olive at Red Hill that each offer cooking classes.
But the region isn’t just about food. In fact, “it has always been Melbourne’s playground, with people flocking to the beaches over summer,” says Danielle Field, who, with her brother Max, guides MP Experience food tours of the Hinterland Region of Pinot Noir growers, apple orchards, and strawberry farms. Snorkelers come to encounter leafy sea dragons. Terrestrial wildlife lovers seek out nocturnal pademelons and bettongs. Says Field, “Now the Mornington Peninsula really has something for everyone.” —Elaine Glusac, @ElaineGlusac
When to Go: October to December (spring), and February to April (late summer through early autumn) are best for walking, wineries, or farm-related activities. January and Easter are peak tourist seasons, typically resulting in higher lodging rates and minimum stays.
How to Get Around: Driving is the best way to get to and around the peninsula. From Melbourne, it’s about a 70-minute drive via the Monash freeway (M1) to Eastlink (M3), then onto the Peninsula Link (M11) and Mornington Peninsula Freeway (B110). The trip from Tullamarine (Melbourne) airport to Sorrento takes about two hours. For local travel, use the well-marked walking trails, four of which combine to form the 62-mile Mornington Peninsula Walk.
Where to Stay: Accommodations include camping, coastal golf communities like the RACV Cape Schanck Resort, located at the peninsula’s southernmost tip, and farm stays with locals. At Hart’s Farm in Shoreham, Graeme and Penny Hart grow a veritable salad bar of fruits and veggies (including figs, artichokes, lemons, rhubarb, apples, and pears) and have two rooms for guests (one of which will be ready in early 2015). In May and June, join in the olive harvest and wood-fired pizza-making days. Rates include a daily breakfast basket (muesli, fruit, yogurt, locally made bread, and Hart’s Farm jam) plus juice, tea, and coffee.
Where to Eat: At Foxeys Hangout, a winery in Red Hill, vintner Tony Lee also prepares seasonally fresh small plates (such as barbecue quail and zucchini fritters with goat curd) to complement the winery’s handmade Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Chardonnay. Stop in for tastings and tapas (Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, except Good Friday and Christmas) at the Foxeys Hangout Cellar Door. Or schedule an appointment (11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays; $50) for the Blend Your Own Sparkling Wine session, a hands-on lesson in the final stages of winemaking, including a bottle to take home.
Where to Shop: Stop at the peninsula’s bustling craft markets, including Red Hill Community Market (first Saturdays, September-May), Mornington Racecourse Market (second Sundays monthly), and Mornington Midweek Market (Wednesdays) to chat with stallholders and shop for handmade or homegrown local products such as Elfred’s of the Peninsula, Fig & Ginger Jam, and Fraulein Jaeger tote bags and bracelets.
Practical Tip: Use the interactive Mornington Peninsula Tourism Trip Planner to create and map your custom road trip itinerary.
What to Read Before You Go: Australian novelist Garry Disher’s award-winning Hal Challis detective crime series is set in the Mornington Peninsula. Start with the first book, The Dragon Man (Soho Crime, 2005).
Fun Fact: The Ten Minutes by Tractor winery in Main Ridge gets its name from the time it took to ride between the estate’s three original vineyards. Three neighboring families joined forces—and vineyards—in 1999 to make wine, selling their first vintage under a new label in 2000. They sold their joint venture in 2004, but the name—and the distance between those first vineyards—remains the same.
Travel Tip From Elaine Glusac: For a true life-on-the-farm stay, rent a cottage from 2 Macs Farms owner Mary McCarthy that includes its own herb garden and henhouse.
Readers' Choice Winner: Faroe Islands
Photograph by Adam Burton, Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis
This year for the first time we invited our well-traveled online readers and followers to participate in creating our Best Trips list. We asked them via Twitter, Facebook, and our Intelligent Travel blog to nominate one place using the same criteria we use—sustainable, culturally minded, authentic, superlative, and timely. Among the nominations we received, Traveler staff chose the following winning entry, which captures the thrill of discovering a remote destination. —Amy Alipio
Under the North Atlantic Sun
The Faroe Islands are always a beautiful destination, no matter what time of year you go. But on March 20, 2015, there will be a full solar eclipse visible from the Faroe Islands. For most people, a full solar eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and from what I've heard, it should be quite magnificent. My grandmother told me about her reaction to the full solar eclipse that was visible from the Faroe Islands 60 years ago, on June 30, 1954. She was terrified, thinking it was some kind of apocalypse. What was a very bright day suddenly became black. The birds acted strange, but the hens just went inside their house to sleep. A few minutes later, the day was bright again, the rooster crowed "good morning," and life kept on going. —Sigrið Mikkjalsdóttir, Faroe Islands
When to Go: March 20, Total Solar Eclipse 2015, islandwide eclipse-related special events; July-August for comfortable temperatures (average 55ºF) and extended daylight (longest midsummer day is 19.5 hours)
How to Get Around: Direct flights to the Faroe Islands leave from England, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway year-round, and from Barcelona and Milan in summer. Ferries link Denmark to the islands (once a week year-round, twice weekly in summer) and run from Iceland once a week in summer. Rent a car or ride a bus to travel between towns, and use ferries to island hop. Buy a four- or seven-day Strandfaraskip Landsins Travel Card for unlimited bus and ferry trips. In Tórshavn, the capital city, the local (red) bus service is free.
Where to Stay: Experience authentic Faroese architecture and life at Gjáargarður, a wooden, sod-roof guesthouse in the tiny village (about 50 residents) of Gjógv. The property includes an adjacent low-rise modern building with single, double, and triple bedrooms. For authentic Viking-style lodging, book one of the ten double alcoves (sliding privacy door; shared bathroom) tucked under the roof slope in the attic roykstovan (smoke room).
Where to Eat or Drink: At industrial-sleek KOKS, overlooking the Tórshavn waterfront, executive chef Poul Andrias Ziska specializes in small-plate new Nordic cuisine. The tasting menu (choose four, six, or eight courses) showcases locally sourced ingredients such as seaweed, dried fish, and herbed lamb. Dinner only. Closed Sundays and Mondays. For more traditional local fare (poached cod, smoked salmon, lobster bisque) served in a homey setting, visit Áarstova (“the house by the brook”), also inTórshavn. Dinner served daily.
What to Buy: A Faroese original, the traditional Guðrun & Guðrun star-pattern sweater (popularized by TV detective Sarah Lund in the acclaimed Danish crime series The Killing) is hand knit from 100 percent untreated wool. Since no dyes are used, the classic sweaters reflect the natural colors of the local Faroese sheep. Men’s, women’s, and children’s dyed wool sweaters (available in various colors and patterns), hats, scarves, and other clothing and accessories are sold at the Guðrun & Guðrun flagship store in Tórshavn.
Cultural Tip: It's easy to travel around the Faroe Islands by car, but off-islanders may get flustered by narrow lanes and frequent four-hooved obstacles. Before hitting the road, watch this quick video on driving in the Faroe Islands, created by Landsverk, the public roads office.
What to Read Before You Go: Told from the perspective of a visiting Harvard graduate student, Far Afield (Vintage, reprint edition, 1994) by Girl, Interrupted novelist Susanna Kaysen, is a simultaneously humorous and insightful look at what it’s like to be an outsider in the isolated Faroe Islands.
Fun Fact: Irish monks, not Vikings, are thought to have been the first settlers of the Faroe Islands. For generations, Faroese have shared the story of St. Brendan, an Irish abbot who's said to have sailed from Scotland to the islands sometime between the years 512 and 530. As the story goes, Brendan was searching for “the promised land of the saints” when he landed on “the islands of the sheep and the paradise of the birds.” Historians believe that the first Norse, or Viking, settlers didn’t arrive until the year 800.
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