Each week National Geographic Traveler editors select a seasonal trip showcasing the world's best destinations to visit right now.
Apalachicola Bay, Florida
Photograph by John Coletti/Getty Images
2013 Best Fall Trip #15
Pristine wildlife refuges and state parks, Florida’s largest national forest, and a thriving commercial fishing industry have helped northwest Florida’s "Apalach" remain relatively undeveloped. But Apalachicola Bay’s lifeblood—wild, succulent oysters hand-harvested with wood-handled tongs—is threatened, with harvests down 60 percent in 2013. Efforts to address contributing factors, such as significantly reduced freshwater inflows from the Apalachicola River, are key to sustaining marine life in the glass-smooth bay, and with it, life as usual in the sleepy Panhandle communities of Apalachicola, Eastpoint, and St. George Island. Discover firsthand what makes this remote slice of Old Florida worth preserving by walking the white-sand beaches and gliding through the swamps along the Apalachicola River Paddling Trail System.
When to Go: December weather is typically mild, with both water and air temperatures reaching highs in the mid to high 60s. Apalachicola Bay hosts a number of small town holiday and seafood-related events, including the Holiday Fresh Market, December 7, in downtown Apalachicola and the Eastpoint Christmas Parade and Celebration, December 13.
How to Get Around: Apalachicola Bay is located about 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee and about 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee Regional Airport via U.S. 319 South/U.S. 98 West. The 25.6-mile western section of the Big Bend Scenic Byway’s Coastal Trail connects Eastpoint, St. George Island State Park, and Apalachicola.
What to Eat or Drink: Apalachicola Bay typically accounts for about 90 percent of Florida’s annual oyster harvest. Even with Bay oysters off the menu for now, there are plenty of seafood options available at restaurants like the upscale Owl Café. The downtown historic district fine-dining eatery specializes in pasta and fresh seafood, including black grouper, lump crab cake, and salmon. Up the Creek Raw Bar’s eclectic menu ranges from grilled Gulf shrimp and Chef Brett’s signature conch cakes to vegetarian creole and lobster lasagna. The casual restaurant (order at the counter and find a seat inside or on the deck) is on the second floor overlooking Scipio Creek and the Apalachicola River, so every order comes with unobstructed views of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Where to Stay: Camp on St. George Island State Park for easy access to the barrier island’s nine miles of unspoiled, white-sand Gulf Coast beaches. There’s a full-service campground with 60 sites and two bathhouses, and a primitive campsite accessible by kayak, canoe, or a 2.5-mile hike. If an upscale bed-and-breakfast is more your style, the luxurious Coombs House Inn has 23 guest rooms (some with Jacuzzis) spread across three restored Victorian mansions in downtown Apalachicola. Rates include daily breakfast and afternoon tea; free use of bicycles, beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas; and, on chilly fall nights, a roaring fire in the main house lobby fireplace.
What to Read Before You Go: Former Apalachicola mayor Jimmie J. Nichols’s folksy Apalachicola Diary: Life, Oysters, and History in an Old Florida Town (Gray Oaks Books, 2012)
Fun Fact: St. George Island State Park ranked as the nation’s third best beach on Dr. Beach's (Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman) list of Top 10 Beaches for 2013. The nine-mile-long state park beach is located on the eastern end of St. George Island, the largest of four barrier islands separating Apalachicola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico.
Staff Tip: Apalachicola is oyster central—it's said to produce a tenth of all the pearly tongue-pleasers sold in the United States. For my money, there's no better place to sample the local treasure than Boss Oyster on Water Street. Casual and kid-friendly—I took my first-born there for his first oyster when he was five—Boss Oyster cuts out the middle man and harvests some of the tastiest oysters I've ever had from its own boat. —Keith Bellows, editor in chief, Traveler magazine
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
Photograph by Cavataio Vince/Getty Images
2013 Best Fall Trip #14
“Up country” Oahu is the North Shore where the vibe is low-key local and the monster winter waves draw the world’s top surfers to the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. When the surf is up, competition is on and free to watch. On flat water days, hang out in Haleiwa, the North Shore’s little “big” town, or visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. Tours of the center’s recreated Polynesian villages include traditional hands-on activities like coconut tree climbing, canoe racing, and spear throwing.
When to Go: The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing series runs from November 12 through December 20 and encompasses three separate events: Reef Hawaiian Pro, Haleiwa Ali'i Beach, with best four surf days falling between November 12 and 23; Vans World Cup of Surfing, Sunset Beach, with best four surf days falling between November 25 and December 6; and Billabong Pipe Masters, Banzai Pipeline, with best three surf days falling between December 8 and 20.
How to Get Around: Depending on the route you take, the North Shore is a 60- to 90-minute drive from the Honolulu International Airport. For the most dramatic ocean and mountain views, take the Pali Highway through the Ko'olau Mountain range to connect to the Kamehameha Highway. The two-lane Kamehameha begins near Kailua on Oahu’s windward (east) coast and is the only shoreline route north to Haleiwa.
Where to Stay: The 840-acre Turtle Bay Resort, the North Shore’s only oceanfront resort, is set to complete a multimillion-dollar luxury renovation of all 397 guest rooms by early November. Amenities include two championship golf courses, two landscaped pool areas, horseback riding, and, during the Vans Triple Crown, special surf-centric events like the Surf & Yoga Realization Camp, December 9-12, hosted by legendary Pipeline surfer Gerry Lopez.
What to Eat or Drink: Pull off Kamehameha Highway in Kahuku to eat hot and spicy North Shore shrimp cooked fresh in roadside shrimp trucks like Romy’s, Giovanni’s, and Famous Kahuku. Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa Town is legendary for its shaved ice flavored with homemade syrups. Go local by adding ice cream and sweet and chewy adzuki beans.
What to Buy: Tucked among the macadamia and banyan trees on Kamehameha Highway, family-owned Tropical Farms Macadamia Nut Farm Outlet sells seasoned, roasted, or glazed nuts in flavors ranging from Kona coffee to Maui onion and garlic. There’s also coffee, tea, sea salt, and a lot of chickens running around the parking lot. At the Polynesian Cultural Center’s new Polynesian Market Place, no admission tickets are required to visit the Kaha’iki Gallery and shop for artisanal gifts like hand-painted Tongan bark tapas or cloths, mahogany ukuleles, and Hawaiian quilts.
What to Read Before You Go: James Michener’s epic novel Hawaii (Fawcett, 1986) spans thousands of years of Hawaiian history in 1,056 pages.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Descendants (2011) is a film adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings's tragicomic novel about a land inheritance rift among members of an Oahu family descended from King Kamehameha.
Fun Fact: Among surfers, the stretch of North Shore coastline between Haleiwa and Turtle Bay is known as the “seven-mile miracle” due to its collection of legendary monster-wave surf spots, including Banzai Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay.
Western Australia Wildflowers
Photograph by Bob Gibbons, Science Photo Library/Alamy
2013 Best Fall Trip #13
Western Australia is home to more than 12,000 species of wildflowers, most of which are not found in the wild anywhere else in the world. In November, wildflowers carpet the state’s south coast, known as the Rainbow Coast, home to more than a dozen national parks and reserves. Mountain bells, banksias, and orchids are among the more than 1,500 kinds of plants and wildflowers found in Stirling Range National Park alone. The Rainbow Coast port city of Albany is a convenient home base for bushwalks through the parks, where you could see wildlife—such as parrots, western brush wallabies, and gray kangaroos—along with the wildflowers.
When to Go: Wildflower season in Western Australia typically begins in the north in June and moves south, peaking on the Rainbow Coast in October and November.
How to Get Around: Rent a car at the Perth Airport then drive south via the Southern Wonders Trail, one of Western Australia’s designated wildflower routes. The trail follows the inland Albany Highway to Albany before heading west near the coast. There are 15 wildflower-viewing stops along the route, including Stirling Range, Porongurup, and West Cape Howe National Parks, and the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. The steel walkway is 131 feet above ground and leads through a grove of 400-year-old red tingle trees, some towering as high as 197 feet. The Tree Top Walk connects to the ground-level Ancient Empire wooden boardwalk leading through and around the gigantic trees.
Cultural Tip: Picking wildflowers is prohibited, and stiff fines (about $1,900 USD) are enforced. Dried wildflowers can be purchased legally in local souvenir shops.
Where to Stay: Built in 1882 as the mayor’s residence, The Rocks Albany served as a maternity hospital and even a recreation center for United States military officers before being renovated and reopened in 2006 as a six-suite luxury bed-and-breakfast. Located on two lushly landscaped acres overlooking Princess Royal Harbour, the inn feels secluded yet is within walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants. Ask for a suite with both water and garden views. The Princess Royal has both (plus a vintage cast-iron claw-foot tub), and it’s the only guest quarters with direct access to the inn’s harborside porch.
Where to Eat: Picnic in the Paddock at Whitfield Estate in Denmark is only open for lunch on weekends and school holidays, so plan ahead. The menu—paired with Whitfield Estate wines—showcases local foods like marron (freshwater crayfish) and Dellendale Creamery cheeses. The café, which overlooks the vineyard and pastures, is casual, with a kid's menu and dogs welcome outside. For dog lovers, there's the added bonus of meeting resident Bernese mountain dogs Mac and Bud, inspiration for the estate’s Pawprint gourmet chocolates.
What to Buy: The Sunday Albany Boatshed Fisherman and Farmer Markets is a weekly celebration of all things local: produce, gourmet foods and chocolates, handcrafted woven and knitted items, and vintages from Great Southern Wine member wineries, such as Trevelen Farm Wines. In Youngs Siding, book a guided tour of the Bushfood Factory and Café to learn how gourmet jams, sauces, and chutneys are made from the plantation’s bush foods, such as lemon myrtle and wattle seed. After taking the tour (and trying the samples) shop for Bushfood’s Flavours of Oz products in the factory store. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
What to Read Before You Go: Plan your trip using the Tourism Western Australia Wildflower Guide 2013.
Fun Fact: Stirling Range National Park is home to southern Western Australia’s highest peak, 3,592-foot Bluff Knoll. From a distance, the craggy peaks appear to form a face, with rock formations creating the “eyes.” For the Aboriginal Nyoongar people, Bluff Knoll is known as Bular Mial (many eyes) or Bala Mial (his eyes), and is believed to be the sacred resting place of a watchful ancestral spirit.
Yi Peng and Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Photograph by Paul Brown, Alamy
2013 Best Fall Trip #12
In northern Thailand, two spectacular festivals of light—Yi Peng and Loy Krathong—intertwine under the 12th full moon in the Thai lunar calendar. The dual celebrations fill Chiang Mai’s skies and waterways with thousands of gliding, glowing vessels. Launch your own wishes for good luck or forgiveness by crafting and releasing a flying Yi Peng lantern or floating krathong (banana leaf raft offering).
When to Go: The full moon (when Loy Krathong is traditionally celebrated) is November 17. Yi Peng ceremonies begin a few days earlier. Overlapping festivities will take place this year in Chiang Mai from around November 14 to November 18.
How to Get Around: Many hotels offer free transfers from Chiang Mai International Airport. Otherwise, take a taxi (about $4). In the city, the ubiquitous tuk-tuks (three-wheeled, motorized rickshaw) and shared-ride songthaews (covered pickup trucks with bench seating in the beds) make getting anywhere easy and inexpensive, albeit noisy.
Cultural Tip: Show respect by removing hats and shoes when entering temples and private homes. Dress appropriately (no shorts, short skirts, or sleeveless tops) when visiting temples.
Where to Stay: The 41-room U Chiang Mai boutique hotel pairs luxury digs with a convenient Old City location. On Sundays, Chiang Mai’s bustling night market comes to life directly outside. During the day, sign out a free bicycle to investigate the surrounding neighborhood’s winding little sois (streets). Guest amenities include breakfast served “whenever and wherever,” 37-inch LCD TVs with satellite feed, hotelwide Wi-Fi, a 24-hour fitness center, and a black-tiled infinity pool. Top-floor, courtyard-facing rooms are the quietest.
Where to eat or drink: Before navigating the touristy Night Bazaar stop at nearby Lemongrass for khao soi, a northern Thai specialty. Wash down the spicy coconut curry served over yellow egg noodles with a Sang Som and soda on the rocks.
What to Buy: Visit the Sunday Market or daily Warorot Market to buy authentic, local handicrafts like phaa nung (sarongs), tieo sador (farmer pants), and other cotton, hemp, and silk textiles produced by northern Thai master weavers.
Fun Fact: Traditional krathong are tiny (about eight-inch-wide) banana leaf and bark rafts adorned with flowers, an incense stick, and a lighted candle. According to one of the festival’s many superstitions if the candle flame continues to burn as the krathong floats out of sight, the sender’s wishes will be fulfilled.
Athens Classic Marathon, Athens, Greece
Photograph by Simela Pantzartzi, Corbis
2013 Best Fall Trip #11
Ten thousand athletes are expected to run across the centuries following the “original marathon course” introduced at the 1896 Olympic Games. The 26.2-mile race begins in the ancient city of Marathon, ends in Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium, or Panathinaiko, and includes a stirring Marathon Flame Lighting Ceremony at the sacred Tomb of Marathon archaeological site.
When to Go: Marathon Flame Lighting Ceremony, November 9; Athens Classic Marathon Race, November 10
How to Get Around: Public transportation (metro, tram, bus, and suburban railway) is the most convenient and affordable option. For weekend visits, buy a three-day Tourist Ticket (includes airport transfers) at the Athens International Airport. For longer stays, purchase a seven-day day ticket good for all mass transit within greater Athens (no airport transfers), and add taxi or metro rides from and to the airport.
Where to Stay: The storied King George in Syntagma Square completed a top-to-bottom luxury makeover in June 2013. Standard (classic) rooms face an interior courtyard. For Acropolis and city views, request an upgrade to an Acropolis deluxe room. The “Catch the Sun in Athens” rate (from $285) available through November includes a daily breakfast buffet with city panoramas at the seventh floor Tudor Restaurant. Arrive by 8 a.m. to snag a table on the outdoor terrace.
What to Eat: Greek-American chef Ari Vezene’s namesake restaurant typically is packed by 9:30 p.m., so reserve a table in the sleek, wood-paneled dining room for an early (by local standards) 7 or 8 p.m. dinner. Pair anything from the brick oven—fresh baked grouper, open-faced lamb pie—with truffle fries, and bring at least three friends to split (with the accompanying large knife) Ari’s Deal Closer, a decadent dessert tower built with ice cream, chocolate, butterscotch, and macadamia nuts.
What to Read Before You Go: National Geographic Traveler: Athens & the Islands, by Joanna Kakissis (National Geographic, 2011)
Fun Fact: The marathon was inspired by the legend of the Greek messenger, Pheidippides, yet his run in 490 B.C. from Marathon to Athens was only about 25 miles. The event reportedly was extended to its current 26.2 miles for the 1908 London Olympics so that runners would finish in front of the Royal Box.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Photograph by David Muench, Corbis
2013 Best Fall Trip #10
The remote reaches of West Texas desert country seem an unlikely spot for fall foliage. Yet hidden deep within the rugged Guadalupe Mountains are spectacular leaf-peeping trails less traveled: steep and secluded woodland canyons thick with the brilliant reds and yellows of Bigtooth maple, walnut, oak, and velvet ash trees.
When to Go: Fall colors typically peak between mid-October and early November. For up-to-date foliage information, call the Pine Springs Visitor Center, 915-828-3251, or visit the park’s Facebook page.
How to Get Around: The park is located in far West Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. The closest cities are Carlsbad, New Mexico (56 miles northeast), and El Paso, Texas (110 miles west). There are no driving tours in the park; however, there are roads providing access to trailheads. The McKittrick Canyon, Devil’s Hall, Smith Spring, and Dog Canyon trails are best bets for fall foliage.
Need to Know: No food or water services are available in the park, and the closest gas stations, stores, and restaurants are more than 30 miles away. Pack and plan accordingly.
Where to Stay: RV and tent camping are the only in-park options. Budget motels are available 35 miles northeast in White’s City, New Mexico, gateway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. For more luxurious digs, drive another 21 miles to Carlsbad and the nine-suite Trinity Hotel, a restored 1892 bank building (the original vault is now room 206) turned boutique inn.
Where to Eat or Drink: Chef Luis’s Besito Caliente appetizer (goat cheese with blackberry chipotle glaze) is such a favorite at the Trinity’s restaurant that regulars order the crunchy-sweet-spicy platter for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another specialty of the house—homemade tiramisu—is only available at dinner, and once the 16 x 16 pan of the creamy concoction is empty, you’re out of luck. Closed Sundays.
What to Read Before You Go: Guadalupe Mountains National Park Illustrated Map (National Geographic Maps: Trails Illustrated, 2007) and Hiking Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks, by Bill Schneider (FalconGuides, 2005)
Fun Fact: About 2,000 acres of the park are covered by the bright-white Salt Basin Dunes. Ranging from three to sixty feet high, the dunes are open for day use but entry requires checking out a gate key from the visitor center.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
Photograph by Adam Jones/Corbis
2013 Best Fall Trip #9
Celebrate late fall’s simple pleasures on western North Carolina’s mellow mountain “front porch.” Feast on Sweet Monkey Bakery’s homemade pumpkin pancakes at the Black Mountain Tailgate Market, hike or bike the Point Lookout Trail through Pisgah National Forest, then settle in for live bluegrass or jazz at the White Horse Black Mountain.
How to Get Around: Black Mountain is located about 15 miles east of Asheville via I-40. Take exit 64 and drive north a few blocks to the downtown and historic district.
Where to Stay: Arts and Crafts-style Arbor House Bed and Breakfast Inn combines close-to-town convenience with unobstructed lake and mountain views. The four-room inn overlooks Lake Tomahawk in a residential neighborhood within walking distance of shops and cafes. Stroll the half-mile path around the lake to see the seven ascending mountain peaks known locally as the Seven Sisters.
Where to Eat or Drink: “Cookie” (owner and chef Christopher Hadley) serves up local-fresh fare at The Morning Glory Café, located about a mile south of downtown in the Village of Cheshire. Try the FGT Bennie (fried green tomato eggs Benedict) for breakfast and the Goddess Panini (roasted vegetables, fresh spinach, goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, and basil pesto on rosemary focaccia) for lunch.
What to Buy: Browse Seven Sisters Gallery for southern-Appalachian-made pottery and jewelry. The smithies at Black Mountain Ironworks forge ideas into one-of-a-kind wrought iron sculptures, benches, and gates. And at Acoustic Corner, co-owner Tom Fellenbaum handcrafts lap dulcimers, Irish bouzoukis, and mandolins.
Fun Fact: Black Mountain’s arts and crafts tradition was inspired by decidedly untraditional Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 as a progressive educational community of free inquiry, creativity, and innovation. The college, whose illustrious faculty included Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, closed in 1957.
Staff Tip: Nearby Montreat's Lookout Trail is worth the mile-long, uphill hike and will present a captivating view of the Swannanoa Valley once you've reached the top. This area has a strong Cherokee influence, as the name Swannanoa suggests. It is Cherokee for "beautiful river." —Rebecca Davis, intern, Travel
Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Photograph by Louis De Carlo, Celtic Colours Festival
2013 Best Fall Trip #8
More full-sensory immersion than simple music festival, Celtic Colours invites visitors to experience Cape Breton’s Gaelic and Acadian cultures through dancing, fiddling, folk singing, parish hall suppers, and more. With 46 concerts and 200 community cultural events spread across the 3,981-square-mile island, there’s ample opportunity to see fall colors and meet the locals.
When to Go: October 11-19
How to Get Around: Festival venues are spread across rural areas, so you’ll need a car. Drive to Cape Breton from mainland Nova Scotia via the Canso Causeway, or take a car ferry from Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island. If flying, rental cars are available at Cape Breton’s JA Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport and Stanfield International Airport in Halifax.
Where to Stay: The centrally located village of Baddeck is a convenient home base for the festival and a good starting point for Cape Breton’s most scenic drive, the 185-mile Cabot Trail. At the family-owned Broadwater Inn overlooking Baddeck Bay, choose from bed-and-breakfast rooms in the 1830s manor house, separate suites, or private log cottages.
Where to Eat or Drink: Meet and eat with the locals at community meals like the Canadian Thanksgiving Day Turkey Dinner, October 14, in Arichat, and the Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner at the North Ingonish Fire Hall, October 17. Some meals include live music and most are $15 or less.
What to Buy: Shop for traditional and original patterned bed quilts and other handmade textiles at the Celtic Quilt Guild Annual Show & Sale, Thursday, October 17, in Belle Cote.
What to Listen to Before You Go: The Celtic Colours Collection, a compilation of tunes and songs celebrating the first 15 years of the festival, edited by Paul Cranford and the Celtic Colours International Festival (Cranford Publications)
Fun Fact: Cape Breton’s beloved cèilidh, or kitchen party, tradition has helped preserve Nova Scotia's distinctive Gaelic music, language, and culture. No formal training or concert venues are required, just neighbors and friends gathering in the kitchen to sing, fiddle, swap stories, and dance.
Navaratri Festival, Mumbai, India
Photograph by Sam Panthaky, AFP/Getty Images
2013 Best Fall Trip #7
Add fall’s Hindu Navaratri Festival to Mumbai’s pulsating energy and the result is a nine-night, high-octane dance party. Clubs, stadiums, and other city concert venues host massive Bollywood-style spectacles blending traditional Bhangra, garba, and dandiya raas folk dancing with infectious disco dandiya, hip-hop, and Hindi pop.
When to Go: October; Navaratri Festival, October 5-14 (dates change annually)
How to Get Around: Take a prepaid taxi from the international terminal at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (BOM), located about 18 miles north of downtown Mumbai. Taxis and auto-rickshaws (restricted to certain areas) are the most convenient ways to navigate the city.
Where to Stay: The legendary Taj Mahal Palace has 560 ultraluxurious rooms in its original 1903 Palace hotel and a modern Tower wing added in 1973. For the ultimate royal treatment (including a personal butler), book a Palace room with panoramic views of the Arabian Sea and Gateway of India.
What to Eat or Drink: Mumbai’s culinary melting pot can be overwhelming. Focus on trying a few favorites like palak paneer (spinach and cheese) samosas at Soam near Babulnath Temple, and dal bukhara (creamy black-lentil stew) at upscale Peshawri. Every imaginable Gujarat and Rajasthan dish is available at Rajdhani, a vegetarian chain serving thali (large sampler platters) that has multiple Mumbai locations and features 72 rotating menus encompassing 22,464 items.
Cultural Tips: Multiple religious traditions are represented in Mumbai. Act and dress respectfully when visiting any sacred site or event. Temples and mosques may require men and women to wear head cover or to sit separately. Photography may be prohibited at holy sites or religious events. When in doubt, ask.
What to Read Before You Go: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (Random House, 2012)
Fun Fact: The length of the Navaratri Festival is in its name. In Sanskrit, nava is nine and ratri is night.
Great Wildebeest Migration Mara River Crossings, Serengeti National Park, Northern Tanzania
Photograph by Jim Richardson, National Geographic
2013 Best Fall Trip #6
The wildebeest's relentless semicircle-of-life tour—the largest migration of land animals on Earth—reaches its most famous and frenzied crossing in fall. Witnessing the swirling mass of a million-plus wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras as it oscillates back and forth across the crocodile-infested Mara River (where hungry predators lurk on each side) is the ultimate Serengeti experience.
When to Go: September-October (Seasonal conditions determine precisely when Mara River crossings will occur.)
How to Get Around: Small group safaris like National Geographic Expeditions Tanzania’s Great Migration and Nomad Tanzania’s Migration: Mara River and Northern Serengeti Plains handle all the transportation and lodging details. Itineraries typically include airport transfers from northern Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport, and flights/rides to multiple Serengeti wildlife viewing locations.
Where to Stay: When booking a group tour or custom safari, choose mobile tent camping in the bush for part or all of your Great Migration trip. The herd’s path dictates where full-service mobile camps like the exclusive Serengeti Under Canvas are erected, ensuring optimal wildlife viewing.
What to Eat or Drink: Give the ugali a try, and don’t ask for utensils. In northern Tanzania, this all-purpose, cornmeal staple is typically rolled into a ball and used to scoop up ndizi nyama (beef and plantain stew) or makande (maize and bean stew).
What to Buy: Before the flight home, shop the markets in Arusha for locally produced Tinga Tinga-style paintings (bright enamel colors, dot patterns) and beaded key rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets crafted by local Maasai craftspeople. Arusha is about 30 miles east of the airport, so chances are you’ll spend the day or evening here at trip’s end.
What to Watch Before You Go: Great Migrations three-DVD set narrated by Alec Baldwin (National Geographic, 2010)
Fun Fact: The Afrikaans name “wildebeest” doesn’t fit these goofy looking gnus. Pegged as wild due to shaggy manes and sharp horns, the mild-mannered antelope relatives are more likely to be lunch for a truly wild predator.
Staff Tip: Nothing quite prepares you for the surreal scene of acres of zebras and wildebeests on the move, drifting into the road, sometimes bedding down in twos and threes, and making your safari jeep journey a constant stop-and-go affair. Scope out the high grass and hulking skopjes (rock outcrops). This is where lionesses lurk, surveying potential prey. Wildebeests are the favored food here. But bringing down an adult is a challenge. Wildebeests can run up to 50 mph and their horns make them formidable adversaries. So particularly attractive are stragglers and the vulnerable young. But lionesses have problems getting close enough to strike, largely because zebras and wildebeests travel together. Wildebeests have exceptional hearing and sense of smell but weak eyes, our Maasai guide tells us. Zebras have superb eyesight and acute night vision. Together they are safer than apart. —Keith Bellows, editor in chief, Traveler magazine
Lord of Miracles Festival,
Photograph by Pilar Olivares, Reuters
2013 Best Fall Trip #5
When a copy of the sacred Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles) image is carried on an elaborate, two-ton litter from Lima’s historic Church of the Nazarene, tens of thousands of purple-clad faithful follow. Their 24-hour procession—accompanied by incense, drums, hymns, and throngs of spectators—launches ten days of devotion and, just maybe, a few miracles.
When to Go: Mid to late October; feast day processions are October 18, 19, and 28
How to Get Around: Jorge Chavez International Airport is about 8.5 miles northwest of central Lima (where the festival is centered) and 10.5 miles northwest of the major tourist hotels in Miraflores/San Isidro. Taxis are ubiquitous and the most convenient way to travel between districts. Lima’s fledgling mass transit system does include the Metropolitano tandem bus route connecting Miraflores/San Isidro to center city via a partitioned lane.
Where to Stay: The luxurious, 82-suite Miraflores Park Hotel is located in a parklike setting overlooking the Pacific and is within walking distance of Larcomar. This upscale shopping and entertainment complex (more than a hundred stores, 12 theaters, 17 restaurants) is tourist-heavy but worth a look, if only for the cliff-top ocean views.
What to Eat or Drink: Throughout Mes Morado (the Purple Month) Lima’s street vendors hawk traditional Peruvian foods like anticuchos (skewers of seasoned grilled beef, cow heart, or chicken) and ring-shaped picarones (pumpkin fritters). The festival’s signature treat is turrón de Doña Pepa, a melt-in-your-mouth layered pastry that’s sticky-sweet and topped with colorful candy sprinkles. It’s available prepackaged but best bought fresh (with extra napkins) from a local bakery like Pastelería San Martin.
What to Read Before You Go: The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, by Orin Starn, Ivan Degregori, and Robin Kirk (Duke University Press, 2005), and National Geographic Traveler: Peru (National Geographic, 2009)
Fun Fact: The Lord of Miracles is the image of a crucified Christ painted by an Angolan slave in the 1600s. The original wall mural—attributed miraculous power when it survived multiple earthquakes—is enshrined in Lima’s Church of the Nazarene.
Recreational Scallop Season,
Photograph by Fausto Giaccone, Anzenberger/Redux
2013 Best Fall Trip #4
Push rakes and floating baskets in hand, families wade into Nantucket’s shallows each October in search of sweet, succulent bay scallops. Recreational scalloping opens a month before the commercial season on this enchanting Cape Cod island, inspiring locals and landlubbers to claim an early share of the harvest.
When to Go: October; Recreational scallop season, October 1-March 31 (Wednesday-Sunday only); Nantucket Arts Festival, October 4-13; Nantucket Restaurant Week, September 30-October 6; Birding Festival, October 17-20
Where to Eat or Drink: Start the day with blueberry pancakes at The Downyflake. The mid-island breakfast-and-lunch mainstay is a family favorite since everything (except one humungous hamburger with cheese) is under $10. Cash only. For more upscale, farm-to-table fare, reserve one of the 60 coveted spots at Bartlett’s Farm's. First Friday dinner, October 4.
Where to Stay: Rent a cottage with a kitchen to prepare any scallops you harvest. At the Cottages and Lofts at the Boat Basin, kids can fish from the wharves using guest rods, reels, and nets. The family dog is welcome in designated Woof Cottages (doggie turndown service included).
How to Get Around: Nantucket is about an hour south of Hyannis via Hy-Line or Steamship Authority passenger-only, high-speed ferry. The island is only 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, so there are plenty of options for getting around once you disembark. Walking, renting a bike from Young’s Bicycle Shop, and riding the fixed-route WAVE shuttle bus (through October 14) are the best ways to reach most any on-island destination. Taxis are also available.
Need to Know: Recreational scalloping season is October 1-March 31 (Wednesday-Sunday only). Purchase the required nonresident shellfish permit and button ($50 for up to seven days, $100 per season) in person at the Public Safety Facility.
What to Read Before You Go: Nantucket: A Natural History by Peter Brace (Mill Hill Press, 2012)
What to Watch Before You Go: Nantucket: A Film by Ric Burns (Nantucket Historical Association, 2011)
Fun Fact: Each bay scallop has dozens of tiny blue eyes lining the outer edge of its fan-shaped shell. When the eyes detect nearby motion or danger, the scallop can swim away by clapping its shell open and closed.
Staff Tip: For one week each fall and spring island restaurants offer a three-course dinner for $25-45 during Restaurant Week (September 30-October 6, 2013). You can't go wrong with the farm-to-table cuisine and local seafood served at the Boarding House, American Seasons, and the Company of the Cauldron, with its cozy, candlelit dining room. —Susan O’Keefe, associate editor, Traveler magazine
Celebrate the Grape Harvest,
Alto Douro Region, Portugal
Photograph by Miquel Gonzalez, laif/Redux
2013 Best Fall Trip #3
For nearly 2,000 years, wine has been produced in northern Portugal’s steeply terraced Alto Douro region, a World Heritage site and the birthplace of port wine. Get knee-deep in the region’s traditional port vinification process by joining a jubilant grape-crushing session at a historic quinta, or estate.
When to Go: September-October
How to Get Around: Small group tour operators like A2Z Adventures and Douro vou offer single- and multiday Douro Valley itineraries from Porto Antigo (about two hours west) combining boat cruises or scenic rail trips with vineyard tours, tastings, hiking, biking, “winecaching,” or grape harvesting. If going solo, make at least one leg of the trip a Douro River cruise for the most dramatic views of the valley’s terraced vineyards.
Where to Eat or Drink: Tasting port is a given, but don’t bypass the region’s emerging table wines from the Douro Boys, a group of five quintas (Quinta do Vallado, Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale D. Maria and Quinta do Vale Meấo) celebrating its tenth anniversary in September. Most of the welcome visitors to their estates for tastings, full meals, or picnic lunches (idyllic vineyard picnic spot included).
Where to Stay: Casa de Casal de Loivos sits on a hilltop and reveals one of the most breathtaking views overlooking the Douro River Valley. Stay in one of six river-view rooms that open out to a grand terrace, perfect for soaking in the picturesque landscape. The historic mansion is furnished with family heirlooms from the Pereira de Sampayo family, which has owned the manor for nearly 300 years. Lavish meals are served in a large dining room, and the attentive, friendly staff provides insider tips for vineyard tours and tastings in the region. After a day exploring the valley, return to the manor and wander through the residential gardens, lounge poolside, and order a bottle of wine from the family’s vineyard to watch the sunset.
Cultural Tip: An increasing number of Alto Douro quintas are actively promoting wine tourism, but others are not open to the public or don’t host harvest activities. Before visiting, check each estate’s website for specifics.
What to Read Before You Go: Port and the Douro by port wine expert Richard Mayson (Infinite Ideas, 2013)
What to Watch Before You Go: The Strange Case of Angelica (2010), directed by Porto native Manoel de Oliveira and filmed on location in the Douro Valley
Fun Fact: To regulate the Douro Valley’s most profitable export, the Marquis de Pombal positioned 335 large granite pillars (known ever since as pombals) around the original zone officially permitted to produce port. The markers were inscribed with the word feitoria (factory) plus the date (either 1758 or 1761) on which they were placed.
Staff Tip: The Douro Valley’s unique landscape is best seen by car. Travelers can take in the spectacular views from hilltops and down along the river valley when driving through pretty towns to a variety of quintas for small wine tastings and vineyard tours. Caution: The roads in the Douro Valley are narrow and winding. There aren’t many guardrails or lights through the steep region so be extra cautious when driving at night. —Andrea Leitch, associate producer, Travel Digital
Lincoln Highway-Fall Foliage Road Trip,
Fort Wayne to Dyer, Indiana
Photograph by Todd Zeiger, Indiana Landmarks
2013 Best Fall Trip #2
Hoosier Carl G. Fisher was one of the people who spearheaded construction of the original 3,389-mile Lincoln Highway in 1913, making the Indiana portions of America’s first coast-to-coast highway ideal for a centennial celebration-fall foliage road trip. Pull off along the way at the Johnny Appleseed Festival, September 21-22; Wanatah Scarecrow Festival, September 27-29; and Westville Pumpkin Festival, October 4-6.
When to Go: September-October
How to Get Around: There are two distinct Lincoln Highway routes in northern Indiana. To retrace the original 1913 sections, start in Fort Wayne and head northwest on U.S. Route 33 following "Indiana's Lincoln Highway Byway: A Turn-by-Turn Road Guide for the 1913 Route."
Where to Eat: Teibel’s Family Restaurant at the intersection of U.S. 30 and Highway 41 in Schererville has been a Lincoln Highway lunch and dinner favorite since 1929. Seven days a week, Stephen and Paul Teibel serve up hearty, homemade staples like Grandma Teibel’s fried chicken, buttered lake perch, and broccoli chicken casserole.
Where to Stay: Built 37 years before the Lincoln Highway (and with 96,650 bricks) the stately Kimmell House Inn on U.S. 33/Lincolnway S in Kimmell has three romantic guest rooms in the main house and a standalone cottage that once served as the estate's summer kitchen. Trails lead through the inn’s six wooded acres (an additional six are mowed), where by late September the leaves of the hundred-year-old sugar maples typically glow brilliant orange-red.
What to Read Before You Go: Greetings from the Lincoln Highway: A Road Trip Celebration of America’s First Coast-to-Coast Highway, Centennial Edition, by Brian Butko (Stackpole Boos, 2013)
What to Watch Before You Go: A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway, a PBS documentary by film director and narrator Rick Sebak
Fun Fact: At 1 p.m. on September 1, 1928, groups of Boy Scouts simultaneously positioned 2,450 directional markers at intervals along the Lincoln Highway. Only 15 markers remain in Indiana, including one displayed outside the New Haven City Hall.
Western Balkans Beach Vacation, Albanian Riviera
Photograph by Pavan Aldo, SIME
2013 Best Fall Trip #1
Albania’s southwestern Ionian coast is a short ferry hop from Corfu, Greece, yet remains relatively undiscovered and affordable. Summer traffic is increasing along the sun-bleached Albanian Riviera, but—for the moment at least—the warm turquoise waters, rocky coves, and pebble-and-sand beaches are blissfully empty in early fall.
When to Go: September-October
How to Get Around: From Corfu, Greece, it’s a 30-minute Ionian Cruises hydrofoil ride to Sarandë, southwestern Albania’s gateway port. Book a rental car in advance and drive just south of Sarandë to the ancient city of Butrint. Then head north along the winding SH8 expressway (reconstructed in 2009) to visit beaches and traditional Mediterranean villages like Lukovë, Piqeras, Himarë, Borsh, and Dhërmi.
Where to Eat or Drink: Follow the locals to family-owned tavernas, where menus typically feature spit-roasted lamb or the day’s fresh catch drizzled with local olive oil. For dramatic Straits of Corfu sunset views, join the tourists (and sip a glass of potent Albanian raki) in the hills above Sarandë at the Lëkursi Castle restaurant.
Where to Stay: Hotel websites and English-speaking hotel staff aren’t common, so making advance reservations can be a challenge. Online booking is available at modern hotels like the 50-room Rapo’s Resort near Himarë. For more authentic, locally owned lodging, look for signs reading dhoma plazhi (rooms for rent) outside smaller hotels and village guesthouses.
Cultural Tip: After spending the bulk of the 20th century in isolation thanks to its Stalinist dictator, Albania is eager to welcome the world. Tourism is still a new concept here, however, so patience, an adventurous spirit (particularly when driving), and an Albanian phrase book are essential.
What to Read Before You Go: Albania: An Archaeological Guide, by Oliver Gilkes (I. B. Tauris, 2012)
Fun Fact: Former Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha died in 1985, but most of the estimated 750,000 igloo-shaped, concrete bunkers he had built throughout Albania remain. Though the foreign invasion Hoxha feared never materialized, the bunkers (including several near Ionian beaches) have become popular photo op stops for foreign visitors.
Staff Tip: If you have any hesitancy about visiting Albania, I suggest hiring a local group to show you around. One of the best is Auron Tare Expeditions. The staff will work with you to provide whatever you want in a tour: diving, horseback riding, following the path of Lord Byron, exploring the history of Jews during World War II (there were more Jews in this Nazi-dominated country at the end of the war than before it started), or anything else of interest. —Caroline Hickey, project manager, Travel books
Lake Skadar, Montenegro
Photograph by Wild Wonders of Europe/Radisic/National Geographic
2013 Best Summer Trip #15
Skadar is the biggest lake in the Balkans at 150 square miles and, perhaps, its best kept secret destination. Ringed by medieval villages and hillside vineyards, the Montenegro portion (a third of the lake is in Albania) is a national park that's home to nearly 280 bird species (including the massive Dalmatian pelican), island monasteries and fortresses, icy waterfalls, and wild rivers.
When to Go: July-September
How to Get Around: Lake Skadar is an easy drive from the international airports at Podgorica (less than 30 minutes) and Tivat (less than 90 minutes). Public transportation is available to the main lake town, Virpazar, but not around the lake, so rent a car or join a small group tour. Responsible Travel and Undiscovered Montenegro offer itineraries that include kayaking, hiking, birding, boating, and monastery and wine tasting tours. For hikes and other activities at Lake Skadar National Park, start at the Skadar Lake Visitor Center.
Where to Stay: Captivated by the Lake Skadar Valley's unspoiled wilderness, British expats and outdoor sports enthusiasts Ben and Emma Heywood restored a stone, hillside villa in 2008 to share their discovery with adventurous guests. The couple's luxurious, four-room Villa Miela overlooks the lake within the national park. Book day trips (kayaking, wine tasting, hiking) with English-speaking guides through the Heywoods' Lake Skadar Travel & Tours. Return to the villa before sunset to soak in the plunge pool or lounge on the outdoor terrace.
Where to Eat or Drink: Located lakeside, Konoba Badanj offers traditional dishes (smoked and marinated carp and eel, šopska salad, grilled meats and vegetables) in one of Virpazar's old stone buildings. Ask the English-speaking servers for daily menu recommendations. The neighboring Silistria Boat Restaurant—built to resemble an Ottoman boat—is worth a visit for its fish platter and deck views.
Cultural Tip: Since English is rarely spoken outside of restaurants in Virpazar and Rijeka Crnojevića, learn a few words of Montenegrin in advance. Locals are extremely friendly to all, but they extend an extra-warm welcome to those who attempt a phrase or two. (You'll likely be rewarded with smiles and, maybe, an invitation to raise a potent glass of rakija.) Also, dress respectfully (long pants for men, covered knees and shoulders for women) outside beach areas, particularly when visiting monasteries or ethnic Muslim villages along the lake's Albanian shores.
What to Buy: Visit Virpazar's Friday morning farmers and fishermens market to shop for Crmnica Vranac (red wine); organic honey; local produce and cheeses; and wild figs, plums, walnuts, and pomegranates.
Fun Fact: Of the many small islands in Lake Skadar, the most intriguing is Grmozur. The site of a prison built by Nikola I (Montenegro's only king, who reigned until 1918), the island is now a protected haven for reptiles and birds—and off limits to human visitors. Legend has it that to prevent escapes, only prisoners (and guards) who couldn't swim were sent to the "Alcatraz of Montenegro."
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Photograph by David Nunuk, Getty Images
2013 Best Summer Trip #14
Experience the quiet charms of Canada’s “million-acre farm” before next year, when a yearlong celebration called PEI 2014 will recognize Prince Edward Island’s role in the birth of the nation. Walk the coastal trails at Prince Edward Island National Park, dig for clams, and pedal past tidy villages and potato farms on the island-spanning Confederation Trail.
When to Go: June-September, the Charlottetown Festival's musical theater performances, including Anne of Green Gables–The Musical; July-August, beaches; July-September, Prince Edward Island National Park interpretive activities (campfire and geocaching programs, guided trail walks)
How to Get Around: Follow the locals’ lead and “go for a drive.” Take the eight-mile bridge to PEI from Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick, or the Northumberland Car Ferry from Caribou, Nova Scotia, or rent a car in Charlottetown, the island’s capital. Tourism PEI’s three clearly marked scenic routes—North Cape Coastal Drive, Central Coastal Drive, and Points East Coastal Drive—make it easy to drive PEI “tip-to-tip.”
Where to Stay: Stay in Bedeque at the five-room Briarcliffe Inn, where potato fields, secluded Salutation Cove, and a few private cottages are your only neighbors. Innkeepers Bill and Mary Kendrick also run Experience PEI. Ask them to arrange hands-on activities (woodworking, sand castle sculpting, oyster shucking) led by native islanders.
Where to Eat: Gather fresh ingredients (shellfish, produce, honey, bread) with PEI fishermen, organic farmers, and artisan food producers, then create your own made-from-scratch meal under the direction of local chef Ross Munro. This Surf & Turf experience is one of seven Munro has created for his Prince Edward Island Culinary Adventures (most available June 15-September). If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the menu, ask Munro to create a custom adventure.
What to Read Before You Go: The Anne of Green Gables series of books by L.M. Montgomery
What to Watch Before You Go: Anne of Green Gables (1986) and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987), Canadian television productions filmed on location in PEI
Fun Fact: Eleven of the red clay lanes L.M. Montgomery described in her beloved 1908 literary classic Anne of Green Gables are designated as Scenic Heritage Roads. Many adjacent property owners voluntarily support the effort by protecting the hedgerow or woodland “buffer zone” over and along the bucolic lanes.
Ring Road (Highway 1), Iceland
Photograph by Jan Michael Hosan, LUZphoto/Redux
2013 Best Summer Trip #13
Midsummer brings near round-the-clock daylight to Europe’s westernmost country and its drive-of-a-lifetime loop. Rounding each bend on the 830-mile Ring Road reveals another of Iceland’s fire-and-ice wonders—glacier-fed waterfalls, black-sand beaches, knife-cut valleys, lunar-esque lava fields, boiling mud pots, and seabird cliffs. Keep your eyes on the road, and pull off frequently to rest, hike, and enjoy the view.
When to Go: Mid-June to September
How to Get Around: Renting a car or SUV gives you the freedom to detour off the highway. Ring Road is (mostly) paved, but side roads are often narrow and gravel, and mountain “F-roads” can be little more than mud tracks. Always proceed with caution and plan ahead. Check current road conditions and driver safety information at Safetravel Iceland, or consider a self-drive or guided tour with a local Iceland travel expert like Nordic Visitor or Iceland Travel.
Where to Stay: Zen-like Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, making it a convenient place to start or end your Icelandic adventure. From the 15-room oasis, it’s a short (but possibly foggy and wet) walk through the surrounding lava fields to the healing, geothermal waters of the world-famous Blue Lagoon. Room rates include complimentary Blue Lagoon passes. Hotel guests also have early morning and evening access to the Clinic’s private therapy lagoon.
Where to Eat: Humarsúp (lobster soup) is the specialty of the house at Sægreiffin, or the Sea Baron, named for its owner Kjartan Halldórsson. Located in a nondescript fisherman’s hut in Reykjavik's old harbor, the lunch-through-late-night (open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. through August 31) restaurant is a tourist favorite—but don’t let that dissuade you. From the barrel seating to the smoked eel odor, the Sea Baron is funky, fun, and straight-from-the-ocean fresh.
What to Buy: Visit one of the three Handknitting Association of Iceland Reykjavik locations to purchase Icelandic wool sweaters (including lighter summer weights), blankets, and mittens made by local artisans. For licorice candy (and anything else you could possibly need) walk or take the Tourist Information Centre's free shuttle bus to the sprawling Kringlan Shopping Centre.
Helpful Links: Visit Iceland
What to Read Before You Go: Iceland: Land of the Sagas by Jon Krakauer and David Roberts (1998)
Fun Fact: Iceland has more than 170 geothermal pools and a public swimming pool in every village and town, making it possible to swim or soak your way through the country no matter what the season. Since warm water (with temperatures ranging from 80 to 107°F) is everywhere here, children are required to learn to swim. Lessons are part of the school curriculum, and swimming proficiency is required to graduate.
Ski Portillo, Chile
Photograph by Christian Aslund, Lonely Planet/Getty Images
2013 Best Summer Trip #12
Located in eastern Chile on the shores of the sacred Lake of the Incas, Ski Portillo is a bit of a throwback. There's no glitz or wild après-ski scene at South America’s oldest ski resort, just pure powder, dazzling white Andean peaks, and no lines at 14 lifts thanks to limited ticket availability for day-trippers.
When to Go: Ski and snowboard season 2013 is June 22-October 5.
Where to Stay: Perched slope-side, canary yellow Hotel Portillo is the only option, promoting an esprit de corps among guests and the attentive staff. Weekly, all-inclusive rates at the iconic hotel cover lift tickets, recreation (heated outdoor pool, climbing wall, fitness facility), and four meals daily, including 5 p.m. onces (teatime).
How to Get Around: Located near the Argentine border, Portillo is a two-hour drive northeast of Santiago. Rental cars, airport and hotel transfers, and a Saturday shuttle service from the city are available for resort guests and day skiers. One-day lift tickets are limited, so staying at the resort is the best way to guarantee maximum slope time.
Where to Eat or Drink: Red-jacket wait staff warmly greet resort guests by name as they return to assigned tables for breakfast and dinner (8:30 or 9:30 p.m. seating) in the main, leather-paneled dining room. Lunch is more laid-back at outdoor Tio Bob’s, where barbecued fish, wine, and Andes views are served slope-side near the Plateau Lift. From 1 to 3 p.m., nonskiers can ride up (and back) to meet their skiing companions around the restaurant’s sun-drenched wooden tables.
Travel Tip: The Hotel Portillo is located 9,450 feet above sea level, making high-altitude sickness a possibility. Symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, and extreme fatigue. Allow at least a day to help the body adjust to the altitude safely before hitting the slopes, and drink water throughout each day to stay hydrated.
Helpful links: Ski Portillo
Fun Fact: Portillo’s Va et Vient (come and go) lifts work basically like giant slingshots, propelling five skiers at a time up the mountain. Since the pulley system was designed specifically to provide access to steep avalanche-chute runs, only experts are encouraged to make the somewhat daunting, yet completely safe, trip.
Lake Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand
Photograph by Miles Holden
2013 Best Summer Trip #11
The top ski town in the Southern Alps combines spectacular Lord of the Rings-style alpine scenery and world-class runs at four mountain resorts at Lake Wanaka and two more within an hour’s drive. Buy a OnePassNZ to ski and snowboard at eight South Island locations, or skip the lines and lifts completely by heli-skiing through the deep, dry powder of a virgin snowfield.
How to Get Around: Bus and door-to-door shuttles to ski areas are available from Wanaka, Queenstown, Wanaka Airport, and many local hotels. Book in advance. If you rent a car, make sure the snow chains required in winter are included.
Where to Stay: Stay slopeside in a ski-in, ski-out self-catering apartment or lodge at Snow Park, Snow Farm (cross-country only), or Cardrona Alpine Resort. Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet on Lake Wanaka offers the ultimate Kiwi ski accommodations. Lift off from the front lawn of the lodge for a morning heli-ski run down the slopes of Dragonfly Peak, stopping for a gourmet lunch in the chalet.
Where to Eat or Drink: Wanaka’s whimsical Cinema Paradiso welcomes snow enthusiasts to its new, larger location this ski season (the famous movie house and café relocated to a former Catholic Church in December 2012). Loyal customers will be relieved to see that the Paradiso’s well-worn couches, quirky airplane seats, and yellow Morris Minor car also made the move. Split a preshow pizza in the café (meals aren’t served in the theater), buy a warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie at intermission, and extend the evening back in the café with a glass a local Pinot Noir.
Helpful Links: Lake Wanaka Tourism
Fun Fact: Strike up a conversation with a local shop or innkeeper and you’ll likely meet someone who was or knows a goblin, troll, or crew member from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings movies. With several filming locations in and around nearby Mount Aspiring National Park, many of Lake Wanaka’s year-round residents worked in front of the camera or behind the scenes on the productions.
Swim With Dwarf Minke Whales,
Northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
Photograph by Mark Carwardine, Getty Images
2013 Best Summer Trip #10
Precisely why playful dwarf minke whales return to the same Great Barrier Reef locations each austral winter remains a mystery to researchers. Whatever the reasons, the annual arrival of these curious cetaceans off Queensland’s northeastern coast offers the rare opportunity to safely swim with whales in the wild.
When to Go: Mid-June to late July
How to Get Around: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority issues a limited number of "swim with dwarf minke whales" permits to reef tourism operators like Mike Ball Dive Expeditions and Spirit of Freedom. To ensure the best odds of encountering the whales, book a diving and snorkeling tour that lasts three, four, or seven-nights. Single-day tours typically include transfers from Cairns or Port Douglas, onboard breakfast and lunch, and guided snorkel encounters with whales.
Where to Eat or Drink: Start with Australian antipasto (crocodile wonton, emu carpaccio) at inventive Ochre Restaurant in Cairns. For the main course, choose from seasonally fresh options like salt and native pepper crocodile, tempura bay bugs, and wattleseed pavlova. Reservations required.
Where to Stay: Exclusive, 40-suite Lizard Island Resort’s Great Barrier Reef location makes it possible to swim with whales by day and sleep in luxurious lodging at night. Rates include gourmet meals and picnic lunches, guided glass-bottom boat tours, and private access to 24 secluded beaches. Choose a scenic transfer by air from Cairns Airport for an exhilarating, low-level flight over the Great Barrier Reef.
What to Read Before You Go: Beautiful Whale by photographer and conservationist Bryant Austin (Abrams, 2013)
What to Watch Before You Go: Great Barrier Reef BBC special hosted by marine biologist Monty Halls
Fun Fact: Don’t let the name fool you. Although the dwarf minke whales found in the Southern Hemisphere are much smaller than northern, or common, minke whales, adult females can be about 26 feet long and weigh up to 14,000 pounds.
Staff Tip: While in Cairns to transfer to a boat or resort, visit one of the many quirky coffee shops serving fantastic espressos. I recommend artsy Caffiend for breakfast or Macaron Café for its colorful selection of delicious macaroons. —Carolyn Fox, Manager, Digital Content Travel
Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Wisconsin
Photograph by Sally Younger
2013 Best Summer Trip #9
Tracing what’s generally accepted as the edge of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered much of northern North America 15,000 years ago, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a nearly 1,200-mile walking path through time. Meandering west across Wisconsin from Potawatomi State Park on Green Bay to Interstate State Park on the Minnesota border, the trail threads through forests and prairies, along rounded eskers (gravel ridges) and steep-sided gorges, and past kettle lakes and farms. Start in downtown Sturgeon Bay for a 15-mile shore-to-shore hike south to Lake Michigan at Algoma.
When to Go: June 13-16, Steel Bridge Songfest, Sturgeon Bay; July 18-21, Wannigan Days, St. Croix Falls, street dance, live music, fireworks; August 9-11, Shanty Days, Algoma, Lake Michigan family festival, parade, fireworks
How to Get Around: The trail is marked by yellow blazes and crosses public and private land. Review the National Park Service map and segment descriptions to plan an itinerary based on what you want to see (bluffs, gorges, eskers, kettle ponds, bogs, prairies, forests) and do (hiking, climbing, biking, birding). To learn more about the area’s glacial history and geology, visit one of the trail’s Ice Age National Scientific Reserve Educational and Interpretive Centers (Interstate State Park, Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area, and the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest).
Where to Stay: For day hikes from downtown Sturgeon Bay, bunk at the retro-cool Holiday Music Motel. Jackson Browne is a member of the songwriter-performer ownership team that renovated Door County’s first motel (the 1952 neon sign is original), located near the historic Michigan Street Bridge. The 18-room motel serves as songwriting hub for the annual Steel Bridge Songfest (all rooms are booked for songwriters during the event), a celebration of artistic expression and historic preservation that's billed as the “largest Americana songwriter showcase in the Midwest.”
Where to Eat or Drink: Before heading out to hike anywhere near Chippewa Falls, stop in for lemon blueberry scones made from scratch and a steaming cup of Scandinavian brew at the 4:30 AM Coffee House. The name refers to when the baking starts. Doors open at 6 a.m. weekdays, 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Ice Age Trail Companion Guide, by the Ice Age Trail Alliance (2011)
Fun Fact: The Ice Age National Scenic Trail’s U-shaped route encompasses the entire length of the end moraines scooped up, pushed forward, and, ultimately, deposited by North America’s last ice sheet. As the name suggests, an end moraine forms at the very end of a glacier as a large clump of rocks, soil, and sediment. The information found in this debris pile helps scientists discover important details about the glacier and how it moved.
Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic
2013 Best Summer Trip #8
Bled is a fairy tale brought to life—cliff-top stone castle, snowcapped Julian Alps, and the “floating” Church of the Assumption (built on Slovenia’s only natural island) with its legendary “wishing bell.” On Saturday afternoons and evenings, cheer on the bridal parties gliding across glacial Lake Bled to the church in handcrafted, wooden pletnas, or flat-bottomed boats.
When to go: July-August; July 26-28, the Bled Days traditional festival includes thousands of floating candles on the lake and fireworks.
How to get around: From Ljubljana International Airport, it’s a 24-mile ride to Bled via private shuttle bus (reservation required), rental car, or taxi. There’s no direct public transportation from the airport to Bled, but once in town, it’s easy to hop a train or bus to the capital, Ljubljana, and other destinations throughout Slovenia. In Bled, most sites are within walking, pedaling, or rowing distance. Well-marked trails lead around the lake, into the surrounding hills, and up to Bled Castle. Travel to and from the island is by pletnas (each seating about 20) propelled by a single, standing oarsman. No motorized watercraft is allowed on the lake. Bike and rowboat rentals, and traditional horse-drawn carriage rides, are available from seasonal concessionaires.
Where to stay: A favorite with diplomats and dignitaries since the 1920s, the stately, 87-room Grand Hotel Toplice is the grande dame of Lake Bled lodging. Guest perks include a private beach (with diving boards into the lake), multilingual staff, and complimentary breakfast buffet. Pay extra for one of the 33 luxury suites with balcony views of the island, castle, and lake.
What to eat or drink: More cream than cake (a layer of vanilla custard and a layer of whipped sweet cream between two thin, flaky pastry crusts), Bled kremna rezina (cream cake) is the resort’s trademark treat. Šmon Pastry Shop located near the Hotel Jelovica serves up light, albeit crumbly, squares of the ubiquitous powdered-sugar-topped sweet.
What to buy: Visit the weekend Arts and Crafts Fair (late April-September) at Bled’s Zdraviliški (Spa) Park to buy traditional Slovenian wooden bowls and plates, and handcrafted leather items (belts, wallets, jewelry).
Fun Fact: It’s a 99-step hike up from the Bled Island dock to the Church of the Assumption. Several Slovene legends and traditions are related to the steps, the island, and the church. One says that a wish is granted to anyone who makes the climb and rings the “wishing bell.” Another promises a long marriage to any groom who carries his bride all the way to the top.
Photograph by Tom Uhlenberg, Alamy
2013 Best Summer Trip #7
Wander serpentine Old Town streets, tour the shipyards where Poland’s Solidarity movement was born, and visit St. Mary’s—an enormous brick church said to be the largest of its kind—to soak in the thousand-year history of this port on the Baltic Sea. Hit the beach northwest of Gdańsk in tony Sopot, summer playground for glitterati and royals. Here you can stroll along the Molo, Europe's longest wooden pier at 1,690 feet.
When to Go: July 4-7, the Baltic Sail Gdańsk international maritime festival including regattas, tall ships, concerts, films, and the grand finale Parade of Sail along the Motława River.
Where to Stay: Built in 1728 by native son stonemason Krzysztof Strzycki, ten-room Podewils Hotel on Granary Island exudes Old World charm. Rates include buffet breakfast, parking, and use of a sauna. Book a deluxe room for the marina, Old Town, and river views.
How to Get Around: Public transportation (SKM trains, buses, and trams) and seasonal ferries put beaches and must-see sights (Old Town Hall, Gdańsk crane, the old port, St. Mary's) within walking distance. Visit any Certified Tourist Information Centre (there’s one in Lech Walesa Airport) for maps and to buy a Gdańsk-Sopot-Gdynia-Plus Tourist Card providing single- or multiday public transportation access, discounts at more than 240 locations, and free museum entry.
Where to Eat or Drink: Spend the day at the Polish Maritime Museum (Muzeum Morskie), then head up to the fourth floor of the museum’s Maritime Culture Centre for lunch or dinner at Cała Naprzód. The airy, modern, glass-roof café serves up Polish dishes (potato pancakes with sweet peas, cabbage rolls, Kashubian herring), light snacks and salads, local Goldwasser vodka, and, from the outdoor terrace tables, some of the best city views over the Motława River.
What to Buy: Before shopping for local amber along Mariacka, the cobblestone, pedestrian-only lane lined with jewelry shops, visit the city’s Amber Museum (closed Mondays). It’s worth the price of admission to learn how to distinguish the real deal (fossilized resin from ancient Baltic forests) from the counterfeit amber sometimes peddled to trusting tourists.
Helpful Links: Poland’s Official Travel Website
Fun Fact: The history of the city's iconic Żuraw—a massive port crane multitasking as a ship loader, city gate, and mast lifter—dates back to at least the 14th century. All that hoisting was accomplished by a medieval hamster-wheel mechanism powered by several port workers. Their collective steps on two wooden wheels drove an axle-rope system that could lift more than 8,000 pounds.
Appalachian Trail Weekend,
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Photograph by Walter Bibikow, Getty Images
2013 Best Summer Trip #6
The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) runs through historic Harpers Ferry, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet in what Thomas Jefferson described as "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.” Start or end an A.T. day hike here, and be back in time for supper and a soak at a quaint B&B.
When to Go: June-August; June 22 for an all-day event, The Birth of a State: 150th Anniversary of the State of West Virginia
Where to Stay: Four-room Laurel Lodge is a restored, Craftsman-style stone bungalow a block away from the A.T. Visitor Center and less than a mile from the Amtrak station (daily train service to and from Washington, D.C.). The Cedar View Room has rocking chair views of the Potomac River gorge.
How to Get Around: Start at the A.T. Visitor Center to plan your hike and purchase trail maps. The moderate Camp Hill-Virginius Island-Hall’s Island loop blends scenic views and historical wayside exhibits in a two- to three-mile route. Start at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Visitor Center and climb the 62 stone steps up to see the river valley from Jefferson’s vantage point—Jefferson Rock.
Where to Eat or Drink: The Canal House Café’s locally fresh fare (salmon cakes, country ham sandwiches) changes daily, but ice cream from a nearby creamery is always in season. Casual, comfortable vibe in the cozy, 1820s stone dining room. Live folk and bluegrass music most weekends; BYOB.
What to Read Before You Go: Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz (2011)
Helpful links: Jefferson County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
Fun Fact: Only about four miles of the A.T. pass solely through West Virginia (other portions straddle the West Virginia-Virginia border) in and around Harpers Ferry, but this small section ranks high among thru-hikers who consider the A.T. Visitor Center here the “psychological mid-point” on the 2,184-mile trail.
Photograph by Jean-Pierre Degas, Corbis
2013 Best Summer Trip #5
A network of canals and bridges crisscrosses this working port-seaside resort on southern France’s Languedoc coast. Sandwiched between oyster-rich Thau lagoon and the Mediterranean, and trailed by a kite-tail strip of sandy beaches, unassuming Sète delivers abundant sun, sea, sand, and seafood under the well-trod tourist radar.
When to Go: June-August; August 22-27, Festival of Saint Louis Joutes Nautiques, traditional Languedoc water jousting competitions staged on the Canal Royal.
How to Get Around: Start with a hike or taxi ride up 564-foot Mont St. Clair for an overview of the city, lagoon, and sea. Then head to the city center and meander along the main Canal Royal, lined with outdoor seafood restaurants and dockside bars. Beaches are on the public bus route, and most other destinations are easily reached on foot or by the ubiquitous powerboats. Sète is also the starting point for westward sails along the Canal du Midi.
Where to Eat or Drink: Dining at Terre & Mer is like pulling up a chair to a foodie friend’s crowded kitchen table. The lively market-bistro specializes in fresh oysters and mussels (straight from the lagoon). Limited seating makes reservations a must.
Where to Stay: Splurge on corner, canal-side lodging at the 43-room Le Grand Hôtel de Sète for the floor-to-ceiling windows, main canal views, and refreshing breezes off the private balcony. The vintage belle epoque facade conceals an airy, glass-roofed courtyard where the daily breakfast buffet is served. Walk from here to the marina, shops, art galleries, and seafood restaurants.
What to Buy: Canadian Nancy McGee’s Absolutely Southern France arranges custom shop, cook, and eat tours; gourmet walking tours; and local oyster bed excursions. Shop in the Sète's fresh seafood and produce markets with a local chef and English-speaking guide, and then turn your ingredients into a traditional French meal.
Watch Before You Go: Beautiful Lies (De vrais mensonges) (2010), is a forgettable romantic comedy shot on location in Sète. Turn off the sound and focus on the scenery.
Helpful Link: Sète Tourism Office
Fun Fact: Jousters may get all the glory at the Festival of Saint-Louis joutes nautiques, but water jousting is actually a team sport. Each jouster is perched atop a wooden platform (tintaine) extending out from the end of a long wooden boat. Ten rowers (usually local fishermen) power the boats, and, before and during each match, an onboard drummer and oboist pump up the team by playing traditional jousting tunes.
Relaunch of the Charles W. Morgan,
Photograph by Randy Wells
2013 Best Summer Trip #4
The world’s sole surviving wooden whaling ship temporarily returns to New England waters on July 21, the 172nd anniversary of its initial launch. Make the voyage to Mystic Seaport, billed as the world's largest maritime museum, to witness the ceremonial lowering of the Charles W. Morgan into the Mystic River, and meet the shipwrights who restored this national historic landmark vessel.
When to Go: Late July-August; July 21, 172nd anniversary celebration; continuing restoration process is open for public viewing and education programs throughout the summer.
How to Get Around: Free parking is available across the street from Mystic Seaport, and a water shuttle saves steps once inside the grounds of the sprawling museum complex. General admission tickets are valid for two days. Visit on two consecutive mornings to climb aboard the historic ships and stroll the re-created 19th-century port village during the coolest part of the day.
Where to Stay: Overlooking the Mystic River in historic downtown Mystic, the 11-room Steamboat Inn is within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Rates include full breakfast (don’t miss the fruit muffins) and use of “around-the-town” bikes for short, downtown excursions.
Where to Eat or Drink: Grab plenty of napkins before digging into a hot, hand-battered mound of whole-belly fried clams at Mystic’s Sea Swirl, a classic New England ice cream/clam stand open April-early October.
What to Read Before You Go: The Charles W. Morgan, by John F. Leavitt (Mystic Seaport/The Marine Historical Association, 1970)
Helpful Links: Mystic Seaport
Fun Fact: Building the original Morgan took nine months, and cost $26,877. Another $25,977 was spent fully equipping the ship for its maiden 1841 launch. Restoring the vessel required a bit more time and treasure. Preservation efforts began in 1968 (the current restoration project got underway in 2008), and total costs are expected to top $8 million.
National Tom Sawyer Days,
Photograph by Amanda Stratford, Hannibal Courier-Post
2013 Best Summer Trip #3
In the Mississippi River hometown of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, Fourth of July week is a fence-painting, frog-jumping, river-rafting celebration of all things Tom Sawyer. Combine the free events during National Tom Sawyer Days (parade, contests, craft fair, fireworks) with a sightseeing cruise aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat and visits to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum and Mark Twain Cave Complex.
When to Go: June 29-July 7
Where to Stay: On return trips to Hannibal, Twain stayed in Garth Woodside Mansion. The original owners of the restored Victorian mansion were the author's childhood friends, and his favorite room bears his name (and is the most requested). If it's booked, request the Rosewood. The room’s signed, half-tester bed—crafted in the 1800s by fine furniture makers Mitchell & Rammelsburg—is known as “the most expensive bed in Missouri that you can sleep on.”
How to Get Around: Most National Tom Sawyer Days events are staged in and around downtown’s Central Park and at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. For a Twain’s-eye view of the Mississippi, climb the 244 steps up Cardiff Hill to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse.
Where to Eat or Drink: Turkish-born owner/chef Arif Dagin prepares traditional Midwestern steaks and homemade Mediterranean favorites (stuffed grape leaves, hummus, shrimps Istanbul) at the 28-seat LaBinnah Bistro, housed in an 1870s Victorian home. Reservations, and post-baklava Turkish coffee, recommended.
Helpful Links: Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau
Fun Fact: Twain’s inspiration for Becky Thatcher was his childhood neighbor, Laura Hawkins. The real-life Becky lived in or near Hannibal most of her life, raising two sons there with her husband, Dr. James Frazer. The Hawkins’s family home—The Becky Thatcher House—has been restored and is scheduled to reopen in time for the 2013 National Tom Sawyer Days.
Photograph by Andy Mettler
2013 Best Summer Trip #2
About 5,000 people call tiny Liechtenstein’s charming capital city home, so it doesn’t take long for local faces and places to feel familiar. Take a day trip from neighboring Switzerland or Austria, or spend a long weekend and listen to live music under the stars during Jazz and Blues Evenings.
When to Go: June 8, Alpine Marathon, first event in Europe’s Mountain Marathon Cup series; July 6-20, 43rd Annual International Masters‘ Classes music festival; August 15, “The Prince’s Celebration,” Liechtenstein’s national holiday, public ceremony on the lawn in front of the private royal residence, medieval Vaduz Castle.
Where to Stay: Reserve a deluxe room with balcony at secluded Park Hotel Sonnenhof for the stunning Rhine Valley, castle, and Alpine views. Set amid manicured gardens, the 29-room Relais & Châteaux villa exudes a warm and regal ambience. Try your hand at the princely sport of falconry, and then relax on the terrace with a glass of local Grüner Veltliner.
How to Get Around: Everywhere is within walking distance in this 6.7-square-mile capital city. Start at the Liechtenstein Center for a map and a commemorative passport stamp. The Citytrain trolley covers all the city’s major historic sites in a 35-minute rolling tour.
Where to Eat or Drink: His family’s castle is off limits to the public, so Prince Hans-Adam II’s Restaurant Torkel is the next best option for a royal lunch. Located just outside the city in the Vaduz Domain vineyards, the prince’s restaurant is known less for its hearty veal and rösti (potato pancake) dishes and more for the extensive European wine list featuring more than 500 selections from the royal cellars. Reserve a terrace table. Closed Sundays.
Cultural Tip: Finance is a top industry here, so opt for neutral shade, business casual clothing and be prepared to spend some serious Swiss Francs. And since summer is Vaduz’s rainiest season, pack a light rain jacket.
Helpful Links: Principality of Liechtenstein Official Tourism Site
Fun Fact: There are no motorized vehicles on Alte Rheinbrücke, the Rhine River bridge connecting Vaduz to Sevelen, Switzerland. Walking or biking across the restored, wooden covered bridge is a tourist must-do, as is stopping midpoint to snap the obligatory border-straddling photo.
Orkney Islands, Scotland
Photograph by Paul Glendell, Alamy
2013 Best Summer Trip #1
In summer, live music accompanies the sea-wind-bird sound track of Scotland’s unplugged north coast archipelago. Visit Orkney’s largest island, Mainland, during June’s St. Magnus International Festival to listen to world-class orchestras and ensembles and to the thousands of chattering seabirds nesting on Marwick Head Nature Reserve’s sandstone ledges.
When to Go: June 20-28, St. Magnus International Festival; July 17-August 22, Neolithic Ness of Brodgar excavation site is open for public viewing; July 21-27, Stromness Shopping Week includes music, dancing, and athletic competitions; August 10, Orkney County Show, the all-islands’ livestock and farm life celebration.
Where to Stay: Spend a couple of days getting oriented at The Albert Hotel in Kirkwall, conveniently located within walking distance of the capital town’s shopping district and marina. From there, island hop for more uniquely Orkney lodging. At Cantick Head on the island of Hoy, you can stay in a Victorian lighthouse keeper’s cottage. On remote North Ronaldsay, bunk at the North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory guesthouse and watch the seaweed-eating sheep grazing along the Nouster Bay shoreline.
How to Get Around: In summer, daily flights connect most major Scottish cities to Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, located on the largest island, Mainland. Or travel by car, bus, or train to Aberdeen, Scrabster, or Gills Bay to catch an Orkney-bound ferry. On Mainland, rent a bike or car, or use the OCTO (Orkney Community Transport Organization) bus “Hop On, Hop Off” summer tourist service. Inter-island travel is by ferry.
Where to Eat or Drink: The Creel’s three-course, prix fixe (about $60) dinner menu features what’s available fresh each day from the bay (hand-dived scallops, mackerel), farm (prime Orkney beef, North Ronaldsay lamb), and garden (new potatoes, strawberries). The family-owned “restaurant with rooms” is only 20 minutes south of Kirkwall in St. Margaret’s Hope, but the breakfast (steamed kipper, homemade muesli, freshly baked beremeal bread) is worth an overnight stay in the upstairs guest quarters.
What to Listen to Before You Go: Smithsonian Folkways: Music From the Orkney Islands, featuring Allie Windwick and Hugh Inkster (1979)
Helpful Links: Visit Scotland Orkney Tourism
Fun Fact: There’s barely time to fasten a seat belt on the world’s shortest scheduled flight. The two-minute or less Loganair ride covers a one-mile air route between the far northern Orkney isles of Westray and Papa Westray, where the number of archaeological sites (60) nearly equals the year-round population (about 70).
Travel With National Geographic Expeditions: Exploring the British and Irish Isles
Photograph by Caro, Alamy
Got wanderlust? We’ve got your ticket with our list of the 20 must-see places of 2013.
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2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.