Travel is one of my great loves. I know of no better way to get out of my head and get a fresh perspective than to get out of town. Whether it’s just for a weekend or a week (or more!), nothing rejuvenates me like spending time in a different place and, ideally, a different culture.
I probably won’t make all of these in 2018, but they’re the latest additions to my travel bucket list:
This landlocked Buddhist kingdom at the eastern edge of the Himalayas doesn’t make it easy to get to. Travel is tightly restricted, with a special visa required. In addition, travelers are only admitted with a pre-paid, organized tour (roughly $250/day, which includes accommodations and meals). But, by all accounts, the hassle is well worth it. The country is known for lush mountains and valleys – providing ample trekking opportunities – and the breathtaking Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery. Additionally, because the country has been open to tourism for less than 50 years, Bhutan maintains its ancient cultural identity, with most citizens still wearing traditional dress and the local architecture still dominated by native Dzongkha-style features.
Italy’s Gulf of Poets
Much attention is lavished on Cinque Terre, the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Italian Riviera – and with that recognition has come crowds that have somewhat blunted that area’s appeal. Nearby, however, are the four fishing villages of Lerici, San Terenzo, Fiascherino and Tellaro, which form the eastern edge of the Gulf of La Spezia, also known as the Gulf of Poets. It is so named because of the famous poets, writers and artists who spent their holidays or much of their lives there, including Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and George Sand. As the visitors today are, they were charmed and inspired by the beautiful beaches, photogenic vistas, hiking trails, olive groves and charming hospitality of these seaside villages.
Alta, in northernmost Norway, caught my eye first because it’s home to a spectacular collection of indigenous prehistoric rock art recognized by the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. But as I researched Alta, I found it’s also a wonderful place to view the Northern Lights, fish and birdwatch, and sleep in the northernmost ice hotel in the world, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel. If you time your visit for the summertime, you can also take in the “midnight sun,” when the sun is visible 24 hours a day.
The more I read about Bogotá, the more I can’t wait to go there. It used to be considered one of the most dangerous places in the world, but the sprawling city of 10 million (and the country as a whole) is much safer and more peaceful these days. That’s bad news for adrenaline junkies, but great news for more risk-averse travelers like me. The wine, the food (especially the exotic fruits, most of which we can’t even get in the United States), and the Plaza de Santander book market are all excellent reasons to visit. I’m also intrigued by La Ciclovia, which happens every Sunday. The city closes two main roads to cars, creating a roughly 75-mile circular path around the city for joggers, cyclists, roller skaters and anybody else who wants to come out. Lovers of street art (including me), can’t miss the Bogotá Graffiti Tour, which provides English-language walking tours of the city’s graffiti, with the artists as tour guides.
If I make it to Bogotá, I may as well extend the trip for a few days and head down to Argentina, specifically Mendoza, and take in one of the greatest wine regions in the world. With more than 100 wineries in the area, I’ll definitely have my pick. I’d love to see the area by bike (a popular option), but I’m particularly intrigued by Casa de Uco, which offers beautiful accommodations nestled among the vineyards. Wineries aren’t the only attractions Mendoza has to offer, of course. There are lovely museums and parks, ski resorts and – intriguingly – Termas Cacheuta, a hot springs hotel and spa. That sounds like a glorious way to cap off an adventurous trip.
Walla Walla Valley, Washington
The Walla Walla Valley is becoming one of the most prolific wine regions in the country, with multiple wine festivals during the course of the year. Like most wine regions, it also boasts lush countryside, excellent hiking and biking, and glorious fishing (including my favorite, fly fishing) and golfing. In the next two years, two high-end hotels will make the region even more attractive to tourists: Eritage, spearheaded by winemaker Justin Wyle and James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson, is scheduled to open in 2018, and the Penrose Walla Walla Hotel & Spa, slated to open in 2019. If I don’t make it to the Walla Walla Valley this year, it’s definitely at the top of my 2019 list.
What hidden travel gems can you recommend?