And in the best cases, the place changes alongside you. I know a South African man who won’t soon forget our talks in the hills above Cape Town. I know the pilot of our single-prop in Alaska remembers the “negligee of clouds” — as he described it — that guarded McKinley the day we approached her glaciers. And I know the waves of Costa Rica remember the borracho who tried to surf them as the sun set behind us.
These are the places we want to influence and inform our year. They are locations that taunt us to come and see life from a different perspective, to be challenged by experiences so far unseen, to be introduced to people whose backgrounds challenge our own. To do this properly takes scribbled dates, glances at flights, dives into the rabbit hole of discovering a new place before you’re able to discover it in person. From those first clicks to the time you step onto foreign tarmac, that too is adventure. So join us. This year, these places are where we want to be changed.
– Matthew Ankeny
Wuyishan, Fujian, China
Indulge in the serenity of ages-old culture
Flanked by the Wuyi Mountains and highlighted by the Nine Bend River, this Unesco World Heritage Site is a staggeringly beautiful look into China’s past. The Yeohwa Resort is ideally situated and offers impeccable views and service — it’s an ideal spot for hikers looking to completely indulge in the area’s serenity. Most mountain routes are easy to navigate, with each of them seemingly flanked by waterfalls, rivers and infinite shades of green. Camping is a safe alternative to resort life and sites are abundant.
The local cuisine can seem a touch adventurous, but the rewards are well worth the risk. Make sure to head into town at night to sample from an array of vendors — the street food is incredible. For those seeking enlightenment, Wuyishan has also been identified as playing an instrumental role in the birth and development of Confucianism, with settlements dating back some 4,000 years. Oh, and you won’t find too many Western tourists roaming around either, which makes it all the better.
– Matt Neundorf
Nordic culture accentuated by isolation
An old Faroese legend — one of countless many — says that after the Earth was created, the foreman in charge of the enormous job cleaned his nails, and the dirt that fell out splashed into the North Atlantic and became the Faroe Islands. It’s an appropriately humble creation story for this tiny, windblown archipelago of 50,000 souls that lies roughly halfway between Iceland and Norway, and precisely in the middle of nowhere. It lacks the polish and tourist infrastructure of its far-off Nordic neighbor, Iceland. In fact, it’s nearly empty — and blissfully so.
These 18 islands offer more than 600 miles of narrow, mostly one-land roads that wind past soaring cliffs, ancient ruins, brooding fjords and villages full of the islands’ iconic turf-roofed houses. Though the best perspective is always from the water (and Capt. Birgir Enni will take you out in his schooner Norðlýsið), rent a car to cover more ground. Make sure you hit Saksun and Gjógv, two gorgeous outlying towns. Back in the capital of Tórshavn, chow down at KOKS, a sleek, modern pioneer of new Nordic cuisine that offers small-plate tasting menus made with locally sourced ingredients.
– Peter Koch
The Freedom to Roam, unburdened of fences and posted signs, angry landowners and angrier guard dogs, is a shared dream among adventurers. Scotland codified it in 2003. The Land Reform Act puts it pretty plainly: every person has the statutory right “to be… on land” — that is, all of it in the nation — and has “the right to cross” that land. That is to say: pure adventure. Scotland is one of the most beautiful, alluring places on earth. Population density low, individual kindness high. Big country, history and culture. A food renaissance. And a national drink worth a flight halfway round the world all on its own. – Chris Wright
Stockyard for America’s best landscapes
There’s a small stretch of road in the American West that combines some of the most intensely beautiful mountain, river and wildlife landscapes in the entire country. The 60 miles on Highway 89 between Livingston, Montana and the Montana/Wyoming border (affectionately known as Paradise Valley) is one of those incredible slices of Americana that merges wide-open plains and imposing peaks and makes this country so geographically unique. As for how to enjoy this majesty? Hiking through Gallatin National Forest, crossing into Wyoming to see Yellowstone or driving west to Big Sky for some fantastic skiing in the colder months. Guest ranches are everywhere in this part of Montana, but one of the best is Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, which is nestled in the hills south of Emigrant and west of Highway 89 and offers just about any way to enjoy the outdoors that you can think of. For post-exploration nourishment you’ll want to head to a good steakhouse. It’s hard to go too wrong, but The Stockman Bar is as authentic as it gets.
– Henry Phillips
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
New stability opens doors to surf and sand
With its civil war in the rearview mirror and a new, optimistic government, Sri Lanka is ready to explode with tourism. Get there before it does. The formerly off-limits city of Trincomalee on the East Coast is once again a viable destination, with some of the best beaches on the island and new hotels sprouting up all along the shore.
Unlike much of the rest of Sri Lanka, which is Buddhist, Trincomalee is largely Hindu, and the Swami Rock temple perched on a cliff above the pounding Indian Ocean is a sight not to miss. Venture farther south to the new hot spot, Passikudah, and stay at the swanky Amethyst Resort. Beach comb, go whale watching or surfing and be sure to sample the local cuisine, including spicy coconut-based curries that make use of the ample fish caught offshore.
– Jason Heaton
If your scuba diving has been limited to the Caribbean, then a trip to Papua New Guinea will spoil you. PNG, as it’s called, boasts over ten times the number of coral species found in the Caribbean, and more coral means more fish. Aside from the familiar clownfish of “Nemo” fame, there are countless species found here and nowhere else, not to mention schools of reef sharks that patrol the warm, clear water. If it’s wrecks you’re interested in, PNG was at the heart of the Pacific theater during World War II and the sea floor is littered with reminders, from warplanes to battleships. Base yourself at the Talawi Resort in Milne Bay, which has over a dozen dive sites within a few minutes’ boat ride. When it’s time to decompress, go for a bush walk (take a guide please), visit one of the nearby waterfalls or hot springs and take in the local indigenous culture, some of the oldest in the world. – Jason Heaton
Sa Pa, Lào Cai Province, Vietnam
Far and away from everything West
If Far East mainstream travel bores you, head to Sa Pa, a place far off the beaten path. To view the sprawling hills and rice paddies just south of the Chinese border, you’ll need to take an eight-hour train ride from Hanoi, riding through isolated forests to the Lo Cai railway station. Then hop a bus for 50 minutes through fog and some of the most “creative” mountain roads you’ll ever see. The trip is worth it to get away from just about everything western, short of French missionary influences.
Your trip will be peppered with scenic hikes through the mountains to small villages. Dine at the Sapa Moment Restaurant for cheap, authentic Vietnamese cuisine and rest your weary head at Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa. Walking the streets, visit the Sapal market, but beware of the Red Dao ladies — a local tribe that sells their handcrafted wares with the kind of passion that would impress Shark Tank.
– Amos Kwon
Rugged outdoors and gallons of craft beer
Bend is a small town bordered by mountains, rivers and lakes; it’s also a town totally drenched in beer (23 craft breweries, to be exact). Mt. Bachelor offers recreation for the snow season (stay at Seventh Mountain, the closest resort to the slopes), and in summer, the Cascade Lakes Wilderness Byway runs you past the best of Eastern Oregon’s wilderness.
When daylight passes, toss a stone in any direction and you’ll hit a brewery. Deschutes is the big name around town, but there are plenty of options within walking distance downtown. When hungry, the Mezze at Kebaba provides three courses of small-plate Middle Eastern cuisine, and The Lot hosts a bevy of food trucks under heat lamps and a bar. The Oxford Hotel is a classic downtown accommodation, but if you’re really going to do Bend right, go for a weeklong VRBO along the river — because once you get here, you’re going to want to stay for a while.
– Matthew Ankeny
Molokai is described by locals as “the real Hawaii” or “old-school Hawaii”, not only for its lack of tourism, but also because the island is the birthplace of Hawaiian civilization. From the very beginning, Hawaii‘s fifth-largest island has resisted tourism, and it’s not Molokai’s business to bus in tourists and shove history down their throats. But for travelers willing to make the quest to the island, it’s a hidden treasure in the Hawaiian atoll. – Will McGough
Bilateral verdict: the country’s capital is on the verge
The Nation’s capital is perennially cast aside as either “that place Congress is” or “that place I went in 8th grade”, but if you ignore the monuments (or just go at the right time — aim for 8-9pm, start at the FDR and work your way around the tidal basin) you can find a thriving and culturally rich city behind the curtain. Restaurants like Rose’s Luxury and Red Hen are outstanding among a quickly growing food scene that’s rushing to catch up with the rest of the city’s nightlife. Hear live music at the 9:30 Club or The Hamilton, get drinks at American Ice Co. or Boundary Stone. The city is quickly changing, new neighborhoods — each with their own distinct charm — turn into hotspots seemingly every week, and the capital is now putting on the dignitary treatment all over town.
– Henry Phillips
Edgy art redefines an industrial port town
Sweden’s third largest city is perhaps it’s most energetic, with a pulse that resembles Berlin more than its big brother, Stockholm. Once an industrial port, Malmö now has a reputation for an edgy nightlife and progressive art scene happening in the adjacent Rådmansvången and Möllevången neighborhoods. Check out Ikonst, a venue for art, film and contemporary culture, or hunt for vintage records at Rundgång and Musik & Konst.
At the southwestern end of the country, Malmö is Europe’s continental lifeline to Scandinavia, and also Sweden’s most cosmopolitan hub with nearly half of the city of non-Swedish origin. For those willing to venture out, Rail Europe tickets can be had for a swift 35-minute ride to Copenhagen via the Öresund Bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark.
– Jack Seemer
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An expat haven that boasts a multicultural identity
Famous as a venue for the Beat generation’s heroin abuse, Tangier is an expat haven that has somehow managed to maintain its Moroccan identity. It’s across the Strait of Gibraltar (south of Spain) and its massive coastline gives the city a strong maritime heritage — making it a bit like Naples, Italy. It’s not a tourist town in the Disney Cruise sense, but that’s its best draw. The Grand Hotel Villa de France is a luxury hotel with a strong colonial vibe and is one of the best places to stay.
While you’re in the city (provided you’re abstaining from Burroughs-esque indulgences) you can embrace the cafe culture, head to the Grand Socco Market, hang on the beach or escape the busyness at Rmilat — a beautiful park on the city’s northwestern side. Good Moroccan food is everywhere, but Le Nabab and Le Saveur de Poisson are standouts.
– Henry Phillips
The busiest port city in all of Africa, Durban boomed in the ‘70s and now plays host to multitudes of travelers every year. With year-round warm weather and pristine beaches, the south end of the Golden Mile (or simply “The Mile”) draws surfers from around the world, while the uShaka Marine World aquarium and Umgeni River Bird Park will please wildlife sightseers. Durban is also home to one of the largest concentrations of emigrant Indians, which has inspired the popular Bunny Chow dish, a traditional working-class staple of hollowed-out bread filled with curried potatoes and meat. Find it at the Victory Lounge in the Durban Central neighborhood. – Jack Seemer
A mountain city best seen on two wheels
Bogota’s worked hard to clean up its act, and the efforts have paid off. Slick digs like the Click Clack Hotel offer the eclectic, modern design that cosmopolitan South America does so well, and new restaurants, like Rafael Osterling’s namesake, Rafael, are translating the vibrant flavors of Latin cuisine into bites that please the discerning palate. The city’s cuisine and culture are attractive enough (and fair warning, go light on the aguardiente), but the selling point for Bogota is the Andes, which butt up directly against the city line. All-mountain activities abound, but the best way to see Bogota and the surrounding elevations is on wheels. The city is internationally recognized as a leading force for the post-automobile urban center, and just a few kilometers away is the Alto de Letras climb, one of the most difficult cycling ascents in the world.
– Matthew Ankeny
For the boreal bound, crisp adventures await
The adventure capital of the North, Marquette has everything either within city limits or close striking distance. In the summer, there’s world-class mountain biking, hiking and “sweetwater” paddling on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world (one of the best nearby locations for watersports is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, pictured above). In the winter, multiple feet of snowfall make for great Nordic skiing. In town, there’s a vibrant foodie scene with gastropubs, coffee roasters and microbreweries. Start the day with a freshly made muffin from Babycakes before doing fat tire laps on the Mount Marquette trail system. Reward yourself with an IPA from Ore Dock Brewing and then hop over to The Vierling for more beer and dinner. At the end of the day, bed down in the same room where Amelia Earhart slept at the Landmark Inn. Next day, repeat.
– Jason Heaton
The North is 10,000 lakes, wheat fields that compete with oil fields, dense old-growth forests full of moose, railroads that deliver iron ore from the mines to the 1,000-foot-long ships that then transport it to the blast furnaces of the Rust Belt. It is the pasties of the Michigan Upper Peninsula, long-voweled dog sledders of Northern Minnesota and the cabins of Wisconsin. There are adventures here: ice fishing and ice diving, the birthplace of both waterskiing and gravel-grinder bike races, epic canoe trips and Nordic skiing from Thanksgiving till Easter. Call it flyover country at your peril. The North is worth a stopover. A long one. – Jason Heaton
East meets West in a confluence of cultures
A mix of East and West, two seas and an old-world infrastructure with modern sensibilities, Istanbul is Europe’s overlooked gem. Anchor yourself at a waterfront hotel, like the House Hotel or the Four Seasons (in a renovated 19th century Ottoman palace), then dig into the the city’s capacious temples and lively bazaars (the Arasta trumps the Grand in quality, if not in quantity). Street dining’s top-notch, or you can settle in for a more formal affair, eating through the a la carte menu at Fine Dine Istanbul (odd name, great food). For now — as the word’s not quite out — Istanbul sits an unspoiled metropolitan city that functions as the crossroads of world cultures.
– Matthew Ankeny
Blue-collar ethos gives rise to a genuine Japan
Like the rest of Japan, Osaka is foodie paradise with ultra-fresh seafood caught daily in the famed Osaka Bay. But here, travelers can find a refreshing alternative to the refined conservatism of Kyoto or Tokyo. The Osakan term kuidaore, which translates to “eat oneself bankrupt”, represents both the city’s passion for food, and its blue-collar and down-to earth ethos.
Take a ramen tour at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, and be sure to try the takoyaki (fried octopus dumplings) from street vendors across the city, or the specialty kushikatsu (skewered and fried meats and veggies) in the Shinsekai neighborhood. A city that loves both baseball and beer, Osaka’s loyalty rests with the Hanshin Tigers. Catch a match at the “sacred” Koshien Stadium, but don’t be caught wearing the jersey of the Tokyo-based rivals, the Yomiuri Giants — things are known to get rowdy.
– Jack Seemer
Any traveler worth his passport stamps has Tokyo on the radar. But once you’ve been, you realize it’s not that different from most any other Asian megalopolis. Lucky for you, just a few hours away from the EveryCapital™ is Hakone, an amazingly Zen place that sits at the base of Mount Fuji. Known for its natural springs, there are any number of public and private spas and inns from which to choose to help you become one with nature. Kimonos are an optional bonus. – Brandon Chuang
Mountain Region of Southern Mexico
5,000 years of history infused with fresh vitality
Start the trail in D.F. (which still has an edge, but it’s less rough than before), the cultural capital of Mexico. The capital has, lately, kept out of the cartel violence, and it’s booming from the peace. Stay at the Condesa DF, in a region of the city that resembles Paris more than concrete urban sprawl. For good eats, ask the locals where the best tacos are, and they won’t let you down.
Heading south, you’ll enter Oaxaca, a region famous for great food and better people. Alice Waters’s favorite restaurant is Itanoní, where they grind the maize for the tortillas by hand, with a stone, out back. Then head farther south, to the region of Chiapas, where Mayan ruins (like the Temple of the Inscriptions, the largest Mesoamerican stepped pyramid structure in the world) pair with intrepid rapids and white sand beaches. Travel light, eat well, and enjoy the hospitality and good spirits of the vibrant Mexican people.
– Matthew Ankeny
The grandest ski-town in the world
There are many ski towns in the world — so many, in fact, that they tend to blend together in a puddle of quaint decor, bearded ski bums in beanies, divey bars and dirty snowmelt. Zermatt towers above them like the Matterhorn (fittingly, as the mountain is the heart and soul of this city). Some of the world’s premier skiing is spread across its slopes, split into four areas (Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee), and the Plateau Rosa glacier serves as a border-jumping connection to Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy. Find a home base at the oldest hotel in the city, the Monte Rosa, or at the other end of the spectrum, the cool modern Hotel Mirabeau. Then bask in the slopes (this is why you came).
Après-ski, there’s the Gornergrat toboggan run, the hotel/bar/art gallery/movie theater/restaurant Vernissage, or a comprehensive history of region with the underground Matterhorn Museum. Top it all off with worth-the-price dining at Chez Heini (owned by singer Dan Daniell, who occasionally croons to patrons) and drinks at the always-booming Papperla Club. Don’t expect sticker shock to escape its ski-town summit; do expect a town with a singular passion, pulled off better than the rest of the world.
– Chris Wright
When George Clooney bought his lakeside villa in 2002, Lake Como (in Italian, Lago di Como) was relatively quiet, expat-wise. Since then, word’s spread, but the three-branched (each about 16 miles long) body of water at the foot of the the Swiss Alps still provides its scenic vistas relatively undisturbed. The water’s backdrop is hills of limestone and granite, spotted with charming rental homes and bargain hostels. While visiting, rent a water taxi to see the entirety of the lake, take advantage of the Mediterranean fare — figs, pomegranates and olives — as well as the local fish. Though a license (sold at provincial offices for around €20) is required to catch them yourself, the lake is home to trout, eel and a type of herring called agoni, traditionally sun dried and preserved for several months before they’re grilled up and served with local wines. – Jack Seemer
Busan, South Korea
Now serving all the spoils of the sea
As “the summer capital of South Korea”, the country’s second-largest city is known for its beaches, parties and seafood. More often than not, visitors can enjoy all three at the same time. The Westin Chosun Busan hotel puts you right on the Haeundae beach front, which conveniently serves as a backdrop for the “Sea Village” on Pojangmacha Street. There, seafood vendors line up tents where you can hand pick live octopus, lobster and other spoils of the sea. Minutes later it’s cooked and ready to be paired with the local rice liquor, soju. Eat with your toes in the sand and rest up for a night out in one of Busan’s numerous clubs, where more soju awaits. Locals say dwaeji gukbap, a pork and rice dish, is perfect for a post-club snack and makes the perfect hangover cure.
– Bryan Campbell
A coast full of secrets (and award-winning cuisine)
The wild, craggy coast of Maine is so pitted with bays, inlets and rocky offshore islands that you know it has secrets. One of the best-kept ones is that, in recent years, the state’s locavore movement has evolved well beyond the two-clawed shellfish that David Foster Wallace so famously considered. A culinary road trip is in order, from burgeoning Portland to the great outdoors of Acadia National Park.
Starting in Portland, stop by restaurant/brewery/distiller Liquid Riot Bottling Company, where nearly everything is local, from the chowder featuring Bangs Island mussels and maple wasabi-braised bone-in short rib to the beers and small-batch rum, vodka and whiskey that goes into the signature cocktails. On your way through the former mill town of Brunswick, stop into the art studio-filled Fort Andross Mill, which overlooks the scenic Androscoggin River. Up the road in Rockland, James Beard Award-winning restaurant Primo offers “the ultimate farm-to-table experience” in a century-old farmhouse that’s surrounded by organic gardens, pig pens and chicken coops. At Long Grain, a 30-seat Thai place in Camden, a husband-and-wife team gives fresh Maine coast ingredients — like Pemaquid mussels and foraged hen-of-the-woods mushrooms — the Bangkok treatment to stunning results. In the tidy working town of Belfast on Penobscot Bay, look for the waterfront deck overlooking tugboats and a lobster pound. That’s Three Tides, a longtime cocktail bar that serves fresh Pemaquid oysters that pair perfectly with the 20-plus inventive beers — some of which incorporate oysters and kelp — from neighboring brewery Marshall Wharf Brewing. Now you’re just over an hour from Acadia, which is the perfect place to burn off some calories on newly restored hiking trails or the beginner-friendly (and totally unique) Sea Otter Cliffs.
– Peter Koch
If you like Maine’s rugged coast and Scotland feels too far for this year’s vacation, the twain — plus a smattering of other indigenous and European cultures — meet in Nova Scotia, which in Latin means “New Scotland” on account of the Scots who came here during the Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. Like Scotland, there’s world-class golf (in Ingonish); like Maine, there’s delicious lobster (in Fourchu); and like both there’s ample coastline for exploring bucolic and sparsely populated villages (check out Lunenburg). Don’t forget to spend a few days in Halifax, a fully modern capital with a rich maritime history. – Jeremy Berger
South Island, New Zealand
Uninhabited landscapes prime for adventure
While New Zealand’s North Island has the beaches and cities, the South Island has the adventure. Quirky Te Anau is the jumping-off point for the Fiordlands region, the island’s wildest corner. Base yourself in the Te Anau Lodge, a former convent with charming service and a great breakfast. A two-hour drive gets you to Milford Sound, where towering peaks descend into a deep fjord. Paddling is the way to see the Sound and Rosco’s has been doing it the longest. For the more adventurous, the scuba diving is spectacular, with penguins, dolphins and seals playing hide and seek among the black coral that grows in the chilly waters. The South Island is best known for its hiking trails, or “tracks”, the Routeburn and Milford being the most famous. To refuel, eat at one of the best restaurants in the Southern Hemisphere, The Redcliff, where a “staff hunter” brings in fresh deer and rabbit daily to go on the menu.
– Jason Heaton
Handsome architecture and “ruinpub” grit converge
Divided by the Danube River, Budapest is really two halves converged, both with their own draws for travellers seeking the most of this European gem. Take a history lesson at one (or all) of the city’s famous thermal baths, such as the Király, Rudas, Gellert or Széchenyi, each a handsome example of the city’s past architectural influences — Turkish, Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau — which can also be found at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace or the decadent five-star Boscolo Budapest Hotel. Don’t miss the Great Market Hall to stock up on Hungarian paprika, or the Café Gerbeaud, which dates back to the Habsburg Empire and rivals the charm of any top Viennese coffeehouse. The Hungarian capital is also host to a notoriously unique nightlife, with “ruinpubs”, or converted tenement houses, which are popular social hubs for art, culture and heavy boozing.
– Jack Seemer
You’ve probably heard from your well-traveled friends about Dubrovnik, a mind-rattlingly beautiful city and UNESCO World Heritage Site at the very bottom of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Go there, for sure; eat cuttlefish risotto and fresh langoustines on the harbor. Then get out and explore the entire coast, from Korcula to Hvar to Split. It’s all just as perfect, filled with friendly people, pristine beaches and Roman ruins — all a fitting foundation for a culture that’s very much alive. – Jeremy Berger
Salt Lake City, Utah
No longer in Colorado’s Shadow, Utah is an outdoors haven
For decades, Colorado resorts overshadowed Utah skiing. Then the Olympics happened, and, last year, when seven high-profile resorts in three adjacent, snow-covered valleys proposed linking 18,000 acres of combined terrain via aerial tram, people’s attention piqued. What those newcomers are discovering is that Utah’s resorts — 11 of which are within an hour of Salt Lake City — are closer, less expensive, have more snow and are every bit as good as Colorado’s.
Set up basecamp at Salt Lake’s boutique Hotel Monaco, and you can hit a new resort every day until your legs give out. On your way out to the mountains, swing by Higher Ground for a pick-me-up, where star mountaineer/owner Kyle Dempster might just be slinging your joe. Summers aren’t bad, either, when the Wasatch becomes ground zero for local trail runners, mountain bikers and climbers. And, with a four-hour detour, you can head to the red-rock playgrounds and parks of southern Utah. The city itself is experiencing a slow-burn renaissance, quietly opening avant-garde restaurants like The Rest, a basement speakeasy that serves elevated comfort food like honey-glazed beer-can chicken, and Forage, where the 14-course “wild-to-table” tasting menu is a 2.5-hour commitment you won’t regret.
– Peter Koch
Asheville, North Carolina
A bustling city tucked away in Appalachia
Planted right off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and high up in the mountain range of the same name, Asheville is a sprawling city hidden deep in the Appalachian forest. Retreat up the mountainside to Biltmore Village Inn (George Vanderbilt’s lawyer’s old mansion) and enjoy the 360-degree view of the neighboring mountains and the Swannanoa River Valley. Then head into town for one of 17 farmers markets or 15 micro breweries. Being surrounded by a robust growing landscape, there’s seasonally harvested and locally sourced food fare a-plenty, and it’s something culinary veteran Duane Fernandes specializes in at Isa’s Bistro. The picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway may make the remote Asheville accessible, but the long journey deters many tourists. Their loss is your gain.
– Bryan Campbell
If we had to pick a favorite communist country (don’t tell Joe McCarthy) it’d be Cuba. There’s something incredibly intriguing about our vision of the place — maybe it’s our dreams of the weather, the Panama hats, the Buena Vista Social Club — or maybe it’s just the time-capsule aura that many of us associate with the Caribbean island. But some combination of our own curiosity and all the timbales and ’59 Bel Airs always draws us back. – Jeremy Berger
The City of Azaleas comes into culinary bloom
Often overlooked for more bustling or tropical locales in the Pacific Rim, Taiwan delivers a one-two punch of culture and value for travelers. As the capital of said country — and to beat (ahem) this analogy to death — Taipei is a complete knockout. Comparable in population to the city of Chicago, the City of Azaleas offers a multitude of reasons to come visit, with perhaps no draw being bigger than the food.
The food in Taipei isn’t indescribable, simply because most individuals who’ve visited won’t stop describing it. Numerous food heavyweights, Anthony Bourdain among them, have placed soup-dumpling mecca Din Tai Fung on their list of restaurants you must eat at before you die. Adventurous culinarian/human garage disposal Andrew Zimmern finds stinky tofu, a favorite Taiwanese dish, simply too bizarre. And hip-hop chef (and presumably-biased-but-knowledgeable Taiwanese-American) Eddie Huang calls Taipei “pound-for-pound the greatest eating city in the world.” Oh, and the night markets? Done. Grab a room at the amba hotel in the tragically current Ximending neighborhood, and possibly some antacids, and we’ll see you on the other side.
– Brandon Chuang
A humble town belies its adventure gateway status
Homer is literally at the end of the road on Kachemak Bay and is a mix of rough-and-tumble fishing town and granola culture — like organic bakeries and good restaurants. Of course, it’s the outdoor adventures that are the draw, with world-class fishing, sea kayaking and hiking amidst the mountains and glaciers across Kachemak Bay. Sleep in one of the rooms for rent above Two Sisters Bakery and grab breakfast on your way out in the morning. Hook up with Stellar Air for floatplane grizzly bear-spotting flights and after lunch at Cosmic Kitchen, stretch your legs with a hike on Diamond Ridge. Finish the day with drinks at Alice’s Champagne Palace.
– Jason Heaton
Basque Region, Spain
The separatists that do everything right
The world is so full of half-baked separatist movements that, until Scotland’s close shave with independence last November, it was hard to take any of them seriously. But the 2.7 million Basque people of northeastern Spain seem to have a better case than most: they’ve inhabited their ruggedly beautiful land — where the western Pyrenees tumble down to the Atlantic — for more than a millennia, preserved their ancient language and, most importantly, have spectacularly singular food and culture for the world-weary, seen-it-all traveler.
The culinary capital of San Sebastián, it’s been noted, has the most Michelin-starred restaurants per capita of any other city in the world. Whet your appetite with upmarket pintxos — Basque for bar snacks, more or less — at Vinoteca Bernardina, then hit up Narru, behind La Concha Beach, where chef Iñigo Peña lets individual local ingredients (just-caught tuna, fresh eggs, wild mushrooms) shine free of extraneous sauces and pretense. In arts center Bilbao, scope out Frank Gehry’s titanium fish-scaled Guggenheim Museum, the catalyst for the city’s miraculous comeback from industrial blight, but don’t skip the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, whose permanent collection houses the most important works by Basque artists. And, in Pamplona, join in the Running of the Bulls this July at San Fermin. Tourists notwithstanding, it’s worth it.
– Peter Koch
Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, is in the early stages of a cultural renaissance. A need to create one’s own work arose from the tumultuous economic decay that has stifled the city over the past several years. And judging from their creative output, that’s exactly what Lisbonians are doing: distinctive music festivals are staged with local and international talent; distinct architecture bears sociopolitical street murals; locals and travelers gather at innovative restaurants; and in general, there’s a palpable, ineffable vibe. And then there’s the Azores, a chain of islands (nine in total) that lie 900 miles west of Lisbon out in the Atlantic Ocean. Volcanic craters, rocky coastlines, dramatic cliffs, rain forests, waterfalls, tall pines, wet moss and dairy farms — in the Azores you can see them all on the same day. – Ross Belfer & Will McGough
Jammu and Kashmir, India
A less-trod side of the Himalayans
The deep north of India is largely unpopulated, heavily contested (Pakistan disputes India’s claim to the land), and — for the right adventurer — a dream. Jammu and Kashmir, being in the Himalayans, offers world-class mountain climbing, with the “Matterhorn of Kashmir”, Kolahoi (5,425m); Harmukh (5,148m), a peak which resembles Europe’s Eiger; and Sunset (4,745m), the highest peak in the Pir Panjal range. In the winter months, the Gulmarg Gondola, the second tallest gondola in the world, takes skiers up to 14,000 feet elevation and leaves them to figure out their own way down. The landscape is rugged and untouched in a “bring the avalanche kit” way. Advanced skiers will enjoy the perks, and as inhospitable as the terrain may be, the Khyber Hotel offers five-star accommodations after long days on the slopes. And if there’s still adrenaline left to burn, there’s “the Grand Canyon of Asia”, the River Zanskar, which offers rapids for all levels. Ibex Expeditions is a trusted name in the region, and can help coordinate most adventures.
– Matthew Ankeny