Thursday, January 28, 2010

Next Great World Travel Destinations

Looking for a charming European hideaway, an undiscovered beach resort, or the latest food mecca? Online Travel spanned the globe in search of destinations that fuse style, authenticity and affordability. The results: 15 amazing places where the dollar still goes far.

Travel and Leisure

You are kicking back in a landscape of rolling vineyards and castle topped towns. The days are filled with beautiful drives and visits to local vintners, where you sample the fruit of their labors. You might swing by a rustic wine bar for a tasting. Nights you bed down at a small hotels with cabin like rooms and a blue walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the hotel’s collection of glass aquariums.

Is this Tuscany? Burgundy, perhaps? No, this is the Moravia region of the Czech Republic, home to 94 percent of the country’s fast growing wine production. The surprising regional capital, Brno, is dotted with Modernist houses designed by Adolf Loos and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. And that stylish lodging? It’s the Noem Arch Hotel, and doubles start at a very reasonable $141 a night.

An under the radar province like Moravia is a real find, because it offers similar attractions to better-known vacation packages destinations, but tends to be much easier on the wallet. Whether it’s a charming European Holiday hideaway, an undiscovered beach resort, or the latest food mecca, Tours spanned the globe in search of destinations like these that offer style and local flavor—and won’t cost a fortune.

Take Langkawi, a cluster of islands off Malaysia’s northwestern coast. Most of the main island is swathed in mangrove and tropical rainforests, and it was recently designated a UNESCO Geopark—the first in Southeast Asia. On the southwestern coast of the main isle you’ll find Pantai Cenang beach, lined with guesthouses and bars under coconut palms. The nearby Bon Ton Resort, is a small village of formerly dilapidated Malay wooden houses transformed into sleek lodgings by hotelier Narelle McMurtrie. The cost: just $150 a night.

For a more urban—but also exotic—experience, head south to the capital of Colombia, Bogota, which some say is poised to become the next Buenos Aires. The culinary and nightlife scenes are flourishing, and in the historic city center, the recently reopened Museo del Oro showcases a 6,500-piece collection of pre-Columbian gold coins and other works of art. Another formerly gritty city that’s newly dressed up is Marseilles, France, which has spruced up its waterfront and is attracting a more sophisticated crowd from Paris. Open-air cafes line the Vieux Port, and in the newly posh district of St.-Victor, travelers can stay at the artsy Casa Honore, which has a tapas bar and a shop that sells furniture designed by owner Annick Lestrohan. It’s a slice of real France that most tourists haven’t seen.


Moravia, Czech Republic

Why Go Now: This under-the-radar province is emerging as Eastern Europe’s newest wine region. Ninety-four percent of the Czech Republic’s burgeoning wine production (Gruner Veltliner and Cabernet Moravia) comes from its rolling vineyards and castle-topped towns. The regional capital, Brno, in the center of Moravia, is dotted with Modernist houses designed by Adolf Loos and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the creator of the famous Brno chair) and is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the area.

The Details: Stay at the new nautical-themed Noem Arch Hotel (doubles from $141), with 18 cabin-like rooms and a blue-walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the glass aquariums. Farther south, in the village of Mikulov, swing by the rustic Templ Wine Bar (drinks for two $4) for a tasting. Mikulov’s Jewish heritage is the inspiration for artist Sylva Chludilova’s paintings at Galerie Efram. In neighboring Valtice, sample an extensive wine selection at Narodni Salon Vin, in the town château.

Travel Tip: Exploring Moravia by train has never been easier, thanks to the recently launched website, where you can access all schedules.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why Go Now: The collapse of Iceland’s financial system last year has made Reykjavik’s cafes, industrial-chic nightspots, and restaurants more affordable than ever.

The Details: At the new Center Hotel Arnarhvoll (doubles from $142, including breakfast), in downtown’s 101 district, the modern rooms (slate palette accented with red and chestnut brown) come with views of Mount Esja. Browsing the boutiques on Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main shopping street, could take days; stop by Gust for funky Icelandic wares such as knit wool wraps, or Steinunn for local, cutting-edge clothing. Segurmo at Boston (dinner for two $20) is a restaurant opened last year by Bjork’s personal chef, Nuni Thomasson. His menu of regional comfort food might include dishes like foal steak with couscous and cabbage.

Travel Tip: At the 200,000-square-foot Laugar Spa (entry $36 per person), six tubs and an outdoor pool are filled with the Laugardalur Valley’s healing thermal waters.

Marseilles, France

Why Go Now: Once known as a gritty seaport, this coastal city has recently spruced up its waterfront and is attracting a more sophisticated crowd from Paris.

The Details: Open-air cafes edge the Vieux Port, where street vendors sell ice cream cones and fish sandwiches. Just behind the Quai de Rive Neuve, in the newly posh district of St.-Victor, the artsy Casa Honore (doubles from $213) has four simple guest rooms, a tapas bar, and a shop that sells furniture designed by owner Annick Lestrohan. For lunch head to Chez Michel (lunch for two $170) and order traditional bouillabaisse, then browse for artisanal olive oils at Place aux Huiles.

Travel Tip: Locals gather at Chez Jeannot (dinner for two $45) for crusty pizza and bottle of Chateau Plonk.


Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

Why Go Now: Affordable inns and restaurants, plus world-class diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing are making this 112-square-mile island one of the Caribbean’s best spots.

The Details: On a hill overlooking the small town of Kralendijk, the new La Pura Vista (doubles from $195) is like staying at your fabulous wealthy uncle’s villa—except he’s out of town. Four of the five breezy rooms face the brick-lined pool; breakfast is from 8 to 10 a.m., and the front desk is staffed until noon; after that, it’s all yours. In Kralendijk, the main drag runs along the water and is peppered with restaurants and bars. Stop by It Rains Fishes (lunch for two $20), where stylish, blond Dutch waiters serve bowls of spicy curry soup and open-faced ham-and-Gouda sandwiches. And at Cactus Blue (dinner for two $60), British expat Hagen Wegerer, a dive instructor turned chef, makes a stellar lime-and-ginger Caribbean shrimp. He’ll tell you where the best snorkeling spots on the island are (take his advice and go to 1,000 Steps).

Travel Tip: The drive to the northern town of Rincon takes you along the western coast of the island, then inland to a lake full of flamingos.

Martinique, French West Indies

Why Go Now: One of the largest islands in the French West Indies, Martinique attracts Francophiles looking for an affordable alternative to St. Bart’s.

The Details: Fort-de-France is a thriving colonial-era port of colorful coral town houses and boutiques that sell everything from Gallic perfumes to brightly patterned madras. On the island’s south side, Marin Bay is a protected harbor filled with charter yachts and traditional wooden sailing boats. Nearby are the best beaches—Anse Caritan; Macabou—and the fishing village of Ste.-Anne, where on market days you can buy a paper bag filled with crispy codfish and shrimp balls from street vendors who fry them on the spot. On a hillside along the rugged northern Atlantic coast, Le Domaine Saint Aubin (doubles from $275) has 30 charming cottages set among 200-year-old mango trees. The 50 suites at Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa (doubles from $500), on the eastern part of the island, are decorated in hot island colors. Stop by the hotel’s restaurant, Le Belem, for grilled lobster.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss Carole Michel’s Creole-style crab farci or fried red snapper at Chez Carole, in the middle of the fruit-and-vegetable covered market.

Asia Travel

Langkawi, Malaysia

Why Go Now: This cluster of 99 islands off Malaysia’s northwestern coast is a relative neophyte when it comes to tourism. Most of the main island remains a nature-lover’s paradise, swathed in mangrove and tropical rain forests, and it was recently designated a unesco Geopark—the first in Southeast Asia.

The Details: The name Langkawi refers to the archipelago in general and to its largest island specifically. On the southwestern coast of the main isle you’ll find Pantai Cenang beach, lined with guesthouses and bars under coconut palms. Locals flock to a beachside food truck called Tsunami Laksa for asam laksa (hot-and-sour fish soup with rice noodles). At the northern tip of the island, Tanjung Rhu is a tranquil oasis: two miles of silver sand and calm water. Back in the early 1990’s, it was the Datai (doubles from $488), a luxury resort fronting a pristine cove, that first put this area on the map. Other developments have followed since, including the Four Seasons Resort Langkawi (doubles from $410), on a 40-acre wetland, where naturalists lead boat tours of the mangrove forests. But much of Langkawi retains its traditional charm, on view in Pantai Cenang at the Bon Ton Resort (doubles from $150), a small village of formerly dilapidated Malay wooden houses transformed into stylish lodgings by hotelier Narelle McMurtrie.

Travel Tip: The Langkawi Cable Car runs gondolas to the top of Mat Cincang, the island’s second-highest peak.

Nanjing, China

Why Go Now: While this ancient capital of China is slowly modernizing, it remains staunchly loyal to its past. Witness new restaurants, hotels, and the Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture—set to open next summer—all juxtaposed with centuries-old monuments and traditions.

The Details: Make Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing (doubles from $125), in the heart of downtown, your base. The 278-room property overlooks Xuanwu Lake. For authentic local food, try the 20-course small-bite tasting menu, including duck sesame buns, at the Galaxy Restaurant (dinner for two $40) in the Mandarin Garden Hotel. The Nanjing 1912 neighborhood has classic early-20th-century Chinese architecture and a vibrant club scene at night. Stop by Soho, a low-lit bar with dark wood furnishings and live music.

Travel Tip: Take a day trip to the Purple Mountain, on the eastern outskirts of the city. Here, you’ll find the mausoleums of leaders such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of modern China.


Bogota, Colombia

Why Go Now: With its flourishing culinary and nightlife scenes, plus new flights from the United States on JetBlue, Delta, and Continental, Colombia’s capital is set to become the next Buenos Aires.

The Details: Bogota’s historic center is La Candelaria, where the recently reopened Museo del Oro now houses a 6,500-piece collection of pre-Columbian gold coins and other works of art. And at the nearby Fernando Botero Museum, you’ll find more than a hundred sculptures and paintings by the artist. Just down the street, the 43-room Hotel de la opera (doubles from $215, including breakfast) occupies a pair of elegantly restored Republican-era town houses. In the Zona Rosa district, the Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia (doubles from $340) is a 102-room property near the city’s art galleries. Bogota’s restaurant scene is booming—try Italian Gigi Trattoria (lunch for two $25) for house-made pastas and Club Colombia for regional classics such as corn empanadas and ajiaco, a hearty chicken-and-potato stew.

Travel Tip: On the edge of town, the restaurant Andres Carnes de Res (dinner for two $90) puts on all-afternoon feasts of grilled steak.

San Blas, Panama

Why Go Now: This archipelago in northern Panama is experiencing a mini boom in lodges, where travelers can escape the crowds of the more popular Bocas del Toro.

The Details: After a short flight from Panama City to Playon Chico (which the hotel will help arrange), guests of one of the five overwater casitas at Yandup Island Lodge (doubles from $160, all-inclusive) are picked up by boat and taken to the property’s private island. Snorkelers can spot more than 75 species of coral, hundreds of varieties of tropical fish, and the occasional dolphin. On a nearby island, the Hotel Uaguinega (doubles from $300, all-inclusive) has 10 thatched-roof cabins and a beachfront restaurant that serves fresh fish. Book one of the hotel’s guided tours of neighboring villages, where you can buy crafts made by the local Kuna tribe.

Travel Tip: Bring your own sunscreen and toiletries: the area has no shops.

Quito, Ecuador

Why Go Now: The city’s Old Town—a restored unesco World Heritage site is a window into the country’s colonial past, full of painstakingly renovated mansions and churches, new restaurants and hotels, and recently opened museums. This year, the city celebrates 200 years of independence from Spain with hundreds of cultural performances.

The Details: The five-year-old Hotel Patio Andaluz (doubles from $204) was largely responsible for the area’s renaissance. Inside, 32 rooms are set within a preserved colonial mansion. For dinner, book a table at Zazu (dinner for two $60), which serves a sole ceviche in tomato juice. In the heart of Old Town, Villa Colonna (doubles from $250) is a six-suite boutique property with private patios, high ceilings, and antique furnishings. The Nu House Hotel (doubles from $129), in the Mariscal Sucre neighborhood, feels like a Scandinavian import, with granite tile floors and minimalist decor.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss the Museo Guayasamin and the Capilla del Hombre, shrines to Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin.

El Calafate, Argentina

Why Go Now: A formerly rough-and-tumble wool-trading outpost in southern Patagonia, tiny El Calafate has now been discovered by adventure junkies and celebrities such as Francis Ford Coppola, who scouted the area for an upcoming film.

The Details: This is a place where you can have grilled steak and Mendoza wine for just $25 a person after a day spent exploring the region’s natural beauty: towering glaciers, deep fjords, and grassy steppes. Dine on sirloin wrapped in boar with a Malbec wine sauce at the brick-walled Pascasio M (dinner for two $49) or head to the boisterous La Tablita (dinner for two $48), known for grilled meats and fish. Brace yourself against El Calafate’s clear and chilly nights in a sweater from Vellon Negro, woven from local wool. The best places to stay are beyond the town’s center. The 12-room Patagonia Rebelde, Posada & Historia (doubles from $110, including breakfast) is modeled after a historic railway station. Much more space age, Design Suites Hotel (doubles from $140, including breakfast) has soaring glass walls and views of neon-blue Lago Argentino.

Travel Tip: Hielo y Adventuras (tours from $118) runs two daily excursions to Perito Moreno Glacier that include a trek across the ice.


Cook Islands, South Pacific

Why Go Now: With a handful of low-key resorts, this island group is an affordable alternative to its affluent neighbors Tahiti and Bora-Bora.

The Details: In the capital, Rarotonga, stay at Little Polynesian (doubles from $370), where handwoven cream-on-white bedspreads brighten the 10 bungalows. Restaurants on the island range from Vaima (dinner for two $56), a fish spot with tables set on a dock, to Windjammer (dinner for two $87), which serves innovative dishes such as slow cooked local octopus in a curry sauce. For the best beaches, catch an Air Rarotonga flight (four each day) from Rarotonga to Aitutaki. Check in to the Tamanu Beach Resort (doubles from $245). As Mike Henry, the Tamanu’s owner, says, “The Cook Islands are like Hawaii fifty years ago.”

Travel Tip: Explore Aitutaki’s lagoon with Wet & Wild Adventure Tours (tours $50). Daylong cruises include stops at an island bird sanctuary.

Auckland, New Zealand

Why Go Now: This yachting-obsessed city has more than its share of sophisticated food and art. Best of all, the exchange rate turns the city’s hotels, restaurants, and boutiques into affordable indulgences.

The Details: The downtown marina is the site of the new Westin Auckland Lighter Quay (doubles from $216), an understated 172-room hotel. In midtown, the vintage Modernist furnishings at the renovated Hotel DeBrett (doubles from $195) create a pied-à-terre feel. At Merediths (dinner for two $110), chef-owner Michael Meredith turns out modern New Zealand dishes such as smoked salmon with candied fennel. To see artwork by N.Z. artists, browse the galleries (or websites of) Sue Crockford or Michael Lett.

Travel Tip: Don’t miss a day trip to the island of Waiheke, an up-and-coming wine region.


Rusinga Island, Kenya

Why Go Now: Just off the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, Rusinga Island is blissfully laid-back. The arrival of a new Micato Safaris lodge probably won’t change that, but is giving travelers a stylish place to unplug.

The Details: Stay in one of the six thatched cottages (net-draped beds, ceiling fans, large baths) at Rusinga Island Lodge (doubles from $440). Each bungalow faces an open-air restaurant where the spicy fish curry pairs well with a Tusker Ale.

Travel Tip: Micato Safari guide Mark Ross, who flies guests here in his Cessna airplane from Nairobi, will arrange an expedition to the mainland town of Sindo for a lunch of fried tilapia at Subaland Hotel (no address) or a sunset cocktail cruise to watch thousands of white egrets nesting on uninhabited islands.

Dakar, Senegal

Why Go Now: This city has one of the world’s most exciting music scenes—from reggae, rap, and hip-hop to traditional tribal drum, string, flute, and xylophone. Indeed, Dakar is a nonstop concert, as CD’s blare in the streets and markets and live musicians and bands hold forth in any number of cool clubs, cafes, and dance boites.

The Details: Overlooking the Atlantic, the Hotel Sokhamon (doubles from $147), has a funky vibe, with brightly colored walls and a conch-shaped staircase. Try the grilled lemon chicken in the garden at Chez Loutcha (lunch for two $20). After dark, head to world-music superstar Youssou N’Dour’s club Thiossane, or the ultracool Just 4 U.

Travel Tip: Check out one of the world’s most important bird sanctuaries, the 40,000-acre Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj, on a guided tour itinerary aboard a traditional dugout pirogue.

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