Renewed travel goals are always my top New Year’s resolution. That invariably includes getting out the front door more often—something I embrace each year with refreshed conviction. If you can use a little encouragement and direction for 2018, here are five of my favorite destinations that promise beauty and excitement in all shapes and forms. Adventure is out there!
The rocky archipelago of Malta, lying just 50 miles and as many light years south of Italy, is one of the world’s smallest countries barely findable on a map. Located at the crossroads of powerful and lucrative sea lanes that carried precious cargo between East and West and back again, Malta was coveted, invaded and ruled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Byzantines, Arabs, Spanish, Knights of St. John, and British—to name a few. History buffs will have a field day exploring the influence and vestiges of this complicated past left behind over the millennia, even if they travel no farther than the fortified capital city of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This tiny nation has long been a favorite destination for cruise ships, beach lovers and divers—mostly from northern Europe – who flock here to enjoy these cerulean waters and near perfect weather. But Malta is ready for the international spotlight in 2018 when it hosts the title of European Capital of Culture (which it shares with the Dutch partner city of Leeuwarden). The year’s packed special events calendar, including baroque, pop and international film festivals, can only augment the irresistible charm and rich legacy of this ancient Mediterranean gem.
Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road, Australia
The arch rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is at the heart of a long albeit friendly debate. Sydney has always been Australia’s glamorous darling, a stunningly beautiful city with its iconic opera house and harbor-spanning bridge. But Melbourne proudly holds the spotlight as Australia’s sports capital (it goes wild over everything from AFL football to grand-slam tennis) and cultural nerve center—world known for its bohemian and sometimes quirky vibe, flourishing music scene, and edgy street art. Explore the city’s cobbled bluestone laneways—by some counts over 200 of them—not long ago dark desolate no-go alleyways that have recently undergone a dramatic transformation and are now home to galleries, shops, coffee houses, and restaurants. Melbourne’s passion for all things food-related lives on at the Queen Victoria Market, said to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Break away from all the urban distractions for a glorious day spent driving the Great Ocean Road—150 miles of end-of-the-earth beauty often compared to California’s Pacific Coast Highway. At the end of this stretch of rugged and windswept coastline are the iconic limestone sea stacks called the 12 Apostles (there are only 8 left standing): they rise out of the churning ocean and are most breathtaking at sunset.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
As a local safari operator boasts, “If you see 10% of what sees you, it’s an exceptional day.” A rare, untouched wilderness, the Okavango Delta teems with legions of elephants (it is home to the largest remaining elephant population on earth), zebras, buffaloes, giraffes, lions, hippos, and more—and well over 500 species of birds. A unique ecosystem and natural wonder, where the Okavango River (a tributary of the mighty Zambezi) meets the bone-dry Kalahari Desert, this inland delta the size of Switzerland is a patchwork of floodplains, sparkling lagoons, channels and islands that all act as a magnet for wildlife. It has been called the world’s largest oasis and became UNESCO’s 1000th World Heritage Site in 2014. Whether you glide through a labyrinth of papyrus-fringed waterways in the traditional ‘mokoro’ dugout canoe propelled using a pole while standing, or explore islands and islets on foot or by open 4 x 4 jeep, this is a safari (a Swahili word that means journey) second to none.
Yunnan Province, China
So you’ve visited China’s fast-paced mega-city of Beijing and hypermodern Shanghai, and maybe witnessed the famous army of terracotta soldiers in Xi’an. But to immerse yourself in the rich and complex history and heritage of China, venture into the agricultural hinterlands of Yunnan Province, deep in the country’s southwest. Sharing a border with Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, Yunnan is the country’s most diverse province both for its stunning scenery of snow-capped mountains, rice paddies and gorges, and fascinating mix of ethnic minorities—26 (of the country’s 55 recognized) minorities live there—more than any other province—and account for over one third of the province’s population. Once the territory of ancient trade caravans on their way to neighboring Tibet, today historical trading towns and the cities of Dali and Lijiang show up on every itinerary, favored for their traditional architecture, centuries-old festivals, weekly markets, and scenic surroundings. One of China’s great (and demanding) hikes is here too—the 18-mile-long Tiger Leaping Gorge, through one of the world’s deepest canyons.
Ireland is a small country with a massive diaspora. Unofficial records show that some 80 million people worldwide today claim some degree of Irish descent and ancestral heritage has long drawn many visitors to the Emerald Island to seek out their roots. But the country’s timeless reputation for its warm hospitality appeals to everyone, as do its animated pubs where the good time “craic” and Guinness flow. The world has long admired the 40 shades of green that color rolling and romantic landscapes of sheep, crumbling castles and inviting stone cottages as seen in classic films such as The Quiet Man and Ryan’s Daughter.
I joined the impressive numbers of return visitors to Ireland, most recently as the host and global ambassador for Trafalgar, the established travel company who celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2017. As one of the first trailblazers in the early years of tourism to Ireland (as well as to Belfast and Northern Ireland—and well, just about everywhere), it guarantees today a seamless and insightful experience of the country hitting all the classic must-see’s—The Guinness Storehouse, Cliffs of Moher, the stunning Ring of Kerry, and the exquisite Ashford Castle Hotel—while its excellent guides and local specialists tirelessly and effortlessly exemplify céad míle fáilte—a hundred thousand welcomes.
And don’t forget to check out the book!
About the Book:
The world’s bestselling travel book is back in a more informative, more experiential, more budget-friendly full-color edition. A #1 New York Times bestseller, 1,000 Places reinvented the idea of travel book as both wish list and practical guide. As Newsweek wrote, it “tells you what’s beautiful, what’s fun, and what’s just unforgettable—everywhere on earth.” And now the best is better. There are 600 full-color photographs. Over 200 entirely new entries, including visits to 28 countries like Lebanon, Croatia, Estonia, and Nicaragua, that were not in the original edition. There is an emphasis on experiences: an entry covers not just Positano or Ravello, but the full 30-mile stretch along the Amalfi Coast.
Every entry from the original edition has been readdressed, rewritten, and made fuller, with more suggestions for places to stay, restaurants to visit, and festivals to check out. And throughout, the book is more budget-conscious, with starred restaurants and historic hotels such as the Ritz, but also moderately priced gems that don’t compromise on atmosphere or charm.
The world is calling. Time to answer.