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Originally published January 13, 2013 at 9:00 AM | Page modified January 14, 2013 at 12:22 PM

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Places to go in 2013

46 places to explore around the world, from bustling European and South American cities to Asian island hideaways

The New York Times

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Tedious. Prefer a good book, vin ordinaire and bed. Jacomus MORE


Whether you travel to gawk or shop, dive into oceans or climb over peaks, new adventures await, places bursting with new sights, cultural flowering and great places to eat. Here are 46 places to visit in 2013. (Local note: Washington’s White Salmon River makes this cut.)


Because the whole world will be there in 2014.

Fifty-three years after Brazil’s federal government decamped to Brasilia, and decades after São Paulo took over as the country’s business capital, Rio is staging a comeback. With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics (plus an oil boom) providing the impetus, the tropical city perhaps most famous for its Carnival hedonism is on its way to becoming a more sophisticated cultural hub. In January, the Cidade das Artes, or City of the Arts, was inaugurated as the new home of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra. On March 23, Casa Daros — an outpost of the Zurich-based Daros Latinamerica Collection — will open in a renovated 19th-century building with an exhibition of Colombian artists. March will also mark the opening of the Rio Museum of Art in Praca Maua, a once decrepit port area now being revived. (The Santiago Calatrava-designed Museum of Tomorrow, also in the port area, is scheduled to follow in 2014.) Shopping, a Rio obsession, got a boost in December when the luxe VillageMall opened; it will soon house the city’s first Gucci outlet and South America’s first Apple Store. Special events also dot the coming year’s calendar, including the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in July, the biennial Rio Book Fair starting in late August, and September’s Rock in Rio. And, of course, there’s soccer: The finals of the Confederations Cup, considered a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, will be held in a completely overhauled Maracana Stadium on June 30.



On the Mediterranean, art, and plenty of it.

The European Capital of Culture designation (two cities get the title annually) often spotlights a destination that has become an up-and-comer on its own merits in the past few years, which is certainly the case with this ancient port town on the Mediterranean. A vibrant ethnic melting pot, Marseille is also home to an increasing number of contemporary art and avant-garde performances. Exhibition spaces include the 2,000-seat Le Silo, a landmark granary that’s been transformed into a theater; the Panorama, an ex-tobacco factory now home to modern installations; and J1, a hangar on the old port that will host a number of events. While in town, book into a stylish hotel like the four-bedroom Casa Honore or the new cheap chic Mama Shelter Marseille.



It’s eco! And the food is good! Enough said.

If the name Oliver North means anything to you, there’s a good chance that Nicaragua doesn’t jump to your mind when you think of a relaxing, high-end, spa-filled vacation. For the past 30 years, the country has been fighting its image as a land of guerrilla warfare and covert arms deals. At first, only travel writers took note; over the past several years, various publications have declared the country the next great destination. However, if the booming eco-lodge business is any indication, Nicaragua’s moment might finally have arrived. In and around the coastal towns of San Juan del Sur and Maderas, new lodges like the Aqua Wellness Resort, the high-end (and soon-to-open) Mukul Resort and Jicaro Island Eco-Lodge are cropping up near old-time eco-lodges, like Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Eco-Lodge. The food scene is getting a high-end makeover as well, with top chefs opening restaurants. The most exciting ones — El Segundo, La Casserole, Ciudad Lounge and La Finca y El Mar — are proof that Nicaragua is becoming an impressive food destination in its own right.



A buzzing metropolis ready for business, and pleasure.

Accra, the capital of Ghana, has welcomed business travelers for years. Now tourists are streaming in, a byproduct of the fact that the country has Africa’s fastest-growing economy and is also one of its safest destinations. The Movenpick Ambassador Hotel (with poolside bar and waiters on roller skates) opened in 2011, and the Marriott Accra — the chain’s first sub-Saharan offering — will feature a casino and upscale shopping when it opens in the spring. On Accra’s packed beaches, you’ll see everything from snake handlers to plantain peddlers. Head to the upscale neighborhood of Osu and hit the treehouse-inspired terrace at Buka for fine West African food. The best Ghanaian adventures start with a giant plate of tomato-smothered tilapia and banku — a fermented yeast paste that’s tastier than it sounds — washed down with local Star beer.



A pristine Buddhist enclave opens, with care.

This tiny country in the Himalayas has become a model for sustainable travel with the number of visitors (and daily traveler fees they pay) calibrated to preserve the delicate balance between preservation and revenue. Tourism is far from discouraged, however; new projects are making the country more accessible. Drukair, the only airline that goes to the country, is now flying daily from Bangkok, New Delhi and Singapore; there are also plans to start domestic routes inside the country. Hotels, too, are helping to open up new territory. The Como group, which already has a luxury outpost in Paro, has just unveiled the Uma Punakha in Punakha. And the Gangtey Gompa Lodge, which opens in May, will be a base from which to explore the lush national park of Phobjikha Valley, an eco-tourism hub and home to endangered black-necked cranes. Of course the main draws remain a network of exquisite monasteries and temples and untouched countryside — all in a country that puts happiness ahead of GDP. Just remember that you have to travel with a United States- or Bhutan-based outfitter; Bridge to Bhutan for example, is run by two brothers who studied in the United States and are organizing trips back to their home country.



A decade later, museums reopen, fancier than ever.

Imagine that the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York were partly closed for renovations for almost a decade — at the same time. That’s basically what happened in Amsterdam, with the closings of the Stedelijk, the city’s design and contemporary art museum, in 2004 and the Rijksmuseum in 2003. The Stedelijk finally reopened at the end of September with a new, sleek bathtub-like extension, and the Rijksmuseum will reopen in April with much fanfare after a complete redo by Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz. The Van Gogh Museum too, will reopen in May, after a much shorter renovation. The city will also be celebrating 400 years since the building of its iconic canal ring and the 125th birthday of the Concertgebouw, the city’s concert hall, which will feature performances by Eva-Maria Westbroek and Bernard Haitink among others. To prepare for the wave of visitors, there are several new hotels, from the five-star Conservatorium, to an Andaz designed by Amsterdam-based design star Marcel Wanders. If you’re lucky, you might score the single suite at a hotel/restaurant/shopping/exhibition space named Droog, for the collective that designed it.



What’s big in Texas? Culture and food.

Houston is probably best known as the Texan center for energy and industry, but it’s making a bid to be the state’s cultural and culinary capital as well. The Houston Museum District is a formidable coterie of institutions that includes the Rothko Chapel, the Museum of African American Culture, which made its debut last February; and the Asia Society Texas Center, which opened in a stunning Yoshio Taniguchi-designed building in April. And last year, the Houston Museum of Natural Science opened a 30,000-square-foot hall of paleontology in a new $85 million wing. Meanwhile, the city’s dining scene is also heating up, with three of the city’s restaurants — Oxheart, Underbelly and Uchi — placing on national best-new-restaurant lists.



Fasten your skis. A quiet peak joins the big leagues.

The largest terrain expansion in North American skiing is under way just north of the border at Red Mountain Resort in Rossland, British Columbia. Long known for its steeps, tree-skiing and out-of-the-way location (it’s a 2 1/2-hour drive from Spokane) that leaves its lift mazes empty and led Skiing magazine last year to call it the “most underrated” resort, Red has embarked on a two-year project that will add nearly 1,000 acres on neighboring Grey Mountain. This winter a $10 ride in a snowcat will haul skiers from Red to Grey to enjoy a few runs that have been cut as well as glade skiing. Next winter a new quad chair will access 22 new slopes around the conical peak. Suddenly Red’s trail map will stretch as wide as Jackson Hole’s inbounds terrain. With a new lodge and the first on-hill accommodations added in the past few years, this local legend is ready to step out into the spotlight.



Come for the new metro, stay for where it takes you.

Having surpassed its sibling Mumbai in the number of millionaire residents who call it home, New Delhi is celebrating its economic rise with gusto. It’s even added speed to its notoriously creaky infrastructure. Delhi’s new metro system, in its latest stage of expansion to the Outer Ring Road, provides a smooth yet surreal ride from the dense cacophony of the ancient Mughal bazaars to the hypermodern megamalls of the grassy suburbs. Immaculate, cheap and air-conditioned, the metro might be the most ambitious construction since India won its independence. And there are lots of new places to visit: cutting-edge galleries like Latitude 28 and Gallery Threshold in the emerging Lado Sarai arts district, and new restaurants like Varq and Indian Accent, which are expanding the horizons of nouvelle Indian cuisine. Setting new standards for dramatic design, hotels like the Aman, Oberoi and Leela have all recently opened strikingly original and competing visions of living in style in a city that suddenly exudes a lot of it.



Next Eurail stop: culture central.

Turkey is now included in the Eurail system, and Istanbul’s busy cultural calendar this year is excuse enough to use your pass to stop there. In addition to the biennial this fall, there are new galleries and cultural centers to explore. Salt, which is directed by curator Vasif Kortun and has impressive spaces in Beyoglu and Galata, and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence opened last year, joining a buzzing art scene that includes newish arrivals like Rodeo Gallery and Arter. Lined with lively cafes and funky little design and fashion shops like Lunapark, Bahar Korcan and Atelier 55, Galata, one of the oldest districts in Istanbul, is going through a renaissance at warp speed. This year also marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, which will bring yet more cultural celebrations, including the reopening of the Ataturk Cultural Center, home of Istanbul’s state ballet, opera and orchestra.



Spot green shoots in a financial capital.

As one of the world’s richest nations and a capital of global finance, Singapore has been awash in green for decades. But lately the densely populated city-state is burnishing its credentials as another type of green center — the ecological kind. A study released in 2011 by The Economist magazine’s Intelligence Unit and Siemens ranked Singapore as the greenest city in Asia, and this year the metropolis of glass and steel inaugurates two vast nature projects guaranteed to boost the green quotient further and to enhance the city’s image as a destination for environmental tourism. Gardens by the Bay, an ambitious 250-acre nature reserve, won the building-of-the-year prize at the World Architecture Festival for its glassy, hill-like main building, which houses attractions like the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Not to be outdone, the new Marine Life Park is already touting itself as “the world’s largest oceanarium.” It features a huge water park with rides and an aquarium showcasing some 800 species of underwater life.



A Balkan gem that’s small, spectacular — and cheap.

It’s been almost seven years since Montenegro peacefully parted ways with Serbia, long enough that Russian oligarchs and former Yugoslavs aren’t the only ones in on this booming Balkan jewel. For better or worse, an iconic Communist-era hotel with bold red carpets is becoming a contemporary Hilton in Podgorica, the country’s pint-size capital. On the Adriatic near Budva, a six-year renovation of Sveti Stefan resort, which includes a 3-acre island with rooms set in repurposed 15th-century cottages, draws to a close in May with Aman Resorts’ opening 10 suites, a spa and restaurant on the island. About 16 miles and countless twinkling coves north in Tivat, the blingy Porto Montenegro will become more glamorous when Regent adds hotel rooms, suites and penthouses to its fashionable marina in 2014. Some 1.2 million international tourists came to Montenegro in 2011. That’s double the population and an 11 percent leap over 2010, a rate that beat nearly every country in Europe. Still, the country remains affordable. Comfortable hotels go for $75 a night or less. Heaping plates of cevapi sausages, tangy cheese and oily red peppers might set you back $12 with wine and dessert. Imagine Dubrovnik before the cruise ships or Switzerland before the cable cars. Go before it becomes either.



A river runs free, for the first time in a century.

It’s a white-water paddler’s dream come true. A major dam removal in October to allow for fish passage means that the White Salmon River now runs all the way to the Columbia River, flowing freely from its glacial headwaters at Mount Adams for the first time in 100 years. Local outfitters like Wet Planet are expected to begin rafting and kayaking tours on the newly opened section of challenging Class IV rapids early this year. Conservationists are happy, too, as spawning chinook salmon and steelhead trout have already been spotted swimming upstream in the new habitat.



Explore the quieter side of a jet-setters’ haven.

Once a 16th-century Venetian fortress island, Hvar (pronounced hwahr) has been drawing yachts, island-hoppers and celebrities to its growing landscape of luxury hotels, hillside villas and nightclubs. The island’s VIP surge began in 1999 with Carpe Diem, a decadent open-air club replete with flaming cocktails and table dancers in designer bikinis. In high season, the creamy marble main square of Hvar Town fills with blissed-out vacationers recharging on coffee and cocktails, a contrast to the quieter, older village Stari Grad, which received UNESCO status in 2008 because of its ancient agricultural plain built by the Greeks who settled it in the fourth century B.C. In fact, Hvar’s real allure lies in its low-key features: unspoiled coves and beaches, rolling vineyards, olive groves and silvery-purple lavender fields that have long been the country’s main source for the flower. Travelers can take a moonlight hike through an abandoned medieval village to a traditional tavern (or konoba, in Croatian), Stori Komin, and dine on wild boar caught that morning. Or take a cheap rental motorboat to Robinson, a konoba set within a secluded cove devoid of electricity or running water, and sunbathe on a white stone beach while waiting for the fish to cook.



The welcome mat is out for a million tourists.

Mongolia’s vast grasslands have long attracted adventure travelers, particularly those willing to go on horseback, but a limited tourism infrastructure has kept numbers low. Now, the government, hopeful that the country’s mining boom will survive a recent slowdown, is working to change that, setting a goal of 1 million annual overseas tourists by 2015 — roughly double the number who visited in 2011. In anticipation of the increase, foreign hotel chains are opening in Ulan Bator, the capital, including a Ramada that opened last year, a 273-room Shangri-La scheduled to make its debut in December and a new Radisson Blu and Hyatt Regency, both under development. A new domestic airline, Mongolian Airlines, started flights last January and has since added a route to Hong Kong, with plans for additional Asian destinations. Tour operators like Nomadic Journeys are offering new bespoke camping trips to more remote parts of the country, like the grasslands in the Eastern Steppes, so visitors can get away from the tourist crowds — easy to do in a country this size. Although for many people the untouched countryside remains the main reason to go to Mongolia, there are new attractions in the capital, too: Last year, the Government Palace was opened to visitors for the first time, giving tourists a glimpse of young Mongolian democracy in action.



Feasting on Hawaii’s less-visited isle.

Oahu has its North Shore. Kauai has its waterfalls. But until recently, the Big Island’s biggest claim was its land mass. This is the year that’s changing. A slew of high-end golf courses and new beach clubs, like the Lava Lava Beach Club, are drawing tourists to this corner of the archipelago like never before. And now that the farm-to-table movement has made its way to Hawaii, the Big Island is finally living up to its name. The grandfather of farm-to-table fare is Merriman’s, which has been at it for 20 years. The ‘Ulu Ocean Grill at the Four Seasons is a fancier version with its ocean-to-table dishes. And the Fish & the Hog, which has its own farm and commercial fishing boat, uses only ingredients sourced within five miles.



A surfing and beach destination goes luxe.

Idyllic white sand beaches, secluded, little-known surf towns and pristine reefs are among the natural draws of this country made up of more than 7,000 tropical islands. Now in addition to the more upscale choices cropping up in former backpacking enclaves like Boracay, there is a new generation of luxury hotels opening even further afield. The new Dedon Island resort on Siargao, for example, is close to one of the world’s best surf breaks, Cloud 9 (Kelly Slater is a fan), and has an outdoor cinema along with spa and paddle board classes. And the private island resort of El Nido Pangulasian opens this month in the UNESCO biosphere of Palawan, right by some of the world’s most pristine diving spots. Although the Philippines has been subject to travel advisories in the past, they mostly focus on Mindanao in the south. For extra security, outfitters like Asian expert Remote Lands organize private transfers and local guides.



After destruction, a Cinque Terre village blooms again.

In October 2011, mudslides ravaged the lovely Cinque Terre village of Vernazza. Floodwaters reached second-story windows, wiped out road and rail connections and buried the town in mud and rocks. Now residents are rallying to restore Vernazza to its former glory. To ensure that restoration work continues in an environmentally viable manner, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Rogers has committed to design and oversee the project for reconstruction. And with major renewal projects expected to commence this winter, soon the only visible reminders of the catastrophe may be new vineyards taking root in the hills, freshly laid stone in the seaside piazza and the resurgent pride of the local community.



Soft adventure in the outer reaches of the Outback.

Even by Australian standards, the Kimberley region is remote, with roughly 50,000 people living in an area larger than Germany. The area has long been largely off-limits to anyone without a yacht or the nerve to pilot a four-wheel drive through rocky riverbeds. Now luxury lodges have opened up the region to travelers willing to trade big bucks for land-based access to some spectacular spots. The Berkeley River Lodge, a 20-villa, fly-in complex, opened last spring on a sprawling Timor Sea beach. Kuri Bay, one of Australia’s oldest pearl farms and accessible by seaplane, added a new resort with just three rooms on Camden Sound, a new marine park. Inland, the classic El Questro Homestead added bungalows overlooking the Chamberlain Gorge on a million-acre preserve. From any of these spots you can go fishing for barramundi, hike to sacred rock art sites and take tours to towering waterfalls or up croc-infested estuaries to spy on wallabies and jabirus. The catch? The region is loaded with iron, and mining companies will continue to go after it.



Chinese wine? Take a sip.

Growing wine grapes in a desert isn’t normally a formula for oenological excellence, but in the arid mountainous region of Ningxia, some 550 miles west of Beijing, the local government has reclaimed desert-like expanses, irrigated them profusely, planted them with cabernet sauvignon and merlot and started a campaign to transform this rugged backwater into China’s answer to Bordeaux. The plan is already working. French beverage giant Pernod Ricard has invested in the Helan Mountain brand, and LVMH — the luxury group that owns some of the top Champagne houses in France — is teaming with the region’s oldest winery, Xi Xia King, to make sparkling wine. Numerous other wineries — some with cut-and-paste French chateau architecture — operate in Ningxia, including Silver Heights and Helan Qingxue, which picked up top honors this year at the inaugural Ningxia Wine Awards. Red China is taking on a whole new meaning.



Backwoods New York is about to get more glam.

This pocket of upstate New York wilderness is increasingly drawing a downstate crowd. Take Camp Orenda, a luxury “glamping” site — the first of its kind on the East Coast — that opened last year. Guests lodge in canvas tents equipped with comfy queen-size beds, wood-burning stoves and an outdoor cedar shower. Meals cooked over an open flame include sophisticated fare like rosemary-infused pork chops with apple chutney. To get there, hop on one of the vintage trains that recently began running between Saratoga Springs and North Creek, which include fresh-to-order dining in domed rail cars. (A project to install another upscale rail line, linking New York City and Lake Placid, was recently proposed.) Finally, to find your way around the region, the state will roll out a handy new app, Path Through History, this spring.



A waterfront is stealing the Scandinavian spotlight.

With all the attention recently showered on its fellow Nordic capitals, it’s been easy to overlook Oslo. But no longer. In an effort to embrace the city’s proximity to the sea, the Fjord City development project is rejuvenating the city’s waterfront, most recently (and impressively) on Tjuvholmen, or Thief Island. This is where the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art reopened in September in a spectacular new Renzo Piano-designed structure featuring sloping, sail-shaped glass roofs that nearly dip into the water. Next door, the cutting-edge facade and art-strewn interiors of the Thief, a new Design Hotel set to open this month, should fit right in with the arty neighborhood. Tjuvholmen is now also home to a pack of top-notch galleries and a new sculpture park with works from Anish Kapoor and Ellsworth Kelly. Elsewhere in the city, the restaurant Maaemo caught the food world’s attention when, barely a year after opening, it earned two Michelin stars. More proof that Oslo is ready to shine.



A vineyard-heavy suburb gets a makeover.

Some 20 minutes from the heart of Cape Town and set against the slopes of Table Mountain, Constantia’s 10 winemaking farms dating to 1685 lure visitors for tastings, dining, vineyard tours and spa treatments. Constantia’s crown jewel — the Steenberg Luxury Hotel, with the region’s only golf course, oldest farm and buildings that are national monuments — has had a makeover. Its lavish heritage suites have been renovated, and BistroSixteen82, with a Provençal menu and raw bar, has opened, as has Gorgeous, a bar serving canapes paired with Graham Beck sparkling wines. Other new routes to R&R in this serene suburb, where food-and-wine festivals and art shows dot the calendar, include the glamorous Alphen Boutique Hotel, a new spa in the Constantia Uitsig hotel and a tasting dinner at the Greenhouse overseen by the chef Peter Tempelhoff.



An overlooked beer destination in the Baltics.

The Old World is webbed with well-traveled beer trails in places like Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic. But in the past few years, rumors have swirled about an overlooked historic beer trail in Lithuania. Centered around the town of Birzai, a town in the country’s north, some 50 to 70 farmhouse breweries are producing earthy, unusual ales, often employing techniques not seen elsewhere and fermented with types of brewing yeast that — as Canadian beer writer Martin Thibault has discovered — appear to have different DNA from all other known strains. To get a taste of what the Lithuanian beer trail offers, sample the wares at specialty beer bars like Bambalyne, Alaus Namai and Snekutis in the capital, Vilnius. After that, the truly intrepid can seek out countryside breweries.



An ancient city with a fresh face and culinary buzz.

Burgos, in Castile-Leon, is home to a spired Gothic cathedral that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. That striking building used to be the town’s only compelling attraction, but in recent years Burgos has become a well-rounded destination with contemporary cultural centers (the Museum of Human Evolution) and boutique hotels (Via Gotica). At the same time a new group of talented chefs has given it a dynamic dining scene that is finally allowing the city, recently chosen as Spain’s gastronomic capital for 2013, a chance to showcase its homegrown delicacies. Some of them, blood sausages with roasted peppers and grilled lechazo, or baby lamb, are on offer at Casa Ojeda, a 100-year-old restaurant run by the young Pablo Cofreces. Recent openings like Fabula and La Galeria focus on innovative versions of these classics, which pair wonderfully with the powerful reds of nearby Ribera del Duero.



Is the next Bilbao in northern France?

Lens, an industrial town in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, is aiming to become the next Bilbao. The first step in such a transformation happened last month, when a branch of the Louvre opened on what had been a former hilltop mine yard. The 50-acre site, which was abandoned in the 1960s, now has gardens and hangar-like exhibition spaces designed by the Japanese architectural firm Sanaa. The Lens Louvre will not have a permanent collection; it will instead host a rotating selection of 200 works from Paris spanning millenniums. Biannual exhibitions will complement shows at the Louvre in Paris. It is conceivable to take in both Louvres as part of a weekend: Lens is about an hour and 10 minutes from Paris on the TGV rail line.



An Asian skiing spot gets supersized.

China’s ski industry has come a long way since the mid-1990s, when the country had fewer than 10,000 skiers and only nine small resorts. That number has now risen to more than 200, one of the most ambitious of which is Changbaishan, which opened this winter in a pine-studded nature reserve in Jilin province near the North Korean border. The $3.2 billion resort is one of the largest in Asia, with 43 trails totaling nearly 20 miles, and has a partner in Starwood, which opened a Westin and Sheraton resort with more than 500 combined rooms there in July. There’s even talk of starting up a Davos-style global entrepreneurs forum.



Finally, places worthy of Porto’s vintages — at table wine prices.

Portugal’s economic pain is your gain in Porto, one of Western Europe’s great bargains. New boutique hotels and restaurants, like the Yeatman, dramatically perched above the Douro River featuring Porto’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, have brought a fresh burnish to this UNESCO-protected city where labyrinthine narrow streets, ancient buildings and black-cloaked students inspired a young English tutor who lived here in the early 1990s named J.K. Rowling. The financial downturn doesn’t detract from the town’s most prominent industry — port wine — which can be sampled in the cellars of Sandeman, Graham’s or Taylor-Fladgate, on the Douro’s south bank. The latter features a superb terraced restaurant, Barao de Fladgate, overlooking the city center.



A spate of new hotels and restaurants animates the island.

The ease of traveling to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States (no passport or foreign currency) has made the island more a mainstream getaway than an exclusive haven. But a string of new resorts, some with a nod to the island’s storied past in tourism, have opened in and around San Juan. The Condado Vanderbilt, a stately 1919-vintage hotel on the oceanfront in San Juan that had been closed since 1993, opened an upscale restaurant called 1919 in October. Its 323 rooms, spread between the historic building and two new towers, are expected to open by this summer. About 20 miles west of town, the Ritz-Carlton’s new Dorado Beach opened last month with 115 rooms all facing the ocean, 11 miles of walking and biking trails, a spa with treehouse massage pavilions and a restaurant from the chef Jose Andres. The hotel occupies the footprint of a hotel of the same name that was owned by a Rockefeller. Another resort that evokes the spirit of an earlier era is the 426-acre golf club Royal Isabela, which just opened 20 one-bedroom casitas, each with a private pool, offering nonmembers access to its restaurant and 1cliff-top golf.



A party island goes upscale and family-friendly.

For years, the island of Koh Phangan, in the Gulf of Thailand off Koh Samui, has been the site of Thailand’s most notorious party, when thousands of hedonists let loose under a full moon. But with its first airport and direct flights from Bangkok slated for 2013, along with an increasing number of luxury- and family-friendly accommodations popping up, Koh Phangan’s extended hangover is finally relenting. New hotels like the simple, stylish beachfront Buri Rasa; the all-villa tropical-chic hideaway Kupu Kupu; and the mod-Asian Anantara Rasananda are introducing more subdued travelers to Phangan’s emerald-green rolling hills and aquamarine waters, which are teeming with marine life. There are Buddhist temples and hidden waterfalls to check out, along with feel-good options like the Canadian-run Yoga Studio and its vegan cafe. Try a seafood curry with your toes in the sand at the family-run Beachlounge and have some homemade coconut ice cream.



An Indian Ocean hideaway to visit before development descends.

Kalpitiya, a spit of land two hours north of Colombo that boasts one of Sri Lanka’s least developed stretches of coastline, is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the west and the emerald green Puttalam Lagoon on the east. Now, before large resort developments at the peninsula’s tip come to fruition, is the time to visit. Base yourself at Alankuda Beach, which from November through April is the launching point for dolphin and sperm whale watching expeditions; May brings wind and kite surfing. Dry land diversions include a 17th-century Dutch fort and the Shrine of St. Anne, Sri Lanka’s oldest, as well as leopard, sloth bear and elephant spotting at nearby Wilpattu National Park.



Faster flights and lifts where the buffalo roam.

You no longer have to endure a stopover in Salt Lake City or Denver to get to the resort of Jackson Hole. United has introduced direct winter flights from Newark, San Francisco and Houston, and Delta is offering flights from Minneapolis. While the famed powder skiing beneath the Grand Tetons is now even more reachable after the completion of a five-year overhaul of its lift system, Jackson Hole has become an all-season destination, both for its pioneer Western setting and for its emergence as an international center for music and cultural festivals. There’s also the new 3/4-mile nature trail at the National Museum of Wildlife Art to compete with the real wildlife grazing in the surrounding plains of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.



Still the party city of Asia but for a more sophisticated crowd.

Forget red light district bars and half-a-star hostels. This Southeast Asian capital is experiencing a renaissance with a sophisticated vibe embodied in spots like the Siam Hotel, a fashionable 39-room property on the river opened by pop star Krissada Sukosol Clapp, which offers kickboxing and cooking classes along with restaurants like Smith from one of the country’s most celebrated chefs, Ian Kittichai, the latest to take on nose-to-tail dining. Drinking spots like Sky bar, 63 floors high, has a spectacular view of the city while the Bed Supperclub has international DJs and a sexy crowd. Two Sofitel properties just opened; a W is planned for February.



Old World spa culture meets a budding ski scene.

This mountain range along the border with Poland has long been renowned for its crisp, clear air. At the spa town Karlova Studanka, founded in the late 18th century by Maximilian Franz, the youngest child of Holy Roman empress Maria Theresa, all of the Swiss-chalet style buildings in the spa village hail from the 1850s to 1890s, and the mineral waters that run through it are said to cure all (people bring big water jugs to fill and take home). Vaclav Havel reportedly rented out an entire hotel on the premises to recover from surgery. But the area is not only for the infirm: New pools and saunas, treatments, and modern facilities draw Czechs from across the country. Add to that a smattering of newly popular ski mountains, and suddenly the Jeseniky Mountains are attracting Europeans who had never noticed this Eastern corner of the Czech Republic.



A homegrown art scene beckons from down under.

Long home to fine vineyards and numerous lodges and cottages, Waiheke, which is a short ferry ride from downtown Auckland, is embracing its bohemian side. The 35-square-mile island is dotted with new shops and galleries that sell sculptures and paintings from the dozens of local artists. From Jan. 25 to Feb. 17, the island will host the Headland Sculpture on the Gulf biennial arts festival, which will include 30 new large-scale outdoor sculptures installed along a stunningly scenic coastal path.



Whew! More time for culture and comfort.

Inscriptions in the ancient Mayan calendar pointed to Dec. 21, 2012, as an ending. While a few alarmists read this as a sign of the apocalypse, many scholars interpreted it as symbolizing a new era. In strongholds of Mayan culture like the Yucatán Peninsula, home to Chichen Itza, Uxmal and other archaeological sites, the second view is the one with traction: Officials there have planned a series of celebrations through March that include concerts, dance rituals, literary festivals and talks by renowned astronomers. The cultural immersion is spilling over onto the area’s resorts. One of them, Hotel Esencia, a seaside lodging with 29 thatched palapas and an organic spa, is offering a three-day cleansing ritual called Kukulkan, where trained healers concoct personalized herbal baths. A quieter look at Mayan heritage is on hand at the new Museo Maya in Cancún, which has more than 300 relics and 10,000-year-old human remains from its permanent collection on display.



A Cirque du Soleil fortune finances a train to the slopes.

Lovers of the outdoors have long embraced the Charlevoix region of rural Quebec, along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, home to the ski resort Le Massif. Now they have a new way to get there and a new place to stay. Backed by Daniel Gauthier, a founder of Cirque du Soleil, Le Massif de Charlevoix train, whose 87-mile route goes between Quebec City and the town of La Malbaie, stops midway at the base of the ski mountain. Skiers can rack up their gear nearby in the artsy town of Baie-Saint-Paul at the new Hotel La Ferme. The minimalist 145-room inn features a spa and farm-to-table restaurant on a public plaza near the new rail station.



Cultures mesh in Hungary’s “borderless city.”

This Austro-Hungarian city, 125 miles south of Budapest and a stone’s throw from the Croatian border, has always been at the intersection of Catholic, Muslim and Hungarian-Croatian cultures. Its narrow lanes are lined with buildings in myriad styles, from the Baroque designs of the 19th-century Habsburgs — in pinks and yellows, dappled with carved ornamentation or covered in Hungarian tile — to an Ottoman bathhouse and other remnants of the Turkish occupation. After being chosen as a 2010 European Culture Capital, the city underwent a growth spurt, with the opening of the modernist 1,000-seat Kodaly Concert Center and the sprawling Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, a venue for art, music and children’s events in an overhauled porcelain factory. Everywhere, visitors will find buffed and burnished public squares awaiting them.



The other Congo, Africa’s newest safari destination.

There are two Congos: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly the Belgian Congo; and the much smaller Republic of the Congo, a former French colony that has managed to avoid some of the violent conflict of its neighbor. Still, the Republic of the Congo hasn’t been on the top of anyone’s travel list until recently, when the much respected Wilderness Safaris opened up the country’s first two luxury safari camps in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park. African safari aficionados are thrilled at the prospect of comfortable designer digs in the heart of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest tropical rain forest, home to forest elephants and Africa’s densest population of western lowland gorillas. Another reason adventure travelers are heading to the country, according to a travel operator pioneer in the area, Leslie Nevison of Congo Wildlife Adventures, is to meet members of the indigenous B’Aka Pygmy tribes who often serve as gorilla trackers. “It’s not an easy trip but it’s an incredible privilege to experience the Republic of the Congo’s unique wildlife and cultural opportunities,” she wrote in an email.



The emerald isle reaches out with an ancestral celebration.

The former Celtic Tiger, pulling out all the stops this year to attract much-needed tourism dollars, is holding a family reunion on the grandest scale. A yearlong program called The Gathering hopes to draw many of the 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish ancestry. The program, which kicked off with a three-day New Year’s party in Dublin replete with a procession, fireworks and a concert featuring native headliners Imelda May and Bell X1, will go on to include clan gatherings, cultural festivals, sporting events and performances throughout the year and across the country. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus, United and American are ramping up service between Ireland and the United States, home to more than half of those global Irish descendants.



Fishing for design from a famed native son.

From San Sebastian, it’s just a 25-minute drive, mostly along a gorgeously winding waterfront highway, to Getaria. For centuries, this fishing village was all about a quiet maritime life, with boats bobbing in the small port, and seaside restaurants grilling excellent fish (and becoming renowned among gastronomically picky Basques). For centuries, Getaria’s most famous local son was navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano, who sailed with Magellan and was the first to circumnavigate the globe in the early 16th century. But more recently, a local boy went out and became a fashion icon. After decades of squabbling over funding, the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum finally opened in summer 2011, drawing a sophisticated design set to Getaria’s twisting medieval central streets and filling its restaurants and hotels with travelers from Paris, Madrid and beyond.



Live-aboard diving in a remote archipelago.

With white sands, coconut trees and 800 mostly uninhabited islands, the Mergui Archipelago on the southern coast of Myanmar has been tantalizing travelers for decades — sitting right there on the map but seemingly just out of reach. That’s changing as the country takes baby steps toward democracy and the region becomes more accessible to tourists with a budget for live-aboard boat trips. Only a handful of companies are running trips to the Mergui islands right now, so expect all the clichés: lazing on deserted islands inhabited by a seminomadic population. John Williams, of Siam Dive N Sail, is an old hand in the region and books a small number of trips to the archipelago each season on boats of various sizes. Another option is Sailing Yacht Asia, a private charter that can accommodate 10 people in a luxurious yacht with five staterooms.



Despite tensions, development at Britain’s most remote outpost.

Eight thousand miles from London, the Falkland Islands are a cold, rugged Galapagos-like spot swarming with penguins, seals, whales and other wildlife. Over the past few decades, though, politics has trumped nature: More than 30 years since the Falklands War, tensions between Argentina and Britain remain high, especially with vast oil reserves being explored offshore.

The practical Falklanders, though, are moving on, breaking ground this year on a Falkland Islands Museum as part of an overhaul and expansion of the waterfront in the capital, Stanley, along with considering new air routes. The Malvina House Hotel, Stanley’s largest, which doubled in size in 2010, has just expanded its harbor-view restaurant and will expand further to 70 rooms by early 2014. Come soon, though, as oil money rapidly transforms Stanley’s ethnic, economic and social character, driving development in this tiny, eccentric village of about 2,000 year-round residents.



A new food scene to welcome a renewed administration.

In recent years, the capital has seen the arrival of a vibrant, independent food scene — one that’s blossoming just in time to welcome a renewed Obama administration. Last November, in a gritty northeast corner of town, Union Market opened, a gleaming food hall featuring farmers, artisanal vendors and stalls like Rappahonnack Oyster Co., which offers quick, luxurious bites of Chesapeake shellfish. Meanwhile a handful of talented young chefs is bucking the city’s traditional steakhouse culture: Mike Isabella, a former Top Chef contestant, at his Italian restaurant Graffiato; Erik Bruner-Yang at the Taiwanese-style ramen bar Toki Underground; and Johnny Monis at Little Serow, a Thai-inspired spot that Bon Appétit named one of 2012’s best new restaurants. Providing some background for it all is a new permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian, “Food: Transforming America’s Table 1950-2000,” which traces major changes in the nation’s food culture.



A city of cinematic fame has emerged as an art destination.

Sorry Bogie and Bergman: For years travelers to Morocco have skipped the city you put on the map, the country’s clamorous, relatively cosmopolitan capital, in their hurry to get to places like Marrakech and Tangier, which offer guaranteed doses of exoticism. Now, though, young art- and architecture-loving Europeans are giving Casa, in local parlance, a second look. The city has become a superb open-air museum of 20th-century architecture — don’t miss the gorgeous Rialto movie theater, or the Twin Center, North Africa’s tallest towers, designed by Ricardo Bofill; the group Casa Memoire offers great guided architectural tours of the city. With edgy spots like Galerie FJ, the city is also developing one of the most interesting modern art scenes in the Arab world. And it’s all more accessible following the opening of the first line of the city’s new tramway system last month.



Seine-side strolling, minus the traffic.

Paris is hardly an emerging destination, but it has a new allure: a green and walkable Right Bank. Where once there was just a busy road, there are now alder trees, native Seine grasses and wide walking and cycle paths, all due to a 35-million-euro beautification project led by Mayor Bertrand Delanoue. Wooden furniture to stretch out in has been installed along the banks, where visitors can relax while taking in the view of Notre Dame Cathedral, and five adjoining islands in the river are being turned into “floating gardens.” Across the river, ambitious steps are being taken to transform a nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the Left Bank free of cars by this spring, with 11 acres of new green space between the Musee d’Orsay and Pont de l’Alma.


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