Daydreaming about an escape from the frigid cold and in need of some vacation inspiration? We caught up with travel experts, including Pauline Frommer, at the Travel and Adventure Show in January—and they gave us the scoop on hot spots to visit in 2015. Here are their favorite up-and-coming destinations and why you need to go now.
Pauline Frommer, editorial director and co-president of Frommer Media
Frommer says now is the time to go to Europe because the strength of the dollar makes it more affordable for Americans. For history and art buffs, Frommer recommends oft-overlooked Belgium. Mons is the European capital of culture this year.
“That means there’s going to be a slew of really extraordinary arts events,” she says. “It’s the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death and they’ll have a blockbuster exhibition of 70 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh.”
You can plan to eat very well in Belgium. “The food is often better than what you get in France,” Frommer says. “Often in French cities, at the lower level they’re microwaving their food now. You never get that in Belgium. The food is really great at all levels, the chocolate can’t be beat and it has some of the most perfectly preserved medieval neighborhoods—like Bruges, Ghent, the historic core of Antwerp.”
Traveling with adventurous kids? Consider Belize. Frommer’s daughters, ages 11 and 15, loved a recent trip to beautiful Caribbean country, where they rappelled down 200-foot cliffs, swam in caves and explored Mayan ruins.
“I know my kids would kill to go back to Belize,” she says. “They did things there that would be illegal for kids their ages to do in most other places.”
Belize has beach resorts for a more leisurely vacation, but the mix of culture, nature and adventure can’t be beat. “It’s like Costa Rica, but with fewer crowds and more cultural activities,” Frommer says.
Samantha Brown, Travel Channel host
Like Frommer, Brown urges travelers to take the European vacation of their dreams this year. “The dollar hasn’t been stronger against the Euro in the last 10 years,” she says. “Stick to countries with the Euro and consider cities like Lisbon, which [has] all the romance of Paris or Rome, but at a fraction of the cost.”
For a warm-weather getaway closer to home, Brown recommends Amelia Island in Florida. “You fly into Jacksonville, which is a great, easy airport, nothing like Miami,” she says. “Then it’s just a 20 minute drive to a vacation from yesteryear. Go kayaking, hunt for seashells, just relax. Accommodations range from the Ritz-Carlton to affordable condos for families.”
Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die“
Cuba is an obvious hotspot this year. Since the United States lifted travel restrictions to the island, travelers can visit independently and new direct flights from the U.S. are likely. Author Patricia Schultz visited Havana five years ago with Cuban-American friends.
“We stayed at the Hotel Nacional,” she says. “Of all the hotels in the city, it’s the best known, most historic and best maintained.”
Schultz also enjoyed visiting Dos Gardenias nightclub and watching the original Tropicana cabaret. “We sat in the front row, with threadbare tablecloths and a bottle of rum,” she says. “Their costumes were falling apart, safety-pinned together and you could see sequins hanging off, but what a show. These people are born dancing.”
Schultz recommends sticking with reputable tour companies if you’re visiting in the immediate future. “Go with a sense of adventure,” she says. “The infrastructure is not what it needs to be yet now that the floodgates have opened, but it’s not dangerous. Cuban people are so warm.”
On the European continent, Schultz thinks former Yugoslavian countries are a great value and underrated. “Slovenia is so idyllic,” she says. “Ljubljana [the capital] is very pedestrian and you can stroll all around.”
Since Slovenia shares a border with Italy, Schultz says the food and wine are very strong in the region and also recommends spending a few days by Lake Bled, where you can go biking, climbing and kayaking. Schultz suggests staying at former Yugoslavian President Tito’s villa, which has been converted into a luxurious hotel.
Alex Malcolm, founder and managing director of Jacada Travel
Jacada Travel specializes in planning custom itineraries for luxurious and audacious adventures. Founder Alex Malcolm says tourism in Zimbabwe has “turned a corner. “There has been a lot of investment in new safari properties, including Linkwasha and Chinzombo.
“It shines for so many reasons, not least the warmth and hospitality of its people,” Malcolm says. “Beat the rush and get there first.”
Peru has been receiving a lot of attention for its culinary delights and Machu Picchu, but Malcolm suggests the areas just outside of the Sacred Valley.
“There’s spectacular scenery, unspoiled traditional village life and great hiking trails,” he explains. “What’s changed this year is the opening of a number of small, comfortable lodgings allowing the luxury traveller to enjoy these pristine parts of Peru away from busier sites like Cusco and Machu Picchu.”