What’s your New Year’s travel resolution for 2020? Whether it’s a big family trip, getaway with friends, or intentional time with your partner, dare to dream big with these seven international destinations.
If you like New Mexico, explore Cappadocia
Culture buffs who enjoy New Mexico’s cliff dwellings, Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta, and Santa Fe’s fine crafts will love Cappadocia, just a short hop by plane from Istanbul in central Turkey. You don’t have to visit for a festival, but can enjoy hot air balloon rides every morning, when 150 hot air balloons take to the sky at dawn, floating above the Insta-famous fairy chimney landscape of the Göreme valley, shaped by hundreds of volcanic eruptions. Consider booking your hot air balloon ride for your first morning in Cappadocia since the pre-dawn wake up will be easier before you’ve adjusted to the time change.
There are dozens of underground cave-cities to explore in Cappadocia, and Kaymakli is one of the largest, built from the bottom up dating from the Hittite period. These underground towns were not permanent dwellings, but used for shelter during times of invasion and complete with churches, wineries, stables, living quarters, and deep ventilation shafts. You’ll also want to visit Goreme Open Air Museum to see cave churches and chapels with beautiful frescoes. When it comes time to shop for souvenirs, there are exquisite Turkish rugs and brilliant glazed pottery all hand-made locally. Book a private Cappadocia tour for the most comfortable experience and invaluable insider insights.
The main touristic hub of Göreme is full of hotels, but the nicest hotel in town is Ariana Sustainable Luxury Lodge in Uçhisar, with just 11 one-of-a-kind suites and incredibly kind service.
If you like Sonoma, drink the wines of Languedoc
If you prefer quieter, more understated Sonoma to the more commercialized tasting rooms and towns of Napa Valley, then consider a French wine vacation to Languedoc-Roussillon rather than the obvious Bordeaux or Burgundy. This region in southern France on the Mediterranean coast borders Spain and is know France’s largest wine region, known for great value rosé and Rhône varietals.
Stay at Château l’Hospitalet, a quaint 38-room hotel nestled among vineyards in Narbonne, and explore the world of Gérard Bertrand, a former rugby player who has become the largest biodynamic wine producer in the world and a pioneer in raising the profile of Languedoc wines. Bertrand has 15 separate estates in Languedoc, including the prestigious Clos d’Ora, planted with syrah, grenache, carignan, and mourvèdre and plowed by mule. The nine hectare vineyard here is divided into eight separate plots, producing Bertrand’s most precious red blend. If you prefer rosé, Clos du Temple is Bertrand’s newest release and already deemed by critics to be the best in the world for its fresh bouquet and complexity. The grapes — predominantly cinsault, grenache noir, and syrah — are grow in Cabrières, the birthplace of rosé during the Roman era.
Dine at L’Art de Vivre, and enjoy organic vegetables from the garden, estate honey, and local seafood delicacies like prawns, sole, and eel prepared by chef Laurent Chabert. He uses salt from nearby sea salt marshes at Les Sels de Gruissan, where you can tour and enjoy a fresh seafood platter paired with gris blanc.
Visit the Fontfroide Abbey, a beautifully preserved 12th century Cistercian monastery that still produces its own wine, for a serene stroll through the gardens. The fortified medieval city of Carcassone is worth a visit too, to discover the area’s Visigoth history.
If you like Colorado, go on outdoor adventures in Slovenia
Colorado is beautiful in every season, with majestic mountains and agriculture fueling a strong culinary scene across the state. Similarly, outdoorsy types will appreciate the geographic diversity and adventurous activities available in Slovenia, one of Europe’s hottest up-and-coming destinations. Slovenia has received a record-breaking number of visitors each of the past five years and this tiny country (a smidge smaller than New Jersey) borders Croatia, Hungary, Austria, and Italy in Central Europe.
In Slovenia, you can climb Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia that appears on the country’s flag. Triglav takes two days to summit, although it’s not a 14er, and the surrounding national park has plenty of other activities including paragliding and kayaking on Lake Bohinj. For the best rafting, hydrospeeding, mountain biking, and canyoning, head to the Soča Valley, also home to Hiša Franko, Slovenia’s best restaurant. Visit Postojna Cave, where you can take a ride on an underground train and meet baby dragons, but for the most exhilarating experience, spend an entire day canyoning and exploring the depths of the cave beyond what most visitors see.
There are no direct flights from Chicago or San Francisco to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, but Turkish Airlines has the best connections through Istanbul, plus a very generous stopover program if you’re considering extending your stay.
If you like Portland, eat your way through Edmonton
Just like Portland is the hip, fun, liberal bastion in Oregon, Edmonton is the similarly progressive of Alberta. Crash Hotel is Edmonton’s version of Ace Hotel and the 10-day Edmonton International Fringe Festival is second only to Edinburgh in its size and scope. The brand new JW Marriott Edmonton Ice District is the swankiest and most luxurious hotel in town, though, conveniently located downtown and connected by pedway to Rogers Place for concerts and sporting events.
The food scene here has exploded in the past five years too, with chefs like Christine Sanford of Biera moving back home to open their own restaurants after working with top international chefs. In 2017, Edmonton had three of the top 10 restaurants in enRoute’s Canada’s Best New Restaurants list — the highest Canadian restaurant honor and a real coup for the city. One of those restaurants, Café Linnea, also has a sister bakery, Duchess Bakeshop, where the croissants, macarons, and éclairs are simply divine. Ice cream lovers will find that Made By Marcus truly rivals cult-favorite Salt & Straw in every way. Their ice cream is made from raw milk and a couple signature flavors are bee pollen lavender and moonshine brown butter pecan. Wilfred’s in Edmonton’s Brewery District and Clementine are a couple of other local favorites.
If you like the Caribbean, take a dive in the Maldives
It’ll take more than 30 hours and multiple flights to get here, but the water here is even bluer and the snorkeling and diving is beyond imagination. The coral reef ecosystem across the 26 atolls of the Maldives is one of the richest in the world, home to thousands of species of fish. At adults-only Hurawalhi, you can step into the ocean for snorkeling directly from your over-water villa and you’ll find some of the best diving in the country (including whale sharks!) around Lhaviyani Atoll. 5.8 Undersea Restaurant is the most incredible dining experience in the country, not only for the mind-boggling experience of dining among a thriving coral reef teeming with all manner of colorful fish and crustaceans, but also for the excellent seafood and vegan tasting menus that accompany the aquatic beauty. Nearby, Kudadoo takes all-inclusive luxury to another level and is the only 100 percent solar-powered resort in the Maldives.
Four Seasons has two stellar resorts in the Maldives as well — Four Seasons Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru — both super family-friendly with active kids’ clubs and marine research centers so you can help marine biologists restore coral reefs, identify manta rays, and rehabilitate sea turtle. Indian restaurant Baraabaru and North African Al Barakat are dining highlights. Kuda Huraa has some of the best surfing in the Maldives and dolphin safaris are popular for the whole family. Landaa Giraavaru is on a much larger private island in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve just 20 minutes by speedboat from Hanifaru Bay, the best place in the country for spotting manta rays. I recommend taking a seaplane between both resorts and staying a few days in each.
If you like Hawaii, discover New Zealand
Like Hawaii, New Zealand is an isolated island paradise, but quite a bit further from the continental United States. The journey is worth it, though, for the spectacular scenery and ability to truly disconnect. There are beautiful beaches, spectacular golf courses, and rich Polynesian heritage. The Māori and Hawaiians share Polynesian roots and there are many similarities in the language, spirituality, and traditions.
Wellington’s Te Papa Museum is a great place to begin learning about Māori history and culture. Admission is free and the interactive exhibitions like Blood Earth Fire explore New Zealand’s unique natural habitat and human history. Stay at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and take a guided heritage discovery tour with guest relations manager Michael Venner for more personal insight into Māori mana. Kauri Cliffs is also home to a par 72 championship golf course that’s consistently ranked as one of the best in the world, with ocean views from 15 holes.
If you favor a glass of wine along with golf, consider Wharekauhau Country Estate in Wairarapa, a wine region best known for its pinot noir. Bike among the vineyards before relaxing at Hauora Spa, where you can experience New Zealand’s famous manuka honey in a body scrub, wrap, or facial. End your day with a spectacular and leisurely dinner while watching the sunset from the manor house.
If you like New York City, shop and party in Shanghai
If the sights, sounds, and endless stimulation of New York City never fail to thrill you, try flying to Shanghai. It’s the biggest city in China, nearly three times the size of NYC, and the easiest introduction to China for foreigners who don’t speak the language. Whether you prefer to stay in the more historic Puxi side of town, or the flashy new Pudong side, there are endless options for new luxury hotels to choose from, many of which are connected to mega shopping centers. In big shopping centers, you’ll find many familiar international brand names, but also homegrown labels and shops selling delicacies like Taiwanese pineapple cake and Japanese matcha soft serve. Shanghai tailors are known to make the best qipaos in China, so ask your hotel concierge for recommendations and go for a fitting as soon as you arrive since custom qipao take several days to make. Xin Tian Di is a great neighborhood to explore too, and the French Concession has several local designer boutiques. The Shanghai metro is much cleaner than in New York, so it’s easy to zip around town.
When it comes to fine dining, Shanghai has just one three-star Michelin restaurant, but Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet is experimental, futuristic, and theatrical beyond anything you’ll find in the United States, a truly singular experience that’s a bucket list meal for serious foodies. And after dinner, the party is just getting started. Depending on your mood, Le Baron caters more to expats, ASL is hip-hop focused, and TAXX is distinctly Shanghainese and popular among local TV celebrities.
Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table, and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate, and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.