5 Unexpected Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations

5 Unexpected Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Arlberg

As the weather cools, our wanderlust heats up. Whatever kind of vacation you’re in the mood for, here are five alternative destinations you probably haven’t considered.

For a spa and wine escape…

Instead of Napa Valley, relax on Vancouver Island

It might not be warm and sunny, but you’ll still need your bathing suit for a winter spa getaway on Vancouver Island. Stay at Tigh-Na-Mara for a rustic but luxurious seaside retreat with individual log cabins spread across 22 acres. The resort has a serious commitment to sustainability and hosts annual holiday fundraisers to benefit children and families in need.

The pools at Tigh-Na-Mara’s Grotto Spa are filled with minerals imported from Hungary. Book a dip and dine package for endless tapas after your spa experience. Where else can you enjoy a 17-course meal in a bathrobe?

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Vancouver Island, Tigh-Na-Mara Grotto Spa
Tigh-Na-Mara Grotto Spa

Kingfisher Resort & Spa is another spa great for couples and small groups, with an indoor landscape of sandstone caves and pools. The hour-long hydropath leads you through eight water elements that will detoxify, relax, and boost circulation, ending with a seaweed mineral scrub in your private tub.

Vancouver Island is also home to 32 wineries, none of which export to the United States. There’s a lot of natural and organic winemaking here, and pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and German hybrids siegerrebe and ortega do well in the cool weather climate. A couple favorite wineries are Emandare and Blue Grouse Estate Winery, where you can also stay in their Grouse House guest house.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Vancouver Island, Tigh-Na-Mara Endless Tapas
Tigh-Na-Mara Endless Tapas

For European skiing…

Instead of Chamonix, hit the slopes in Arlberg

Austria’s westernmost province, Vorarlberg, is bordered by Germany, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland and home to the best skiing in the country. While St. Anton is Austria’s best known ski destination, Lech and Zürs in Vorarlberg have even more charming and luxurious family-owned accommodations like Hotel Gasthof Post and Burg Vital Resort. Since 2016, the two sides of the Arlberg mountain are connected by a new Flexenbahn cableway, making it the largest contiguous skiing area in Austria.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Arlberg, Gasthof Post Herzog Suite
Gasthof Post Herzog Suite

To get here, fly to Zürich and take a train to Bregenz or St. Anton. The scenic ride takes between two to three hours and trains here are always punctual. Lech is also the only region in Austria where you can go heli-skiing. If you’re feeling especially daring, consider a weeklong ski trip traversing all of Vorarlberg with private mountain and ski guides. The combination of skiing, touring, and freeriding takes you to exclusive deep snow runs you’d never find yourself. Luggage will be transported for you from hotel to hotel and mountain railways help with the ascent. Avalanche equipment including helmet, headlamp, gloves, airbag, and avalanche transceiver is provided.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Arlberg
Photo by Sepp Mallaun.

Skiers of all levels can enjoy the wonderful spas and restaurants back in Lech. The rustic hunting lodge of Gasthof Post is the coziest spot in town thanks to the Moosbrugger family’s heartfelt hospitality. Sip afternoon tea by the fireplace in your bathrobe with a slice of apfelstrudel after a detoxifying massage with Alpine herbal compresses. For dinner, snag one of 18 coveted seats at Chef’s Table at Rote Wand for a 19-course fine dining extravaganza beginning with a flurry of small bites and ending in a guaranteed food coma. 

For a fabulous foodie getaway…

Instead of Barcelona, dine in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s a little less expensive than international flights to Spain and meals at Barcelona’s top restaurants like Disfrutar, Enigma, and Tickets. And the new super exclusive 10-seat, no wait staff, Spanish-inspired restaurant from José Andrés and Aitor ZabalaSomni — is arguably just as good.

Somni is located at The SLS Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Beverly Hills, which just completed a $22 million update to all 297 guest rooms and suites. Book the new “Be Epicurean” package and get your hands dirty right away with a mixology, culinary, or bon bon making class before enjoying José’s Tasting Menu at The Bazaar in celebration of their 10 year-anniversary, highlighting signature dishes across the decade.

The next day, forage with naturalist Pascal Baudar at the Angeles National Forest before enjoying a 20-course dinner at Somni including some of the treasures you’ve unearthed.

For incredible seafood, continue tempting your taste buds at Crustacean Beverly Hills. The modern Vietnamese restaurant recently reopened after a $10 million redesign and renovation and Master Chef Helene An serves small plates like surf and turf sashimi with tobacco chili vinaigrette and the famous off-menu garlic noodles and whole dungeness crab.

Culinary delicacies here even extend to the spa. Montage Beverly Hills is one of just two spas in the country to offer L. Raphael spa treatments, including an OxyStar facial utilizing rare white truffles to lighten and brighten your skin with a plumping collagen mask to finish.

For holiday shopping…

Instead of New York, head to Columbus, Ohio

Locals tell me that Columbus often gets compared to Brooklyn and the plethora of boutiques, galleries, and makers markets certainly create a robust independent shopping scene. High Street in the Short North Arts District is the premier shopping street in town, with an international selection of fair trade gifts from Global Gifts and crafts made locally from repurposed materials at Glean. Thread carries contemporary American-designed fashions along with locally made geode jewelry and tees printed by adults with autism. Shop children’s clothes by Mrly at Cub Shrub — each purchase supports Ronald McDonald House of Central Ohio.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Columbus, Ohio, Glean
Glean (Photo by Amber Gibson.)

Refuel a couple blocks away at the historic North Market with rainbow scoops of colorful vegetables and Swiss chard crostatas at Little Eater. Owner and Executive Chef Cara Mangini is a mom of two and staunch vegetable advocate. Parsnip ginger cupcake, anyone? If you’re craving meat, try the Kathmandu chicken dumplings at Momo Ghar or Nashville fried chicken at Hot Chicken Takeover upstairs, which supports previously incarcerated and homeless workers through employment, professional development, and counseling.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Columbus, Ohio, Little Eater
Little Eater Veggie Sampler (Photo by Amber Gibson.)

Give your gift a personal touch by creating a candle at The Candle Lab, where you can choose from 120 different scents to make a custom blend. This interactive experience is fun and easy for anyone, but more ambitious DIY-ers can try their hand at making a centerpiece or wreath with a floral class at Flowers & Bread. Florist Katie Carothers is also a farmer and helps students interweave sweet wormwood, rosemary, lavender, baby blue eucalyptus, and wheat for a fragrant everlasting door wreath.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Columbus, Ohio, Flowers and Bread
Flowers and Bread (Photo by Emily Webber, Emma.Lou Imaging.)

Set your shopping bags down and turn in for the night at Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph. The owners are serious art collectors, supporting local and emerging artists, and you can buy the limited edition prints right off the walls of your guestroom. 

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Columbus, Ohio, Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph
Photo courtesy of Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph.

For a culturally immersive Asian escape…

Instead of Bangkok, visit Beijing

Knock two of the world’s most impressive historic wonders off your bucket list on one trip when you head to the Chinese capital city. The Forbidden City, where two dozen Chinese emperors ruled over the span of 500 years up until the Qing dynasty ended in 1912, is located in the center of the city. The imperial palace complex is now home to the Palace Museum and is a destination you could easily spend multiple days exploring.

Next up, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is 90 minutes from Beijing by car. Once there, take the cable car up and explore the stretch of 20 watchtowers by foot, marveling at the sheer brute force it took to construct a 5,500-mile wall (that’s a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to New York!) during the Ming Dynasty. Dress warmly, as it gets mighty windy up in the mountains, and careen down in a toboggan when you’re ready to return to earth.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Beijing, Great Wall
Great Wall, Mutianyu (Photo by Amber Gibson.)

The air and water pollution in Beijing can be stifling, so counter the city smog by staying at the brand new Hyatt Regency Beijing Wangjing located in what’s been dubbed China’s Silicon Valley, home to many expats and multi-national companies. This is Wangjing’s first international five-star hotel, located between two large parks and designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma in a minimalist, natural style, with lots of greenery, natural light, and water elements. The 25-meter heated indoor pool is a great place to unwind and the food here is excellent too. The Market Cafe offers a bountiful breakfast buffet and Chinese restaurant Cang Yue has three head chefs serving delicacies like Peking duck, braised fish maw with wild rice, and pu-erh tea ice cream.

Alternatives to Popular Tourist Destinations: Beijing, Hyatt Regency Beijing Wangjing
Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Beijing Wangjing.

For souvenir shopping, visit bustling Nanluoguxiang. The narrow alleys from the Yuan Dynasty are now home to contemporary boutiques, cafes, and shops selling handicrafts and traditional Beijing pastries stuffed with hawthorn, sesame, red date, and rose paste.

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. 





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