This year, if you’re looking to travel far from the madding crowds and visit somewhere new, consider these up-and-coming destinations rather than the obvious tourist hotspots. From sauna culture in Finland to exploring ancient Mayan ruins in the Yucatán, memorable (and eco-friendly!) adventures await. As travel guidance is constantly evolving, be sure to review local health and travel guidelines before travel.
To get to Mérida, you’ll have to fly through Dallas or Houston but the layover is worth it. The capital of Yucatán has a rich Mayan and Spanish colonial heritage and some of the best food in Mexico, including refreshing ceviche and melt-in-your-mouth cochinita pibil. Visit Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca to learn about the history of Mayan cuisine before shopping for locally made and designed souvenirs at Casa T´HŌ Concept House. Stroll the wide boulevard of Paseo de Montejo (Mérida’s Champs-Élysées) and order marquesitas from a street vendor. These rolled crêpes stuffed with queso de bola Dutch cheese and dulce de leche are the perfect sweet and savory snack.
Beyond the city, Chichen Itza is the most famous of the Mayan ruins, but Uxmal is just as dramatic. Swimming in cenotes, a natural limestone sinkhole used by Mayans for fresh water and sacrificial ceremonies, at Hacienda Cenote Mucuyché is a mystical experience, and a boat tour of Río Lagartos, a protected region along the Yucatán coast, is a bird watchers paradise. Kids will love seeing the flamingos and crocodiles too.
Where to Stay
Unknown Hotel is a charming new 18-room boutique hotel with private plunge pools right in the city center, while Chablé Yucatán is an enchanting wellness retreat, set among a colonial hacienda and ancient Mayan ruins. Spa treatments here begin with a traditional Mayan smudging ceremony and yoga classes are held beside the cenote. Nearly all the produce comes from the resort’s traditional raised Mayan gardens, ka’anche’s.
With more than 187,000 lakes, Lakeland just north of Helsinki is the largest lake district in Europe, where Finns have summer cottages on pristine shores and private islands. Blazing fall foliage and snowy winters make this an enchanting destination all year-round for hiking, biking, boating and snowmobiling. It’s no wonder that Finland has been the world’s happiest country according to the U.N.’s World Happiness Report for four years in a row, thanks to their high standard of living and proximity to nature. Take a cruise on Lake Saimaa to see the prehistoric Astuvansalmi rock paintings and keep your eyes peeled for endangered Saimaa ringed seals.
Lakeland is a great place to explore Finnish sauna culture, recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Sauna is a Finnish word and saunas are a sacred place for Finns.
“Sauna was a domestic temple with spiritual roots,” says Finnish folk healer Maaria Alén. “It’s now a place to clean the mind, body and soul.” The steam rising from the stones is like sending a prayer to the heavens and it’s traditional to use a birch or rowan tree whisk (vasta) to gently hit yourself to improve circulation.
Sip world-class wines made from cloudberries, lingonberries and wild blueberries at Ainoa Winery – even the sweet wines pair surprisingly well with savory dishes and cheese. Enjoy a sumptuous lunch buffet at Tertti Manor, then shop for juniper jelly, rose petal-infused cheddar, nuts preserved in honey and other homemade artisan food products next door. Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe so you’ll find lots of beautiful sustainable wood architecture everywhere you go, including Sibelius Hall, the largest wooden concert hall in the world in Lahti.
Where to Stay
The four adults-only Haasi Mirror Houses at Lehmonkärki are also known as the Nordic Maldives. The cozy overwater glass villas are super romantic and ideal for sauna, swimming and stargazing. At Revontuli Resort, you can stay in a chic glass igloo and visit a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, then cool off by jumping into the lake.
In November, Doha will host the 2022 World Cup and the city is doubling its hotel inventory for the global event. Qatar Airways offers daily direct flights from 10 gateway cities, including Chicago and San Francisco, and it’s one of the most luxe airlines around. First-time visitors should swing by the National Museum of Qatar for a crash course in Qatari heritage, natural history and culture. It’s astounding how rapidly the country developed in the late 20th century from pearl diving and a nomadic Bedouin lifestyle to a cosmopolitan cultural capital in the Middle East.
Doha has a number of world-class museums, including the Museum of Islamic Art and several free museums within walking distance in Msheireb Downtown. Bin Jelmood House, dedicated to telling the story of slavery throughout human history, is especially heart-wrenching and poignant. A visit to Souq Waqif is a must. The traditional outdoor market is still where many locals shop for spices and snacks, and visitors should visit the falcons and stables with Arabian horses.
Where to Stay
Mandarin Oriental, Doha is one of the most sustainable luxury hotels in the city, with LEED Gold certification in the new Msheireb Downtown district. The modern interpretation of traditional Qatari architecture is elegantly chic, rooms are spacious and service is world-class.
Carlsbad often gets overlooked in favor of Laguna Beach or nearby San Diego but the wealthy seaside town offers beachy laidback luxury that’s great for families and romantic getaways. The Beach Genie can curate an ultimate beach day at Tamarack Surf Beach with beach cabanas, games, bonfires and portable firepits for s’mores. Local restaurants are receiving some much-deserved national recognition too. Most notably, chef Eric Bost recently received Carlsbad’s first Michelin star for his refined California-French prix fixe menu at Jeune et Jolie.
Foodies can also tour Carlsbad Aquafarm, Southern California’s only shellfish farm, and learn how to shuck oysters before enjoying the fruits of your labor.
This spring, Ferrari launches a new interactive attraction for car enthusiasts at Legoland California Resort. Aptly named “Build and Race,” the experience allows wannabe car engineers to build their very own Prancing Horse from Lego bricks, then try it out on one of three racetracks.
Where to Stay
Park Hyatt Aviara just completed a $50 million renovation during the pandemic, and all 327 guestrooms include deep soaking marble tubs and a furnished balcony or patio. The Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole championship golf course is a highlight, but there’s tennis, croquet and badminton too on the recreational lawn. The Spanish Colonial-style Omni La Costa Resort & Spa just a couple miles away has an even nicer spa, and two highly-rated golf courses.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
This up-and-coming Midwestern town is an emerging culinary, art and wellness destination, an easy three-hour drive from Chicago that’s great for families and girlfriend getaways. Fort Wayne’s public art trail has exploded over the past few years, with more than 150 larger-than-life murals and sculptures to discover. Plus, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art just celebrated their 100th anniversary and is home to the largest collection of American Brilliant cut glass.
The Landing is the hottest new development, a one-block neighborhood in the heart of downtown that’s part of a larger riverfront revitalization project. New restaurants, shops and food artisans like Utopian Coffee and Landing Beer breathe new life into what was once one of the oldest commercial districts in Indiana. Each summer, live music, regular pop-ups and festivals make this the liveliest hangout in town and you can kayak down the river just a block away.
Health-minded visitors can walk over to Pure Movement for a Pilates class and treat yourself to a gift at Idlehour boutique on your way out. The cocktails at Copper Spoon rival anything you’ll find in Chicago; the black sesame daiquiri is incredible and there are equally delicious mocktails and low-ABV drinks. There’s more coming on the culinary front in 2022: GK Baked Goods and Marquee are a couple of the most anticipated new openings.
Where to Stay
Just a block from The Landing, The Bradley is Fort Wayne’s first boutique hotel, a collaboration between Portland-based Provenance Hotels and hometown favorite Vera Bradley. Year-round rooftop bar Birdie’s has some of the best views of downtown and complimentary bike rentals are a convenient way to get around. There’s no spa here though. For a proper spa day, visit Woodhouse Day Spa nearby for world-class massages and allow enough time to experience the sensory showers, sauna and steam room too.
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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.