Fez, Morocco

Photo: Hotel Sahrai

Photo: Hotel Sahrai

Fez has always been your favorite Moroccan city. The country’s spiritual and intellectual capital sits at the base of the Middle Atlas mountains. Its two car-free medinas—Fes el Bali and Al-Qarawiyyin—are full of mosques, palaces, and twisting alleyways. Interesting scents, vibrant colors, and intriguing sounds pull you in different directions, until you’re utterly and wonderfully misplaced. Yet you never feel lost, since you’re trying mouthwatering harira, couscous, and tagine along the way.

But this trip to Fez is different. Of course, you see some of your favorite spots: the Bab Boujeloud (the Blue Gate), the Batha Museum (in a Moorish palace), and the Bou Inania Madrasa (Fez’s only madrasa with a minaret). Your focus isn’t on the city’s historical markers, though. For the first time, you’re here to check out what’s new and modern.

On previous visits, you’ve stayed in riads within the medina. The old homes were renovated and turned into small inns with beautiful courtyard gardens. This time, you’re staying at a true hotel. Hotel Sahrai sits on a hillside in between the medina and Ville Nouvelle, the modern section of the city that was built by the French. With Taza limestone, carved walls, and arched pavilions, the hotel may look old, but the modern amenities give it away. If they don’t, the Givenchy Spa—the first in North Africa—certainly will.

Photo: Hotel Sahrai

Photo: Hotel Sahrai

You’re welcomed to the hotel with handmade Moroccan pastries. Unpack in your light-filled room. It has floor-to-ceiling windows, layers of sheer curtains, and a glass-walled marble bathroom. While a handmade leather headboard, hand-painted ceramics, and copper lanterns blur the modern with the traditional. Sip fresh mint tea under the open-air arches at Arcades. Eat lunch on the terrace of Relais de Paris, a French-inspired brasserie. Oualidia oysters and a glass of La Ferme Rouge rosé are the perfect way to start the meal. Decompress in the hammam and with an herbal wrap at the spa. Daydream by the infinity pool. Then take the shuttle into the city for your dinner reservation.

Restaurant No. 7 is just as, if not more, unique as Hotel Sahrai. The little restaurant is sparsely decorated with black-and-white tiles, large photographs, and an indoor waterfall. The wine list is all local. The menu, which changes daily, is handwritten on a blackboard. Recent offerings include chilled fava bean and almond soup, baked sardines with pickled plums and fried sage, and farm chicken braised with fresh figs and anise seed. All Moroccan inspired, but by no means traditional.

But the real treat is the chef, or in this case, chefs. The restaurant features a rotating series of guest chefs from around the world. They arrive for one-to-four-month stints in a cross-culinary exchange. A Chilean chef, who has cooked at some of the best restaurants in the world, is about to take over. Dig in, everything smells delicious.

Spiaggia Rosa, Maddalena Archipelago

Photo: trevis_lu (Luca Giudicatti) (spiaggia rosa, isola di budelli, sardegna) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: trevis_lu (Luca Giudicatti) (spiaggia rosa, isola di budelli, sardegna) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ve been cooped up all week. First, you prepared for what was supposed to be a record-breaking blizzard. Then you watched the snow fall, staying inside and off the roads like you were supposed to. Now you’re waiting for the next round of flurries. But the whole time, your mind has been elsewhere. You’ve been dreaming of warm, sunny destinations, specifically ones that include beautiful beaches.

Spiaggia Rosa is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The Pink Beach really does have pink-colored sand. It’s blushing pink color comes from microscopic fragments of corals, shells, and granite specks. Low shrubs, rocky outcrops, and wild rabbits border one side of the beach. Turquoise water and seagrass line the other side. While small islands stand in the distance. But no one is allowed on this beach anymore.

This perfect beach is on the uninhabited island of Budelli in the Maddalena Archipelago. The archipelago sits in the Strait of Bonifacio, in between Corsica and Sardinia. It includes many small islets and seven main islands, only three of which are inhabited. They were once a busy shipping and strategic naval area. Now the windblown, granite islands are part of Arcipelago di La Maddalena National Park, a geomarine park and wildlife haven.

Spiaggia Rosa was once on everyone’s must-see list when they visited La Maddalena, the largest town on the islands. Movies were even filmed on the beach. But too many travelers, most who wanted to take some of the colorful sand home with them, eroded the beach and left the blushing pink sand more of a blushing white color. People were forbidden. A footpath was built. While boats, trailed by dolphins and sperm whales, keep creeping closer and closer to the shore. And Spiaggia Rosa remains one of the most captivating—and dreamt about—beaches in the world.

Lord Howe Island

Photo: Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Australia continues to be one of the hottest destinations in the world. Between the cities (Melbourne, Sydney), the coast (Brisbane to Cape Tribulation), the Red Center, and the even more-remote spots (Darwin, Margaret River), there’s something for everyone on the world’s largest island. So where do the Aussies go—besides deeper into the Outback—now that travelers have found all of their cool getaways?

Lord Howe Island is located in the Tasman Sea in between Australia and New Zealand. It’s considered an unincorporated part of New South Wales. The crescent-shaped island is the eroded remains of a seven-million-year-old shield volcano. Most of the island—70 percent of it—is a Permanent Park Preserve; the whole thing is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since so many of its plants and animals aren’t found anywhere else. Plus, only 400 people are allowed to visit the island at one time.

Mount Gower, the highest peak, sits along the southern coast. It’s separated from Mount Lidgbird by the Erskine Valley. A sandy lagoon, sheltered by the world’s southernmost coral reef, lies to the west. Secluded beaches dot the entire coastline. Gorgeous sailboats are anchored just offshore. Tall kentia palms fill the interior. A few luxury lodges pamper guests. While you never have to worry about crowds.

Photo: Lord Howe Island Tourism Association

Photo: Lord Howe Island Tourism Association

Spend your first day on Lord Howe Island hiking Mount Gower. On the eight-hour hike, you pass moss-covered logs, gnarled branches, rare orchids, and Lord Howe woodhens as you ascend through the dense rainforest. The path is slippery and quite narrow at times. As you get closer and closer to the top, a summit cloud forest surrounds you. It cools you off, at least for a minute. Then amazing, 360-degree views await you at the peak. You stare at Mount Lidgbird, Ball’s Pyramid, Little Island, and the endless blue sea. No wonder it’s considered one of Australia’s best day hikes.

After staring at the crystal blue water on your hike, you’re ready to spend the next day along the shore. Start the morning by surfing or boogie boarding at Blinky Beach. It’s known for its golden sand, “champagne surf,” and perfect breaks. Go on a bushwalk through the Valley of the Shadows, where the roots of massive banyan trees grow down from the branches. Wade into the water and feed meter-long kingfish at Ned’s Beach. Snorkel among The Favourite, a 1965 wreck off North Bay. Scuba dive among stingrays, painted mokis, and silver drummers at Comets Hole. Kayak through the lagoon as the sun starts to set. Then join a low-key barbecue featuring the best catches of the day. Just don’t share this Aussie secret.

Moni, Indonesia

Photo: Michael Day (Kelimutu Sunrise  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Michael Day (Kelimutu Sunrise Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s much too early. No one should be awake at 4:30 am. You should still be snuggled in blankets and dreaming about the day ahead. Instead, you drag yourself out of bed, brush your teeth, throw on clothes, and stumble outside. A cup of coffee is handed to you, but your body isn’t ready for a jolt of caffeine. You shiver and climb into an idling vehicle, which then drives into the darkness.

It’s still pitch-black when you get out of the vehicle at a clearing. A single, silent line follows the guide and his bobbing flashlight into the dense jungle. As you hike, the sky begins to change from black to gray, and bare-throated whistlers start to sing in the distance. It becomes easier and easier to see the path and the low-hanging clouds up ahead. You reach the summit just before dawn. You sit down, accept another cup of coffee, and prepare for the magic to begin.

You’re sitting on top of Kelimutu, a volcano in southern Indonesia. Kelimutu National Park is full of ribus (mountains more than 1,000 meters high), endangered plants (the Javanese Edelweiss), and endangered animals (the Javan rusa and the drongo). It’s also home to three summit craters. The lakes—Tiwu Ata Bupu, Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri, and Tiwu Ata Polo—are highly acidic and fed by volcanic gas. Plus, each lake is a different color. Right now, they’re blue, green, and red, respectively, though the colors are said to abruptly change when the mood of the spirits change.

Photo: Neil, WWW.NEILSRTW.BLOGSPOT.COM Malaysia (Kelimutu) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Neil, http://WWW.NEILSRTW.BLOGSPOT.COM Malaysia (Kelimutu) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

After the sky turns purple, the clouds disperse, and the orange fireball rises, carefully hike around the lakes, which have steam rising from the surface. Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People) sits to the west. Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) is the largest of the three. It shares a crater wall with Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake). They’re beautiful, and, yes, magical.

Eventually, you hike back down the mountain. A couple of monkeys follow you. Stop at hot springs and a waterfall along the way. Learn about local agriculture in Lio, a small farm village with thatched-roof houses. Watch talented women create some of the most beautiful ikat weavings on the island of Flores in Jopu. Buy scarves and sarongs before you leave. See a traditional chief’s house in Moni. Then return to the Kelimutu Crater Lakes Eco Lodge. You desperately need a nap.

Ridgedale, Missouri

Photo: Big Cedar Lodge

Photo: Big Cedar Lodge

It snowed overnight. A powdery dusting, yet to be disrupted by footprints, covers the ground outside. Icicles dangle from the hickory branches; the pine trees’ arms droop under the extra weight. The still river looks glassy. While gray clouds hang low in the sky. You’re warm and cozy inside, though.

You’re in the middle of the Ozarks, a mountain-like plateau that covers much of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. You’re overlooking an arm of Table Rock Lake, a damned reservoir full of largemouth and spotted bass. And you’re staying at Big Cedar Lodge, an Adirondack-style resort known for its rustic elegance and beautiful views.

Your log cabin is hidden among the trees on the hillside. It has a vaulted ceiling, hardwood floors, and stained glass windows. A wood-burning fireplace and driftwood furniture give the cabin a homey feel. Modern amenities, like a jet tub, haven’t been forgotten. A basket of snacks sits on the table. Plus, a woman known as the “cookie lady” will deliver gingerbread treats—in the shape of cedar trees—before turndown.

Photo: Big Cedar Lodge

Photo: Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge is a popular summer destination. Families come to ride horses, kayak on the lake, golf at the two courses, and swim in the heated pools. But right now, the resort is quiet. The Christmas crowds have gone, the couples celebrating Valentine’s Day won’t arrive for a few more weeks, and it’s too cold for most of those outdoor activities. It’s the perfect mid-winter escape.

After a lazy morning, bundle up to head outside into the crisp air. Follow the hiking trails—they begin by the stables—along the lake-view path. Go fishing for crappie and trout, which are still biting, despite the cold weather. Warm up by the huge stone fireplace at Devil’s Pool Restaurant, where spiced cider is served at the 100-year-old bar. Relax during a deep-tissue massage at the Cedar Creek Spa. Go to the Top of the Rock for dinner at Osage Restaurant and wine at the End of the Trail wine cellar. Both have lake and sunset views. Then have a nightcap at the Buzzard Bar, where the Singin’ Cowboy, who performed at the Grand Ole Opry, sings your favorite country songs.

As you walk back to your cabin later, most of the snow has been removed from the paths. The sky is clear now. A strong wind makes you shiver in your wool coat. You walk faster, rushing toward the roaring fire in your cabin. And the sweet treat, as well.

Cayo Levisa, Cuba

Photo: Friman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Friman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Back in December, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced that their countries, the United States and Cuba, would restore a diplomatic relationship. Ties between the two counties had been severed in 1961, when the U.S. closed its Cuban embassy and strengthened its embargo against the Caribbean nation. Restrictions on banking, remittances, and, most importantly, travel, have now eased. So where do you want to go first?

Most people have their sights set on Havana, the vibrant capital where you’ll feel like you’re stepping back into the 1950s. But you’ve been dreaming about the practically deserted islands and beaches. The Colorados Archipelago is a chain of isles and cays off the northwestern coast. Ernest Hemingway had a fishing camp here in the 1940s. Snorkelers, scuba divers, and beach bums now rush to the barrier islands.

From Palma Rubia, it’s a 30-minute boat ride to Cayo Levisa. A swampy mangrove forest covers much of the small island; fish breed in the exposed roots that twist into the water. A perfect beach—three kilometers long with pure white sand—lines the northern coast. Crabs patrol the sand. Sea turtles, spiny lobsters, and mollusks live in the warm water at the edge of the beach. While spectacular dive sites lie just offshore.

Start by snorkeling in the shallow water. Star corals, brain corals, and sea fans are visible as soon as you lower your head. Then join a group getting ready to board a boat at the dive center. Eagle rays, stingrays, and sharks circle La Corona de San Carlos dive site. Parrotfish and barracudas glide along the slope at La Cadena Misteriosa. Sponges cover the vertical wall at El Infierno. Garden eels and schools of colorful fish surround you at La Espada del Pirata. While 17th- and 18th-century shipwrecks are just a little farther away.

After a long day in the water, a seafood dinner, a strong rum drink, and a simple bungalow await you on the beach at Hotel Cayo Levisa. You share your highlights of the day and plans for the rest of your trip with the other travelers. You stare at the stars and listen to the waves. Plus, you keep taking deep breaths to soak it all in. You’re finally in Cuba.

Cape Greco, Cyprus

Photo: Ballantyne108 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Ballantyne108 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The southern coast of Cyprus is famous for its beaches. People have been flocking to Protaras and Ayia Napa for decades, attracted to the long stretches of white sand and the crystal-clear water. Not everyone enjoys the big resorts, the endless water sports, and the all-night beach parties that popped up after these beaches became well known, though. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid this beautiful area. You just have to go a little farther to find Cape Greco.

Cape Greco National Forest Park is a rocky promontory on the southern end of Famagusta Bay. Protected from development, the area is full of caves, cliffs, and empty beaches, instead of partiers. Small pine and acacia trees stand as a barrier. Foxes and hares outnumber people. Cyprus wheatears provide the only music. While sea turtles and even a supposed monster, the Ayia Napa sea monster, live in the bright blue water.

Photo: Anna Anichkova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Anna Anichkova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The best way to explore Cape Greco is to hike along the coastal trail. Though only 1.4 kilometers long, the hike could take anywhere from an hour to a full day, depending on how frequently you stop. Start at Agioi Anargyroi. The small, whitewashed Greek Orthodox church stands over a sea cave. A picnic area is off to the side, while boats bob in the water offshore. Follow the sandy trail by sea squill, sand lilies, and juniper, which grow well in the high-salinity soil. Then take in the breathtaking view of the bay. Except for a few colorful butterflies, you have the view all to yourself.

Follow the steep, narrow slope along the edge of the cliff. Pass darting lizards along the way. Float in the shallow, tranquil Blue Lagoon. Swim through more sea caves; some are up to 30 meters long. Search for seahorses in De Costa Bay. Scuba dive in Green Bay, where you hand-feed brightly colored fish, take photos of underwater columns, and swim with moray eels in the nearby Blue Hole. Carefully cross the Crow’s Bridge, whose rocks turn shades of red, orange, and pink during sunrise and sunset. Then, if you dare, jump off one of the cliffs.

Eventually, make your way to Konnos Beach. The sheltered beach has fine golden sand and calm water. Beach chairs are available and a few wooden tables sit outside of a small café, yet most are empty. For leaving the crowds behind, you’re rewarded with a whole beach practically to yourself. Enjoy.