European Experiences

Are your European destinations becoming a little too predictable? If you keep picking the most popular places—like Paris, Rome, and Prague—it might be time to check some of the smaller cities. Here are four European cities where you’ll find fewer crowds and more unique experiences.

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

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

Bruges: Instead of busy Brussels, cruise the canals, climb the belfry, see the Flemish artwork, and fall in love with the capital of West Flanders.

Photo: Columbus Monte-Carlo

Photo: Columbus Monte-Carlo

Fontvieille: In lieu of expensive Monte Carlo, see vintage cars, go shopping in a funky flea market, and eat risotto and drink rosé wine along the waterfront in Monaco.

Photo: Kurhaus Cademario Hotel & SPA

Photo: Kurhaus Cademario Hotel & SPA

Lugano: Skip Zürich and Geneva to enjoy the perfect combination of Switzerland and Italy—gelato and wine plus lakes and chocolate—in the country’s sunniest spot.

Photo: Hotel Monte Mulini

Photo: Hotel Monte Mulini

Rovinj: Let the crowds have Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split in southern Croatia, while you tour the basilica, taste olive oil, eat fresh seafood, and enjoy your waterfront room on the Istrian peninsula.

Astonishing Asia

From Cambodia to Vietnam, the Maldives to Sri Lanka, Japan to Taiwan, you’ve been to some of the most beautiful places in Asia. But there’s still a lot more to explore. Here are four places in Asia that will definitely astonish you.

Photo: Three Camel Lodge

Photo: Three Camel Lodge

Mongolia: Visit the Bulgan Soum natural spring, ride a double-humped Bactrian camel in the Moltsog Els Sand Dunes, and sleep in a ger under the stars in remote Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.

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

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

Bangladesh: Go to the Southeast Asian country that you’ve long overlooked to see tea estates, beautiful waterfalls, and giant rice fields.

Photo: Yasunori Koide (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Yasunori Koide (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tibet: Hike around the base of Mount Kailash, one of Asia’s holiest sites, and see green valleys, pristine lakes, and snow-capped peaks along the way.

Photo: subhadipin via freeimages.com

Photo: subhadipin via freeimages.com

India: See a different side of India by searching for leopards in Pali, an area filled with mustard fields, granite boulders, deep gorges, and a tented luxury camp.

African Adventures

African travel is changing. Some old favorites—Egypt and Tunisia—aren’t considered safe right now. You’ve been priced out of places like Mauritius and the Seychelles. While Morocco and South Africa are overrun with tourists. Here are five new African adventures to check out.

Photo: Dahlak Islands & Massawa - Eritrea

Photo: Dahlak Islands & Massawa – Eritrea

Eritrea: Explore the coral buildings, the narrow alleyways, and the dhow-filled docks in Massawa, the pearl of the Red Sea, before heading to the uninhabited islands in the Dahlak Archipelago.

Photo: diasUndKompott [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: diasUndKompott [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Niger: Float down the Niger River in a pirogue to see baobab trees and mudbrick houses, Northwest African Cheetahs and hippos near Manatee Island in W National Park.

Photo: Tsumo9 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Tsumo9 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria: Change your impression of Nigeria by visiting Yankari National Park, where more than 500 African bush elephants roam and the views over the savanna are breathtaking.

Photo: BrianSmithson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: BrianSmithson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cameroon: Watch the Lobé Waterfalls drop straight into the Atlantic Ocean, see endangered sea turtles lay their eggs on a deserted beach, and fall in love with a little fishing village in Bwambe.

Photo: Felipe Miguel from Curitiba, Brazil (Cabo Ledo - Angola) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Felipe Miguel from Curitiba, Brazil (Cabo Ledo – Angola) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Angola: See the rapidly expanding capital city of Luanda, the recently revitalized Kissama National Park, and the beautiful beaches along the Atlantic coast before Angola becomes Africa’s next it destination.

Kaihalulu Beach, Hawaii

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

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

There’s supposed to be a beach here. A secret beach. But right now, you’re not so sure. You park along the side of the road, cross private property, and head into the jungle. The path is narrow and slippery; some parts are practically washed out from a recent landslide. You follow the ridge high above the ocean and hear waves pounding against the shore below. You continue over crumbling cinder and ironwood needles. An ancient Japanese cemetery is off to the side. Maybe you should give up. But just as you’re about to turn around, the trail opens up. For the first time, you see Kaihalulu Bay.

Kaihalulu Bay is better known as Red Sand Beach, one of the few red-sand beaches in the world. It’s located south of Hana, on the east coast of Maui. Ka’uiki Head sits to the north. Red cinder and green ironwood trees are on one side; cobalt water, volcanic boulders, a reef, and the rough sea are on the other. The dark red-black sand gets its color from the iron-rich hills. The beach is dramatic, isolated, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

Hawaiians selected a spot-on name for this beach. Kaihalulu means “roaring sea,” which becomes immediately evident when you get close to the water. The area was once the site of a temple and a fortress, which protected the islanders from invaders from the island of Hawaiʻi. Queen Ka’ahumanu, King Kamehameha’s wife, was also born here. It’s now a popular destination for beach lovers, hikers, and nudists.

The morning is the best time to visit this beach. The water is calmer, and the crowd is nonexistent. You wade through the rock pools, find opae’ula (red shrimp), and jump when water spurts from a basalt blowhole. You watch long-tailed Koae Keas fly overhead and the waves crashed against the dark reef, a natural sea wall just offshore. You collect sand—just a little bit—to bring home with you. Then you take dozens of photos to prove you really found the secret, red-sand beach.

Carmelo, Uruguay

Your next wine destination: Carmelo, Uruguay. This cute, little wine region is easily accessible from Montevideo or Buenos Aires. Its two main squares are filled with cobblestones, parillas (steakhouses), and cars from the 1940s and 1950s. Beaches and lavender line the Arroyo de las Vacas river. While the countryside has grazing cattle, fields of wildflowers, the scent of rosemary, and hillside vineyards. And whereas most up-and-coming wine spots haven’t attracted boutique hotels yet, Carmelo has not one but three amazing places to stay.

Photo: Narbona Wine Lodge

Photo: Narbona Wine Lodge

The Narbona Wine Lodge, just north of Carmelo, sits beside some of the area’s oldest vineyards. Learn about the winemaking process at La Antigua Cava. The 1909 building has an old wood stove, candelabras, French oak barrels, and hanging ham. Move to the new winery, whose stone walls are lined with fossilized seashells, to taste the full-bodied Tannat, Uruguay’s national wine. Then sip a glass of Tannat rosé by the pool, ride a horse-drawn wagon through the vineyard, and watch the sun set between the rows of grapes from the Patio Colonial. The comfy rooms, each named after a type of grape, have concrete floors, fireplaces, and balconies overlooking the old vines, of course.

Photo: Casa-Chic

Photo: Casa-Chic

Prefer modern over rustic? If so, Casa Chic is your Carmelo hotel. The riverfront hotel is surrounded by ponds, horses, and a forest. Raw wood, black-and-white artwork, and a comfortable king-sized bed are set up in your spacious room. Relax by the seemingly endless pool in the morning. Eat grilled Camembert and rosemary crostinis with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc on the patio. Bike down to the calm, white sandy beach in the afternoon. Then feast on ceviche and langoustines, catfish and pork chops for a late dinner. Once you make your way through the enormous wine list first.

Photo: Posada CampoTinto

Photo: Posada CampoTinto

Your third option isn’t really a room. Posada CampoTinto, in the San Roque countryside, has four rooms with views of the San Roque Chapel. But your bed is in the tent outside. Made in South Africa, the large tent has a wooden deck and views of the vineyards. Spend the morning visiting the nearby wineries: Bodega Familia Irurtia, El Legado Bodega, and Almacén de la Capilla. Return to the hotel for a picnic lunch of freshly baked bread, cheese, and warm empanadas overlooking the vines. Drink tea in the light-filled living room. And select your favorite bottle of wine to drink near the bonfire by your tent later in the evening. The starry sky pairs perfectly with the heavy red.

Well, that was easy. You have your choice between three small hotels right near the vineyards in Uruguay’s most exciting wine region. Now you can focus on the most important part of your trip: the wine.

Pädaste, Estonia

Photo: Padaste Manor

Photo: Padaste Manor

Late September is the ideal time to escape to the countryside. The summer crowds have dispersed. The air is no longer thick with humidity. Yet there are still plenty of daylight hours to go fishing, horseback riding, and canoeing. This autumn escape could easily be in Connecticut, Vancouver, or the Cotswolds. But that would be too predictable. So this time, you’re off to Estonia.

Muhu Island is off the west coast of Estonia. It takes a two-hour drive from Tallinn, plus a ferry ride from Virtsu, to reach the country’s third-largest island. Muhu is known for the Üügu cliffs and caves, juniper forests, ostrich farms, and Estonia’s only still-working windmills. St. Catherine’s Church, the oldest church on island, was built in the 13th century. Koguva, an old fishing village, is now an open-air museum. And Pädaste Manor is the only remaining manor house on the island.

It’s also your home for the next few days. The manor was built in the 14th century, bestowed to a wealthy family by the Danish Crown in the 16th century, became a baron’s summer home in the 19th century, and was largely neglected during the Soviet period. Then it was revived and turned into a hotel in the late 1990s. Today, it’s one of Estonia’s nicest hotels and most acclaimed restaurants.

Photo: Padaste Manor

Photo: Padaste Manor

The hotel’s grounds are gorgeous. The manor house and the five 19th-century ironstone buildings are arranged in a horseshoe shape facing the Baltic Sea. Perfectly manicured lawns are ringed by ironstone walls overgrown with moss. Wildflower-filled meadows, juniper forests, and Pädaste Bay are in the distance. Cranes and ducks swim in the bay. Eagles and woodpeckers nest in the trees. While wild boars, deer, and an occasional moose roam the forest. It’s quiet and peaceful, just as you’d hoped.

You check into your manor house room, which is the perfect blend of modern and traditional. Wood floors and a wood-burning fireplace give it rustic charm, while a large soaking tub, a separate rainfall shower, and an iPad keep it stylish. Your first stop is the spa, where you alternate between a wood-fired sauna with salt and Muhu honey, a Siberian cold tub, and a seawater hot tub. Then you relax on the sun deck by the bay.

You’re tempted to have a casual lunch outside at the Sea House Terrace or a cranberry daiquiri at the bar, but you resist the temptation with a nine-course Islands’ Degustation tasting menu ahead of you at Alexander, the Nordic restaurant. You eat estate-grown greens, Rautsi Farm beef tartare, Baltic needlefish, and European roe venison. You pause and enjoy the garden view, before finishing with Koplimäe Farm cheese and a decadent strawberry dessert.

Dinner has exhausted you, though you need to go to sleep early anyway. You’ll be up before dawn to go fishing in the fog from Kallaste Port. You’ll go horseback riding along the shoreline, biking through the meadows, and boating out to the Island of Love for a picnic. You’ll return to the spa to try to submerge yourself in the Siberian cold tub this time. And you’ll keep an eye out for moose. They love this time of year, too.

Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands

Photo: alexanderhotelcayman.com

Photo: alexanderhotelcayman.com

Ah, the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman is known for its high-end shopping, restaurants, and hotels. Little Cayman has some of the best scuba-diving spots in the Caribbean. While Cayman Brac has . . . wait, why do people go to Cayman Brac?

Cayman Brac is the often-forgotten Cayman Island. The 12-mile-long island is located 90 miles east of Grand Cayman and only seven miles from Little Cayman. There are no cruise ships, spring breakers, or even traffic here. Fewer than 2,000 people call the island home. The friendly Brackers, as they call themselves, grow exquisite gardens and don’t lock their doors. And while beautiful beaches and quiet diving spots may lure you to the island, it’s the hiking trails that will amaze you.

Brac is the Gaelic word for bluff, which is what runs through the middle of Cayman Brac and gave the island its name. The limestone bluff, which ascends from the west end of the island, looks like a giant ramp. It’s full of coral formations from when the island was underwater. Erosion has created caves in the porous limestone. Fruit bats cling to the caves’ rooftops. The National Trust Parrot Reserve protects endangered Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman parrots. While the views are breathtakingly dramatic.

Photo: alexanderhotelcayman.com

Photo: alexanderhotelcayman.com

The Lighthouse Trail is at the east end of the bluff. The hike is steep and uneven, but it’s totally worth it. Pass Peter’s Cave, which Brackers used as a hurricane shelter. Stop for a water break and panoramic views of Spot Bay at Peter’s Outlook. Walk by cacti, aloe, and brown boobies nesting on precarious ledges. Finally reach the two lighthouses (one historic) at the top of the 140-foot bluff. The lighthouses are a bit of a disappointment, but the views more than make up for them. You feel like you’re on top of the world looking across the bluff and down into the Caribbean Sea.

Bird lovers should head to the Westerly Ponds on the western side of the island. Viewing platforms overlook the wetlands, where hundreds of species of birds nest. West Indian whistling ducks, pied-billed grebes, black-crowned night herons, and gull-billed terns are only a few of the birds you might see fishing in the lagoons, while merlins and peregrine falcons hunt the waterbirds themselves. Just don’t forget your binoculars.

The West End Point Overlook, at the western tip of the island, is also popular with bird watchers, though sunset is the real reason people arrive every evening. After a long day of hiking, it’s time to relax, enjoy the sea breeze, and look at Little Cayman in the distance. You might even see the green flash as the sun drops over the horizon. There’s no way you’ll ever forget this little island now.