Wanna get away? Whether you’re a world adventurer or feel safer and more content staying closer to home, the world–or the United States–is your oyster. The New York Times recently issued their Top places to see and you might be surprised that while several are exotic and requiring great traveling distance (as they say, ‘the greatest treasures are the one’s longest sought’), some are closer than you think. I’ve added an eleventh – my personal favorite and always a Top Place to visit….even more than once. (I’m actually headed there for the 14th time later this week…)
#1 Santiago, Chile: Less than a year after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in Chile, its capital, Santiago, has largely recovered, the economy continues to grow, and tourism is in an upswing.
#2 San Juan Islands, Washington State: what brings tourists out are the landscapes. On islands from Shaw to Decatur, pastoral hills give way to broody forests and scrappy escarpments that overlook fjordlike inlets. Areas are protected from logging or unruly development, and in turn provide fresh terrain for the public to explore.
#3 Koh Samui, Thailand: A toned-down version of Phuket, heavy on wellness and food Koh Samui is Thailand’s third-largest island. But the 95-square-mile tropical gem in the southern Gulf of Thailand, whose white sand beaches, abundant coral reefs and seas of palm trees were once a backpackers’ secret, has emerged as the stylish luxury alternative to crowded Phuket.
#4 Iceland: Where a country’s hardships are a visitor’s gain, Iceland’s economic crash has had an upside, at least for tourists. After the devaluation of the krona that followed the country’s 2008 financial crisis, the breathtakingly beautiful island is a lot more affordable. While traditionally a must-see for nature tourists — who come for thermal springs, glaciers, volcanic landscapes and the Northern Lights — Iceland is now emerging as a cultural phenom.
#5 Milan, Italy: A reborn cathedral joins fashion-forward galleries and hotels. Compared with the Italian troika of tourism — Florence, Venice and Rome — Milan is often an afterthought. But with novel, eye-catching design emerging around the city, that should soon change as the city’s collection of 20th-century art is now showcased at the Museo del Novecento, which opened in December in the restored Palazzo dell’Arengario…plus, outside the historic center former factories have been transformed into design studios, old warehouses have been repurposed as unconventional art venues, and galleries are packed with avant-garde works.
#6 Republic of Georgia: Ski buffs don’t usually think of Soviet Georgia when planning their next backcountry outing. But ambitious plans in the Caucasus are trying to change that fast. Tucked between the Black and Caspian seas and smattered with mountains, Georgia has the kind of terrain adventurous skiers yearn for: peaks reaching 16,000 feet, deep valleys and largely untouched slopes.
#7 London: There is never a bad time to go to London, but this year may be better than most: the 2012 Summer Olympic Games has prompted the construction of 12,000 hotel rooms, and several hotels that have been around for a while are burnishing their appeal with notable new restaurants. (NOTE: Join Amazing Journeys in August for our Jewish Singles Cruise from London through the British Isles)
#8: Loreto, Mexico: Long known for sport fishing, Loreto, on Baja California Sur’s eastern coast, is poised to become one of Mexico’s next luxury destinations. Recently, Villa Group Resorts, one of Mexico’s largest privately owned hotel groups, opened a $60 million Villa del Palmar resort with three restaurants, a 20,000-square-foot turtle-shaped pool and 150 suites from $250 to $1,500 a night. The resort is the first phase of an 1,800-acre development, Danzante Ba. It will add seven resort hotels, restaurants and a Rees Jones golf course.
#9 Park City, Utah: Many film aficionados have been lured to Park City for the annual Sundance festival, missing the slopes entirely, which is a shame. This year, new hotels, expanded terrain and events at area ski resorts make on-mountain exploration imperative.
#10 Cali, Colombia: Cafe culture is on the rise while salsa fuels the night life; Cali has always felt like the grittier stepsister of Medellín, but tucked amid the colonial homes of the barrios of San Antonio or Granada are a number of new jewelry boutiques, low-key cafes and salsotecas teeming with crowds as sexy as any in South America.
#11: Alaska: Few places on earth conjure up a better collection of natural beauty, peace on earth, adventure for any level, unpredictable arrays of wildlife, majestic mountains, uncharted territory, imposing glaciers and a culture that reigns more with the land it inhabits, than the people who govern. Its a place you have to see to believe…but where you have to experience again and again to quench your yearning for more.