National Geographic Travelerpresents the New Year's must-see places. Whether it’s India’s literary hub or Switzerland’s mountain majesty, these 20 go-now destinations will send you packing.

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Blithe Spirits in Paradise

When a hurricane blew his yacht off course in 1942, Hollywood heartthrob Errol Flynn discovered paradise in Jamaica’s Port Antonio, purportedly proclaiming it “more beautiful than any woman I have ever known.” This haven on the island's northeast coast first boomed when American millionaires such as Alfred Mitchell and his heiress wife, Annie Tiffany, built estates in the early 1900s. Flynn’s arrival cued a second swell, drawing Noel Coward and Katharine Hepburn.

Now a new generation has discovered Portie’s pleasures, from the smoke-fogged jerk grills lining Boston Beach to the log rafts that drift down the lazy Rio Grande. British music producer Jon Baker opened Geejam, a seven-room boutique hideaway. And with Portie-born, Toronto-based financier Michael Lee-Chin, he has relaunched two formerly faded properties, the Trident Hotel and the Castle. Together they are reviving the Blue Lagoon, the famed swimming hole.

“The Blue Mountains are our natural filter,” says Baker of the forested highlands that lie between Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and its most pristine coast. “You have to try harder to get here, and dig a little deeper for the reward.” —Elaine Glusac,@ElaineGlusac

Travel Tips

When to Go:December-April (dry season)

How to Get Around:Norman Manley International Airportin Kingston is the closest commercial airport to Port Antonio. With advance notice, most resorts will arrange airport transportation. Otherwise, hire a car and driver, take a charter (private) taxi, or rent a car. Driving from Kingston to Port Antonio takes two to three hours, depending on the route. Travel locally on foot and by charter taxi or route (shared) taxis, identified by their red license plates.

Where to Stay:Port Antonio’s exclusive Geejam Collection includes the ultraposh Trident Hotel(13 one- and two-bedroom minimalist villas with private plunge pools) and the secluded Geejam Hotel. The Geejam has one suite, two villas with private pools, three deluxe cabins, and a recording studio (Gwen Stefani and No Doubt recorded the Grammy-winning albumRock Steadyhere), all nestled between the jungle and the sea. New for 2015: the five-bedroom Blue Marlin and four-bedroom Panorama villas. For privacy and panoramic sea views, book the Geejam’s signature Drum and Bass suite, located under the recording studio.

Where to Eat or Drink:At the Mille Fleurs restaurant atHotel Mockingbird Hill, the focus is on natural, earth-friendly foods grown and produced by Jamaican suppliers. Visit on a Meatless Monday (launched in 2010 to help reduce greenhouse gases and support local farmers) to try local vegetarian dishes such as pumpkin coconut soup and jerk-spiced tofu with papaya salsa.

What to Buy:Woodcarvings, masks, pottery, paintings, and other original Afro-Caribbean arts and crafts are on display at Great Huts Resort, an oceanfront eco-lodge in Port Antonio. Great Huts regularly hosts art and cultural exhibitions, and the staff can provide gallery and contact information for the Jamaican artists (such as acclaimed sculptors Gene Pearsonand Nakazzi Hutchinson, whose works are featured at the resort).

Practical Tip:Mountainous terrain, winding roads, and obstacles ranging from potholes to goats can make driving in Jamaica a real adventure. If you do rent a car, take it slow, avoid driving at night, and remember to stay on the left side of the road.

What to Read Before You Go:Jamaica-born Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s coming-of-age tale The Pirate’s Daughter(Random House Trade Paperbacks; reprint edition, 2008) is based on screen legend Errol Flynn’s final years, spent on Navy Island off the coast of Port Antonio.

Helpful Links:My Port Antonioand Visit Jamaica

Fun Fact:Ian Fleming wrote all 14 of his James Bond spy thrillers at his northeastern Jamaica hideaway, GoldenEye (now part of the exclusive Island Outpost properties owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell). Jetsetter GoldenEye guests can arrive via charter plane at the Ian Fleming International Airport, about a seven-minute drive from the resort.

Insider Tip From Elaine Glusac:Go bodysurfing and gorge on jerk chicken at nearby Boston Bay Beach, said to be the birthplace of spicy grilling on the island.

 

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Out of China's Shadow

As China gets mightier and smoggier, Taiwan (Republic of China) feels calmer and cleaner. When China restricted access to the internet, Taiwan provided free Wi-Fi islandwide. When China marginalized its ethnic groups, Taiwan reintroduced indigenous Formosan languages to schools. Taiwan ranks in the top 50 (out of 178) on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), while China sank to the 118th spot.

But Taiwan is much more than China’s contrarian runaway bride. The sweet-potato-shaped island—a tad smaller than Switzerland (but no less mountainous)—has a high-tech global urban sector and a thriving aboriginal society. In one decade, "Made in Taiwan" went from being a sign of bad quality to a national statement of pride.

Skyscraper-filled capital Taipei, with a population of seven million, has been named 2016’s World Design Capital. A flurry of new buildings opens in 2015, including a performing arts center designed by Rem Koolhaas's firm.

More than anything, Taipei lives up to its reputation as a food paradise. “Forget about breakfast at the hotel,” says Peray, a popular Taipei food blogger. “In the early mornings, at food stalls, you can get clay oven rolls, charcoal grill sandwiches, rice with chicken, and rice noodle soup with pork. The challenge here is staying hungry.” —Adam H. Graham

Travel Tips

When to Go:Fifteenth day of the first lunar month, Taiwan Lantern Festival, Nantou; mid-April to mid-June, Mondays and Thursdays, Penghu Ocean Fireworks Festival, Magong City; Mid-July to late August, Keelung Midsummer Ghost Festival, Keelung City; October 2014-January 2015, Taiwan Hot Spring and Fine-Cuisine Carnival, multiple locations

How to Get Around:Traveling by train is the best, and most affordable, option. The Taiwan Railways system(not Taiwan High Speed Rail) loops all the way around Taiwan, making it possible (with transfers) to visit most regions. Train stops are typically located near downtown areas. In Taipei, use the Taipei Rapid Transitcity metro.

Where to Stay:Indulge in a moonlit, mineral springs bath at the Hotel Royal Chiaohsi, a minimalist contemporary retreat located in the countryside about 18 miles south of the New Taipei City border. Both Western and Japanese rooms and suites (featuring beds and layered tatami mats, respectively) are available. Try both styles in the Complex suite, a Western-Japanese hybrid with sliding wall dividers creating two separate sleeping areas. Take the hotel shuttle from the Chiaohsi train station (advance reservations required).

Where to Eat or Drink:Snack your way through Taipei’s ubiquitous street food markets, such as Shida Night Market and Raohe Street Tourist Night Market. Vendors hawk all manner of irresistible xiao chi(small eats), including xiaolongbao(steamed dumplings), pan-fried bao(buns), mochi(rice balls), braised pork, and the Taiwanese go-to snack: deep-fried—and pungent—stinky tofu.

What to Buy:Shop for Chinese medicinal herbs; textiles and fabrics; and tea, dried fruits, and candy in the storefronts lining Taipei’sDihua Street. A commerce center since the 1850s, Dihua Street has been significantly spruced up in recent years, yet it retains its traditional Taiwanese vibe and original architecture—a historical hodgepodge of mainly single-story Fujian-style homes and neo-baroque buildings constructed during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945).

Cultural Tip:Smiling and using two Mandarin phrases—xiexie(thank you, pronounced “sheh sheh”) and ni hao(good day, pronounced “NEE how”) is a good way to feel more at home.

What to Read Before You Go:Although Zhuoliu Wu’s autobiographical novel Orphan of Asia(Columbia University Press, paperback English translation, 2008) was completed at the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, his insights into Taiwanese identity remain relevant and provide a frame of reference for some current Asian tensions.

Helpful Links:Tourism Bureau M.O.T.C. Republic of China(Taiwan) and Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Fun Fact:A free eco-guesthouse powered by solar energy and the contributions of community volunteers welcomed its first guests in late 2014. Opened on a trial basis, the two-story Sun Self Hotel in Taipei City was designed by Japanese artist Jun Kitazawa. Guests help collect energy to power the hotel’s electricity by wheeling a cart equipped with solar cells as they tour the surrounding neighborhood.

Insider Tip From Adam H. Graham:The Shilin Night Market is wildly popular with tourists. Perhaps too popular. To really get to know Taiwanese night market food, go to less touristy ones like Ningxia Road Night Market, where you can sample octopus balls, geoduck clams, oyster omelets, and pig's blood cake with locals.

 

Zermatt, Switzerland

Peak of Perfection

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Why would a remote farming hamlet turn into a first-class travel destination that attracts 1.5 million visitors a year? The answer is simple: Because it’s there.

Zermatt, the only village on the Swiss side of the Matterhorn, has been luring travelers ever since British adventurer Edward Whymper made the first ascent of the mythical 14,692-foot peak 150 years ago, on July 14, 1865. Nowadays car-free Zermatt witnesses a colorful procession of chocolate-nibbling tourists searching for cow souvenirs, sunbrowned hikers and climbers clomping around in big boots, and the fashionably rich lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars on Swiss watches. Yet, one activity bonds all: Nobody can resist pointing a camera up to that majestic wonder of nature. The Matterhorn isn’t the highest peak in the Swiss Alps, but its nearly perfect triangular shape makes it one of the most photographed in the world.

Only a five-minute walk from most hotels, the Kirchstrasse bridge makes an ideal location to watch the sunrise awakening of the mountain. But the closest to the summit a visitor can get without donning a climbing rope is via a helicopter ride with Air Zermatt. “I’ve flown around the summit some 5,000 times now, but it’s still an amazing experience,” says pilot Gerold Biner, who was raised in Zermatt. “Sometimes we can even see the smiles on the faces of the climbers.” —Menno Boermans,@menno_boermans

Travel Tips

When to Go:Year-round for skiing at theMatterhorn Zermatt Bergbahnen; April 14-18, Zermatt Unpluggedacoustic music festival; July and August, The Matterhorn Storyperformed in the new Zermatter Freilichtspiele (Zermatt open-air theatre); August 7-9,Swiss Food Festival

How to Get Around:The closest Swiss airport is ZurichTrainsconnect the airport to Zermatt, about a three-and-a-half-hour ride south. Zermatt is car-free. Travel around the village on foot, bike, or by electric-powered eBus and eTaxi.

Where to Stay:The Grand Hotel Zermatterhofmore than lives up to its name: old-world tea service in the cozy Ruden Bar; 78 individually styled rooms and suites (some with balconies and Matterhorn views); and attentive service (the concierge can book private mountain guides and ski instructors). Rates include a breakfast buffet, Zermatt station transfers via horse-drawn carriage or electric bus, and use of the Alpine Spa center, including indoor pool, gym, sauna, and ice grotto.

Where to Eat or Drink:Salute the 150th anniversary of Edward Whymper’s Matterhorn ascent at Whymper-Stube(German-only website), the rustic fondue restaurant named in his honor. Located in the lower level of the Hotel Monte Rosa, where Whymper stayed before his legendary climb, the Whymper-Stube is the place to try the signature Swiss Alpine comfort food, raclette, made from a wedge of local raclette cheese that’s melted on a special grill, scraped off, and served gooey hot with potatoes, pearl onions, and pickles. Reservations recommended. Closed May and the last two weeks in October.

What to Buy:Bahnhofstrasse (the main street connecting the train station to the Kirchplatz) is lined with posh European retailers, including Berlin-based Mykitaeyewear and Jet Setluxury sportswear. The main WEGAstore located opposite the post office is a convenient one-stop shop for souvenirs (such as Swiss Army knives, cuckoo clocks, watches, and cowbell key chains) and books about the Matterhorn.

Practical Tip:Fat-tire dirt scootersgive visitors ages nine and up the chance to zip around the north face of the Matterhorn slope without skiing—or pedaling. Typically available mid-June to mid-October.

What to Read Before You Go:Anita Brookner’s stylish and Man Booker-prize-winning novelHotel du Lac(Vintage Books, 1995) is set in an end-of-season Swiss lakeside hotel where the heroine, a British romance novelist, has been exiled by her friends following a social indiscretion.

Helpful Links:Zermatt Tourismand Switzerland Tourism

Fun Fact:Meta Brevoort, a New Yorker living in England, nearly became the first woman to climb the Matterhorn. That honor, however, went to Englishwoman and fellow mountaineer Lucy Walker, who happened to be in Zermatt when Brevoort was on her way to Switzerland to attempt the ascent. Walker quickly got a team together and made it to the summit on July 22, 1871, before Brevoort arrived.

Insider Tip From Menno Boermans:Finish your grand day outdoors at the Whymper-Stube. Not only did the first ascent party stay here before their launch to Matterhorn's summit, but according to many locals this is also the best place to dip your bread in the hot and bubblykäse (cheese) and enjoy a glass of regional Fendant.

 

The Presidio, San Francisco

From Spanish Conquistadores toStar Wars

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If the San Francisco Peninsula resembles a forearm ending in a fist, then the Presidio is the topmost knuckle-by-the-Bay. The virile park of viridian woods and knockout vistas can make travelers forget its original function was for war, not Instagram. To San Franciscans, it’s both muse and playground—with the latest addition being the newly reopened Officers’ Club, reimagined as a local hub for exhibits, performances, and dining.

Established by Spanish conquistadores in 1776, the military garrison of Saint Francis and its 2.3 square miles defended the bay from any invaders tempted by the riches of Alta California. For the next 218 years, soldiers stood guard against the machinations of empires. But the English, Russian, Japanese, and Klingons—Star Trek’s Starfleet Command is headquartered here—never came. The base became a coveted U.S. Army assignment. Officers dream of three things, the saying went: “to make colonel, to die and go to heaven, and to be posted to the Presidio.”

In 1994, ownership passed from the Army to the National Park Service. Now the Presidio is a self-sustaining trust, thanks to rents paid by one-percenters like George Lucas, whose Lucasfilms office here blessed with a Yoda sculpture on a fountain. (Critics prefer sculptor Andy Goldsworthy’s nearly hundred-foot-tall “Spire,” near the Arguello Gate.) But why nitpick? Instead, savor a hot chocolate after a hike on Crissy Field. Listen for the whiz-whir generated by bikers pumping down Lincoln Boulevard above North Baker Beach’s clothing-optional sunbathers. Delight in the eucalyptus-scented footpath called Lovers Lane. The Presidio, young Skywalker! The Force is strong with this one. —Andrew Nelson,@andrewnelson

Travel Tips

When to Go:April, May, October, and November typically are the best months to visit due to the warm, sunny weather and minimal fog (providing better views of the Golden Gate Bridge). Weekdays are less crowded.

How to Get Around:From San Francisco International Airportrent a car, or ride BART(Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the Embarcadero station. From here (at the corner of Drumm and Market Streets), take the free Presidio shuttle bus (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m on weekends).

Where to Stay:Built in 1903, the gracious Georgian Revival-style Pershing Hall (formerly used to house unmarried and visiting U.S. Army officers) was restored in 2011 and reopened in April 2012 as the Inn at the Presidio. The main inn includes five guest rooms and 17 suites replicating the layout of the original officers’ quarters. The adjacent, single-level Funston House (built in 1889 and opened to guests in 2013) has three guest rooms and one master suite. When the weather is clear, many of the third-floor main inn suites have Golden Gate Bridge views. Rates include a continental buffet breakfast and an evening wine and cheese reception (milk and cookies for younger guests).

Where to Eat or Drink:Housed in the former mess hall, The Commissaryat the Presidio serves light breakfasts, eat-in and takeout lunches, and a full dinner menu (reservations recommended). Award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins mainly uses locally sourced ingredients to prepare the Spanish-influenced California cuisine (salt cod fritters, Marin Sun Farmsburgers, and roasted chicken with Marcona almonds and dates). Most seating is communal. To watch the chefs prepare your meal, request a place at the bar surrounding the open kitchen.

What to Buy:At the Presidio, Warming Hut Bookstore and Café, located at the west end of Crissy Field; the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion; and the Fort Point Bookstore have the best selection of Presidio-related souvenirs, gear, and books.

Practical Tip:To stay warm (and avoid looking like a tourist) wear long pants and several light layers if visiting the Presidio in summer (June-August) when the weather is typically cold and foggy.

What to Read Before You Go: Set at the Presidio,The Enlisted Men’s Club(Running Meter Press, 2014) is the first in a trilogy of military-life novels penned by late author and Vietnam War veteran Gary Reilly.

Helpful Links:Presidio of San Franciscoand San Francisco Travel

Fun Fact:Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the executive order authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans was issued at the Presidio. At the same time that their family members were being relocated to internment camps, Japanese-American linguist soldiers were training at the Presidio for critical military language duties such as translation and negotiation. The soldiers’ training site, which reopened in 2013 as the Military Intelligence Service (MIS)Historic Learning Center, is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 12-5 p.m.

Insider Tip From Andrew Nelson:Got a yen for nine pins? The old army base supports its own late bowling alley. Presidio Bowl is open every day and until 2 a.m. on the weekends.

Discover San Francisco through your viewfinder on a National Geographic weekend photo workshop >>

 

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

Rolling In the Deeps

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“Forbidden Islands” sounds like something from a fairy tale, and stories about Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago do seem like a fantasy: hundreds of undiscovered white-sand beaches, dense unexplored jungles, and clans of the mysterious Moken sea gypsies. Klaus Reisinger, who co-directed a documentary titledBurma's Forbidden Islandsabout the island chain, calls the area “one of the last paradises left on Earth.”

The Burmese government kept the area off-limits to foreigners until 1997. Since opened to a handful of tour operators, the 800 islands scattered off the southern coast of Myanmar, in the Andaman Sea, are so seldom visited that many of them are known only as numbers on navigation charts.

Wildlife sightings include monitor lizards, sea eagles, and long-tailed macaques. Despite years of unregulated dynamite fishing, snorkeling and dive spots still reveal an aquatic festival of life, with swarms of eagle rays, schools of sharks, and the occasional whale shark. The nomadic Moken people, now largely forced into settlements, maintain their fishing traditions as they have for countless generations. As an epic of the Moken goes, “The Moken are born, live, and die on their boats, and the umbilical cords of their children plunge into the sea.” —Bill Fink,@finktravels

Insider Tips

When to Go:November through April is sailing season (calm seas, sunny skies). Mid-December to mid-January is peak season, while March and April are the best months for diving and snorkeling (lighter winds, clearer water).

How to Get Around:Currently, foreign visitors to the archipelago must be part of a guided boat tour. Tours depart from Kawthaung pier at the southernmost tip of Myanmar near the Thailand border. For a small group (two to eight people) charter or private yacht cruise including airport transfers, lodging, and meals, sign on with Burma Boating. Tours can be customized to fit specific themes, such as a photography and video safari. They also accept credit cards, rare among archipelago boat tour operators.

Where to Stay:The archipelago’s only existing hotel, Myanmar Andaman Resorton Macleod Island, is closed for major renovations (scheduled to reopen late 2015). So the boat tour you choose will determine your comfort level. Before or after your cruise, stay at The B in Ranong. The ultramodern guesthouse has a rooftop infinity pool, floating beds, and playful Lego-look square designs on the exterior concrete walls.

Where to Eat or Drink:Burma Boating’s onboard chefs prepare fresh squid and cuttlefish bought from local fishermen, as well as an assortment of Thai dishes such as curries and soups. Guests are also welcome to catch the main course—tuna, barracuda, mahi mahi, and snapper are possibilities—for a barbecue on white-sand Pila Island beach.

Cultural Tip:Credit cards are rarely accepted in Myanmar. Bring cash (U.S. dollars and Thai baht).

What to Read Before You Go:Courage of the Sea: Last Stand of the Mokenby Thom Henley and Moken Geo and Jok Klathalay details the daily lives, challenges, and disappearing culture of the Mergui Archipelago’s indigenous people. Book sales directly benefit the Moken community.

Helpful Links:Project Mokenand Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism

Fun Fact:The seafaring Moken escaped the worst of the devastation from the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by paying attention to signs in nature, such as receding water levels and uncharacteristic behaviors in marine wildlife and birds. Many Moken living off the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand relocated to higher, solid ground before the deadly tsunami waves hit.

Insider Tip From Bill Fink:Make like the Moken sea gypsies and travel the islands via a live-aboard boat rather than staying at one of the two current resorts in the area.

Travel to Myanmar with National Geographic, exploring temples, pagodas, and timeless villages >>

 

Sea Islands, South Carolina

Pathway to a Forgotten Past

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Cruise highway 278, the main road on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, and it may seem that little has changed in the 59 years since entrepreneur Charles Fraser developed this sultry Lowcountry sea island as one of America’s first "eco-planned" resorts. But visitors are beginning to learn that some of the most important chapters of American history took place here, right beneath their vacation-tanned feet. Take Mitchelville, for instance, a settlement established by freed slaves in 1862, a year before the Emancipation Proclamation. On St. Helena, the Penn Center stands as one of the first schools in the South to educate Gullah people.

These spots surprise and intrigue visitors, who arrive knowing little, if anything, about them. Why? “Well, who writes history?” Joyce Wright asks rhetorically, eyebrows arched. Wright is executive director of Mitchelville Preservation Project, one of the member organizations in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Here, visitors experience Gullah culture through storytelling, sweetgrass basket weaving, and sampling traditional food. Though the corridor cuts through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, Hilton Head and St. Helena are the heart of living Gullah culture, where once forgotten stories find voice. —Julie Schwietert Collazo,@CollazoProjects

Travel Tips

When to Go:March 9-14, 30th AnnualHilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival; late May, 29th AnnualOriginal Gullah Festival, Beaufort; October 12-19, 10th AnnualHistoric Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival, Bluffton; November 6-9, Penn Center Heritage Dayscelebration of Gullah culture, music, and art, St. Helena Island

How to Get Around:A car is required to visit the Sea Islands and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridorsites in South Carolina (extending north and south of U.S. 17 along the Atlantic Coast and 30 miles inland). St. Helena Islandand Hilton Head Islandare located east of I-95, between Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. There are international airports in both cities, as well as a regional airport on Hilton Head. Rent a car at any airport. From I-95, take exit 33 for Beaufortand St. Helena, and exit 8 for Hilton Head.

Where to Stay:Beaufort is a convenient home base since it’s only five miles west of St. Helena and less than 35 miles north of Hilton Head. The city’s National Historic Landmark district is home to numerous bed and breakfasts, including the Rhett House Inn, a restored antebellum manor house and celebrity favorite (past guests include Tom Hanks and Barbra Streisand). There are ten guest rooms in the main inn, seven rooms with gas fireplaces and private patios or decks across the street in the Cottage (built in 1864 as one of the first southern schools/stores for freed slaves), plus the two-bedroom Newcastle House overlooking the gardens. Rates include a full breakfast, and the option to create an all-southern plate: eggs, biscuits, grits, country ham, and a tall glass of sweet tea.

Where to Eat or Drink:Dye’s Gullah Fixin’sis as close as it gets to eating in a Gullah grandma’s kitchen. Dye Scott-Rhodan is the chef, and her relatives—including a ten-year-old niece—pitch in as servers at the small restaurant. Hours are limited and reservations are required, but it’s worth the minor hassle to reserve a seat at Dye’s table. Try authentic Gullah dishes such as “old fashion church tater salad,” “okra matoes stew,” and the specialty of the house, Malaysia "sweet tater" bread pudding.

What to Buy:On South Carolina rice plantations, hand-woven sweetgrass baskets were used as sieves to separate seed from chaff. Today, local weavers craft and sell the sweet-smelling, coiled baskets (available in various sizes and designs) daily at the historic Charleston City Marketand regularly on St. Helena Island at venues such as the Penn Centerand the Red Piano Too Art Gallery.

What to Read Before You Go:Pat Conroy’s memoir The Water Is Wide(Dial Press Trade Paperback, reprint, 2002) chronicles his year spent teaching Gullah children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina (fictionalized as Yamacraw in the book).

Helpful Links:Hilton Head IslandGullah CommunityGullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Fun Fact:The Gullah/Geechee people living in the Lowcountry and Sea Islands are descendants of enslaved West and central Africans forced to work on coastal rice plantations. The isolation of the Sea Islands enabled the Gullah/Geechee to develop a separate Creole language and distinct culture from African Americans living in other parts of the United States.

Insider Tip FromJulie Schwietert Collazo:The annual Gullah Celebration is held in February. The monthlong festival showcases music, food, and arts.

 

Mont St. Michel, France

Faith and a Feat of Human Genius

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For about a thousand years, travelers have gasped when the Abbey of Mont St. Michel has loomed into view, rising from a bay fed by tides that are among the highest and most treacherous in Europe. What makes the sight transcendent is the play of light, sky, and weather that can shift hourly here off the coast of Normandy. Total isolation was the point, and pilgrims had to wait for the tide to recede to make their way across the flats to the abbey.

In 1879, a causeway was built to ease the approach to Mont St. Michel. That and years of agricultural development, though, led to a buildup of silt and sea grass. Rather than lording regally over an expanse of water, Mont St. Michel now stood at the end of a massive mudflat. A reclamation project began in 2005 with the goal of returning the abbey as much as possible to the maritime context the monks envisioned.

“What is important is not that we are restoring it to its original state,” says Patrick Morel, who is heading up the massive reclamation effort that includes a dam and a pedestrian bridge leading to the foot of the mount. “We are restoring the original spirit.” The work is on schedule to finish in 2015, when, with deliberate calibration, 50 times a year, Mont St. Michel and its great monastery will once again seem to float in the water that surrounds it. —Marcia deSanctis,@marcialdesancti

Travel Tips

When to Go:Visit during high tide to witness the water surging in and surrounding the Mont, and at low tide to walk across the tidal flats with a guide.

How to Get Around:Walk or ride the free shuttle over the new bridge connecting the mainland parking lot and Information Center to Mont St. Michel. The new connector (opened in 2014) features two wood-plank pedestrian walkways and a central concrete roadway for shuttles and service vehicles. Both options have scenic overlook stops providing panoramic views of the Mont and the bay.

Where to Stay:Spend at least one night at a small historic hotel inside the walls to experience the medieval city (and walk the abbey ramparts) after the crowds leave for the day. Les Terrasses Poulardhas 29 rooms (some with bay views) in two separate buildings. It’s a short walk from here to the abbey, but getting to your actual hotel room could require climbing steep stone steps (no elevator). To make the climb easier, pack a small overnight bag for your stay. Lock and store any large luggage in your rental car or at the reception desk (baggage storage available).

Where to Eat or Drink:Despite being a tourist favorite, La Mère Poulardis worth a visit for the legendary three-egg omelets cooked over an open wood fire. Go in the late afternoon when there’s a limited menu (including omelets) and fewer patrons. Omelets are served with baguettes and coffee.

What to Buy:The beekeepers at Le Manoir des Abeillesin nearby Pontorson (6.7 miles south of Mont St. Michel) sell jars of local honey, plus a host of honey-based products, including cakes, gingerbread, assorted fruit jams, and nougat candy.

Practical Tip:Learn about the restoration project, the tides, and the area’s flora and fauna (as well as the history and legends of Mont St. Michel) on a barefoot, low-tide hike across the bay with local, English-speaking tour operator Julien Avril. Since the changing tides, quicksand, and other obstacles can make tidal flat crossings hazardous, it’s safer—and more informative—to follow a local guide.

What to Read Before You Go:First published in 1938, Roger Vercel’s novel Tides of Mont St. Michel(Kessinger Publishing, LLC, facsimile reprint, 2005) depicts the isolation and daily lives of people living on Mont St. Michel.

Helpful Links:Mont St.-Michel Tourism,Projet Mont-St.-Michel, and France Tourism

Fun Fact:On approximately 15 to 20 days per year (likely early in the morning or late in the evening), the Mont will be completely inaccessible for two hours due to exceptionally high tides completely submerging the new concrete-covered “reservation” (a raised ford, or earthen platform, and esplanade) connecting the causeway to the Mont. This phenomenon will occur, on average, during 35 of 705 tides, and mostly in spring and autumn.

Insider Tip From Marcia deSanctis:Go in wintertime and spend the night in one of the hotels on the Mont. The weather is dramatic, and the crowds are thinned out to nearly nonexistent.

 

Esteros del Iberá, Argentina

Realm of the Jaguar

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A day’s drive north and a world away from Buenos Aires, a glittering web of lakes and marshes inundates 3.2 million acres in Argentina’s northeastern Corrientes Province. The Guaraní call it Y Berá, “brilliant water.” This entire immense area of wetlands, or esteros, was declared a natural reserve in 1983, with 40 percent protected within the boundaries of Iberá Provincial Park. Iberá is one of South America’s most important reserves of fresh water, offering refuge for a vast cast of birds and other creatures. No vertical peaks dazzle the visitor from afar; it is a horizontal landscape that one must enter to know its intimate, surprising beauty.

The jaguar was the stealthy lord of the esteros until intensive hunting drove it out in the 1950s. But attitudes have changed. “What obliges us to care for these wetlands is the fact that they have always been and will continue to be instrumental in shaping what it means to be a Correntino,” says Perico Perea Muñoz, a rancher and environmental leader. “Without the Iberá wetlands, Corrientes is simply not Corrientes.” Now a reintroduction project is bringing the jaguar back.

In 2015, with any luck, the first wild jaguar cubs in over half a century will be born in Iberá. And Corrientes will truly be Corrientes again. —Beth Wald

Travel Tips

When to Go:Summer (December-February) can be uncomfortably hot yet ideal for seeing flowering plants and migratory birds. Fall (March-June) is low tourist season and the best time to see wildlife. Winter (June-September) is peak tourist season due to monthlong Argentine holidays. Spring (September–November) is the rainy season.

How to Get Around:Iberá tourist services are centered in Mercedes, located about 75 miles from the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Since most roads leading to the reserve are unpaved and often muddy, booking a guided small-group or custom tour with Class Adventure Travel (CAT)is a convenient option. CAT excursions typically start in Buenos Aires and include domestic flights to Corrientes or Misiones, followed by land transfers (seven hours from Corrientes, five hours from Posadas) to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini.

Where to Stay:Built in 1896 and operated by the Conservation Land Trust (CLT)Estancia Rincón del Socorrois a 29,652-acre former cattle ranch located on the southern edge of Iberá. Rates include meals, activities such as night safaris and horseback riding, and lodging (six rooms in the main Spanish-style hacienda, plus three adjacent cottages). Book the grass-roof Ñandubay cottage to sit on the screened-in porch each evening and watch egrets roosting in the adjacent pond

Where to Eat or Drink:There are few food options beyond the guest meals served at lodges and hotels. Local specialties often featured on the menus include chipá(cheese bread made with cassava starch); asado(meat cooked over an open fire), Argentina’s national dish; and the ubiquitous maté, an earthy drink made by steeping the leaves and stems of the yerba maté plant.

What to Buy:The shop inside the Centro de Interpretación (visitor’s center, closed Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) in Colonia Carlos Pellegrini sells books and DVDs about Iberá. You can also make a donation here to help support marshland conservation efforts and can watch short documentaries about the park’s flora and fauna. Outside, look for the packs of capybaras that regularly hang out on the grass.

Cultural Tip:If staying at Estancia Rincon del Socorro, ask lodge manager Leslie Cook to arrange a visit to the local gaucho community, where you can see working cowboys braid rawhide bosals(nosebands) for their horses.

What to Read Before You Go:Naturalist and ornithologist William Hudson’s 1917 autobiography Far Away and Long Ago: A Childhood in Argentina(ReadaClassic.com, 2010) describes the wildlife and wild places of Argentina’s past, a natural setting similar to what can be experienced today in the Iberá wetlands.

Helpful Links:Argentina TourismandWelcome Argentina

Fun Fact:Corrientes Province is the birthplace of folk hero Gauchito Gil, Argentina’s favorite non-Catholic “saint.” According to local legend, Gil was a benevolent outlaw who robbed the rich to help the poor. Look for the roadside Gauchito Gil shrines (often marked with red flags) and consider stopping to leave a small offering, since in addition to the poor, Gil is known to protect motorists and travelers.

Insider Tip From Beth Wald:One of the oldest historic estancias, or cattle ranches, in Corrientes, Estancia San Juan Poriahu is a working ranch on the edge of Ibera Provincial Park, with 4,000 cattle, hundreds of horses, traditional gauchos, and a faded, colonial charm.

Explore coastal Argentina and the Chilean Fjords on a voyage aboard theNational Geographic Explorer>>

 

 

National Mall, Washington, D.C.

The Great Unfinished Work

History is a meandering river, not a straight line. And yet Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the new federal city sketched out a tidy grid of grand boulevards, gardens, and monuments—as if geometry alone could create a nation.

At the heart of his original scheme for Washington, D.C., was a mile-long stretch of green, a blank slate for an emerging America. As the nation’s fortunes grew, so did the National Mall, and by 1922 the park spanned two miles, from the Capitol grounds to the newly dedicated Lincoln Memorial.

Changing times called for evolving landscapes. Where Victorian plants once bloomed, congressional staffers in fluorescent knee-highs now play kickball. Where Mary Ann Hall’s high-class brothel prospered during the Civil War, the National Museum of the American Indian stands. An effort to protect “high-tech turf,” recently planted by the National Park Service, threatens to push popular annual festivals off the green lawn.

The Mall is embraced as hallowed ground not because architects willed it but because people chose it. Citizens congregate on the Lincoln Memorial steps—where Marian Anderson sang “America” in 1939 and where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963—to contemplate democracy’s “unfinished work,” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address words, etched in the monument to his legacy.

With the rise of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to open in 2015, the National Mall marches toward what it should be: not just a formal park in a federal city, but also a central space for self-expression and equal representation. In short, a field where dreams can come true. —George W. Stone

Travel Tips

When to Go:March 20-April 12, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Tidal Basin (adjacent to the Mall); June 24-28 and July 1-5, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, in front of the National Museum of the American Indian; July 4,Fireworks for America; October 26, Marine Corps Marathon

How to Get Around:The National Mall extends from Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues to the north, First Street N.W. to the east, Independence and Maryland Avenues to the south, and 14th Street N.W. to the west. Walk or bike(with some restrictions) around the Mall. Use public transportation(Metrorail and Metrobus) to get to the Mall from hotels and from Reagan National(the closest airport). Several Metro stations provide easy access to the area. Check theinteractive Metro mapto locate the station closest to your destination.

Where to Stay:Located just four blocks from both the Mall and the White House, The Jeffersonhotel is convenient, luxurious, and historic (guest room windows are etched with 18th-century handwritten text from the Declaration of Independence,and eight original pieces signed by Thomas Jefferson hang in the foyer). New for 2015, all 95 guest rooms (completely renovated in 2010) will receive upgrades, including vanishing LED TVs in bathroom mirrors. Choose one of the 17 suites (individually styled to reflect a particular Jeffersonian theme) and enjoy a bonus wine pairing selected specifically for that room, such as Arise, a red blend by Blackbird Vineyards, paired with the Music Suite. Saturdays, ask the in-house historian for expert insights into the museums, memorials, and parks you’re about to see.

Where to Eat or Drink:At the National Portrait Gallery’s airy Courtyard Café, a wavy steel-and-glass vaulted ceiling, fully grown trees, and four walk-on-water scrims create the illusion that you’re picnicking outdoors. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, desserts (cheesecake, cupcakes, ice cream), plus beer, wine, coffee, and free Wi-Fi. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

What to Buy:Each Smithsonian Institution museum store features items inspired by the museum’s collections, such as Navajo beaded bracelets and hand-knit alpaca wraps at the National Museum of the American Indian; wooden dinosaur toys and Ming vase ornaments at the National Museum of Natural History; and kites, model planes, and kid’s astronaut boots at the National Air and Space Museum.

Practical Tip:You’ll need a ticket to visit the Washington Monument. Free same-day, timed tickets are available on a first come, first served basis beginning at 8:30 a.m. daily (line forms much earlier). Limited advance tickets are available onlinefor $1.50 per ticket. Closed July 4 and December 25.

What to Read Before You Go:Murder in the Smithsonian(Fawcett, 1985) and Murder at the National Gallery(Fawcett, 1997), two titles in Margaret Thurman’s best-selling Capital Crimes series, are set in and around the National Mall.

Helpful Links:National Mall and Memorial Parksand Washington, D.C. Tourism

Fun Fact:The “secret” symbols found at the Lincoln Memorial are hidden in plain sight. Although various symbolism legends (most notably that Gen. Robert E. Lee’s image is carved into the back of President Lincoln’s head) have been attributed to the memorial, the most important actual symbols are the multiple fasces (a bundle of rods bound by a piece of leather) found throughout the site. When the memorial was designed and built, fasces symbolized strength through unity.

Insider Tip From George W. Stone:As the world marks the centenary of World War I, there is still no national monument to the Great War. But there is a District of Columbia War Memorial located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial. It was dedicated by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.

Hone your photography skills on a National Geographic weekend photo workshop in Washington, D.C. >>

 

 

Mornington Peninsula, Australia

Eat, Drink, Play, Repeat

Though Sydney might argue the point, Melbourne has established itself as Australia’s food capital, home to innovative culinary ideas such as micro coffee roasters, nonprofit cafés, and expat pop-ups (British chef Heston Blumenthal is moving his Fat Duck from England to Melbourne for six months next year). Melbourne’s chief wine region is the nearby Yarra Valley, but an emerging source of bounty is the rugged Mornington Peninsula, about an hour’s drive south from downtown via a recently opened roadway. The peninsula distills the flavors of down under in one boot-shaped cape: paddock-to-plate restaurants, down-to-earth wineries where the vintners themselves work the tasting rooms, and small sustainable farms such as 2 Macs and Green Olive at Red Hill that each offer cooking classes.

But the region isn’t just about food. In fact, “it has always been Melbourne’s playground, with people flocking to the beaches over summer,” says Danielle Field, who, with her brother Max, guides MP Experience food tours of the Hinterland Region of Pinot Noir growers, apple orchards, and strawberry farms. Snorkelers come to encounter leafy sea dragons. Terrestrial wildlife lovers seek out nocturnal pademelons and bettongs. Says Field, “Now the Mornington Peninsula really has something for everyone.” —Elaine Glusac,@ElaineGlusac

Travel Tips

When to Go:October to December (spring), and February to April (late summer through early autumn) are best for walking, wineries, or farm-related activities. January and Easter are peak tourist seasons, typically resulting in higher lodging rates and minimum stays.

How to Get Around:Driving is the best way to get to and around the peninsula. From Melbourne, it’s about a 70-minute drive via the Monash freeway (M1) to Eastlink (M3), then onto the Peninsula Link (M11) and Mornington Peninsula Freeway (B110). The trip from Tullamarine (Melbourne) airport to Sorrento takes about two hours. For local travel, use the well-marked walking trails, four of which combine to form the 62-mile Mornington Peninsula Walk.

Where to Stay:Accommodations include camping, coastal golf communities like theRACV Cape Schanck Resort, located at the peninsula’s southernmost tip, and farm stays with locals. At Hart’s Farmin Shoreham, Graeme and Penny Hart grow a veritable salad bar of fruits and veggies (including figs, artichokes, lemons, rhubarb, apples, and pears) and have two rooms for guests (one of which will be ready in early 2015). In May and June, join in the olive harvest and wood-fired pizza-making days. Rates include a daily breakfast basket (muesli, fruit, yogurt, locally made bread, and Hart’s Farm jam) plus juice, tea, and coffee.

Where to Eat:At Foxeys Hangout, a winery in Red Hill, vintner Tony Lee also prepares seasonally fresh small plates (such as barbecue quail and zucchini fritters with goat curd) to complement the winery’s handmade Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Chardonnay. Stop in for tastings and tapas (Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, except Good Friday and Christmas) at the Foxeys Hangout Cellar Door. Or schedule an appointment (11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays; $50) for the Blend Your Own Sparkling Winesession, a hands-on lesson in the final stages of winemaking, including a bottle to take home.

Where to Shop:Stop at the peninsula’s bustling craft markets, including Red Hill Community Market (first Saturdays, September-May), Mornington Racecourse Market (second Sundays monthly), and Mornington Midweek Market (Wednesdays) to chat with stallholders and shop for handmade or homegrown local products such as Elfred’s of the Peninsula, Fig & Ginger Jam, and Fraulein Jaegertote bags and bracelets.

Practical Tip:Use the interactiveMornington Peninsula Tourism Trip Plannerto create and map your custom road trip itinerary.

What to Read Before You Go:Australian novelist Garry Disher’s award-winning Hal Challis detective crime series is set in the Mornington Peninsula. Start with the first book, The Dragon Man(Soho Crime, 2005).

Helpful Links:Mornington Peninsula Tourismand Tourism Australia

Fun Fact:The Ten Minutes by Tractorwinery in Main Ridge gets its name from the time it took to ride between the estate’s three original vineyards. Three neighboring families joined forces—and vineyards—in 1999 to make wine, selling their first vintage under a new label in 2000. They sold their joint venture in 2004, but the name—and the distance between those first vineyards—remains the same.

Travel Tip From Elaine Glusac:For a true life-on-the-farm stay, rent a cottage from 2 Macs Farms owner Mary McCarthy that includes its own herb garden and henhouse.

 

Readers' Choice Winner: Faroe Islands

This year for the first time we invited our well-traveled online readers and followers to participate in creating our Best Trips list. We asked them via Twitter, Facebook, and our Intelligent Travel blogto nominate one place using the same criteria we use—sustainable, culturally minded, authentic, superlative, and timely. Among the nominations we received,Traveler staff chose the following winning entry, which captures the thrill of discovering a remote destination. —Amy Alipio

Under the North Atlantic Sun

The Faroe Islands are always a beautiful destination, no matter what time of year you go. But on March 20, 2015, there will be a full solar eclipse visible from the Faroe Islands. For most people, a full solar eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and from what I've heard, it should be quite magnificent. My grandmother told me about her reaction to the full solar eclipse that was visible from the Faroe Islands 60 years ago, on June 30, 1954. She was terrified, thinking it was some kind of apocalypse. What was a very bright day suddenly became black. The birds acted strange, but the hens just went inside their house to sleep. A few minutes later, the day was bright again, the rooster crowed "good morning," and life kept on going.—Sigrið Mikkjalsdóttir, Faroe Islands

Travel Tips

When to Go:March 20, Total Solar Eclipse 2015, islandwide eclipse-related special events; July-August for comfortable temperatures (average 55ºF) and extended daylight (longest midsummer day is 19.5 hours)

How to Get Around:Directflightsto the Faroe Islands leave from England, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway year-round, and from Barcelona and Milan in summer. Ferrieslink Denmark to the islands (once a week year-round, twice weekly in summer) and run from Iceland once a week in summer. Rent a car or ride a bus to travel between towns, and use ferries to island hop. Buy a four- or seven-day Strandfaraskip Landsins Travel Cardfor unlimited bus and ferry trips. In Tórshavn, the capital city, the local (red) bus service is free.

Where to Stay:Experience authentic Faroese architecture and life at Gjáargarður, a wooden, sod-roof guesthouse in the tiny village (about 50 residents) of Gjógv. The property includes an adjacent low-rise modern building with single, double, and triple bedrooms. For authentic Viking-style lodging, book one of the ten double alcoves (sliding privacy door; shared bathroom) tucked under the roof slope in the attic roykstovan(smoke room).

Where to Eat or Drink:Atindustrial-sleekKOKS, overlooking the Tórshavn waterfront, executive chef Poul Andrias Ziska specializes in small-plate new Nordic cuisine. The tasting menu (choose four, six, or eight courses) showcases locally sourced ingredients such as seaweed, dried fish, and herbed lamb. Dinner only. Closed Sundays and Mondays. For more traditional local fare (poached cod, smoked salmon, lobster bisque) served in a homey setting, visit Áarstova(“the house by the brook”), also inTórshavn. Dinner served daily.

What to Buy:A Faroese original, the traditional Guðrun & Guðrunstar-pattern sweater (popularized by TV detective Sarah Lund in the acclaimed Danish crime series The Killing)is hand knit from 100 percent untreated wool. Since no dyes are used, the classic sweaters reflect the natural colors of the local Faroese sheep. Men’s, women’s, and children’s dyed wool sweaters (available in various colors and patterns), hats, scarves, and other clothing and accessories are sold at the Guðrun & Guðrun flagship store in Tórshavn.

Cultural Tip:It's easy to travel around the Faroe Islands by car, but off-islanders may get flustered by narrow lanes and frequent four-hooved obstacles. Before hitting the road, watch thisquick videoon driving in the Faroe Islands, created by Landsverk, the public roads office.

What to Read Before You Go:Told from the perspective of a visiting Harvard graduate student, Far Afield(Vintage, reprint edition, 1994) by Girl, Interruptednovelist Susanna Kaysen, is a simultaneously humorous and insightful look at what it’s like to be an outsider in the isolated Faroe Islands.

Helpful Links:Visit Faroe Islandsand GreenGate Incoming

Fun Fact:Irish monks, not Vikings, are thought to have been the first settlers of the Faroe Islands. For generations, Faroese have shared the story of St. Brendan, an Irish abbot who's said to have sailed from Scotland to the islands sometime between the years 512 and 530. As the story goes, Brendan was searching for “the promised land of the saints” when he landed on “the islands of the sheep and the paradise of the birds.” Historians believe that the first Norse, or Viking, settlers didn’t arrive until the year 800.


 

 

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