7 Little-Known Destinations for Your Winter Vacation Bucket List
Can you feel it too? Winter is so close we can feel it nipping at our necks in the morning, and it’s, well, more than a little disappointing. Imagine sun-drenched days spent relaxing in pleasant temperatures while sitting poolside or horizontal on a beach towel before sparkling ocean views. It’s dreamy, right? Well, if your distraction levels at work are at an all-time high, it might be time to plan a seasonal sojourn to a far-flung destination, where summer is just beginning and recoup your energy. Need some ideas? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with some of the most beautiful under-the-radar destinations your summer bucket list needs.
Thailand is well-known to seasoned travelers looking for a warm spot to soothe their souls while soaking up the cultural offerings. But we think it’s time you veered off the well-worn path of Bangkok and Koh Samui for the zen-like landscape of Chiang Mai. Swap the popular and insanely busy touristy destinations for this calm northern capital. Chiang Mai is somewhere you can really unwind, refuel your energy, and fill up on the delicious local food and peaceful atmosphere of the blissful forest surroundings.
What to do: Animal lovers will want to visit Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park, which has ditched elephant rides in favor of the elephants’ welfare. Don’t expect the animals to put on a show; there’s no circus act here. In fact, these elephants have been rescued from such places. Instead, you will have the chance to interact with the gentle giants by feeding and washing them. If you’re keen to get back to nature, then stroll through one of Mother Nature’s finest offerings, Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, which has more than 300 bird species and 2000 species of ferns and flowering plants. Walk or mountain bike the various trails, and feel the power of the roaring waterfalls along the way. The Wiang Kum Kam underground ancient city is spectacular too. Dating back to the eighth century, the city has beautiful structures, stone tablets, and Buddhist sculptures. If you want more ancient ruins, monuments, and temples, make the five- to six-hour bus journey to Sukhothai Historical Park. Don’t forget your camera.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for something regal, bursting with local character and charm, look no further than the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai. The hotel has 687 excellent reviews from over 1000 on Trip Advisor and is rated number one of 357 lodgings in the area.
There’s so much to love about Greece. With its aquamarine waters, farm-to-table dining, and traditional architecture, the region is steeped in history. But while Santorini is incredibly beautiful, don’t overlook the stunning pastel-colored coastal town of Kastellorizo. It has just as much magic and surreal fairytale-like beauty that you’ll be back next summer, we guarantee it. It’s an undiscovered paradise.
What to do: A must-see is the Blue Caves. We first came across these stunning natural phenomena via Tuula Vintage, and we were entranced by its crystal-clear waters and unique rock pylon formations that jut into the ocean. It’s a traveler’s paradise, almost too beautiful to be real… but it is, and you should definitely go. If you’re not convinced, then perhaps Tuula’s quote from the trip will change your mind: “This day will forever be inexplicably postcard perfect in my memory banks.” It’s time to make some memories of your own.
Where to stay: For the genuine Greek island experience and hospitality, book a night at the Megisti Hotel, which offers views of the ocean from your balcony. The boutique Hotel Kastellorizo is also a stunning option for that traditional island experience.
It’s been called “the Hamptons of France,” thanks to the many French film stars, prime ministers, and members of the Parisian elite who choose Île de Ré for their discreet vacations. It’s lesser known than the popular Cote d'Azur or Nice, but it’s no less beautiful; in fact, its heavenly beaches, charming narrow roads, idyllic hotels, hillside vineyards, and inviting restaurants make it even more so. There are even local farmers who harvest salt from the sea by hand. It’s laid-back and luxe all in one. No wonder it’s a Unesco World Heritage site.
What to do: This is the place where you want to rent a bike and cycle everywhere. It’s the best way to see everything, and there are excellent paths to take you around, too.
Where to stay: From the quaint guesthouse to the modern hotel, there are plenty of beautiful places to stay in Île de Ré. From the reviews, it looks like Hôtel de Toiras is one of the best, but for local charm, La Villa Clarisse is our pick.
You’ve no doubt heard of Beijing, but Yúnnán is on the rise as the next top tourist destination in China. While the impressive scenery is worth the trip alone, it’s the local people (25 recorded minority groups call it home), culture, villages, and food that make this place truly special. From the snow-capped mountains to the photographic rice fields, this diverse province is quickly becoming “the trendiest destination for China’s exploding domestic tourist industry,” according to Lonely Planet.
What to do: Switch off your mobile and dial up your sensory mode with a trip to Black Dragon Pool Park. With the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yùlóng Xuěshān) as its backdrop, this picturesque setting is a sight to behold. To really embrace the history of the region, take a trip to the Yuányáng rice terraces and prepare for stunning visuals of colorful, pattern-lined hills covered in 12,500 hectares of rice fields. This is where you recharge your spirit. If photography is your passion, visit the Dongchuan Red Land, where you’ll see crop fields in blood red, earth tone, yellow, and even blue hues. Make sure to book a seat to witness the Nàxī Orchestra, too, who perform traditional Taoist temple music from the Han, Song, and Tang dynasties.
Where to stay: If you want a slice of local history, book a room at The Linden Centre. Featuring gorgeous historical buildings with original 1940s architecture, this is a national relic. Based off Trip Advisor reviews, it’s also a great place to stay with kids.
There are so many pretty places to see in this world, but Blagaj truly lives up to the good-looking hype. Be transported back in time to a place where the air feels cleaner and there’s a real appreciation for the simpler things in life. The pace slows right down here, surrounded by unspoiled nature and enchanting forests.
What to do: Take the 10-minute walk from Blagaj village to the fairytale Tekija house surrounded by the unreal blue-green waters of the Buna River. Aside from the untouched scenery, the best part about visiting Blagaj are the locals, who blogger World of Wanderlust says gave her the “warmest and most hospitable welcoming I have encountered in Europe.” The local produce is so fresh and all organic, and if you’re on a budget, it’s incredibly affordable: Around $30 to $50 per day should be enough to cover you.
Where to stay: If you like modern conveniences at an excellent price, then stay at Hotel Blagaj. It’s clean, comfortable, and in walking distance to the Tekija.
Tulum has been the go-to hot spot for models and celebrities in recent years, and while we agree that it’s incredibly beautiful, it’s time to change things up this summer. Our pick is the brightly coloured city of Guanajuato. This Unesco World Heritage site is bursting with history: From its charming cobblestone streets to its diverse museums and theater, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit everything into your stay.
What to do: Grab a good camera before you go, because you won’t stop snapping until you leave. This picturesque city was made for photography, with some of the most colorful examples of Baroque architecture in Central and South America. The architecture, paired with the cobblestone streets, adds a unique European feel to this pretty Mexican city. Climb to the top of the city and visit the red-stone monument representing El Pípila, the hero of Mexican independence. There, you will have insane views of the candy-coloured houses set into the hillside (and the best selfies ever).
Where to stay: If you like being in the heart of the city, Hotel Boutique will put you right in the thick of it. It’s modern and clean with comfort and great service, not to mention that it’s a stone’s throw from all the great attractions.
There are so many beautiful places in Turkey that it can be hard to pick just one region to explore, but if we had to choose, the magnificent Fethiye would be it. This is one of those rare places on earth where mind-blowing and breathtaking are fitting descriptors. It’s brimming with natural splendor and coastal beauty. According to Lonely Planet, an earthquake leveled the seaside locale in 1958, leaving only a few remains of the ancient city in its wake. Though it serves as a major base for Turkish yacht cruises and is fairly large in size, Fethiye is “surprisingly low-key,” which is 100% part of the charm and allure for travelers.
What to do: Head straight to Butterfly Valley. This veritable hot spot offers the best seat in the house on its pretty cliffside, which overlooks yachts and pristine beaches. The name comes from the Jersey tiger butterfly that makes its home there. If you want to make the trek, wear decent walking shoes for the steep 30- to 45-minute descent from the cliff down to the beach.
Where to stay: If you like a room with a view, then Hillside Beach Club is definitely our pick. With 904 Trip Advisor reviews (including 500 in the excellent rating), you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an incredible stay. This way to paradise.
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