Top 7 Destinations Off the Beaten Track
Within us lives an undaunted explorer waiting to be set free. Craving adventure, curious about the unexpected, ready to go where few have dared, our inner explorer will love to lead us by the hand into uncharted lands. And maybe we should relinquish control every so often. While the ‘greater’ tourist destinations have much to offer (and are famous for a reason), let me share with you some of those hidden treasures to which my inner explorer has happily led me.
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro: I stumbled into this stunning location thanks to SilverSea. With a fleet composed of small ships, SilverSea has opted for finding unique locations – most usually not accessible to larger cruise ships. In tourist-busy Montenegro (and the even more touristic Adriatic Coast), Kotor remains unspoiled. Wedged between brooding mountains and a moody corner of the bay, this dramatically beautiful town is perfectly at one with its setting. Its sturdy walls – started in the 9th century and tweaked until the 18th – arch steeply up the slopes behind it.
Musandam Peninsula, Oman: Separated from the rest of Oman by the east coast of the UAE, and guarding the southern side of the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula is dubbed the ‘Norway of Arabia’ for its beautiful khors (rocky inlets), small villages and dramatic, mountain-hugging roads. Here, I stayed the Six Senses Zighy Bay. This hotel offers the most interesting arrival option in the world: to fly over the mountains in a paraglider and land in the lobby – a unique experience.
Tiger’s Nest Temple, Bhutan: Also known as Taktsang, it is a sacred monastery built on a rocky cliff 3,000 feet above the Paro valley (and accessible only by foot). Legend has it, some 1,300 years ago, Guru Rinpoche materialized on the back of a flying tigress and converted the Bhutanese to Buddhism at this place. Built into the very face of the mountain, it’s a mystical, unique place. The ideal luxury hotel to get a good night’s sleep before the trek is the Amankora Paro, built in a classic, traditional Bhutanese manner and where music is that of birds and running water from coiling streams.
Cappadoccia, Turkey: Located in central Turkey, this is the nation’s most visually striking region. Formed by volcanic eruptions and set down upon the stark Anatolian plains, Cappadocia is a geological oddity of honeycombed hills and towering boulders of otherworldly beauty. People have long used the region's soft stone to carve shelter underground, leaving the countryside scattered with fascinating cavern architecture such as fresco-adorned rock-cut churches of Göreme Open-Air Museum and the subterranean refuges of Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı.
Bagan, Myanmar: Bagan is an ancient city in central Myanmar (formerly Burma), southwest of Mandalay. Standing on the eastern banks of the Ayeyarwady River, it’s known for the Bagan Archaeological Area, where more than 2,000 Buddhist monuments tower over green plains, one of the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples and stupas in the world. For an unparalleled view, I took a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Here I stayed in the between Anantara hotel, located in the banks of the Ayeryarwady.
Central Java, Indonesia: One of the most populated regions in Asia, Java is also characterized by its great natural beauty. Its central area is dominated by hundreds of volcanoes, many of which are active, rice fields and countless small towns. It is also home to the world's largest Buddhist site, Borobudur, as well as the equally fascinating complex of Prambanan, a contemporary Hindu site. Almost as memorable as Borobudur, this UNESCO Heritage of Humanity colossal temple, the Amanjiwo hotel, where I lodged, is made entirely of limestone carved locally, high walls, and dramatic domes.
Lhasa, Tibet: The ‘roof of the world’ is a wonderful destination. Almost impossible inaccessible, our first view of the red and white Potala Palace soaring above the holy city makes it all worth it. The charming whitewashed old Tibetan quarter continues to preserve the flavour of traditional Tibetan life. It is here in the Jokhang, an otherworldly mix of flickering butter lamps, wafting incense and prostrating pilgrims, and the encircling Barkhor pilgrim circuit that most visitors first fall in love with Tibet. Located in this remote land, at an altitude of 3600 meters above sea level, The St. Regis Lhasa Resort is the first luxury hotel in Tibet, perfectly located with a unimpaired view of the Potala Palace.