I have devoured my travel show materials, researched over 100 countries (did you know there are 195 countries in the world right now?), and contemplated where next to get lost.
My very “scientific” process of picking my top 10 of ‘18?
Propensity for mindfulness (will delve deeper on this topic in April).
Are there too many tourists?
Where on the map is it?
Historical and cultural significance.
My gut instinct.
Compare All The Above in multiple lists (remember: I like lists!)
Little Big Country : Montenegro
My mother calls me an old soul with my 1920’s expat personality and Montenegro is one of those places I might just like to retire to. With majestic mountains, breathtaking beaches and larger-than-life locales in a very small region; bigger is not always better. The sovereign state has some of Europe’s most spectacular seaside scenery along with ancient walled towns that cling to the rocks as if they might just dive into the water. If the beaches get crowded, trekkers can easily get off the beaten track in the rugged mountain, the primeval forests, or in the many towns and villages where everyday Montenegrins go about their daily chores. You can hike, horse ride, mountain bike or kayak to somewhere hidden with a good chance you will be the only ones in existence.
Old World Portugal
Dynamic in it’s art, culture, and cuisine, Portugal is not on everyone’s radar. With it’s microbrewery scene and culinary delights from Lisbon to the beaches of Algarve, it’s affordable to traverse it’s natural wonders with it’s compact size and excellent road network. It carries an old Europe feel with it’s trolley cars sliding across cobblestone streets, and villages not yet jaded from tourism with Roman-Moorish-Baroque architecture and windswept castles overlooking cork harvesters and varied folk life. Make a new friend over fresh seafood and chilled wine with locals (who generally speak English) at any number of seaside resort towns. With way less visitors than many other European countries, many travel gurus label it has one of the most underrated countries in the world.
Hidden Italy : Matera
Delving into the less touristy parts of Italy, I found the small villages and towns fascinating as I glimpsed into how Italians live away from the big cities. Known as "la Città Sotterranea" (the Subterranean City), Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The ancient neighborhoods, known as sassi, are a series of grottoes carved out of limestone, teetering on the edge of a ravine. Natural caves, exposed as the Gravina river cut its gorge, attracted the first inhabitants around 7000 years ago and then more elaborate structures were built atop them. Popular only with Italian tourists, the ancient city remains relatively unknown to foreign visitors. You can lost in the streets where the locals speak with a lyrical rhythm unlike other Italian destinations.
Impenetrable Spain: Toledo
South of Madrid, set atop a gorge overlooking the Rio Tajo, that looks an awful lot like a moat, Toledo invites the curious traveler (or a wandering detective like myself) to its castle-like walls adorned with gargoyles and other winged creatures. Due to its hallowed ground, a history of invasions and a civil war that could not destroy the city, a unique cultural diversity lingers with Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish roots. With it's art and architecture, layers of history, it truly is a living museum and a window into a different era.
Mythic Poland : Krakow
Krakow is a very affordable, but under visited destination of Eastern Europe. The architecture alone warrants a peek as legends say the city was founded on the defeat of a Dragon, and it’s fantastical atmosphere fills the medieval streets and squares. Wawel Castle, soaring churches, impressive museums and the world’s largest market square, are just a few of the attractions. Reflections and memorials from 20th century tragedy give rise to the new millennium liveliness and progressive future. It is said that a certain harmony exits in the back streets and people of Poland. You might have to visit before it becomes too hip and on someone else's Top 10.
Many travel experts call Chile the darling for 2018 as it celebrates 200 years of independence. The long narrow strip of land is uniquely isolated from the rest of South America, by the Andes to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West, from desert in the North to glaciers to the South. Chile is still home to a wilderness rarely found anymore in this day and age. Maybe it's the great wine talking but, the people are friendly and the food is delicious, and to top it off, it won't break the budget. From adventure in Patagonia to stargazing in Atacama to Santiago’s big city vibe with a view almost unheard of, a unique modern frontier awaits.
Gaps of Ireland
Ireland is a pretty popular destination for me to include on this list as I try to look for the road less traveled; however, it’s all about the roads (or gaps) in this particular instance. From rugged cliffs, lush green fields and friendly villages where live music and good ‘craic’ (happenings) on any given night, it’s the tiny little road that gets you there. Starting from Dublin, take your time winding your way down to the ‘five fingers’ in the south, experiencing parks, iron age forts, abbeys and waterfalls. Stop at any roadside pub and enjoy a pint by a fireside listening to local music. Just mind the sheep sleeping in the road.
A destination that I just returned from which you can read about here and there, Iceland is a world like no other. A true representation of Fire and Ice, Artic winds do battle with steaming geysers and waterfalls are viewed above blackened lava fields. It’s not all wilderness with Reykjavik's hipster cafés, viking knick knacks, geothermal spas, but it’s small population can still make you feel like you are the only person in the world. Depending on when you visit, you might never see the sun or you just might be wearing sunglasses at night. Try the winter and you might catch that ever elusive aurora borealis. Fun fact: the water out of the tap tastes better than any bottled water, and so much cheaper.
Spiritual Japan: Kii Peninsula
The spiritual heartland of Japan, the Kii Peninsula is full of legends and mysteries and trails of moss-covered stone lanterns leading to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Starting in Kyoto or Osaka, take a pilgrimage through gnarly forests working your way down to the Wakayama region whrere traditional culture mix with modern convenience and without the touristy crowds. For it being steeped in 1000 years of history, there is no need to understand the ways of the Samurai as rural Japan can be hassle free as their are detailed itineraries and English signposts to keep you from getting to lost. This region forces you to be mindful of your surroundings by taking it slow and soaking in the world around you.
The friendliness of its people is what captured my attention. Finland’s short summer brings the party as Finns want to make the sunshine last forever and not be forced to cower in the long, dark winter. No matter what season, people are just overfilled with good cheer and optimism. Inspired design and technology meet stretches of wilderness in Europe's deep north. Music festivals, art exhibitions, lake cruises, midnight sunshine, remote waterside cottages and the most colorful of markets are just a few things that await you in a Finland Summer. I'm selling the Summer aren't I? Hint: Finland in the summer, Iceland in the winter (just my opinion). See: Iceland.
More about these destinations coming soon.
Now, Get Lost!