Each year, members of Frommer's editorial staff put our heads together to suss out those places around the world that are worthy of a traveler's attention. Each is selected for what it has to offer -- big city fun, rural relaxation, the opportunity to test your mental and physical mettle, or simply that it often falls under the radar and deserves a little attention.
This year, we've selected the following 13 domestic and international places for your to consider:
Mile-High citizens have pushed the city through a recent renaissance, adding a stunning titanium-clad wing to its Denver Art Museum (designed by Daniel Libeskind), creating a striking permanent space for its Museum of Contemporary Art and building a state-of-the-art opera house in the Denver Center for Performing Arts. The city is also home to an art of a different kind -- beermaking -- hosting nearly 50,000 brewers and drinkers alike at the annual Great American Beer Festival each fall. The number of available hotel rooms has grown significantly since the city was selected as the site of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. And, if that's not enough, one of the sunniest cities in the US (don't forget the sunscreen year-round) offers easy access to a panoply of outdoor activities, including 650-miles of urban bike paths and the nearby Rocky Mountains for seasonal hiking and top-caliber winter sports. To top it off, it's served by hometown carrier Frontier Airlines based out of the popular Denver International Airport.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Now starting its 3rd year post-Katrina, New Orleans still hasn't fully recovered from the disaster. But it remains a vital destination, and an important one for tourists looking for a place to spend dollars where they can do the most good, have the most fun, and see a place that may become very different in the next few years. Transportation is affordable; infrastructure is back, to be sure, and the primary tourist areas (French Quarter, Garden District) were not heavily affected by the flooding. The city's historic St. Charles streetcar just resumed service. Almost all the major hotels and restaurants have reopened, and the enforced closures gave some the opportunity to completely revamp. But property taxes and sky-high insurance rates are pushing smaller, independent businesses to bankruptcy and preventing the return of the artistic eccentrics that have imprinted New Orleans with such character over the years. Newer, relaxed zoning laws could strip architecturally distinct neighborhoods of their flavor. Go now, before it becomes Disney-fied.
Pittsburgh turns 250 next year, and visitors during the 2008 semiquincentennial will discover that Steel City USA has swapped out its rusting blast furnaces for a modern cityscape with a thriving local and international arts scene. It retains its past glory in its universities, ethnic neighborhoods, and supremely engineered and iconic bridges that span the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers criss-crossing the city. And it offers up one of the country's most impressive cultural collections: the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Take your pick from dinosaur bones, at the Natural History Museum, to Pop Art, at the museum dedicated to Pittsburgh's native son Andy Warhol. Throughout the year, Pittsburgh will be offering up special events commemorating its 250-year history, including theatrical and balletic performances, sports events, the Pittsburgh Biennial and Carnegie International arts fairs, and more.
The American Whiskey Trail
You might not be able to save time in a bottle, but you can trace a bit of America's history in a glass. The American Whiskey trail is a deliciously aromatic historical tour of America's love-hate relationship with spirits. The journey is fueled through stops into a half-dozen historical spots across five states including the sites of the early whiskey rebellion in Pennsylvania, taverns and a dozen distilleries. On the grounds of the distilleries you'll learn everything about the process of whiskey making plus personal tidbits about Martha Washington's cunning abilities as a mixologist to the real way tiny ol' Jack Daniels met his demise in Tennessee. (Hint: it has nothing to do with booze.) The majority of the trail lives among the limestone-rock and rolling, blue-grass hills of Kentucky. You might not always be able to sample the wares (some counties are still dry to this day), but you can take in the "angel's share" (that is, the sweet, wafting aroma of aging whiskey rising up) when you walk into a lofty barrel-house and see distilleries as unique to one another as the closely guarded yeast strains each uses in its whiskey-making process. The most surprising part of the journey may well be the first stop into Colonial-era America. On his Mt. Vernon estate in Virginia, George Washington ran one of the largest and most successful distilleries of 18th century America; after years of restoration, it's now a museum where you can check out the First President's 11,000-gallon operation up close, copper-pot stills and all.
Exit Zero on the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey
Despite the zeitgeist that New Jersey is all mobbed up and choked with industrial waste, the opposite is largely true, especially in the overlooked southern Jersey shore. Take the last exit to discover charming boardwalk towns "down the shore" including Cape May, Ocean City, and Wildwood. Cape May's laid back Victorian charm, with Sunset Beach, bird sanctuary, and beautiful B&Bs is minutes (and generations) away from Wildwood's celebration of post-WWII, go-go '50s-style architecture, with proud artificial palm trees and vintage neon signs. Visit half-a-dozen vineyards, an alpaca farm, lose a filling or two on salt water taffy where it was invented (Atlantic City), and marvel at Lucy the Elephant, once a hotel, still standing sentinel in Margate.
Jimi Hendrix and Orson Welles both spent time in this Atlantic coastal town, today a UNESCO World Heritage city. More visitors are now discovering a city that avid windsurfers have known for years (a little over an hour by car from Marrakech). Stylish yet affordable accommodations suit all budgets and tastes; there's also a large square -- perfect for quality people-watching -- that leads onto a quaint port where fishermen still bring in the daily catch and mend their nets. This seaside resort's medina is Morocco's most traveler-friendly. Within is an eclectic mix of art galleries, a jeweler's souk, and shops selling everything from local thuya woodcrafts and argan oil-based products to surf wear and handmade leather goods.
The former industrial city went into decline as its coal industry, factories and rail yards died out. Now, it's successfully reinvented itself as a cosmopolitan center that still retains its ancient Welsh heart. Anchoring the city is Cardiff Castle, built upon Roman ruins turned Norman stronghold transitioned into Victorian fancy. The astounding performing arts space, the Wales Millennium Centre, holds court in the revitalized waterfront, breathing life into the culture and cafÃ© scene. (It also serves as the hidden entrance to a secret government agency on BBC's sci-fi hit, Torchwood.) Cardiff is also the perfect base for exploring other parts of Wales; head east to see the famous ruins of Tintern Abbey, which inspired Wordsworth to write about "a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused," or head west to St. David's, a small cathedral town and the birthplace of Wales patron saint.
For American travelers, the choicest Caribbean islands are typically those than can be reached with as few connections as possible (with none being the preferred number). With a new direct route from New York's JFK to Hewanorra International Airport on American Airlines, faster and cheaper access to St. Lucia became available (roundtrip tickets for about a 4.5-hour flight came in under $400 as this went to press). Its push-me/pull-you colonial history (it traded hands between the French and English 14 times) and its center stage placements in both the slave trade and piracy make for a polyglot culture. The islands lush rainforests and mountainous landscapes provide dramatic scenery and hair-raising road trips as you rise and fall through the terrain on roads that appear at times to be only switchbacks. Nestled along the western shores are a series of fishing villages like Anse le Rey, where on Friday nights travelers can take part in local "jump ups" -- basically community fish fries and dance parties. The island has long been popular with honeymooners and boasts some of the best luxury hotels in the Caribbean, with a growing trend towards butler-serviced hotels and condos. It's the spot to go for quieter vacations (no wet t-shirt contests here) with snorkeling and diving in protected reefs. But you can add to the adventure by scaling St. Lucia's signature twin pitons and ziplining through the rainforest.
Built on the ruins of a major Incan city (it was, in fact destroyed by the Incas to prevent it from falling into Spanish hands), Quito is a perfect blend of colonial charm and modern city. Its 500-year-old churches wearing their hand-carved facades sit alongside a skyscraper-laden metropolis with a growing culinary and nightlife scene. It was the first city to earn its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it's the town's stark contrasts that make it worthy of note. Not just Colonial vs. Modern, but the fact that it's a city on a high plateau surrounded by the even higher Andes Mountains provide a shock in perspective (and to your system, at 9,300 ft above sea level, it takes a period of time to adjust to the thin air).
While prices have climbed in popular spots like Croatia and the Czech Republic, Romania remains an astonishing bargain (US$749 will get you a tailor-made 7-day hiking tour through the Carpathians, including all inns, meals, airport transfers and an English-speaking guide) and authentic. Sibiu, an almost perfectly preserved 12th century town, was the 2007 European Capitalof Culture. The painted monasteries along the border with Ukraine are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Danube River Delta offers some of the world's best bird watching for rare species, and the Carpathian Mountains are stunning and still pristine. Perhaps more importantly, Romania offers a unique mix of Old and New World. While the hotels and restaurants, even in more rural areas, are modernized, you'll still see more horse-drawn carts than cars once you're out of the cities.
Seoul, South Korea
After decades spent reclaiming its identity from previous Japanese domination and the Korean War, Seoul is now an economic powerhouse and is experiencing an unprecedented double-digit growth (over 28 percent compared to 2006) in tourism as Korean culture becomes increasingly popular worldwide. Hosting the 2002 soccer World Cup didn't hurt. Its past and present coexist with ancient palaces, city gates and shrines nestled in amongst modern skyscrapers and the bustle of traffic one should expect from one the top 10 largest cities in the world (we won't whitewash it, traffic congestion can be a major hassle). The city is divided into distinct districts, each offering its own take on cosmopolitan culture. At night, hit one of the pojang machas (drinking tents) that pop up around Gangnam station or trawl the all-night markets in Dongdaemun (the later the better). During the day stroll the green spaces in Namsan or check out a free performance in Marronnier Park.
Bras d'Or Lakes, Nova Scotia
Cutting a large swath through roughly the center of Cape Breton Island, Bras d'Or Lakes is an ideal draw for boaters, wildlife enthusiasts and low-key vacationers alike. The calm tidal lakes (fed by the Atlantic and fresh water rivers) are home to marinas and yacht clubs, a few small towns rich in the cultural history of their French and Scottish settlers, and long stretches of undeveloped shoreline rich in wildlife. Come here to spy bald eagles from your kayak, to join hunters in the fall hoping to bag deer and moose, or to roll along the Bras d'Or Lakes Scenic Drive, stopping off in St. Peter or Baddeck to enjoy a pint in a pub with down-to-earth Celtic music. History buffs will get a kick out of a visit to Beinn Bhreagh, one of Alexander Graham Bell's summer homes; it's where he and wife are now buried.
This is the place to truly get away from it all, an island slipped in between Hawaii and the Philippines with a population just over 7,600 people. Frommer's South Pacific author Bill Goodwin uncovered the pleasures of Kosrae, which he describes as "the way the islands used to be," adding that it easily is in the competition for the most beautiful island in the world. After covering Tahiti, Rarotonga, Moorea, Bora Bora, Huahine and other islands, that's really saying something. The few travelers that do know about Kosrae come for the snorkeling and diving in the remarkably clear waters of protected marine parks, as well as meals of mangrove crab and indigenous tangerines. You can spend your time here exploring the mysterious ruins of Lelu and Menke, stone-walled cities (a rarity in Polynesian culture), or paddling an outrigger canoe through a mangrove forest. Or, you can do nothing at all, lazing your days away in thatched huts over the water. The island is reached year-round via flights operated by Continental Micronesia.
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