It is not down on any map, wrote Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, “true places never are.” While this sentiment may have held water back in 1851, it’s sadly not the case today – an era in which the most remote, saltwater-blasted outcrop on earth (“bijou, but breezy”) where the locals will start building huts made out of shells to rent out. Fear not, however, because amazing and stylish travel destinations do still exist. And for every thousand people heading off to Croatia, Cairo or Cancun, there’s a savvy holidaymaker with a plane ticket in his hand who has somewhere a little less obvious in mind. These are the ones to keep under your sun hat for your next vacation.
Bhutan is less than half the size of Ireland, completely landlocked, and no one heading there tends to do so with anything other than a well-thumbed passport. The historic, sparsely-populated, largely Buddhist terrain tucked between China and India is dotted with Himalayan peaks and, further south, lush areas of jungle – but they’ve cottoned onto the idea that tourism pays, so there’s also a smattering of luxurious accommodations.
Some of the most architecturally-striking are operated by Six Senses resorts, whose five lodges spread across Bhutan are brand new but are already considered design classics. This is Six Senses Punakha and it requires saving a fair amount for the trip, but totally worth it.
Many a globetrotter has ticked Dubai and Abu Dhabi off their travel bucket list, but the neighbouring country of Qatar also has an ace up its sleeve – the coastal city of Doha. Aside from a phenomenal skyline, it has a vibrant arts scene and, of course, a raft of new stadiums built for the 2022 World Cup. Rockstar architect I.M. Pei (the man behind the Louvre’s glass pyramid) came out of retirement to create the city’s Museum of Islamic Art – an unashamedly angular building that looks incredible by night and houses some of the region’s most important pieces.
Like Dubai, Doha is massively multicultural, meaning you can enjoy five-star flavours from all over the world.
Where do you have the best beach holiday you’ve ever had without actually dipping a toe in the ocean? Bacalar, that’s where. A relatively unknown lagoon in Mexico about 20km inland from the Caribbean, and a spot that is likened to the Maldives, it has everything the sun-kissed islands in the Indian Ocean have.
Visit Bacalar and you’ll be down near Belize, where you can swim in water that is at times pure turquoise and at others a vivid deep blue. The town which bears the lake’s name borders its western shores and is compact, earthy and often called ‘the real Mexico’.
Five or six decades ago, the ancient cliff-top spot of Matera, just a few hours from the Amalfi Coast felt like it had been abandoned by the world: families would huddle down with livestock in the caves carved into its limestone foundations. To say new life has been breathed into this 7,000-year-old city would be an understatement. It’s the 2019 European Capital of Culture (honor it shares with Malta’s Valetta), and visitors can now bed down in one of the old caves in luxury, as some have been transformed into stylish hotels. This is caveman living 2.0.
If you’d have gone to Bilbao, Spain back in 1997, you’d have been way ahead of the architecture-hungry tourist masses. Arles – a medium-sized city in the South of France, not far from Marseilles – is offering trend-hunters a similar chance now. We have Frank Gehry to thank again, only instead of a Guggenheim museum, the architect has put his pen to work for a twisting, mountainous tower, which caps off a 20-acre arts centre called the Luma.
Arles has a solid art history, having been home to both Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin (they actually lived there together in 1888) – but what surprises many first-time visitors is its massive, Roman amphitheatre, which still hosts year-round events.