10 places to go in 2023

Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Flickr)
Travel’s rebound has revealed the depth of our drive to explore the world. Why do we travel? For food, culture, adventure, natural beauty? This year’s list has all those elements, and more.اضافة اعلان

Palm Springs, CaliforniaSpotting stars in the streets and counting galaxies in the sky

Yes, this is the land of midcentury nostalgia, with its low-slung modernist architecture and the recent return of the 8-meter-tall “Forever Marilyn” statue. But these days, there is another headliner: the surrounding desert, and the dark skies above.

Astrotourism is on the rise, with a constellation of ways to explore the cosmos, including at the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, which offers tours and monthly “Swoon at the Moon” events. Unfurl a blanket on the desert floor and gaze up at the starry sky at Joshua Tree National Park. This designated International Dark Sky Park has one of the darkest skies in California, with stargazing treks and the annual Night Sky Festival.

The desert nature and history that flourish around Palm Springs are also shaping the city’s landscape, including the new Palm Springs Downtown Park, designed to reflect Indian Canyons, ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza and Museum, which, when it opens later this year, will be one of the largest Native American cultural centers on the US West Coast; and new desert-inspired hotels like Azure Sky.

Vjosa River, AlbaniaCycling through the canyons and valleys of one of Europe’s last untamed waterways

Protecting the Vjosa, one of Europe’s last undammed rivers, has not been easy. After a decade of proposed projects that threatened to alter the waterway’s wild flow, its innumerable ecosystems and its valleys strewn with ancient communities, the Albanian government signed a commitment last June to create the Vjosa Wild River National Park.

Making good on that pledge, scheduled to become reality in 2023, will establish a global conservation model while preserving the country’s canyon-lined, 190-km stretch of the 272-km waterway, which runs from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to the Adriatic Sea, as well as including around 95km of tributaries.

For travelers — on trails like Albania’s new UNESCO Cycling Route (opening this month), which runs along the river and visits World Heritage Sites like the city of Gjirokastra — safeguarding the Vjosa and its river system, with over 1,100 animal species, encourages responsible discovery of alpine settlements, where locals welcome adventurers for coffee, raki (fruit brandy), and a chance to imbibe oft-overlooked Balkan culture.

BhutanCliff-top fortresses and rhododendron forests on a revived trekking trail

After two-and-a-half years of pandemic isolation, Bhutan reopened in September with changes to its long-standing “high value, low volume” tourism policy. Visitors are no longer required to travel on package tours, but Bhutan’s mandatory “sustainable development fee” increased to $200 from $65 per day.

At the same time, the 400-km Trans Bhutan Trail, a path used for centuries as a pilgrimage and communications route, reopened after a three-year restoration that mended suspension bridges, stone stairs, and long-overgrown temples. The trail stretches east to west across nearly the entire country, passing through cities, villages, farmlands, and wilderness. Depending on the route and time of year, trekkers might spy the snowcapped Himalayas, visit cliff-top fortresses, scale sacred mountain passes, or pass through blooming rhododendron forests.

Official guides are required, and itineraries range from half a day to more than a month. Accommodations include guesthouses, home stays, luxury hotels, and well-appointed campsites on each of the trail’s 28 sections. Proceeds from trips booked with Trans Bhutan Trail, the nonprofit that led the restoration, go toward trail maintenance, educational programs, guide training and other community causes.

Kerala, IndiaLearn to climb a palm tree, visit a temple during an annual festival, and get a sustainable taste of village life

We travel to immerse ourselves in other cultures, but some forms of community tourism put residents on display without offering benefits. Not so in Kerala — a southern Indian state celebrated for its beaches, backwater lagoons, cuisine, and rich cultural traditions like the Vaikathashtami festival — where the government has adopted an award-winning approach that allows visitors to experience village life while supporting the communities that host them.

In Kumarakom, one of several “responsible tourism destinations” in the state, visitors can paddle through jungly canals, weave rope from coconut fiber, and even learn to climb a palm tree. In Maravanthuruthu, visitors can follow a storytelling trail and enjoy village street art before taking in an evening performance of a traditional temple dance.

Fukuoka, JapanSavoring an endangered street-food tradition on the often overlooked island of Kyushu

Fukuoka, a subtropical city perched on the northern shore of Kyushu, is one of the few remaining places in Japan where you will see rows of yatai — open-air street-food stalls resembling boxes of neon light. Many sell traditional foods like ramen, yakitori, and oden, but if you stroll along the riverfront on Nakasu, a small island that is Fukuoka’s red-light district, you will find some diversity with wine, coffee, and even French sausages and garlic toast.

Yatai were a common sight across Japan in the 1950s, but during the 1964 Summer Olympics, the authorities had them removed to project an image of economic recovery. In the present, Fukuoka is the only city left that is fighting this bureaucracy. The government has acknowledged the cultural significance of yatai by increasing the safety and quality of the food and by offering more licenses in 2022. Even so, the number of yatai has fallen drastically to around 100 stalls today from more than 400 in the 60s. Pull up a seat while you can and enjoy rubbing shoulders with strangers over supper again.

Flores, IndonesiaAn island paradise where crater lakes change color and 3-meter dragons roam

The term “fairy-tale getaway” is overused, but what else do you call a far-off, unspoiled, Southeast Asian island with 3-meter Komodo dragons, active volcanoes, white-sand beaches, coral gardens, rushing waterfalls, and color-shifting crater lakes reputed to house departed spirits?

Such are the allures of Flores, one of the roughly 17,500 islands of the Republic of Indonesia. An hour’s flight from Bali and far less visited, Flores may be seeing more visitors with the scheduled opening late this year of Kodi Bajo, a luxury resort in the fishing town of Labuan Bajo. Operated by the group behind the NIHI hotel on Sumba, a nearby Indonesian island, Kodi Bajo will offer sumptuous hillside accommodations and views of the nearby Komodo National Park archipelago — the only place in the world inhabited by the famous giant lizards.

Kakheti, GeorgiaNew flavors and ancient winemaking traditions in tiny hilltop towns and green valleys

The mountainous nation of Georgia’s 8,000-year-old winemaking tradition is at the center of several new trends in the wine world, including skin-contact (aka orange) wines, amphora fermentation, and charismatic grape varieties like saperavi. As a result, Georgian wine exports to the US recently topped 1 million bottles and are growing at almost 29 percent annually, as Wine Enthusiast recently reported.

For wine lovers, a tasting trip to estates like Vazisubani and Kardanakhi in Kakheti offers a chance to discover new wines in a landscape of tiny hilltop towns and verdant valleys framed by the Caucasus. Many wines are made in traditional pointed qvevri clay vessels that are buried in the earth.

To complement the experience, local chefs have started offering cooking classes where gastronomes can learn how to make the meaty dumplings known as khinkali and other dishes from what Saveur magazine called “Europe’s great unsung cuisine”.

Salalah, OmanA historic frankincense-trading center where the desert erupts in waterfalls

With last year’s World Cup drawing attention to the built environment elsewhere in the Persian Gulf states, seaside Salalah offers visitors a chance to see the region’s natural beauty. Depending on when you go, the area is either lush and green and blanketed in thick fog, or basking in sunlight and a warm breeze.

During the khareef (monsoon), the valleys and riverbeds are flooded with fresh water, and the mountains flow with waterfalls. The city is also home to Al Baleed Archaeological Park and the Museum of the Frankincense Land, which provides a visual history of the ancient incense trade and the associated export routes to the rest of the world. (A nearby collection of sites, known as the Land of Frankincense, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.) Another draw is the collection of historical ports spread along the coast.

The population of Salalah, one of Oman’s largest cities, is around 330,000, so it is easy to find oneself alone in the crystal clear waters of the area’s many tranquil beaches, including Mugsail, Fazayah and Haffa.

Methana, GreeceA hike, a stroll or a run into the Bronze Age followed by a soak in an ancient tub

Athens’ nearest active volcano, Methana, sits on a peninsula of the same name some 50km southwest of the Greek capital. Though largely unknown to tourists, the area is slowly evolving, in part because of its increasing popularity as a hiking destination.

In recent years, groups of locals have managed to reopen and map old walking paths, some of which date to the Mycenaean Era, creating hiking trails that attract visitors from around the world. (So far, more than 28km have been cleared and marked.) The Methana Volcano Challenge, first organized in 2021, offers a trail run across the peninsula’s sloping landscape.

Visitors to this volcanic peninsula can also enjoy several hot springs, the most interesting of which is an ancient (and recently renovated) tub known as the Pausanias Baths near the village of Agios Nikolaos.

Bergamo and Brescia, ItalyOpen-air theater, art, music, and a plateful of local delicacies in a cultural crossroads

Milan may outshine Bergamo and Brescia, but in 2023 a spotlight will fall on these two Lombardy cities after they were jointly named the Italian Capital of Culture. More than 100 art projects, music and theater events (some open-air), nature walks, and new bike routes are meant to map a way forward after the tragic headlines this northern region generated in 2020, when it was more ravaged by the coronavirus than anyplace else in Italy.

Bergamo is distinctive for its ancient, walled Città Alta (Upper Town) and modern Città Bassa (Lower Town), the two connected by narrow roads, a funicular and a footpath. Brescia, around 50km southeast, is a handsome crossroads of Roman, medieval and Renaissance sites.

Outstanding food is another draw — it is Italy, after all — with menus in both areas featuring creamy, nutty polenta taragna and variously stuffed crescents of casoncelli swirled with butter and sage — little pasta miracles that prove how good life can still be.

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