Go for the canal. Stay for everything else.
It’s been 12 years since Panama regained control of its canal, and the country’s economy is booming. Cranes stalk the skyline of the capital, Panama City, where high-rises sprout one after the next and immigrants arrive daily from around the world. Among those who have landed en masse in recent years are American expatriates and investors, who have banked on Panamanian real estate by building hotels and buying retirement homes. The passage of the United States-Panama free trade agreement in October is expected to accelerate this international exchange of people and dollars (the countries use the same currency).
Among the notable development projects is the Panama Canal itself, which is in the early stages of a multibillion-dollar expansion. The project will widen and deepen the existing canal and add two locks, doubling the canal’s cargo capacity. For those who want to see the waterway as it was originally designed, now is the time. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2014, the canal’s 100-year anniversary.
Other high-profile projects include the construction of three firsts: The Panamera, the first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Latin America (set to open in June 2012); the Trump Ocean Club, the region’s tallest building, which opened last summer; and Frank Gehry’s first Latin American design, the BioMuseo, a natural history museum scheduled to open in early 2013. Even Panama City’s famously dilapidated historic quarter, Casco Viejo, has been transformed. The neighborhood, a tangle of narrow streets, centuries-old houses and neo-colonial government buildings, was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997 and is now a trendy arts district with galleries, coffeehouses, street musicians and some of the city’s most stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.
Across the isthmus, on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the Bocas del Toro archipelago has become a popular stop on the backpacker circuit, with snorkeling and zip lining by day and raucous night life after dark. FREDA MOON
2. Helsinki, Finland
Design. Design. Design. Aesthetics fuel a new cool.
Copenhagen’s culinary awakening and Stockholm’s trend-setting fashion may have ignited the world’s current infatuation with Nordic culture; now Helsinki is poised for the spotlight. The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design has designated it the World Design Capital for 2012.
Design has long been part of the city’s DNA, but in recent years the scene has been increasingly energized: the official Design District has ballooned to encompass 25 streets and nearly 200 design-minded businesses, which range from shops selling housewares and furniture to boutique hotels and clothing stores. Design has infiltrated the restaurant scene as well, notably the elegant Chez Dominique and the hot newcomer (and Michelin-starred) Olo.
On top of all that is the spectacular new $242 million Helsinki Music Center. Student ensembles from the Sibelius Academy — the sole university in Finland devoted exclusively to music — will perform in the striking glass-walled space, and both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestras will give concerts in 2012. INGRID K. WILLIAMS
Back on the tourist map after being off-limits for years.
With renowned cultural treasures, world-class boutique hotels and deserted beaches, Myanmar has long been high on intrepid travelers’ wish lists. For years, though, heeding calls by the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others, many stayed away in protest of Myanmar’s authoritarian regime.
Now, however, this is changing.
Since November 2010, when Myanmar’s rulers held nominally free elections and released Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi after 15 years of house arrest, the boycott has been lifted and Myanmar is set for an influx of visitors.
Because the country has been so isolated, the deeply Buddhist “Land of the Golden Pagoda” resonates with a strong sense of place, undiluted by mass tourism and warmed by genuine hospitality. Travelers will find atmospheric hotels and a network of well-maintained regional jets serving the main sites. (Keep in mind that visas are still required and that the economy remains largely cash-based.)
But locals are aware of the potential downside of tourism as well. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has called for sustainable development and “trickle down” tourism where dollars will do the most good.
With these goals in mind, nestled along the banks of meandering Lake Inle in eastern Myanmar, the ViewPoint eco-lodge combines locally sourced materials with individually tailored activities supporting the local economy (like garden-to-table lunches at an island village house).
Similarly, in Ngapali Beach — a pristine swath of coastline on the Bay of Bengal — the Amara Ocean Resort ratchets up the om factor with a hand-built spa. The resort finances relief projects in the Irrawaddy River delta. CEIL MILLER-BOUCHET
The Olympics! The Queen! Charles Dickens turns 200!
Dotted with construction sites, London is preparing for the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Queen’s 60th year on the throne. New stadiums, public spaces and shopping centers are emerging on the city’s eastern edge, and on the western edge a 137-room Waldorf Astoria has opened on a 400-acre estate near Heathrow Airport.
But it’s not all sport and royalty. On a street of chocolate-box Georgian houses in Bloomsbury, the Charles Dickens Museum is open, in time for the author’s 200th birthday. Across town, Warner Brothers Studio Tour will open the Harry Potter studios to those keen to re-live the films. The Rolling Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, might tour again, with a possible finale here. And Robert Redford will inaugurate a London outpost of the Sundance Film festival at the O2 Arena in April.
Amid the hubbub, flashes of eccentricity emerge. If the Waldorf doesn’t appeal, stay in an architect-designed boat, perched on the edge of a roof overlooking the Thames. Or visit the British outpost of Occupy London, which will be maintaining its tent city outside St. Paul’s cathedral. RAVI SOMAIYA
5. Oakland, Calif.
New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit.
Tensions have cooled since violence erupted at the recent Occupy Oakland protests, but the city’s revitalized night-life scene has continued to smolder.
The historic Fox Theater reopened in 2009 and quickly cemented its status as one of the Bay Area’s top music venues, drawing acts like Wilco and the Decemberists. Meanwhile, the city’s ever more sophisticated restaurants are now being joined by upscale cocktail bars, turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark. James Syhabout, the chef who earned Oakland its first (and only) Michelin star two years ago at Commis, followed up in May with the instant-hit Hawker Fare, a casual spot serving Asian street food. Big-name San Francisco chefs are now joining him. Daniel Patterson (of two-Michelin-star Coi) opened the restaurant Plum in late 2010 and an adjacent cocktail bar later, and another restaurant, called Haven, in the recently renovated Jack London Square last month. INGRID K. WILLIAMS
With some tourists slow to return, greater opportunities for those who do.
The thought of traveling to Tokyo will most likely make some people nervous. Though the city is about 180 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl — and the State Department recommends travelers avoid only the area directly around the disaster site — Tokyo has suffered as well, a problem of perception as much as reality.
But from another vantage point, it’s a perfect time to visit. A decrease in tourism and business travel is making the city all the more accessible and welcoming. According to Laurent Vernhes, a founder and the chief executive of TabletHotels.com, a travel site with a curated list of distinctive lodging options, tourism hasn’t yet returned to normal levels. “Rates are still down about 10 percent on average compared to the same time last year,” Mr. Vernhes said.
When I visited the city in the fall, it was clear that it is still crackling with energy. But now it’s possible to get a previously unthinkable last-minute reservation at one of the city’s many world-class restaurants or a room in hotels usually booked solid. A Saturday night dinner at Kagurazaka Ishikawa, a pricey but discreet restaurant with three Michelin stars and an artful tasting menu? No problem. And lodging options for all budgets have gotten easier. Chances are you can find a room at the elegant Park Hyatt Tokyo, a luxurious high-rise, or at the Tokyo Ryokan, a family-run hotel with just three simple bedrooms that often are reserved well in advance. OLIVER STRAND
Note: An earlier version of the subheading with this entry has been changed because it was unintentionally insensitive in making a link between last year’s tragedy in Japan and the opportunity for tourism.
Coming into its own as an upscale safari destination.
For the last several years the number of tourists going to Tanzania has been edging up, according to East African travel specialists like Hippo Creek Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent. But it wasn’t until several violent attacks on visitors to neighboring Kenya that the numbers really took off, as Tanzania started to absorb skittish Kenya-bound safari seekers.
Not that Tanzania is coasting along solely on Kenya’s troubles; it’s always had Mount Kilimanjaro, after all. And now other attractions are being discovered, too — places like Gibb’s Farm, a small lodge from which guests can hike to the Ngorongoro Crater area, a prime destination for big game viewing. In addition, the opening of exclusive safari reserves like the Singita Grumeti and the upscale camps managed by Nomad Tanzania and Chem Chem are evidence that the country’s tourist infrastructure is becoming more sophisticated, perhaps even catching up to Kenya’s. GISELA WILLIAMS
8. Chilean Patagonia
Proof that adventure doesn’t have to mean roughing it.
With its mix of snowy peaks, pristine rain forest and network of virgin national parks, Chile is emerging as one of the world’s adventure hot spots and now has a spate of rugged luxury lodges in which adventure-seekers can stay.
Puma Lodge, a glass-and-wood design showcase about an hour and a half south of Santiago, features heli-skiing through miles of untouched powder, and outside of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine Park, the brand-new Tierra Patagonia offers activities like horseback riding over the steppes and boat outings on a glacial lake (while also offering creature comforts like a spa and a heated indoor pool). Meanwhile, the latest Singular property, which also opened in November outside the park, leads expeditions into the nearby glaciers. For custom trips, pioneers to the region like Cazenove & Loyd can help navigate the logistical challenges of criss-crossing Chile’s dramatic landscapes. ONDINE COHANE
9. Lhasa, Tibet
New luxury hotels bring respite — and controversy.
Tibet’s holy capital is in the throes of a luxury-hotel boom. In Lhasa, this is news: not only is operating an upscale hotel at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level no small feat, but real-estate developments here are, almost by default, also culturally loaded.
The majestic, 162-room St. Regis Lhasa Resort has been in full operation since May. In 2010, a charming Tibetan-owned villa called the Lingtsang reopened as a boutique hotel with opulent, colorful woodwork and courtyard verandas. And coming soon are the sprawling InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise and the 284-room Shangri-La, both scheduled to open in 2013.
On the upside, it’s the first time that travelers can get high-end amenities in a city where even basic hospitality has been a challenge. On the downside, the openings — like Lhasa’s booming population, new business districts and shopping malls — are seen by many Tibetans and interested outsiders as more cultural colonization and exploitation of a sacred land. KIMBERLY BRADLEY
The only thing that lies between Americans and the sultry streets of Havana these days is the Florida Straits, since the Obama administration has widened the kind of travel allowed. A growing list of organizations have licenses to operate trips to Cuba, including National Geographic Expeditions, Austin-Lehman and the Center for Cuban Studies. There are also more flights from more American cities: Fort Lauderdale and Tampa recently joined New York, Miami and Los Angeles on the list, and Chicago will be added this year.
The “people-to-people” rules require Americans to interact with Cubans (sun-and-sand vacations are still prohibited) so tours involve meeting with art historians, organic farmers and others. Conveniently, new restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, some in gorgeous colonial villas, have sprung up over the past year as the government has allowed more private enterprise. Havana is also gearing up for its 11th Biennial, from May 11 to June 11, which will draw more than 100 Cuban and international artists. VICTORIA BURNETT
New cultural venues add a dash of the sacred and profane.
The extravagantly renovated Bolshoi Theater has been preening like a prima donna before the news media’s flashbulbs since it reopened in October. And given the $760 million face-lift to the 236-year-old grand dame you can almost hear the czars applauding from their tombs.
But beyond the spotlight, two compelling museums have also made their debuts. The Russian Icon Museum is said to hold the largest private collection of Russian and Eastern Christian religious artwork (some 4,000 pieces). Admission to the museum is free.
You won’t find many virgins or saints at Tochka G, whose name translates as “G Spot.” With more than 3,000 sex-related items, the bounty includes everything from Soviet-era condoms to high-tech sex dolls to “Wrestling,” a 2011 painting by the Russian artist Vera Donskaya-Khilko that depicts a buff Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama challenging each other with their cartoonishly oversized phalluses. In Russia, size does matter. SETH SHERWOOD
Zaha Hadid takes on a Scottish waterfront.
Scotland’s second city now has a $115 million museum designed by Zaha Hadid to go with its shiny new harbor and river promenade.
The Riverside Museum, which opened in June, is housed in a stunning building on the waterfront, with a 3,000-piece collection devoted to Glasgow’s rich shipbuilding and engineering past. Its location, along the River Clyde, was once home to many shipyards, and considered the economic heart of Glasgow. But when the industry left, the area stagnated.
Not anymore. Glasgow has spent more than a decade redeveloping 130 acres of derelict shipyard and unused dockland in an effort to restore the waterway to its former glory. Now there’s a pleasant riverside walkway with steel street furniture, cobblestones from Victorian Glasgow and maritime paraphernalia. Lime trees are planted on both sides of the esplanade, and there are bicycle paths throughout. A new ferry stop for the Riverside Museum, which just saw its one-millionth visitor, marks the first time in around 50 years that this section of the river has had regular passenger service. RACHEL B. DOYLE
13. Puebla, Mexico
International mole festival. Need we say more?
May 5, 2012, is the 150-year anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, the date when, in 1862, an outmanned Mexican army defeated the French troops of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. The occasion will be marked with a fiesta in Puebla, the chief spot in Mexico that celebrates the holiday. Ahead of the May festival, the city, the affluent capital of one of Mexico’s safest states, is building a light rail line similar to the one in Mexico City and renovating public spaces. Privately, Museo Amparo, which holds one of the country’s most impressive collections of indigenous and colonial-era artifacts, has undergone a $17 million update and expansion.
But the city’s biggest draw might be its famous mole poblano. The city is inaugurating an international mole festival which will begin on May 2. Hopes are that it will attract celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless, who recently took staff members to Puebla’s Mural de los Poblanos restaurant for their annual employee trip. FREDA MOON
Even in times of tight budgets, finely crafted beer remains a relatively approachable luxury, and few American regions have more brewing momentum than San Diego County. Maybe it’s time, then, to think about building a beer safari in the land of sunshine, fish tacos and hopped-up American IPAs. Long established craft breweries like Karl Strauss Brewing Company and the cheeky Stone Brewing Company have mentored brewmasters and created demand for some seriously offbeat ales.
The area has long been a hotbed of garage-based hobbyists, so it’s no surprise that the region also has a tradition of dedicated home brewing. The result is a cluster of small breweries, like the tiny but soon-to-expand Hess Brewing.
And there are numerous opportunities for rigorous but never dour beer tastings, at staggeringly comprehensive shops like Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room and Pizza Port Bottle Shop, as well as beer-obsessed taverns like Hamilton’s and O’Brien’s and restaurants like Local Habit. Those looking for full immersion can pack a stein for the fourth annual San Diego Beer Week in November. SARA DICKERMAN
Though Halong Bay, a staggering seascape of some 1,600 limestone islands and islets in the Gulf of Tonkin, formed over millions of years, there’s never been a better time to visit. In November, the Unesco World Heritage site was provisionally named one of the world’s “new seven wonders of nature” based on a global poll conducted by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders — just as Vietnam Airlines announced the first-ever nonstop flights between London and Vietnam. Largely untouched by humans and topped with thick jungle flora, the rock formations rise dramatically in conical peaks and pillars from the surrounding waters, which feature offshore coral reefs, freshwater swamps, mangrove forests and sandy beaches. Visitors can now reach what Ho Chi Minh himself called “the wonder one cannot impart to others,” on local junk boats, luxury cruises or a spate of new adventure tours offered by companies like InterAsia, World Expeditions and the Luxury Travel Group. CHARLY WILDER
Since 2009, Florence’s youthful mayor, Matteo Renzi, has championed efforts to build a livable, living city that celebrates — but is not yoked to — its rich history (and historic riches). The result? An energized arts scene unfolding inside various medieval palazzi, ancient landmarks restored and reopened to the public for the first time in decades and restaurants abandoning traditional Tuscan staples for sophisticated contemporary food.
The grand 15th-century Palazzo Strozzi is now home to the Center for Contemporary Culture Strozzina and a destination for must-see events like the coming “Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists,” which opens in March. Spazi Urbani Contemporanei, an arts space occupying a 15th-century former monastery, now features works from emerging Italian artists. Last year, the 148- foot-tall 14th-century San Niccolò tower reopened to the public with one of the best panoramic views of the city. And in September, the flagship Gucci Museum made its debut in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia.
The city’s stock of refined hotel offerings has also been elevated by the opulent new St. Regis Florence, which opened in a palatial riverside palazzo in May, and the Grand Hotel Villa Cora, another five-star stunner near the Boboli Gardens. Even the once-staid Florentine dining scene has been reborn with new restaurants like IO Osteria Personale and Ossi di Seppia.
Next for the Tuscan capital are plans to restore the banks of the Arno River and spruce up the city’s largest park. INGRID K. WILLIAMS
17. St. Vincent
A new resort may put this Caribbean island on the map.
The fact that American Airlines does not fly there could explain why St. Vincent remains among the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets: a stunningly lush, unspoiled gem of an island surrounded by water cerulean enough to render that of other islands murky by comparison. What there is here — a climbable volcano, dramatic waterfalls, black-sand beaches — is dwarfed by what there isn’t: chain stores, crowds, big hotels.
Except, that is, for one notably new exception. Buccament Bay, a five-star resort, opened in the fall and boasts more rooms, about 360, than all other hotels on the island combined. And there are the resort’s five restaurants, a spa, a soccer camp and performing arts center. The resort, along with a new international airport that is scheduled to open in late 2013 and designed to handle five times the number of passengers currently arriving at the island, will most likely let the cat out of the bag and attract the long overdue crowds. Get there before they do. BAZ DREISINGER
For much of the early 20th century, Moganshan, a bamboo-covered mountain about three hours from Shanghai, served as a tranquil retreat for the elite. Wealthy foreigners took up residence on the mountain first, building stone villas and tennis courts. Then came the Chinese power brokers, including the Shanghai mob boss Du Yuesheng and the Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek, who honeymooned here in 1927.
After a lull, the past decade has seen foreigners repopulating Moganshan’s sleepy slopes, transforming old villas into homes and guesthouses. And in late 2011, the mountain went upscale with two new luxury properties. The 121-room eco-resort Naked Stables features tree-top villas with Jacuzzis set on balconies overlooking the mountains, and African-inspired “earth huts” built with environmentally friendly rammed-earth walls. Set on a tea plantation, the 40-room Le Passage Moganshan, which partly opened in December, takes its inspiration from Moganshan’s historic manor homes, with century-old recycled wood floors and a magnificent garden planted with 12,000 rose bushes. JUSTIN BERGMAN
Olive, the BBC’s food magazine, recently startled British gourmands when it declared Birmingham, England’s second largest city, the United Kingdom’s “foodiest town,” ahead of London and Edinburgh. The award came last October, just as Birmingham was hosting an annual festival, the 10-day Birmingham Food Fest, which featured such local talents as Aktar Islam of Lasan Restaurant; up-and-comers like David Colcombe of Opus, Andy Waters of Edmunds Restaurant and Steve Love of Loves Restaurant; and a troika of Michelin-starred chefs: Glynn Purnell of Purnell’s; Andreas Antona, Luke Tipping and Adam Bennett of Simpsons Restaurant; and Richard Turner of Turners of Harborne.
The chefs are building on an already rich dining scene. Birmingham is famous in Britain for its Balti Triangle, an area of town that is home to a beloved Pakistani-Kashmiri curry dish invented here; it is also birthplace to such classically British food items as Typhoo Tea, Bird’s Custard and HP Sauce. ALEXANDER LOBRANO
The final frontier now has a ticket agent.
It’s not just the imaginings of science fiction geeks. Pretty soon anyone with $200,000 will be able to travel to the last frontier: space or — more specifically — the upper edge of Earth’s atmosphere. In 2004 Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic with the primary goal of pioneering commercial flights to space. Last year the company began test-flying SpaceShipTwo, an aircraft that will enable two pilots and six passengers to travel to suborbital space. Although no launch date has been confirmed (a 2012 date was pushed back to 2013), about 450 people from around the globe have already purchased tickets; the first passengers will be (surprise!) Richard Branson and his two children, Sam and Holly.
Flights will take off from the brand-new spaceport near Las Cruces, N.M., but Virgin Galactic “Space Agent” Joshua Bush of Park Avenue Travel in Philadelphia, predicts that in a few years “We’ll eventually be able to take off from New York, orbit the Earth and then land in Tokyo in two or three hours.” What will it be like? “After the rocket motor turns off there is complete silence,” said Mr. Bush, who has read about the experiences of many astronauts. “You look out the window and see a thin blue line of the atmosphere and comprehend how small and insignificant we are.” GISELA WILLIAMS
Last year India hosted its first pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This year the country inaugurates a biennale of its own. To be held in the southwestern state of Kerala, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will feature contemporary painting, film, sculpture, installations, new media and performances by Indian and international artists. Most of the action will unfold in the colonial city of Kochi, whose contemporary art scene already offers more than a dozen venues, from the two-year-old David Hall — a 1695 Dutch colonial mansion — to the longstanding Kashi Art Café, a restaurant-gallery-garden-cafe. To host the events, the city’s 19th-century Durbar Hall and other old buildings are getting top-to-bottom face-lifts.
But the most remarkable historical reclamation project is happening in the biennale’s other Kerala site, Muziris. A fabled ancient port that traded spices and silk with Egypt and Greece two millennia ago, Muziris mysteriously vanished sometime after the fall of Rome. Archaeologists have recently located and started to excavate the vanished settlement, which opened to tourists this year. The biennale’s start date is Dec. 12, 2012, or 12/12/12. SETH SHERWOOD
This peaceful hideaway is swiftly becoming the most culturally rich destination in Costa Verde, the 325-mile coastline between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Paraty’s cultural calendar includes a three-year-old jazz, blues and soul festival organized by São Paulo’s top live music venue, the Bourbon Street Music Club. Every June, acts like the American trumpeter Roy Hargrove and the Brazilian trombonist Raul de Souza bring their sounds to the historic quarter’s cobblestone streets. Another recently inaugurated event is Paraty Em Foco, a yearly series of photography exhibits showcasing up-and-coming artists from Brazil and beyond. And there’s Flip, a literary festival packed with readings, caipirinha-fueled parties and erudite stars like Ian McEwan, Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie.
Paraty’s other attractions include boutiques with tasteful handcrafts, cozy cafes, candlelit seafood restaurants and charming inns. The most stylish is Casa Turquesa, voted best new pousada of 2009 by Guia Quatro Rodas (Brazil’s version of the Michelin guide). Late this year, Paraty will get its first high-profile luxury hotel. The French brand Maisons des Rêves — known for its chic Relais & Châteaux lodgings — plans to open a property near the town’s sailboat-lined harbor. PAOLA SINGER
Many adventurous travelers are looking beyond the temples at Angkor to see what else Cambodia has to offer. One possibility is the Koh Rong Archipelago, whose main island is a 30-minute boat ride from the coastal town of Sihanoukville. Until recently there was no place to stay on this string of islands, but that changes with the opening of the Song Saa resort this year.
Rory Hunter, the owner, and his wife, Melita, discovered the untouched archipelago several years after they moved to Cambodia in 2004. Melita, previously an artist specializing in sculptural art installations, designed Song Saa to resemble a Cambodia fishing village — at least from the outside. Inside guests will find luxurious contemporary comforts like an infinity pool and Wi-Fi complimented by Asian antiques and market finds, like large driftwood columns, old copper bowls, recycled boat timber walls and century-old Cambodian day beds. (For about $600 per person a night.)
Guests will be able to snorkel with sea horses by day and swim in bioluminescent waters at night. And then there’s the food. The resort’s chef, Neil Wager, imported from the exclusive North Island resort in the Seychelles, will be serving up his own version of local Khmer cuisine starring sustainable local seafood. GISELA WILLIAMS
Modern art spruces up Austria’s imperial capital.
After a flurry of activity, Vienna’s venerable museum scene is prepped for a banner year. July marks the 150th birthday of its native son Gustav Klimt, the Vienna Secessionist master whose dreamily erotic gold-leaf paintings have become some of modernism’s most popular (and expensive) works; in a range of exhibitions throughout 2012, more of his pieces will be on display in one place than ever before.
And in a city known for its starchy reluctance to change, two pre-eminent institutions have taken on ambitious new directors: Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, the influential former director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, was announced as the new head of the sprawling Museum of Applied Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art reopened in September after extensive renovations and the appointment of a new director, the German curator Karola Kraus.
Last month, another modern art specialist, 20er Haus, reopened as 21er Haus, an exhibition space and cultural center presenting Austrian art from 1945 to the present. And a new high-profile collaboration, to make its debut this spring, will further strengthen the city’s art scene: the contemporary art doyenne Francesca von Habsburg will lend both her keen artistic direction and considerable coffers to Augarten Contemporary at the Belvedere museum, set in a Baroque palace complex. The three-year project, called Thyssen-Bornemisza Augarten Contemporary, weds the Belvedere, one of the city’s biggest public art institutions, with Ms. von Habsburg’s private foundation, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. (For more on Vienna, see the 36 Hours column on page 11.) CHARLY WILDER
25. Chattanooga, Tenn.
A city stages a comeback fueled by artists and retailers.
In 1969, Walter Cronkite famously called Chattanooga the “dirtiest” city in America. In recent years, though, it has undergone a dramatic overhaul with a radical gentrification plan and an aggressive citywide push to lure artists. In addition to a $120 million clean-up-and-invest 21st Century Waterfront Plan, an incentive program called Arts Move brings artists of all mediums into town; a yearly Southern arts fair called Four Bridges draws thousands each April; and several arts districts have been cultivated and nurtured.
On the heels of this artistic transformation has come the inevitable, yet not unwelcome, boutique boom in places like the recently restored Warehouse Row, a Civil War-era factory turned shopping center filled with local, upscale and artisanal goods. SARAH WILDMAN
Morocco’s cool crowd doesn’t want anyone else to discover this remote but strangely beautiful desert town on the Atlantic Coast of the Western Sahara, an area with a tumultuous history now governed by Morocco. On a 30-mile-long spit of sand between the ocean and a tranquil lagoon about 600 miles south of Marrakesh, the town is becoming one of the world’s greatest wind- and kite-board surfing destinations.
But there’s more to Dakhla than high-flying fun. Many come for its fledgling bohemian status: it’s a wild, remote, sun-drenched place with a freewheeling atmosphere and plenty of local Tuareg culture. Water temperatures remain a constant 80 degrees year-round, the desert is a short trek away, and the locally caught seafood is delicious. Sleepy during the day thanks to the often intense Saharan heat, the town comes alive after dark with lively cafes and restaurants. Dakhla also finally has a place for nonbackpackers: the Calipau Sahara hotel, a modern riad that opened two years ago, with a long stretch of private beach and a seawater pool. And although part of Dakhla’s charm is its relative inaccessibility, Royal Air Maroc offers daily flights from Casablanca. ALEXANDER LOBRANO
A cushy place for hard-core surfers? Here it is.
When one thinks of the Maldives, a necklace of 26 tropical atolls in the Indian Ocean, one might envision $2,000 suites on stilts over turquoise waters and honeymooners dining barefoot on the beach. But world-class surfers? Not so much. Think again. “It’s ideal,” said Ross Phillips, founder of Tropicsurf, a leading outfitter in the high-end surfing scene. “Good, consistent waves, warm water, a wide choice of five-star resorts and plenty of things to do for the partners who don’t surf.” This past summer six world champion surfers headed to the Maldives for what was billed as the world’s most exclusive surfing event: Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, which was held at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa resort.
With its lantern-lighted canals and silent, narrow streets lined with decades-old ornate temples and shop houses, few places in Southeast Asia conjure romantic images of the past as effectively as Malacca, Malaysia’s oldest city. A former Portuguese, Dutch and British colony, this Unesco World Heritage site is now attracting record numbers of tourists lured by its unusual architecture and cuisine, which reflect centuries of foreign influences.
More than seven million visitors are expected in 2011, so the town, about 90 miles southeast of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is welcoming new hotels like the Casa del Rio, a Portuguese-inspired luxury boutique property with 66 rooms; and Courtyard@Heeren, a 100-year-old shop house converted into a 14-room hotel. When you’re not exploring places like the 17th-century former Dutch town hall or Jonker Street’s antiques shops, gorge on Malacca’s outstanding local specialties, like creamy, piquant nyonya laksa at the family-run Donald & Lily’s. NAOMI LINDT
The Algarve, on Portugal’s southern coast, has long been a major package-holiday destination for northern Europeans. But the sun-drenched region is aiming to attract a wider crowd as it recycles itself with a crop of new or renovated luxury hotels emphasizing style, authenticity and eco-friendliness. In Portimão, a perfect example is the just reopened 38-room Hotel Bela Vista. This 1918 villa overlooking the famous seaside Praia da Rocha was renovated by the French hotelier Thierry Naidu and features a stunning design by the Portuguese decorator Graça Viterbo.
There are hotels opening in quieter areas of the Algarve, too, including the striking Martinhal resort in Sagres, and a Conrad hotel scheduled to open in November. Trendy Lisboans are also flocking to Olhão, a former fish-canning town turned resort with stylish lodging options, like the recently opened Real Marina Hotel & Spa, and natural attractions, including the Ria Formosa, a national park made up of one of the largest barrier-reef lagoons in Europe, where you might have the pristine beauty of white sand beaches to yourself — for now, at least. ALEXANDER LOBRANO
30. Tahoe, Calif.
New lifts, lodging, trails and snowcat rides.
Lake Tahoe’s seven major ski areas have been undergoing a dizzying slate of improvements that will eventually tally at least $100 million. Most notable is Squaw Valley’s November merger with adjacent Alpine Meadows; at 6,000 acres, it now offers the most ski terrain in the United States. Guests can take a free shuttle between base areas and will find, among other upgrades, new ski school services, expanded terrain parks, a kids’ snow-play area with mini-snowmobiles, and new restaurants, including Rocker @ Squaw, a burger joint where skiers can upload their own helmet-cam videos to TV.
Improvements at Northstar, recently acquired by Vail Resorts, include a quad chairlift and an on-mountain restaurant with stellar views of the Pacific Crest. Advanced skiers can explore 170 acres of new gladed terrain or hop a snowcat to ski the Sawtooth Ridge. Likewise, Sierra-at-Tahoe introduced snowcat rides to Huckleberry Canyon. Kirkwood renovated its Mountain Club hotel and Heavenly added three trails, a children’s ski school center and a kids’ trail. CINDY HIRSCHFELD
Wales’s many hiking trails are known for their views of rugged highlands and cliff-hemmed coasts. Exploring the country by foot will become easier in May, when the Wales Coast Path is completed, connecting several disparate paths and creating a 1,030-mile pedestrian route that rings the country. The Wales Coast Path — which in stretches will be open to cyclists and horseback riders — follows the Atlantic and the Irish Sea over the length of the country, passing medieval castles and threading through cities including Cardiff and seaside resort towns like Tenby.
While few will have the legs to tackle the entire trail, outfitters including Celtic Trails and Contours Walking Holidays lighten the load by offering inn-to-inn luggage shuttles over several portions of the long distance path. ELAINE GLUSAC
Still remote and exotic. Now luxurious too.
A hundred years ago the race to the South Pole held the world in thrall — poor Robert Falcon Scott lost the title as the first man there, by a month, to the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, and died on his way back through the unforgiving landscape.
The 100-year anniversary of the arrival of these rugged explorers is a reminder of our continued fascination with a region that remains in many ways as remote, exotic and evocative as it ever was. White Desert is marking the event with a new camp that allows travelers to spend the night in accommodations that Amundsen and Scott could only have dreamed of: fiberglass pods with en-suite bathrooms, dressing rooms and comfy beds. During the day, groups (limited to 12 ) pass the time ice climbing, abseiling through open crevasses, kite skiing and visiting colonies of Emperor penguins.
Another way to see the icy scapes is by ship: Abercrombie & Kent’s Le Boreal, for example, can navigate some of the smaller fjords and has onboard experts who lecture on everything from wildlife to the history of the region.
Luckily though, the number of overall visitors will remain restricted, guaranteeing, it is hoped, at least another 100 years of relative isolation and pristine wilderness. ONDINE COHANE
Marred by the murderous regime of Idi Amin in the 1970s, Uganda remained largely off the typical African safari tour map. But after more than two decades of relative stability under President Yoweri Museveni, the country that Winston Churchill called the “pearl of Africa” is regaining some of its allure for tourists.
While Uganda has not been without problems, including twin bombings in Kampala during the 2010 World Cup, some street clashes during political protests last year and a history of extreme antagonism toward gay people, it’s still considered one of the more stable countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
The country is perhaps best known to tourists as the home of half of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, and this year there are more opportunities to spot the elusive creatures. The Uganda Wildlife Authority recently added two gorilla families to the groups it tracks on tours in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a Unesco World Heritage site in southwest Uganda. Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, a luxury tented camp inside the forest, is working with the Batwa Pygmy tribe, indigenous hunter-gatherers who were relocated when the park was established, to share their history and culture with guests. And Country Walkers , based in Waterbury, Vt., is offering its first safari ever in Uganda.
Beyond up-close gorilla encounters, Uganda is also the source of the Nile, boasts mountains that are among the highest in Africa — the Mountains of the Moon in Rwenzori Mountains National Park — and offers formidable white-water rapids for thrill seekers. MICHELLE HIGGINS
Virginal beaches and czarist palaces — at Old World prices.
Ukraine has finally seen an influx of much-needed cash to fund its long underdeveloped tourism sector, in part thanks to its selection as a co-host of the 2012 Union of European Football Associations European Championship. Beautiful, historic cities like Kiev, Odessa and Lviv have seen modernization, restoration and fresh cultural energy, but are still cheap, laid-back and largely free of tourist traps. All three cities have revamped their airports and added numerous hotels, restaurants and retail outlets, while new roadwork makes travel outside the city centers easier and more comfortable.
Beach lovers are well advised to head to the Black Sea coast, which extends along the Crimean Peninsula to Odessa. Long a popular beach destination for Russians, the area has slowly begun attracting a wider audience with its pristine beaches, mild climate, jutting cliffs and architectural marvels. CHARLY WILDER
For years, the Samaná Peninsula on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic was one of the Caribbean’s remaining natural holdouts, largely untouched because of its remote location. But an international airport, El Catey, built near the peninsula’s base a few years ago and, more recently, a highway that shortened the drive from Santo Domingo to two hours from five, are bringing new development.
Balcones del Atláantico, a RockResort that opened last May in the village of Las Terrenas, is the newest luxury resort on the peninsula. Its 86 two- and three-bedroom villas start at $500 a night, supplying a cushy base from which to explore ecotourism. The Peninsula House, a plantation-style estate with just six suites from $580 a night, was named a 2011 Grand Award winner by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report. And Auberge Resort’s’ Casa Tropicalia , with 44 beachfront suites and an open-air spa on Samaná Bay, is to open in 2014.
There are plenty of off-resort attractions, too. Just last month, Bavaro Runners, an adventure tour operator, opened a new zip-line tour consisting of 20 platforms and 10 zip-lines.
Go now, before the crowds arrive. MICHELLE HIGGINS
The last five years have been good to Dubrovnik: as it has opened to Western tourists, its number of visitors has climbed steadily — around 10 percent a year — since the global recession hit in 2008. Often called the Jewel of the Adriatic, this seaside city features marble streets, Renaissance fountains and white sand beaches. It has also recently completed an expansion of its airport and a sleek renovation of its cable car system, offering improved city access and views.
Meanwhile, local hoteliers compete to capture the growing stream of high-end tourists, with the 17th-century Pucic Palace , the upscale Excelsior Hotel & Spa and the gorgeous clifftop Villa Dubrovnik all seeing extensive renovations in the last few years. Newer culinary draws include the French-fusion spot Gil’s, the two-year-old Panorama and Lucin Kantun, a Croatian tapas restaurant that opened last year in the Old Town. CHARLY WILDER
37. Chiloé Island, Chile
A new look, and controversy, on the edge of South America.
Just off the west coast of Chile, where the land starts to look as if it had been broken apart by a jackhammer, Chiloé Island — known for its stilt houses, Unesco-anointed churches , nature preserves, unusual wildlife and raw natural beauty — is getting a facelift. Until recently, the 3,200-square-mile island was mainly a respite for locals. But President Sebastián Piñera has plans to share the island with the rest of the world.
The Chilean government has started pouring billions of pesos into the island’s infrastructure and the results are already evident: new paved roads, a new ferry terminal and the soon-to-open Mocopulli Airport in the town of Castro, which will offer direct flights to Santiago. The Chilean power company Ecopower has plans to build a 56-turbine wind farm, which is expected to produce three times the island’s power needs. Once construction begins, however, the island could lose many of its migratory birds, penguins and endangered blue whales, environmental groups have cautioned. In other words, the time to go is now. DANIELLE PERGAMENT
New flights and a new modernist airport ease the way for visitors.
It might seem foolhardy for an airline to add a Middle East destination just as much of the Arab world is in political turmoil. But the airline is easyJet, known for its forays into unexpected markets, and the country is Jordan, which has mostly been spared the kind of protests that have toppled leaders elsewhere.
Why get on board? Starting this summer, travelers will be able to disembark at the new state-of-the-art terminal of Queen Alia airport. Designed by Sir Norman Foster using desert and Middle Eastern motifs, the building is a fitting welcome to a country that is trying to modernize while maintaining its natural beauty and traditions.
From there, head to the infinity pool of the new DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba. It’s a soothing way to wind down after a camel expedition through the Mars-like landscape of nearby Wadi Rum, a 285-square-mile expanse of desert punctuated by wind-eroded rock formations. The region — “vast, echoing and God-like,” in the words of Lawrence of Arabia — was named a Unesco World Heritage site last year. SETH SHERWOOD
Surprisingly few international tourists visit Crans-Montana, favoring better-known Alpine resorts like Zermatt and Verbier to see and be seen. But with its upmarket designer shops, five-star hotels, Michelin-starred dining and 87 miles of downhill slopes, the word is getting out.
Perched high above the Rhone Valley in western Switzerland on a sunny, south-facing plateau, the two-town resort offers panoramic views of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. With more than 250 boutiques, 60 restaurants and 30 hotels, Crans-Montana isn’t lacking for après-ski activities. And new flights from the charter airline Snowjet from London Stansted to Sion airport, about 19 miles from the resort, are making it easier to be on the slopes within an hour of stepping off the plane.
Abercrombie & Kent Villas, a division of the luxury tour company, has taken notice, adding the destination to its collection of luxury ski chalets this season. Weekly rental rates at one of its five 2,700-square-foot chalets, each featuring a Jacuzzi and wine cellar, start at 3,936 euros (about $5,085) for a four-bedroom.
The mountain resort is also celebrated for being the host of the Omega European Masters, among Europe’s largest golf events, every September at one of the highest 18-hole golf courses in the Alps, the Severiano Ballesteros. Last year, the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club opened the first year-round high-altitude European golf training center so avid duffers can practice their swing despite the snow. MICHELLE HIGGINS
40. Montpellier, France
France’s eighth-largest city is dressing up in designer style.
The most celebrated architect in France, Jean Nouvel, and a collaborator, François Fontès, introduced their blue and cube-like city hall in November, and early next year Mr. Nouvel’s RBC Design Center — another coolly modernist structure that will house the RBC brand’s furniture showroom — is to open its doors in this medieval, student-filled Mediterranean city.
Even more innovative, the long-awaited Pierres Vives Building from the star architect Zaha Hadid will be ready by year’s end. A long, sprawling edifice of swirly white concrete layers and green-tinted glass, the futuristic structure will hold a library, archives and municipal offices.
And to reach them, the city is installing what may be Europe’s sexiest tram system. The two existing lines sport exteriors of kaleidoscopic birds and flowers by Christian Lacroix, and two new lines with Mr. Lacroix’s trademark color-soaked style are on their way. Both will make their debut this spring with an underwater design theme and a solar theme, respectively, along roughly 17 miles of new track. Think of it as France’s longest fashion runway. SETH SHERWOOD
With sandy beaches, warm, jade-green waters and rolling waves that rarely get too big, the remote jungle community of Nosara on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica has become the ideal spot to learn to surf. The crescent-shaped Guiones beach is a good jumping-off point to go hiking or visit the nearby turtle refuge, and there are small, charming hotels and local bars with live music. But in a place that sees sunny, rainless weather from December to May, surfing’s the thing.
Surf schools have popped up all over town, including Surf Simply, which focuses on a technical, sports-coach philosophy and has a new guided trip option along the coast for its 2012 surf programs, and Safari Surf School , an official Billabong-certified surf camp. Nosara Surf Cam offers a real-time Web feed of the waves. Take a look and get your stoke on. BONNIE TSUI
South Korea is redefining just how luxurious golf resorts can be. A slew of new private clubs — the kind with six-digit membership fees, designs by celebrity architects and clubhouses that look like modern art museums — have opened recently in the country.
The most prestigious is Haesley Nine Bridges, just outside Seoul, with a clubhouse covered by a huge, sinuous web of wooden beams (it also features one of Jeff Koons’s giant balloon toy sculptures).
Then there’s the Ananti Club, also a commuter’s distance from Seoul: 486 acres containing three courses nestled in the Yumyeongsan forest, with a clubhouse, designed by the architect Ken Min, built almost entirely underground. And the futuristic Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea, which opened last year in the financial center of Songdo, has a huge, undulating clubhouse designed by the California architect Mehrdad Yazdani.
In 2015, South Korea will be the host of the Presidents Cup for the first time; apparently there are some tournament-worthy courses to go with all those fancy new clubhouses. DANIELLE PERGAMENT
43. Lodz, Poland
The Hollywood of Poland reclaims its industrial past.
Poland’s third-largest city and the movie-making headquarters of the country (with a film school that started the careers of Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda), Lodz has seen its labyrinth of textile warehouses and industrial-era relics repurposed for artistic and entrepreneurial ventures.
The latest is by the director David Lynch, who has a deal to establish a major film studio in a former 19th-century power plant in the city. Its makeover — which will also include a planetarium, a library, an exhibition space and a theater — is scheduled to be shown to the public in 2014. Additionally, the architect Frank Gehry, whose grandparents were from Lodz, is in talks to design a festival and congress center with an avant-garde, building-block shape.
These ventures will be in good company. One Lodz weaving mill is now a retail and entertainment center called Manufaktura, while another, Ms2, is a three-year-old contemporary art museum filled with experimental leanings. A 19th-century industrial complex has been reborn as an art incubator, Lodz Art Center, that is the host of lectures and festivals. RACHEL B. DOYLE
Most travelers know Sweden only for the urban cool of Stockholm and Gothenburg. But when the sun approaches its summer apex, city dwellers often leave town for one of the country’s central provinces, Dalarna. Its deep forests and glimmering lakes host traditional midsummer parties, and every brick-red farmhouse deserves its own postcard. With Dalarna’s southern edge only about 125 miles from the capital, getting there — by car, bus or rail — is easy enough, though the rustic landscape of “the Dales,” as Dalarna translates, can feel worlds apart.
That’s made it a natural respite for Swedish painters like Anders Zorn, whose home in the town of Mora is now a museum. Artisans still produce traditional handicrafts like the Dala Horse, a national mascot. But Dalarna is not just for summer journeys: every March, the region hosts the Vasaloppet, one of the world’s biggest cross-country ski races, and autumn brings incredible foliage and rich game dishes at restaurants of surprising sophistication like the Dala-Husby Hotell. EVAN RAIL
In late October, torrential rain caused catastrophic mudslides and flooding that devastated Monterosso and Vernazza, two of the cliff-clinging, seaside villages in the famed Cinque Terre on Italy’s northwestern coast.
Though the towns are slowly being rebuilt, travelers seeking the pleasures of the area in 2012 should instead consider Portovenere, an equally charming, though largely overlooked, town just south of the Cinque Terre.
Like its more famous neighbors, Portovenere is a traditional fishing village with a picturesque jumble of pastel houses, boats bobbing in the harbor and a network of meandering hiking trails. But here, crowds are sparse, so poke around the 13th-century, black-and-white striated church in peace, before marveling at the views across the glittering Bay of La Spezia, which has long inspired poets and writers, from Lord Byron to D.H. Lawrence. INGRID K. WILLIAMS
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 22, 2012
The Charles Dickens Museum in London is now open; it is not reopening in time for the author’s 200th birthday, Feb. 7. Because of an editing error, both the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Heathrow Airport were described as being east of London; they are west of the city.
The location of the spaceport from which Virgin Galactic flights into space will depart is about 55 miles north of Las Cruces, N.M.; it is not in Las Cruces.
Ukraine is a co-host of the Union of European Football Associations Championship, not the host.
And a wind turbine project in Chiloé Island, Chile, is expected to produce three times the island’s power needs; it will not triple the island’s power needs.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 5, 2012
The cover article on Jan. 8 about 45 places to go in 2012 misspelled the name of an adventure tour operator on the Samaná Peninsula of the Dominican Republic. It is Bavaro Runners, not Bravaro.