It’s that time of the year to chart out your course and plan a whole new year of adventures that take you beyond the paths you’ve already explored. Drives along remote coastlines, urban adventures, and more food porn for your Instagram feed.
1 Maine, USA
There are only a few corners in the US that can match Maine’s photogenic appeal. Located in the country’s north-east and in the New England region, the state is all set to commemorate 200 years of statehood. It was beer that took me all the way from New York and beyond Boston to this charming state. Portland isn’t just one of the most charming cities in the US, it’s also a hub for craft beer with scores of home-grown breweries. Portland’s beer scene is complemented by its fresh catch of the day — the city’s seafood is legendary. Autumn colours in Maine guarantee spectacular photo-ops, but Maine’s multiple white-washed lighthouses that dot its coastline are year-round attractions.
2 Hokkaido, Japan
This year’s Tokyo Olympics will see visitors from across the world converge in Japan. Go beyond the popular tourist hotspots like Tokyo and Kyoto and discover a Japan that’s prettier than your imagination. It was an Olympic event — the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics that first put Hokkaido (Japan’s northern-most island) under the global spotlight. It became a cult destination for winter sports and skiing aficionados ever since. Hokkaido’s landscapes are equally pretty in winter and spring. The Sapporo Snow Festival with some of the finest ice sculptures in the world is a great time to visit. Hokkaido has also emerged as a gourmand’s paradise in the Instagram era and is home to Nikka, one of Japan’s most celebrated whisky brands.
3 Liguria, Italy
Blame it on Instagram, but Cinque Terre has fast become one of Italy’s most buzzed destinations. This string of centuries-old seaside villages that hug the rugged Italian Riviera coastline is punctuated with colourful houses and harbours strewn with fishing boats. But Liguria in Italy’s north is more than the kaleidoscopic Cinque Terre. Check into one of the many private villas that offer weekly rentals and explore the Portofino Peninsula and Genoa. Wander through sleepy coastal villages, marvel at the architecture and also make unscheduled stops at earthy trattorias where local seafood specialities and the region’s famous sauce — pesto, are always in the mix.
4 Uluru, Australia
Is not just Australia’s geographical heart, but also its spiritual heart. Uluru is one of the world’s largest monolithic natural structures. For many of the country’s native communities, however, including the Ananngu people (who are believed to have lived here for 22,000 years), it is hallowed ground. Uluru has been trending since October 2019 when a ban on climbing the rock formation was formally brought into effect. But most visitors stopped making the climb years ago — a sign of respect to the Aboriginal beliefs and legends that abound in this place. I drove 2,000km from Darwin, the country’s northern tip through the Outback and was rewarded with the most magical sunset you can witness in Australia. Uluru changes colours from a dull brown to ochre at sunset and the same magic unfolds at sunrise, a good time to walk around this Aboriginal shrine.
5 Coast Path, England
From California’s Highway One to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Australia’s Great Ocean Road, there’s nothing quite like drives that hug the ocean. This year, there’s one more road to take and a long one at that — almost 4,500km. The new England Coast Path that connects all of Britain’s coastline with white beaches, craggy headlands and desolate lighthouses will make for a great road adventure. From the trails in Scotland and the coast of Wales, you can find your favourite spot.
6 Salzburg, Austria
If you need an excuse to visit a city that’s already on your bucket list, the Salzburg Festival turns 100 this year. With 200 productions including theatre and opera, it’s unparalleled, even in Europe. The Sound of Music was filmed here too. The city is also closely identified with one of the world’s most influential composers — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Mozart trail (that includes Mozart's birthplace in Getreidegasse, the Mozart Residence on Makart Square and the Mozarteum) doesn’t just offer an insight into the life and times of this composer, but also takes you through different parts of this charming city and the gorgeous Wolfgangsee nearby.
7 Dakar, Senegal
For long, the Dakar Car Rally was a popular event on the automotive event calendar. It brought global attention to this coastal city that is equally West African and Francophone, contrasts that continue to play out to this day with rich architecture and a lively cultural scene.
The contrasts don’t end there. Surfers queue up near Ngor Island while party animals revel in a city that comes alive at night with Senegalese hip-hop and local mbalax dance beats. Culture vultures usually make the trip to Gorée Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that explores the region’s painful history with slavery through its House of Slaves, historic forts and museums.
8 Amazon, Brazil
The debate around climate change became shriller as weather patterns became even more unpredictable.
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This also underlined the need for conservation of the Brazilian Amazon through sustainable tourism. It could turn out to be the adventure of your lifetime as you glide through the flooded forests of the Mamiraua Reserve where jaguar sightings are not uncommon. And then there’s the Reserva Extrativista Baixo Rio Branco-Jauaperi, an untouched part of the region with endless forests, waterways and wildlife.
9 Koh Yao Yai, Thailand
Exotic destinations don’t always have to be far flung; a true explorer also finds undiscovered gems in the heart of tourist magnets. Koh Yao Yai that sits between Phuket and Krabi is one such beach paradise in Thailand.
Check into any idyllic resort like the Santhiya Resorts & Spas and escape to quiet sands like Son Bay Beach or Ao Muong Beach. The warm, clear waters of the Andaman sea are a paradise for divers with world-class diving sites like Shark Point and Anemone Reef.
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10 Ladakh, India
Ladakh’s new Union Territory status has brought the region back into focus. While Ladakh has been part of India’s travel hot list for over a decade, only a small percentage of travellers who visit this beautiful place choose winter to visit. Temperatures can often dip below minus 20 degrees and the high altitude with thin oxygen levels can be hard even on those who don’t cheat on their gym workouts.
But if you’re willing to brave the weather and the altitude and trek through snow-covered mountain paths, you will be rewarded with a lifetime of memories. It’s not just the rugged landscape, but also rare sightings of the grey ghost — the snow leopard is one of the world’s most elusive cats. Your only chance to spot these majestic creatures is in the peak of winter.