What's Worth It
Over the last decade, the travel industry has evolved at an unprecedented rate, its heaviest influence: technology and connectivity. As staple destinations like Italy, Japan, and Peru continue to top stats charts and roundups, the traveler’s focus has pivoted toward underdog destinations, reaching beyond what is to be expected — from landlocked Mongolia to the Arabian Sea, this is where 2020 has us going.
On the heel of Italy’s sun-bleached boot spans the southernmost region of Apulia, better known as Puglia. Made of Baroque-style hilltop towns decorated with citrus groves and olive trees, the sparkling Adriatic Sea borders its idyllic cliffsides with a hundred shades of blue. Despite its place in many traveler’s hearts, Puglia’s whitewashed villages remain largely unexplored by the masses, making this region all the dreamier. The Mediterranean sees its best weather from May to September, the tourist season peaking in July and August when Italians flood the coast for a summer full of festivals and concerts. The winter months are mild, and although it is too cold to swim the autumn harvest provides rich flavors in bounty paired with inland activities like horseback riding and biking.
The capital Bari has just 320,000 residents and 680,000 annual visitors, while Naples on the opposite coast covers the same surface area but with triple the population and over 14 times the visitors. The port city is the closest thing Puglia has to an urban college-town, doubling as a gateway to the rest of Europe with an international airport and routes to Greece, Albania, and Croatia by sea. Bari is rich in history and culture but is most popular among young and migrant crowds with its bright nightlife and hot foodie scene.
Other regional highlights include the golden sandstone streets and Basilica di Santa Croce in laid-back Lecce, the beaches and castles of Brindisi, and staying in a stone beehive trulli in Alberobello. Regarding cuisine, some of Puglia’s specialties include pasticciotto and café in the morning, ciamotta stew for lunch, other catch-of-the day delights, and the typical Italian suspects: pizza, cheese, and a glass or two (or three) of the region’s best Calafuria Negroamaro Rosato.
Consider a stay at Borgo Egnazia, Brindisi. Fresh and elegant, airy yet warm, this property is reminiscent of authentic Puglian life with low-rise buildings made of hand-cut stone and groves abundant with olive trees. Borgo Egnazia offers just 114 rooms, 11 suites, and 28 villas, making one of the country’s newest resorts feel more like a traditional village than a place carved out for tourists — all the while providing impeccable service, Italian personality, and homemade meals against Puglia’s striking surrounds.
Oman, Middle East
The desert oasis of Oman is a hidden jewel in the Middle East, nestled between the buzzing metropolis of international Dubai and the glittering Arabian Sea. Truly a destination of vibrant nature with discovery and adventure at the heart of all journeys, the capital city of Muscat provides a gateway to some of the earth’s most magical places including the second largest cave chamber in the world and the colorful coral reefs of Ad Daymaniyat Island. Significant in human and geological history, the Sultanate of Oman is a time capsule of culture and heritage rooted in a proud history of seafaring and trading, yet successfully adapted to the modern world through fashion and technology. The best time of year to visit is between October and April when temperatures are warm and mild and sea turtles can be spotted making their way to the sea at Ras Al Jinz reserve. Temperatures spike between June and August, the south coast’s monsoon season, called khareef, occurs between June and September, and a brief rain season comes in January and February. But no matter the weather, bear in mind women are always expected to wear a headscarf, and to be covered from above the collarbone to below the knees.
The capital Muscat mirrors its Arabian neighbors in terms of architectural marvels and colorful bazaars, but with an aged character that sets it apart. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the country’s most grandiose, from its sky-facing minarets and golden dome to its white marble flooring and Persian prayer rugs. Explore the Bait Al Zubair Museum and it’s impressive collection of swords and daggers, an important piece of Omani history, or browse the dizzying, labyrinth-like Muttrah Souk for some of the regions most prized treasures including butter-soft llama wool pashminas, exquisite gold jewelry, and a medley of spices.
Other regional highlights include the coastal oasis of Salalah which grows prosperous and lush during the peninsula’s monsoon season, the Hajar Mountain ranges from Jebel Akhdar’s terraced farms to Jebel Shams’ breathtaking views, and of course, the vast desert-scapes best explored on camelback. Omani cuisine places Arab fare at the center with the addition of Indian influences and an emphasis on boiled and dried seafood, rice and unleavened bread, and sweet components like dates and fruits which are generally served before the entrée. Traditional dishes include halwa, shuwa, and Hares Lahaam, and usually contain cardamom, saffron, and turmeric.
Consider a stay at Al Bustan Palace Ritz-Carlton. Oman’s only remaining authentic palace has been carefully re-designed to accommodate travelers in a space where old and new are interwoven seamlessly. Sitting by the sea with a Six-Senses Spa and five palm-lined swimming pools, Arabian style and timeless elegance bring to life the five-star property and it’s 250 guest rooms, which are simplistic and spacious with an organic feel — and always with a view of the Al-Hajar Mountains or Sea of Oman.
Mongolia, East Asia
With Russia to the north and China to the south, Asia’s north-east country of Mongolia may seem small, even though it is the second largest landlocked country in the world. Its climate is identified as “desert continental” and is technically a plateau, but with unusual geological variations such as the forested and barren Altai Mountains, the Gobi Desert, and lake-filled basins and valleys. Pasturelands dominate three-fourths of Mongolia’s landmass, supporting the traditional herding lifestyle with nearly 71 million horses, camels, and other livestock — an impressive resource for a country with one of the lowest human population densities in the world. Nicknamed the “Country of Blue Skies” for its 257 cloudless days per year, the remote, nomadic culture of Mongolia gained global attention after the release of The Eagle Huntress, an internationally coproduced documentary paying homage to the ancient art of eagle hunting. With a true continental climate and an average elevation of 5,180 feet above sea level, Mongolia’s climate is cold and dry with winter temperatures dropping below -22°F and a short summer frequented by rain. Because of its frigid winters, travel to Mongolia and even aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway is only advised between May and October, while the summer months from late-June to early September are ideal for warm weather, lush landscapes, and a very hot southern Gobi. But bear in mind, the Mongolia Naadam Golden Eagle Festival takes place annually between September and October and is most definitely an event worth planning your trip around.
The capital of Ulaanbaatar, originally Ulan Bator, is the coldest capital city in the world with 1.3 million residents, nearly half the country’s total population. Originally a nomadic Buddhist monastic, the capital relocated several times before settling in the valley of the Tuul River in the central-north. Ulaanbaatar now serves as Mongolia’s financial, industrial, and cultural center and transportation hub with the country’s only international airport and both major railway stations. The city’s main attractions include the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Chinggis Square, Zaisan Memorial, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, and several notable museums including the National Museum of Mongolia, a great first stop to brush up on your local history.
Other regional highlights include the Manzushir Monastery and Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue outside of Ulaanbaatar, staying in a traditional Mongolian ger, or yurt, in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park or the desert, and sunbathing at Khovsgol Lake. The traditional Mongolian diet includes cooked mutton, yak and cow milk, and other hardy animal products supportive of a nomadic lifestyle in oftentimes harsh conditions.
Consider a stay at Shangri-La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar. A blend of tasteful East Asian simplicity and contemporary pace with a warm, indigenous influence, a stay here is a stay in the heart of nation’s capital — and the center of luxury. Its 290 guest rooms and suites are Ulaabaatar’s largest, with thoughtful touches from heated bathroom floors to sprawling views of the Nairamdal Park or Great Chinggis Khan Square. With the city’s largest sports club, Horizon Club Lounge, and four dining outlets on-site, let the Shangri-La be your outpost for visiting this captivating land — an experience you won’t soon forget.