Photo: Drif Riadh
In choosing our picks for the most intriguing destinations for the upcoming year, we decided to dive deeper, considering destinations with intriguing sites, cultures and experiences. The complete list is divided into four segments, including both domestic and international destinations and something for every travel style. First, we focused on seven newsworthy destinations, next we showcased our “Diving Deeper” category. We followed that with our “Cultural Explorations” destinations.
This week we’re introducing our final category: “Rising Stars.” This group includes: Seville, Spain; Mobile, Alabama; Oaxaca, Mexico; Brno, Czech Republic; Newfoundland; Quito, Ecuador; and, Billings, Montana. Here’s why we chose these seven.
Tapas tasting, Flamenco dancing and a host of other authentic cultural experiences await in Seville. The world’s largest Gothic cathedral stands guard over the city center beckoning exploration. Don’t miss a climb to the top of Giralda, the cathedral’s bell tower. Existing for more than 11 centuries, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Alcázar Palace as a spectacle to behold. Recently featured as a location for Game of Thrones, the palace is a union of Christian and Mudéjar architecture.
In the spring, the processions of Holy Week—Semana Santa—are followed by the colorful Feria de Abril. The festival begins with 22,000 lights bathing the expansive fairgrounds in a soft glow. It’s the beginning of a week of dancing, music and celebration of Sevillian culture.
Mention Mardi Gras and everyone immediately thinks of the rowdy revelry that overtakes the streets of New Orleans each year. But the truth is, Mardi Gras began in 1703 by Frenchman Nicholas Langlois in Mobile—fifteen years before New Orleans was founded. Mobile never let go of its carnival celebration and today Mardi Gras in Mobile is a multi-week affair with traditional masked balls and parades where participants toss gifts to onlookers. Yes, there are beads, but there are also Moon Pies—a favorite local confection. Moon Pies don’t just make an appearance for Mardi Gras. A 12-foot-tall, 600-pound lighted faux Moon Pie is now permanently attached to the local RSA Trustmark building where it drops for the countdown to the New Year.
From its capital city of the same name to the rural regions of the central valley, from the verdant Sierra Norte highlands in the north to the southern Pacific shoreline where beaches line the coast, Oaxaca is a gem. It’s also one of Mexico’s safest and most stable destinations. Spend some time exploring the colonial capital, Oaxaca, which UNESCO has designated as Humanity’s Cultural Patrimony. The streets are lined with 17th– century architecture, courtyards and shaded zocalos.
If you’re looking to escape for a little beach time, Huatulco is known for its 9 bays with beaches ranging from golf resorts to quieter laid-back villages.
A mecca for surfers, Puerto Escondido has remained relatively under the radar for most tourists. You won’t find high rises here—and that’s part of its charm. Even if you don’t surf, relaxing on this beautiful stretch of sand will rejuvenate you. When you eventually tear yourself away, seasonal boat trips to search for dolphins, sea turtles and whales are available. Depending on the season, you may even have the opportunity to assist with a baby turtle rescue or swim in bioluminescent waters under the moonlight.
Brno, Czech Republic
Situated about halfway between the tourist meccas of Prague and Vienna, Brno awaits as a less crowded authentic travel experience. The Czech Republic’s second largest city has a booming restaurant and bar scene, a fascinating subterranean world and the sound of music. In October, the Moravian Autumn Festival showcases concerts by orchestras from across Europe while the New Music Exposition (the same month) provides a more experimental take on classics.
This former Moravian capital has long been a favorite beer destination, but Moravian wines are becoming increasingly popular as well. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul is an architectural highlight. As for that subterranean world, the Capuchin Monastery houses the mummified remains of monks and nobles, and an ossuary underneath the Church of St. James is home to more than 5,000 skeletons.
Yes, it’s a land of icebergs, moose, whales and puffins, but Newfoundland is so much more. In St. John, hilly streets wind past “jelly bean” houses painted red, yellow, lavender, green and blue. This is a place of folklore, humor and stunning natural beauty. Locals relish the opportunity to tell you about their homeland and when they speak, it’s enchanting.
Standing on the most easterly point at Cape Spear overlooking the Atlantic Ocean you are directly across from County Clare, Ireland. Immigrants from Ireland settled here centuries ago and the Irish lilt settled with them.
For sweeping views overlooking St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean, head up to Signal Hill. This was the site of fortifications in the mid-17th century. And in 1901, it’s where Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal.
Numerous coastal hiking trails begin in and around St. John’s including the East Coast Trail. Started in 1994, the East Coast Trail stretches over 186 miles. It’s made up of 26 wilderness paths and intersects with more than 30 communities along the route.
No visit to Newfoundland is complete without being “screeched in.” It’s the only way to become an honorary Newfoundlander. All you have to do is recite a little passage with phrases like “long may your big jib draw” then kiss a cold dead codfish and down a shot of Screech Rum. Cheers!
With the volcanic Galapagos Islands teeming with strange and fascinating wildlife, impressive Andean peaks, and the lush Amazon rainforest, Ecuador is perhaps best known for its natural wonders. But it has another side – its cities. In 1978, Ecuador’s capital, Quito, was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site for its extensive historic center. Surrounded by volcanos and straddling the center of the earth, Quito is a place where the past and present effortlessly coexist.
Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Incan City, Quito has the best-preserved historic center in Latin America. Narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with colonial churches, monasteries, convents, and beautifully restored houses with architecture from the 16th to the 20th century.
For some of the city’s most spectacular architecture, stroll the Calle de Las Siete Cruces—Street of the Seven Crosses. Named for seven churches located just blocks from each other, each one has a predominately displayed cross as a testament to the religious practices that have existed since the city’s inception. The iconic La Compañía de Jesús Church, also known as the “Golden Ember,” is considered the Baroque jewel of Latin America and the world with a facade carved out of Andean stone. Inside, altars, pulpits, pillars, and arches are all covered with gold leaf. Baroque carvings in geometric shapes along with those of flowers, fruit, and garlands are actually plated with 23-carat gold.
Surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of Big Sky Country, Billings is an ideal getaway for anyone with a pioneering spirit who prefers to sleep in a bed. Often referred to as “Montana’s Trailhead,” Billings is the gateway to the Beartooth Mountains where Montana’s highest peaks stretch to over 12,800 feet. The Yellowstone River runs through the heart of the city providing ample adventure opportunities like fishing for walleye or kayaking.
When the day’s adventures are done, spend the evening strolling to Montana’s Brewery District. This 1.5 mile stretch through downtown Billings is home to six breweries, one cider house, two distilleries and numerous restaurants. When you’re done for the night, rest assured you can snooze in a comfy bed … not a sleeping bag.
This article was originally published on TravelSquire.