Even the most intrepid explorers are drawn to well-worn paths the first time they visit a destination, soaking up the highlights to get a feel for the area. Yet, we’re seeing an uptick in requests for lesser-visited locales — places unencumbered by crowds where authenticity reigns supreme.
Whether it’s rambling through ruins on the Italian isle of Sardinia, dining on local cuisine in Tasmania, or cruising along the Mekong Delta from Vietnam to Cambodia, these destinations are worthy of moving up your must-visit list. And, because they’re gaining popularity, now’s the time to start planning your visit.
By Alexandra, from our Australia team
Untamed coastlines, unusual wildlife, new high-end hotels, and a burgeoning culinary and arts scene — Tasmania is on the rise. The island has grown in popularity among Australians who take advantage of the short flight over from Melbourne. It’s the place to be, yet still hasn’t been oversaturated with visitors — there’s never been a better time to go.
My top-choice stay: The Coastal Pavilions at Freycinet Lodge offer bay-view rooms immersed in the natural setting of Freycinet National Park — a place so remote you often have the halfmoon beaches all to yourself. Conjuring up romance, the rooms feature outdoor bathtubs and private decks.
Memorable moment: Getting lost in nature — walking among eucalyptus forests, clambering over mossy stones at Russell Falls, and feeling tiny among the world’s tallest hardwood trees in the ‘Valley of Giants’ in the Styx Valley.
Signature dining experience: A 50-minute drive from Hobart — snaking through hilly countryside and along sweeping shorelines — delivers you to Van Bone. The element of fire is the muse at this experimental restaurant, where every menu item is cooked over charcoal or in a wood-fired oven.
If you’re curious about encountering Australia’s endemic wildlife, try… Mount Field National Park, seeking out red-fur wallabies, spike-covered echidnas, and wombats that can run as fast as Usain Bolt. It’s also one of the few places in Australia to find the egg-laying, venom-producing, waterborne mammals that are platypus. And don’t forget about the eponymous Tasmanian devils, which you’ll find in Cradle Mountain National Park in the Central Highlands area.
Best time to visit: November to March, when the sun is shining and you can enjoy time outdoors.
Get me there: Our sample self-drive tour of Tasmania lets you experience city life in Hobart, farm-to-table dining in Launceston, and Cradle Mountain National Park.
By Italy specialist Alix
Rustic villages, rugged hinterlands, white-sand beaches, ancient ruins, and few international visitors in sight. This Italian island feels a bit like what I imagine the mainland would look like if it had been bypassed by tourism.
My top-choice stay: Su Gologone Experience Hotel feels more like an artist’s retreat than a hotel, deftly blending elements of the alpine setting with handmade textiles, pottery, and paintings by local artists. While visiting, you can dig into the island’s traditions with a workshop or simply soak up the views from your private terrace.
Memorable moment: Spending the day. You’ll visit nearby La Maddalena, an archipelago known for its sun-drenched Mediterranean scenery. There, you’ll cruise between tiny coves, sandy beaches, and rocky shorelines.
Signature dining experience: A well-known proverb on the island is ‘pani, casu e binu a rasu’, or ‘bread, cheese, and a full glass of wine’. While you’re in Sardinia, I suggest you indulge in all three. I can arrange for you to visit a shepherd to learn more about cheesemaking (and meet the sheep) and explore a vineyard to try the island’s signature vermentino wine.
If you’re curious about ancient Rome, try… a private tour to Nuraxi di Barumini. Back when Rome was little more than a bend in the Tiber, Sardinia was home to the Nuragic culture. Their conical megaliths, known as nuraghe, still litter the island.
Best time to visit: May, when the flowers are in bloom, or late September, when the temperatures are a bit cooler and harvest is in full swing.
Get me there: Our Sardinia trip idea can include cheesemaking, Nuragic ruins, and a day spent exploring the island from a private boat.
By South America specialist Catherine
Ecuador isn’t usually the first place that people consider visiting on the South American continent — unless it’s to pass through on the way to the Galapagos Islands. But the mainland is worthy of your time. From hiking towering Andean peaks to journeying into the depths of the Amazon and admiring the gilded churches of Quito, this petite country holds many of the wonders of South America in a manageable package.
My top-choice stay: Chilcabamba Lodge, with wood-beamed ceilings and log burners in every room, offers a snug-yet-stylish twist on the traditional Ecuadorian mountain lodge. The property is set amid the Avenue of Volcanoes, and on a clear day the perfectly conical outline of the 5,897 m (19,347 ft) active Cotopaxi Volcano looms in the background. Memorable moment: Gazing into the emerald-green crater lake in the caldera of the Quilotoa Volcano was an unforgettable experience. I took a challenging hike to the water’s edge, but you can also enjoy easier ambles along the volcano’s rim.
Signature dining experience: For a taste of Ecuadorian-fusion dining, visit El Mercado in Cuenca. I had inventive dishes I’d never before seen on a menu, like the rollo de cangrejo — a burnt avocado roll stuffed with red crab and caramelized onions, served with a parmesan cream sauce and basil oil.
If you’re curious about the Amazon, try… the bio-diverse Yasuni National Park. Glide by canoe deep into the Amazon rainforest, where you’ll stay in thatched-roof suites at the Napo Wildlife Centre, owned and operated by the local Kichwa Añangu community. Spot monkeys swinging and sloths lazing in the treetops, while whiskered river otters and scaly caimans splash below. Bright-feathered parrots and big-beaked toucans form some of the nearly 600 bird species found here.
Best time to visit: June to September is the driest, warmest time of the year, equally ideal for the Andes or Amazon — though you’ll always have some rain in the rainforest. Get me there: Our wildlife-focused tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos will give you a taste of the mainland, exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Quito and the Amazon.
Get me there: Our wildlife-focused tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos will give you a taste of the mainland, exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Quito and the Amazon.
Cambodia & Vietnam
By Southeast Asia specialist Alex
Cambodia and Vietnam make an ideal dual trip, but people don’t often combine them on their initial visit to Southeast Asia, making the area fairly quiet — especially if you travel along the Mekong. Once there, you can experience tranquil river cruises, jungle-engulfed temples, and aromatic street food trails.
My top-choice stay: I recommend melding both countries via a two-night stay on a private wooden sampan along Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to the border of Cambodia. The rattan furnishings are simple but provide ample comfort as you glimpse an intimate view of local river life along the route.
Memorable moment: Cycling through Angkor’s quiet jungle paths is a serene way to explore its tree-entangled temples. Your private guide will steer you away from crowded spots to explore the intricately carved buildings in peace.
Signature dining experience: Sala Kdei in Siem Reap is my preferred venue for a secluded alfresco dinner. In this traditional wooden house overlooking the former royal bathing pool, you’ll taste authentic Khmer cuisine, such as lemongrass and coconut milk-infused fish amok, surrounded by twinkling bamboo torches.
If you’re curious about Vietnam’s floating markets, try… a boat ride through the floating village of Kompong Khleang on Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap Lake. Few locals visit the markets, but this stilted village remains a true reflection of life on water.
Best time to visit: November to early December, just before the holiday-season rush — including Chinese New Year in February. The weather is pleasantly warm and dry, and the landscapes are rejuvenated by the rainy season.
Get me there: Our tour idea through Vietnam and Cambodia includes time cruising along the Mekong River.
By safari specialist Kirsty
Botswana might not be the most obvious choice for a first-time safari. But if you want to experience nature in its rawest form, I believe there’s nowhere better. The private concessions are dense with wildlife year-round, and with very few camps in each, you’re unlikely to see many other vehicles — just make sure you plan in advance to secure your first choices. You’ll also benefit from exceptional guides who’ll use their expert knowledge and tracking skills to help you understand and appreciate your surroundings.
My top-choice stay: Shinde, in the Okavango Delta, has the most amazing setting right beside a permanent lagoon. This gives you a wide variety of activity options all year: motorboat and mokoro (canoe) trips, walking safaris, and day- and night-drives where you’re guaranteed a ‘window’ seat. There are just seven en-suite tents, plus a pool and seating by the water. It was there, between my activities, that I perched quietly and watched animals big and small quench their thirst.
Memorable moment: Visiting a mob of habituated meerkats in Makgadikgadi Pans National Park — within the Kalahari Desert. You arrive just as they’re beginning to pop out of their burrows, and can watch as they scurry around — and possibly climb up onto your head for a better vantage point!
Signature dining experience: At Skybeds, deep in the Okavango Delta, I was taught how to prepare my own potjie (traditional stew), adding beef, vegetables, and other ingredients into a cast-iron pot, which was cooked over an open fire. I then dined under the stars, before sleeping out on my elevated open-air deck.
If you’re curious about Botswana’s birdlife, try… exploring the delta’s channels by mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe. Your guide uses a long pole to propel you past reedbeds alive with birdsong, with no engine noise to disturb their chorus. Look out for jewel-like malachite kingfishers, screeching fish eagles, and African jacanas carefully picking their way over the carpet of floating lily pads.
Best time to visit: Anytime, depending on what you most want to experience. Typically, the best wildlife viewing is from June to October, but April and November are also excellent and tend to be quieter. If you’re into birdwatching, visit between November and March, when migratory species come to breed.
Get me there: Our green-season safari idea combines time in the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta so you can experience two sides to Botswana.
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