This article originally appeared on MyDomaine.com
Purveyor of West Hollywood’s independent bookstore Traveler’s Bookcase, Natalie Compagno not only reads about globetrotting (we’re looking at you Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill), she lives it: her passport has been stamped in seventy-five countries over six continents. Given her combination of academic and in-the-field knowledge, who better than Compagno to recommend the top new and oft-overlooked travel destinations? Read below for her latest favorite locales, complete with insider tips.
THE NEW HONG KONG: SINGAPORE Singapore used to be the city people would fly through to get to more popular Asian destinations. Not anymore. If you want flash, the high-rise fancy casino vibe is on offer downtown in the banking district at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Little India has some of the best street food in the world, and Arab Street is stocked with hipster bars and late-night indie shops. There’s also an excellent metro, a beautiful rain forest park, and the only night zoo in the world.
THE NEW IBIZA: BEIRUT I went to Beirut during the Arab Spring, and left the city with local friends. Despite the news, Beirut is still safe. Beach clubs, DJs, shopping, dining-out, and parading around in bikinis are the central activities for this coastal party town. Stay at Hayete Guesthouse in the historical Achrafieh district and sample the amazing authentic Armenian cuisine at Mayrig. For nightlife, try hip beach club Edde Sands, the exclusive summer-only nightclub White, and for real Beirut-style live venue Music Hall, where the concertgoers dance on tables between acts. Hedonist’s Guide to Beirut
THE NEW DUBLIN: BELFAST Today, Belfast is a much cooler, more interesting city than its southern counterpoint Dublin. The historical Black Taxi tours guided by former IRA members are a must, as is The Titanic Museum, the Stormont Parliament Buildings, and Ulster Museum. Celebrity chefs like Paul Rankin and Michael Deane are at the forefront of the city’s restaurant revolution, and day trips abound: Dunluce Castle, Giant’s Causeway and, of course, the Bushmills Distillery.
THE OTHER PARIS: MONTREAL Okay, there’s no substitute for Paris. However, if you want a North American taste of real French cuisine, cobblestone streets, et al–Montreal is your city. The architecture and café culture is very European, and the city is gorgeous. Take a walking tour, and immerse yourself in Quebecois cuisine with a cooking class at Academie Culinaire or Ateliers & Saveurs. Then let the pros do the heavy lifting with dinner at Le Maistre Restaurant-Bistro, Brasserie T! or Au Petit Extra.
THE NEW ITALY: SLOVENIA With its beautiful mountain ranges and breathtaking scenery, Slovenia is a mix of Austria and Italy. Since it’s relatively small, it’s easy to rent a car and cover all the bases: castles on Lake Bled, the sparkling Adriatic Sea by Piran, Lipizzaner horses, and the notably youthful festive capital town Ljubljana– Ljuby, to the locals–which is filled with great restaurants, wine bars, and shops. Did I mention the pizza? It’s excellent, thanks to the country’s Italian neighbors.
THE NEW TANZANIA: SWAZILAND Most people go on big game safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. While searching out the Big Five is, of course, incredible, for an authentic African experience–and to really get to know the country’s people–go to Swaziland. Stay in a beehive hut at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, where white rhinos, elephants, hippos, and giraffes are in abundance; admire the crafts in Manzini, where colorful markets dot the industrial center; and get in on the action–water rafting, hiking, and mountain biking.
THE NEW SWEDEN: TASMANIA Though on the opposite side of the world, like Scandinavia, Tasmania has a “northern nature” vibe and incredibly chic design. The expansive island is filled with breathtaking scenery, and because of its low population, you feel like the sights are for you alone. Local wines, fresh fish, and farm-to-table cuisine are on offer at restaurants including the universally acclaimed Garagistes, the architectural wonder MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) is mind-blowing, and at the Bonorong Wildlife preserve you can get up-close with koalas, Tasmanian Devils, and wombats.
THE NEW HAWAII: SAYULITA Think Maui 20 years ago. Idyllic Mexican surf town Sayulita is touched just enough by ex-pats and tourism to be safe and easy without losing any of the local charm and artistic flair. It’s a gorgeous paradise with boutique hotels and five-star resorts, activities spanning horseback riding to yoga, and all at half the price of what you’d find in Hawaii.
THE NEW CROATIA: MONTENEGRO Expect miles and miles of gorgeous coastline with very few tourists, inexpensive house rentals, local wine and seafood, and stroll-perfect promenades. A few highlights: Kotor, a charming walled city much like Dubrovnik but without the insanity of the daily invasion of cruise ships, hip beach town Ulcinj, and Budva, a romantic old town on The Adriatic filled with al fresco cafes.
THE NEW ARGENTINA: COLOMBIA Colombia is plagued by a bad reputation, but today the cosmopolitan country is safe, and there’s no limit to the varied experiences on offer. Bogota has a spread-out LA-in-the-mountains vibe, and is home to the Museo Botero (one of the best modern art collections I’ve seen), as well as world-class restaurants including Leo Cucina y Cava. There’s also the beachy Cartagena, and Villa de Leyva for weekend getaways to spas and ranches.