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Courtesy of The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi
You’re kicking back in a landscape of rolling vineyards and castle-topped towns. The days are filled with beautiful drives and visits to local vintners, where you sample the fruit of their labors. You might swing by a rustic wine bar for a tasting. Nights you bed down at a small hotel with cabin-like rooms and a blue-walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the hotel’s collection of glass aquariums.
Is this Tuscany? Burgundy, perhaps? Not quite. Read on for more amazing, untrammeled places where the dollar still goes far.
Why Go Now: This cluster of 99 islands off Malaysia’s northwestern coast is a relative neophyte when it comes to tourism. Most of the main island remains a nature-lover’s paradise, swathed in mangrove and tropical rain forests, and it was recently designated a UNESCO Geopark — the first in Southeast Asia.
The Details: The name Langkawi refers to the archipelago in general and to its largest island specifically. On the southwestern coast of the main isle you’ll find Pantai Cenang beach, lined with guesthouses and bars under coconut palms. Locals flock to a beachside food truck called Tsunami Laksa for asam laksa (hot-and-sour fish soup with rice noodles). At the northern tip of the island, Tanjung Rhu is a tranquil oasis: two miles of silver sand and calm water. Much of Langkawi retains its traditional charm, on view in Pantai Cenang at the Bon Ton Resort (doubles from $150), a small village of formerly dilapidated Malay wooden houses transformed into stylish lodgings by hotelier Narelle McMurtrie.
Why Go Now: Once known as a gritty seaport, this coastal city has recently spruced up its waterfront and is attracting a more sophisticated crowd from Paris.
The Details: Open-air cafés edge the Vieux Port, where street vendors sell ice cream cones and fish sandwiches. Just behind the Quai de Rive Neuve, in the newly posh district of St.-Victor, the artsy Casa Honoré (doubles from $213) has four simple guest rooms, a tapas bar, and a shop that sells furniture designed by owner Annick Lestrohan. Try browsing for artisanal olive oils at Place aux Huiles.
Why Go Now: While this ancient capital of China is slowly modernizing, it remains staunchly loyal to its past. Witness new restaurants, hotels, and the Nanjing Museum of Art & Architecture — set to open this summer — all juxtaposed with centuries-old monuments and traditions.
The Details: Make Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing (doubles from $125), in the heart of downtown, your base. The 278-room property overlooks Xuanwu Lake. For authentic local food, try the 20-course small-bite tasting menu, including duck sesame buns, at the Galaxy Restaurant (dinner for two $40) in the Mandarin Garden Hotel. The Nanjing 1912 neighborhood has classic early-20th-century Chinese architecture and a vibrant club scene at night.
Courtesy of Restaurant & Design Hotel Noem Arch
Moravia, Czech Republic
Why Go Now: This under-the-radar province is emerging as Eastern Europe’s newest wine region. Ninety-four percent of the Czech Republic’s burgeoning wine production (Grüner Veltliner and Cabernet Moravia) comes from its rolling vineyards and castle-topped towns. The regional capital, Brno, in the center of Moravia, is dotted with Modernist houses designed by Adolf Loos and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the creator of the famous Brno chair) and is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the area.
The Details: Stay at the new nautical-themed Noem Arch Hotel (doubles from $141), with 18 cabin-like rooms and a blue-walled restaurant that blends harmoniously with the glass aquariums. Farther south, in Mikulov, the village's Jewish heritage is the inspiration for artist Sylva Chludilova’s paintings at Galerie Efram. In neighboring Valtice, sample an extensive wine selection at Narodni Salon Vin, in the town château.
Courtesy of Rawi Warin Resort & Spa
Ko Lanta, Thailand
Why Go Now: A mere eight years ago, Ko Lanta was an isolated jungle on an inaccessible island. Since then, a handful of resorts have settled in along its palm-lined coves.
The Details: The island’s western shore, with all its beaches, is attracting the most attention. Layana Resort & Spa (doubles from $289) is a beachside complex of 50 suites and a saltwater pool. The 185-room Rawi Warin (doubles from $174) overlooks pristine Klong Tob Bay. At the lantern-lit Red Snapper (dinner for two $30), young Dutch chefs make everything from tapas and Turkish dips to mojitos and steamed mussels.
Donald Nausbaum/Getty Images
San Blas, Panama
Why Go Now: This archipelago in northern Panama is experiencing a mini boom in lodges, where travelers can escape the crowds of the more popular Bocas del Toro.
The Details: After a short flight from Panama City to Playón Chico (which the hotel will help arrange), guests of one of the five overwater casitas at Yandup Island Lodge (doubles from $160, all-inclusive) are picked up by boat and taken to the property’s private island. Snorkelers can spot more than 75 species of coral, hundreds of varieties of tropical fish, and the occasional dolphin. On a nearby island, the Hotel Uaguinega (doubles from $300, all-inclusive) has 10 thatched-roof cabins and a beachfront restaurant that serves fresh fish. Book one of the hotel’s guided tours of neighboring villages, where you can buy crafts made by the local Kuna tribe.
El Calafate, Argentina
Why Go Now: A formerly rough-and-tumble wool-trading outpost in southern Patagonia, tiny El Calafate has now been discovered by adventure junkies and celebrities such as Francis Ford Coppola, who scouted the area for an upcoming film.
The Details: This is a place where you can have grilled steak and Mendoza wine for just $25 a person after a day spent exploring the region’s natural beauty: towering glaciers, deep fjords, and grassy steppes. Dine on sirloin wrapped in boar with a Malbec wine sauce at the brick-walled Pascasio M (dinner for two $49) or head to the boisterous La Tablita (dinner for two $48), known for grilled meats and fish. Brace yourself against El Calafate’s clear and chilly nights in a sweater from Vellón Negro, woven from local wool. The best places to stay are beyond the town’s center. The 12-room Patagonia Rebelde, Posada & Historia (doubles from $110, including breakfast) is modeled after a historic railway station. Much more space age, Design Suites Hotel (doubles from $140, including breakfast) has soaring glass walls and views of neon-blue Lago Argentino.
Why Go Now: This yachting-obsessed city has more than its share of sophisticated food and art. Best of all, the exchange rate turns the city’s hotels, restaurants, and boutiques into affordable indulgences.
The Details: The downtown marina is the site of the new Westin Auckland Lighter Quay (doubles from $216), an understated 172-room hotel. In midtown, the vintage Modernist furnishings at the renovated Hotel DeBrett (doubles from $195) create a pied-à-terre feel. At Merediths (dinner for two $110), chef-owner Michael Meredith turns out modern New Zealand dishes such as smoked salmon with candied fennel. To see artwork by N.Z. artists, browse the galleries (or websites of) Sue Crockford or Michael Lett.
Why Go Now: This city has one of the world’s most exciting music scenes—from reggae, rap, and hip-hop to traditional tribal drum, string, flute, and xylophone. Indeed, Dakar is a nonstop concert, as CD’s blare in the streets and markets and live musicians and bands hold forth in any number of cool clubs, cafés, and dance boîtes.
The Details: Overlooking the Atlantic, the Hotel Sokhamon (doubles from $147), has a funky vibe, with brightly colored walls and a conch-shaped staircase. After dark, head to world-music superstar Youssou N’Dour’s club Thiossane, or the ultracool Just 4 U.
AA World Travel Library/Alamy
Rusinga Island, Kenya
Why Go Now: Just off the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, Rusinga Island is blissfully laid-back. The arrival of a new Micato Safaris lodge probably won’t change that, but is giving travelers a stylish place to unplug.
The Details: Stay in one of the six thatched cottages (net-draped beds, ceiling fans, large baths) at Rusinga Island Lodge (doubles from $440). Each bungalow faces an open-air restaurant where the spicy fish curry pairs well with a Tusker Ale.