Travel Awards

The Top 15 Places to Travel in 2019

by Team Fathom
Boka Sailing into the new year ... in Montenegro. Photo by Steph Smith / Unsplash.

What's better than end-of-year lists? Beginning-of-year lists. So much potential. So much promise. So many blank days on the calendar. Draw a red line through a week or two and strategize your 2019 travel plans. Here are 15 exciting destinations we predict travelers will be buzzing about all year long.

Stargazing in Elqui Valley. Photo by Matias Guerrero / Unsplash.

Chile

Northern Chile’s Elqui Valley, home of pisco, world-class wine, and the stunning Andean mountainside, is one of the best places in South America for stargazing — its remarkable lack of artificial light earned it the world’s first designation as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary. Get down there on July 2, when the remote region crosses the path of totality during this summer’s solar eclipse. For a guaranteed front-row seat, book a well-appointed tent at Upscape’s new Outpost pop-up camp, which will occupy choice real estate near the valley from June 29 to July 3. Elqui Valley is where wine meets woo woo meets the wonders of the universe, so you’ll want to tack on a few days before or after the main event to explore. Crush grapes by foot at a local high-elevation winery (our pick is Alcohuaz), sample some pisco, and align your energies — the valley is one of the biggest spiritual vortexes on the planet.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Chile

Kotor, Montenegro. Photo by George Kedenburg III / Unsplash.

Montenegro

Everyone and their brother has been taking a summer vacation in Croatia. But once you drive the coast and experience the crowds at Dubrovnik (thanks, Game of Thrones), the two-hour drive to quiet, picturesque Montenegro feels mighty enticing. And why not cross the border? Approaching Kotor, with its show-stopping UNESCO World Heritage-protected fjord-like boka (bay), will take your breath away. The crystal blue waters are hemmed in by mountains; by car, it feels like driving through a canyon. Last year saw the largest influx of tourists for the country — staffing in restaurants, hotels, and ski resorts is lagging a little behind demand. If you travel like a local, lodging and dining can be ridiculously cheap, scenic, and charming (your best bet is to camp out in sleepy fishing villages like Donji Stoliv). Big spenders can find the thread count and service they expect on the very pretty islet Sveti Stefan, a preserved 15th-century fortified village, part of which is run as a glamorous Aman. Additional luxury hotels will open on the water this year and next — The Chedi, Ananti, One & Only — with spas, restaurants, boats, beach clubs, and villas. At the end of May, the town of Budva, on the Adriatic Coast, will host Games of the Small States of Europe, an Olympics-style, multi-sport event for nine nations with a population of under one million.

Western Australian charm. Photo by Amanda Klamrowski / Unsplash.

Perth, Australia

Sorry, Oz: The secret’s out on Western Australia — wine, waves, Wild West charm, and all. In March 2018, Quantas debuted a new direct flight from London to Perth, linking the world’s most remote major city (its closest counterpart, Adelaide, is a casual 1,672-mile drive east) to one of the world’s biggest transit hubs. And the hotels followed suit. Among the city’s most exciting openings are COMO The Treasury (think five-star accommodations, a forager-focused rooftop restaurant, and the group’s signature spa) and urban-chic QT Perth, which employs a Director of Chaos to help craft unique (and highly Instagrammable) experiences for its guests. Perth’s world-class beaches, vibrant culinary scene, and new Elizabeth Quay waterfront demand exploration, but no trip Down Under is complete without a three-hour drive to Margaret River, Australia’s answer to Bordeaux, a 70-mile biodiverse region dotted with white sand beaches, turquoise bays, ancient limestone caves, farmland, and rolling vineyards that produced a quarter of the country’s premium wines. Naturally, there are great meals to be had here — booking an adventurous food tour, a bush foraging expedition, or a cooking class are a few fun ways to experience them. After a long day trekking through vineyards, catching waves at world-renowned Surfers Point, or exploring the sun-bleached coastal town of Margaret River, tuck in for the night at Cape Lodge Margaret River, located on an eight-acre vineyard, or Sal Salis, a luxurious glampsite on Ningaloo Reef where surf and The Outback meet.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Perth

Chengdu.
Chengdu. Photo courtesy of The Temple House.

Chengdu, China

As travel to China becomes increasingly popular, visitors interested in going beyond the Shanghai-Beijing route will find themselves drawn to Chengdu, the arty, open-minded, liberal capital of Sichuan in Central China. A large student and expat population has helped make Chengdu a fashion, culture, and tech hub, but this is a serious food town, famous for its old teahouses and colorful wet markets. UNESCO’s first City of Gastronomy, the local specialities include hotpot, spicy mapo tofu, kungpao chicken, and — for the non-squeamish — rabbit head and chicken feet. Nicknamed the “Country of Heaven,” this is also the land of pandas, which can best be seen just north of the city at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, home to some 200 giant and red pandas. A new visa-free policy went into effect on January 1, 2019, allowing visitors from 53 countries to stay for six days. The past meets the future at The Temple House hotel, where the entrance is through an old house and in-room decor includes hand-woven Tibetan blankets, but the overall design is modern as can be, with an underground pool and an art gallery that changes its collection every other month. Chengdu is also a gateway city to Tibet, and the hotel can help with those arrangements.

Read more: Get Lost in Lhasa, Land of the Gods

Old town San Juan, Puerto Rico
Old town San Juan. Photo by Ramiro Collazo / Unsplash.

Puerto Rico

There’s nothing like a crisis to see what you’re made of, and if there’s one place laying proof to this, it’s Puerto Rico in its recovery from the devastation wrought by the dual punch inflicted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The hotels have nearly all reopened, including newcomer boutique Serafina Beach Hotel, historic Condado Vanderbilt, and recently refurbished Dorado Beach and El San Juan Hotel. That tragedy forced the island to become more self-reliant and has resulted in a resurgence in sustainable farming, a movement no doubt inspired by the heroic efforts chef José Andrés went to in helping to feed locals after the hurricanes hit. (He’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.) Meaning that Puerto Rico is even more of a foodie destination than it already was. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the son of Puerto Ricans, is lending his star power to recovery, by reprising his role in Hamilton for a three-week run in January. But beyond the hotels, the food, and the show tunes, you’re coming for the beaches, the ease of access, the bioluminescent bays, the charms of Old Town San Juan — and because, as a responsible traveler, you want your travel choices and money to really make a difference. They will continue to do so here.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Puerto Rico

Egypt is back. Photo by Fynn Schmidt / Unsplash.

Egypt

Egypt has been a major tourist destination since the 19th century, so it was only a matter of time for the pendulum to swing back to the country after it stabilized post-Arab Spring and the ousting of two presidents. What it means for visitors today: Some alone time with the pharaohs — just not for long. The new Grand Egyptian Museum — the largest archaeological museum in the world — is a billion-dollar undertaking poised to collect the country's most precious ancient artifacts, many of which were looted and scattered in museums around the world and have now been returned to their original home. After a decade-long hiatus, Zaha Hadid’s 70-story skyscraper (the tallest on the continent) will finally break ground and hopefully spark an influx of wealthy residents back to downtown Cairo. Nile River boats and hotels are getting refreshed, refurbished, or rebuilt from the ground up. Beyond Cairo, Luxor and Aswan are musts for visitors, who can arrive by land or sea.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Egypt

Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. Photo by Simone Hutsch / Unsplash.

Berlin, Germany

Hard to believe that 2019 marks 30 years since fall of Berlin Wall and the birth of Berlin cool, when creative chaos and fringe living launched a million artists, designers, musicians, and freewheeling techo parties. (An enormous exhibition in Mitte called Nineties Berlin aims to explain the era to anyone who missed it.) Though coffee shops and high-end boutiques have replaced the artist squats and crumbling warehouses of yore, there’s still a whiff of unchecked freedom in the air — including a strong nightlife and cafe culture, progressive creative endeavors, and lots of outdoor space for gathering, skateboarding, drinking, and playing. Restaurants, shops, workspaces, installations, magazines, and studios are opening all the time (new and notable: Korean lunch spot and ceramic gallery NaNum, serious wine bar Freundschaft, and urban farm Metro). Holdovers from the city’s edgier days are growing up, too. Case in point: Cookies and Cream, which opened as a nonchalant vegetarian dining spot for hungry dancers at beloved ‘90s Club Cookie, earned a Michelin star last year. 2019 also marks the Bauhaus Centennial, and Berlin is celebrating the modern design movement with a series of yearlong happenings, including performance art, music showcases, and architectural tours during Bauhaus Week.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Berlin

Photo by Pavia Rosati.

Doha, Qatar

Like Puerto Rico, Qatar has had to become more and more self-reliant since 2017, not because of a hurricane but rather due to a highly political Saudi blockade that has made it harder for goods and travelers from other points in the Middle East to enter the country. But instead of driving the people apart, it’s forced residents to come together, rallying their support around the ruling family, who is beloved for their focus on education (a dozen Western universities have campuses here), health care (several new hospitals have opened), sports (soccer stadium construction is afoot for the 2022 FIFA World Cup), and the arts (the Jean Nouvel-designed National Museum of Qatar is slated to open in March). The upcoming completion of the Msheireb Downtown Doha, a sustainable, mixed-use residential, commercial, and cultural complex, will be anchored by a Mandarin Oriental and is already an attraction for the four heritage homes that comprise the Msheireb Museums. Careful attention to cultural preservation make Doha feel more authentic than nearby Dubai. If you’re flying Qatar Airways to Africa or Southeast Asia, you can take advantage of a stopover program for visa-free entry for up to four days, which is more than enough time to shop for goods in the Souq Waqif and check out its too-cute-for-words Falcon Hospital, see horses train and race at Al Shaqab Equestrian Center, Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque, the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, check out the artists in residence at the Fire Station art complex and Katara Cultural Center, and go dune bashing in the desert. The restaurants in town are dry, but the Western hotels serve alcohol. There’s even an extra attractive Nobu in the marina near the Four Seasons.

Read more: Shopping, Smoking, and People-Watching in the Best Souk in the Gulf

Cabo coastline. Photo by Victor Hughes / Unsplash.

Baja Peninsula, Mexico

The Baja California peninsula in Northwestern Mexico — long the home of the bad Cabo spring break cliches — has become unexpectedly cool, thanks in no small part to a handful of high-design boutique hotels both big and small and charming, farm-driven restaurants. At the same time, northern Baja’s Valle de Guadaloupe has emerged as the new It wine region in the Americas, with wineries and restaurants ready to serve the early gastronomes who find their way here. At the southern tip of the peninsula, sleepy Todos Santos is a haven for travelers, surfers, artists, and bohemians, who can now take a new tolled highway from the airport, trading Cabo’s traffic and stop lights for a winding road along the foothills of the desolate Sierra de la Laguna Mountains and through the desert dotted with massive saguaro cacti.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Baja + Cabo

Cortina, Italy
Cortina is a town for all seasons. Photo courtesy of Cortina Marketing.

Dolomites, Italy

Is there anything undiscovered in Italy? No, though you may be the first of your friends to have visited the Dolomites, the unsung hero of the country and, frankly, the Alps. Recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area is a year-round attraction. The winter season (November through March) is the time for skiing, ice climbing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and dogsledding, while the warmer months are for hiking, biking, mountain climbing, paragliding, and meandering in the valleys. The Dolomite region is where German meets Italian, as reflected in the language (town names are listed as “Bolzano” and also “Bozen”) and the award-winning cuisine (you’ll eat more speck than prosciutto, and lots and lots of dumplings) that pairs beautifully with local wines and prosecco. As for hotels, Lefay Resort & Spa, the sister hotel to their glorious Lake Garda spa, is the hotly anticipated arrival for summer 2019. Already amazing are Rosa Alpina in Alta Badia, which recently renovated an impressive penthouse suite; Cristallo Resort & Spa in Cortina d’Ampezzo, the chicest town in the area; Hotel Ciasa Salares, a family-run 50-room hotel with five restaurants; and Chalet del Sogno, a cozy-as-can-be eighteen-suite haven in Madonna di Campiglio. If you want help making the most of your outdoor activities, get in touch with the adventure company Dolomite Mountains to organize bespoke and group ski safaris, summer and fall hiking, biking, as well as multi-sport trips for individuals, groups, and families. On Foot Holidays organizes week-long, self-guided walking excursions from July to early September, traversing ground from South Tyrol to Cortina, with a night spent in a mountain rifugio (refuge). Easily accessible from both Milan and Venice, the Dolomites are an easy addition to any northern Italian itinerary, especially if nature is on the agenda, given the mountains, lakes, meadows, vineyards, and forests that fill the Dolomites. That the dramatic, jagged peaks were coral reefs millions of years ago may explain why they maintain a rosy hue in the sunlight today, and also why Le Corbusier proclaimed the Dolomites not only the most beautiful mountains but also “the most beautiful architectural construction in the world.”

Hakone, Japan. Photo by Azlan Baharudin / Unsplash.

Japanese Countryside

Every year is a good year to go to Japan, but 2019 should be the year you venture past the big cities and explore the country’s unspoiled countryside. The best part: You don’t have to go that far to find it. Hakone, where locals have bathed for almost half a millennia, is gaining popularity among international travelers for its collection of small mountainside onsen communities connected by a meshwork of scenic ropeways, cable cars, and funiculars that reveal stunning views of nearby Mt. Fuji. (For maximum relaxation, check into Hakone Ginyu, the most luxurious bath house ryokan in town.) Close by in Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gassho-zukuri, or traditional thatched farmhouses, offer a taste of old-world, rural Japan to those who stay the night. (Inside Japan Tours will arrange a stay as part of one of their larger holiday packages.) In the beautiful and well-preserved countryside roughly an hour and a half north of Tokyo, towns like Tohoku offer hiking and skiing, while well-preserved Edo period villages like Kakunodate, a former samurai stronghold dotted with weeping cherry trees, has remained virtually unchanged since 1620.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Japan

Serra Cafema
Serra Cafema. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Safaris.

Namibia

This is the year the cat comes out of the bag about Namibia. Or rather, the Hartmann's mountain zebra, the species endemic to southwestern African country on the Atlantic. Independent since 1990 but formerly ruled by the Germans and the South Africans and home to the Ovambo, Herero, Himba, and Damara peoples, Namibia is a blend of cultures — even as, with only 2.6 million residents and a vast (and beautiful) Namib Desert, it’s one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth. Which in no small part contributes to the lack of light pollution and designation as a Dark Sky Reserve. Now democratically ruled, Namibia’s government is one of the only ones to promote conservation, biodiversity, and the protection of natural resources in its constitution, which is pretty awesome. The handful of luxury hotels new to the country will help by making eco-tourism a cornerstone of their offerings. Serra Cafema, Wilderness Safari’s remote luxury camp in northwest Namibia developed with the nomadic Himba people, is totally remote: The nearest civilization is hundreds of miles away. Blessedly, there is no internet access, though there are lots of animals. A lack of dangerous predators makes it safe to walk and explore the river and sand dunes. Zannier Hotels will have four lodges in Namibia by 2020, including the recently opened Omaanda, which will be followed by Sonop tented camp in July. Hoanib Valley Camp, where guests track rhinos, elephants, and giraffes, was built in partnership with local communities and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, and is operated by Natural Selection, which recently opened Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast, consisting of ten funky wooden beachside cabins shaped like shipwrecks. Habitas Namibia, opening this spring, consists of tented lodges on vast nature reserve less than an hour from the airport.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Namibia

Gazing out at Tasmania. Photo by Sylvia Yang / Unsplash.

Tasmania, Australia

The most compelling destination for foodies might just be the little island most Americans associate with an uncouth Looney Tunes character. Culinary adventurers, surfers, and devotees to the great outdoors would do well to looking into remote Tasmania, where it’s easy to go off-grid without much sacrifice and eat your weight in oysters and abalone. The capital city of Hobart has honed a culinary reputation thanks very much to its proximity to incredible soil, waters, mountain air, old-school agrarian culture and heritage farming, and humble local producers. From wildflower honey to craft beer, the output is outrageous. The weekly Salamanca Market, which features produce, meats, prepared foods, olive oils, as well as crafts, is now Australia’s largest open-air market. Sunday’s Farm Gate Market showcases a variety of next-level goodies from the island’s mono-producers: blueberries, bread, salmon, cider, mustard. The city’s restaurant scene has become a see-and-be-seen locale for chefs and sommeliers across Australia thanks to anchor eateries like Franklin (a dynamite seafood spot from chef David Moyle) and The Source, where contemporary food and robust wines are served in the stylish Mona art museum (it should be noted that the museum is located on a winery). A crop of stylish hotels bolster the booming tourism business, like The Tasman, part of the Luxury Collection, boutique design hotel Macq01, and Saffire Freycinet on the island’s east coast. Sophisticated dining coupled with a rugged landscape makes for a mighty hearty vacation.

Read more: A Surfer's Wild Cooking Adventure in Tasmania

Tel Aviv beaches. Photo by Adam Jang / Unsplash.

Israel

A lot is happening in the Holy Land in 2019. A new high-speed train, which already fast-tracks the commute between Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport (itself undergoing a major overhaul), will link Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in under 30 minutes when it opens early in the year. That and new direct flights from United and Delta will make traveling in and out of Israel a breeze. New hotels are poised to take advantage of the influx. Head-turning luxury boutiques like The Setai, located in a 12th-century Crusader fortress; The Jaffa, spotlighting a preserved chapel turned night club; and The Drisco, a design gem in the up-and-coming Noga neighborhood, have upped the ante on accommodations in Tel Aviv, which is also getting two new properties from Brown Hotels — the hip, budget-friendly Dave Levinksy and the sprawling Menorah — in the new year, as well as the White City Center, a foundation aimed at protecting and celebrating the city’s Bauhaus architecture in honor of the 100th anniversary of the design approach. Jerusalem’s hotel scene has also undergone a renaissance, with the Waldorf Astoria, Orient, and David Citadel offering travelers new places to stay in the old city. Wellness seekers will be glad to hear that a new beachfront property, Brown Mediterranean Ashdod, is coming in the spring, but will all but flip at the country’s most anticipated opening: Six Senses Shahrut, down south in the Negev desert outside Eilat, which will sport 58 luxurious suites and villas and a massive spa.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Israel

Photo by Roberta Guillen / Unsplash.

Texas, U.S.A.

Texas. Big state, big personality, and — as the recent U.S. Senate race may have revealed — big misperceptions. Seems that there’s more to the Lone Star State than ten gallon hats and tough talk; the population is continuing its “rural flight trend,” with the population growing and diversifying in big cities like Austin, Dallas, and El Paso. San Antonio, named one of only two UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy in the U.S., has seen an uptick in celebrated restaurants and whole neighborhoods (Southtown, Hemisfair, Pearl District, St. Mary’s Strip) revived by the local restaurant and nightlife scene. Boutique properties like the Roman & Williams-designed Hotel Emma and the forthcoming Thompson Hotel provide a solid home base for trips centered around eating $3 tacos from nationally recognized and locally beloved Carnitas Lonja. The city is also opening Ruby City, a free contemporary art center, as well as the Pedro Creek Culture Park, a 2.2-mile riverwalk landscaped with native aquatic plants. New cultural happenings in Houston include a James Turrell light installation on Rice University campus and the Menil Drawing Institute. Visitors can contemplate all the art while resting their heads at The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston. In Austin, local hotelier Liz Lambert continues her domination of Texas born-n-bred boutique hotels with Magdalena, opening later this year with condos on South Congress. So far, so bueno at The Carpenter Hotel, another new, cleverly designed, impressively affordable Austin spot. That’s not to discount the white sand deserts, pine forests, and Rio Grande — the best way to tackle a trip is to fly into a city and road trip out.

Read more: Fathom's Guide to Texas

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