Try something exciting and inspiring in the new year with a trip along some less trodden paths where out of the ordinary experiences await you. Here are a few such destinations that you might want to consider visiting in 2019 and they range from Greece to China, from Italy to Scotland and Australia to Argentina.
The Peloponnese, Greece: The Peloponnese is the source of legends. It is here that Hercules fought the Nemean lion and gods walked the earth, meddling in mortal affairs; it is from here that Paris of Troy eloped with Helen and the Argonauts set sail in search of the Golden Fleece. Celestial and mythological charms aside, this region bears tangible traces of the many civilizations that once called it home, witnessed in its classical temples, Mycenaean palaces, Byzantine cities, and Ottoman, Frankish and Venetian fortresses.
The very topography that kept invaders at bay for centuries – lofty, snow-capped mountains, vast gorges, sandy beaches and azure waters – now draws visitors of a very different kind. Filoxenia (hospitality) is as strong here as anywhere in the country and the food is among Greece’s best.
Matera, Italy: Down in the arch of Italy’s foot, Matera is built into the rock of a ravine. This strange, prehistoric-looking city is miles from anywhere, and so out of time that it has been used as a set for films needing an authentic Jerusalem, including Ben-Hur, and The Passion of the Christ. In 1993, UNESCO declared Matera a World Heritage Site. Tourists will find galleries, restaurants and charming cave hotels, upscale hideaways in limestone grottoes, such as the Palazzo Gattini, Corte San Pietro, Relais La Casa di Lucio and Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, one of the most romantic digs in all Italy. In 2019, Matera will be thrust into the light of the 21st century as a European Capital of Culture. The year’s cultural program kicks off on 19 January with more than 2,000 musicians and dozens of brass bands, all marching to their own tune around the city’s ancient candlelit streets.
Perth, Western Australia: Perth combines big-city attractions and relaxed, informal surrounds, providing an appealing lifestyle for locals and lots to do for visitors. It is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city, with myriad restaurants and cultural activities all vying for attention.
The city boasts recent developments like Elizabeth Quay and Perth Stadium, which have added a more cosmopolitan sheen to this traditionally laid-back town. Perth has sprawled to enfold Fremantle within in its suburbs, but the raffish port town with a great food and arts scene maintains its own distinct personality – immensely proud of its nautical ties, working-class roots and Bohemian reputation.
Perth is also the jumping-off point for further explorations into Australia’s wild west: Ningaloo Reef where you can swim with whale sharks; and the dramatic Kimberley, with wilderness escapes such as El Questro homestead.
The Scottish Highlands: Famous for their wild nature and majestic scenery, from the bluebell woods, gentle hills and warm autumn colors of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to the primeval grandeur of Coigach and Assynt, where pillared peaks rear above desolate expanses of gnarled and ancient gneiss.
Scotland’s mountains, lochs and seaways offer some of the most rewarding outdoor adventures in Europe. As well as classic challenges such as the West Highland Way and the ascent of Ben Nevis, there are wilderness walks through Knoydart and Sutherland, and spectacular summits such as An Teallach, Stac Pollaidh and Suilven. Legend and tradition run deep in the Highlands. Crumbling forts and monastic cells were once home to Gaelic chieftains and Irish saints; lonely beaches and mountain passes once echoed to the clash of clan battles; and empty glens are still haunted by the ghosts of the Clearances. History is everywhere: in the tumbled stones of abandoned crofts preserved on a hillside like a fossil fragment; in the proud profile of broch and castle silhouetted against a Highland sunset; and in the Gaelic lilt of Hebridean speech and the Nordic twang of Shetland dialect.
A new-found respect for top-quality local produce means that you can feast on fresh seafood and venison, and vegetables that were grown in your hotel’s own organic garden.
Patagonia, Argentina: On South America’s southern frontier, nature grows wild, barren and beautiful, with many attractive sights such as jagged peaks, pristine rivers and dusty backwater oases. Patagonia offers a wealth of potential experiences and landscape, including spectacular sights like the El Calafate and El Chaltén. El Calafate is a town near the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and is known as the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, home to the massive Perito Moreno Glacier, whose ever-shifting icy landscape is popular for hiking and sightseeing.
The Reserva Faunística Península Valdés lies on Argentina’s barren eastern Patagonian coast, and is home to some of the country’s richest wildlife. Elephant seals, Magellanic penguins, southern right whales, guanacos, armadillos and foxes are almost guaranteed sightings while whale watching is also big.
Chengdu, China: Chengdu’s lure for visitors has long centered on two Chinese clichés: giant pandas and hotpot. The Sichuanese capital is home to the world’s largest concentration of those doe-eyed bears, and its food has been exported worldwide. Sichuan cuisine is incredibly diverse, featuring ingredients in combinations that can be both sweet and spicy, savory and refreshing. Every local tea drinker knows that the Himalayan foothills surrounding Chengdu also produce a little-known, but exquisite green tea that has inspired poets and travelers for centuries.
Any trip to Chengdu must take in the Panda Breeding Base to the north of the city, and the suburb of Dujiangyan, where Taoism and ancient engineering go hand in hand. Teahouses and temples along the western and southern edge of the Funan River hark back to a more refined age, while the city center along Chunxi Road provides a striking contrast to old China, especially at night. Neighborhoods like Yulin in the south are best for eating out, and a trip to Flower Town in the southeast is a great day trip choice, especially during the springtime.