Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Unexpected Urban Escapes
When we think of getaways and escapes, we often envision remote tropical islands or secluded mountain cabins. But some of the world's most exciting and rejuvenating escapes can be found right in the heart of major cities, if you know where to look. Urban centers have a vibrant energy and cosmopolitan vibe that can thrill the senses, once you break free from the throngs of tourists visiting the main attractions.
One of our favorite unexpected urban escapes is Roam Madrid in Spain. Located in the hip neighborhood of Malasaña, Roam is a collection of boutique apartments and cozy spaces that feels worlds away from the crowds at the Prado and Reina Sofia museums. Spend lazy mornings sipping coffee on your terrace, take evening cooking classes sampling traditional tapas, and meet locals over crafted cocktails at the secret speakeasy bar. It's an immersive cultural experience without leaving the convenience of Madrid.
For a completely different vibe, escape to one of Seoul's hanok guesthouses. Hanoks are traditional Korean homes with curved tile roofs, wooden beams, and cozy ondol-heated floors. Staying in a hanok places you right in the bustling Hongdae neighborhood, but once inside, you'll feel transported to a simpler time. Mornings are best spent wandering the lantern-lit alleys sipping hot teas and snacking on steaming fish cakes from street vendors. The guesthouses hold cultural classes ranging from palate-cleansing kimchi workshops to meditative tea ceremonies.
In frenetic Bangkok, unwind along the quiet klongs (canals) at the Four Seasons Tented Camp. This one-of-a-kind glamping escape places you in safari-style tents steps from the Chao Phraya River. Dine on Thai street food under twinkling lights, cruise the klongs on a longtail boat, and soak in the spa's cliffside infinity pool. You get a healthy dose of adventure without straying far from Khao San Road.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Unexpected Urban Escapes
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Remote Rural Retreats
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Island Idylls Off the Radar
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Ancient Ruins Revealed
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Mountain Marvels to Inspire
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Desert Oases for the Adventure-Seeker
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Culinary Treasures in Surprising Places
- Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Small Town Charm Around the World
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Remote Rural Retreats
While we all love the energy and convenience of cities, sometimes you yearn to escape the crowds and find solitude in nature. That's why remote rural retreats hold such appeal. Away from the hubbub of urban life, you can immerse yourself in wide open spaces, fresh air, starry skies, and your own thoughts.
One of our favorite rural hideaways is Ariau Amazon Towers near Manaus, Brazil. Suspended above the rainforest canopy on sturdy stilts, this hotel's treetop bungalows places you eye-level with monkeys, sloths, birds, and more. Wake to the chatter of howler monkeys and sip your morning coffee watching squawking parrots pass by. Luxuriate in your private hot tub on your deck overlooking nothing but dense jungle stretching to the horizon. Even the hotel's restaurant, bar, and lobby are perched on towers rising above the rainforest. For the ultimate indulgence, book the Tarzan bungalow set apart on its own secluded tower with wraparound views through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Or escape to the mountains and meadows of Wyoming at Brush Creek Ranch. 30,000 acres of pristine land await your exploration on horseback, via mountain bike, or on foot. Meander through wildflower-dotted sagebrush, breathe in the crisp alpine air, listen for the rush of the creek tumbling down rock slopes. At the end of an active day, settle into your log cabin nestled at the edge of pine and aspen forests. Savor gourmet cowboy cuisine whipped up from local, seasonal ingredients. Lay back in the outdoor soaking pools and hot tubs as you soak in the night sky scattered with more stars than you thought possible. This is wide-open freedom at its best.
New Zealand overflows with pastoral escapes, but few match the remote beauty of Minaret Station. Set on a high-country sheep farm near towering Mount Cook, this alpine lodge is only accessible via helicopter or a long but scenic hike. Spend your days hiking on the property’s 50+ miles of trails, horseback riding, fly fishing in cold mountain streams, or simply find a sunny spot to read and take in the views. Mountain peaks dominate the horizon in every direction. In the winter, Minaret transforms into a ski lodge accessed via snowcat. Wherever the season, the scenery and silence is transcendent.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Island Idylls Off the Radar
Beyond those endlessly photographed Greek isles and Caribbean favorites, a world of undiscovered island idylls still remains off the well-worn tourist trail. Seeking out these hidden island gems takes a bit more planning and effort, but offers rich rewards for intrepid travelers longing to stray beyond the crowds.
One such island escape is São Tomé and Príncipe, the second smallest African country after Seychelles. Located off the western equatorial coast of Gabon, these two islands combine raw tropical beauty with a unique cultural blend of Portuguese, Brazilian, and West African influences. Once one of the world’s largest exporters of cocoa, today São Tomé is covered in plantations of cocoa, coffee, and coconuts. The lack of mass tourism development only enhances São Tomé’s laidback appeal. Take long walks under swaying palm trees, sip mojitos on the deck at Praia Inhame Eco Lodge watching sea turtles come ashore to nest, and swim with dolphins on a boat trip out from Rolas Island. Príncipe is even more untouched, with just 6,000 inhabitants scattered across its palm-fringed beaches, rainforests, and volcanic peaks. Base yourself at the seaside Bom Bom Resort, where luxury villas perch above dramatic rocky cliffs. From here, explore pristine beaches only accessible by boat, discover hidden waterfalls, and trek through Obo National Park’s thriving rainforest.
Or escape to the remote tranquility of Moorea in French Polynesia, often overlooked in favor of more famous neighbors like Bora Bora and Tahiti. But with its jungle-clad peaks, turquoise lagoons, and traditional Polynesian culture, Moorea encapsulates the spirit of the South Pacific. Stay in an overwater bungalow at the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort and spend your days kayaking, snorkeling with manta rays, hiking to breathtaking overlooks, and sampling finest French cuisine infused with local Tahitian flavors. For a more immersive experience, check into a traditional pineapple farm at Moorea Pineapple Beach. Dine on just-picked tropical fruits and fresh seafood, learn to open coconuts like a local, swim under waterfalls, and beachcomb for cowrie shells. Moorea offers all the beauty of Tahiti without the glitz.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Ancient Ruins Revealed
Across the globe, ancient ruins beckon the curious to discover cultures and civilizations lost to the sands of time. While iconic sites like Machu Picchu and Petra are firmly fixed on travel bucket lists, intrepid explorers know that countless ancient relics remain obscured, awaiting rediscovery off the typical tourist trail. What motivates one to stray from the known path in search of ruins revealed? For me, it’s the thrill of exploration, of being among the first modern visitors to uncover hidden history, grasping to understand the daily lives of people who walked those same streets centuries before.
One of my most memorable ruin revelations occurred during a spontaneous road trip through rural Albania. While cruising along a dirt lane in search of our guesthouse, we stumbled upon the ancient city of Antigonea completely by chance. Unlike many excavated Greco-Roman cities, Antigonea’s ruins remained largely buried in vegetation, with only top portions of columns and walls peeking above ground. We scrambled over crumbling structures choked in overgrowth, further than any modern traveler had likely ventured in centuries. I imagined stepping into a Pompeii still untouched, moving stones and earth to reveal whole villas, market squares, temples sleeping below. Even in their shattered state, the ruins exuded raw power. The kingdom of Epirus’s last great ancient city barely revealed her secrets to us that day, but left me yearning for more.
For a more curated ancient experience, the Moche pyramids of northern Peru prove fascinating counterpoints to the grandeur of Machu Picchu. The weathered mud brick structures are modest in size yet intriguing in detail, adorned with elaborate friezes depicting rituals and deities. Archaeologists continue to excavate the Huaca de la Luna pyramid, while the neighboring Huaca del Sol remains fully buried beneath sand, its size still a mystery. Walking the site at dawn before the tour buses arrive, I felt transported back to when the city of Moche bustled below. Instead of disability hearing aids, the shrill calls of tropical birds met my ears. The perfume of night-blooming jasmine replaced diesel fumes. The adrenaline rush of exploration under the soft dawn light was electric.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Mountain Marvels to Inspire
For explorers who yearn to stand on the roof of the world, mountainscapes beckon with their untamed majesty. Sheer cliff faces, sawtooth ridgelines, and snowcapped giants inspire a primal awe, reminding us of nature's raw power. Those who accept the challenge of climbing a great peak are rewarded with unmatched vistas and a profound sense of personal accomplishment.
During my trek through the Indian Himalayas, I witnessed mountain marvels that ignited my inner adventurer. The jewel of the range, Mount Everest, stands as the tallest summit on earth at 29,032 feet. Gazing at its pyramidal massif from Kala Patthar overlook, I was filled with wonder and vertigo. Climbers who accept Everest's challenge describe an otherworldly realm high on the mountain, where earthly concerns vanish and one enters a heightened state of being.
For a more intimate experience, Kangchendzonga in Sikkim provides superlative Himalayan splendor without Everest's crowds. At 28,169 feet, it is the third highest peak globally, but far fewer attempt the summit. Local legends say the mountain is home to powerful deities, and climbing remains prohibited to honor its sanctity. But trekking through rhododendron forests to the Goecha La pass at 16,000 feet grants jaw-dropping views of the entire Kangchendzonga massif. Here, yak bells tinkle on the wind, colorful prayer flags flutter, and golden mountain light casts an ethereal glow. You feel touched by the magic of this sacred summit without setting foot on its slopes.
In the European Alps, the Matterhorn inspires wonder not for its height, but for its perfectly jagged silhouette. Switzerland's most iconic peak, this imposing pyramid of rock juts abruptly to 14,692 feet. Hiking the breathtaking Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, I was continually surprised by ever-changing views of the Matterhorn's chiseled edges. At sunrise, its four faces glowed red above a sea of clouds. At dusk, the last alpenglow kissed its tip while the valley below faded to shadow. And under a blanket of stars, the mountain stood blacker than night, etched indelibly against the Milky Way. Such a mountain sears itself into your heart, forever longing to return.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Desert Oases for the Adventure-Seeker
For intrepid explorers who live by the mantra “the road less traveled,” desert oases beckon with the promise of journeying deeper into the unknown. While barren wastelands may seem inhospitable at first glance, they often conceal hidden gems for those bold enough to venture beyond the dunes. Searching out these isolated desert idylls takes determination, resilience, and a thirst for adventure. But those who make the effort are rewarded with experiences that stir the soul.
Trekking to Kufra Oasis in Libya’s portion of the Sahara Desert rates as one of my most memorable adventures. Located in the remote southeast region of the country, Kufra can only be reached via arduous 4x4 journeys requiring several days over unforgiving terrain. Many expeditions turn back before reaching Kufra due to perilous sand seas harboring treacherous WWII landmines. Our journey faced delays dodging massive sandstorms, but arriving at the palm-shaded oasis felt like stumbling upon a mirage. The Libya border patrol welcomed us with hot tea and dates. We marveled at the technicians maintaining Kufra’s complex system of wells and irrigation canals that sustain life and agriculture in this unlikely spot. Even finding the humble gravesite of British explorer Ralph Bagnold, who discovered Kufra in the 1920s, felt like an Indiana Jones treasure. Our before sunrise camel rides to gaze upon the preserved Paleolithic cave paintings of Wadi Sora felt transcendent.
Adventurous souls sing the praises of Siwa Oasis as Egypt’s most alluring Saharan retreat. Siwa remains remote and difficult to access, with unreliable transport requiring multiple modes over several days. Intrepid visitors are rewarded with natural springs and palm groves scattered among the seas of sand dunes. The old town charms with crumbling mud-brick fortresses and buildings carved into the cliffs. At night, Siwa is illuminated by a sea of stars, unchanged since the time of the pharaohs. Cleopatra herself is said to have bathed in Siwa’s rejuvenating springs. But one of Siwa’s main draws is camping among the Great Sand Sea’s towering dunes. Imagine the rush of racing down the dunes on quad bikes, sleeping under the Milky Way after drumming around a campfire, awaking at dawn to explore uncharted Saharan vistas. Only a place as far-flung as Siwa provides such transformative desert tranquility.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Culinary Treasures in Surprising Places
Far from the famed gastronomic capitals of Europe, intrepid foodies know that some of the world’s most mouthwatering culinary treasures can be found in decidedly unglamorous locales. While it takes effort to stray from well-trod gourmet trails, those who take the road less traveled are rewarded with utterly fresh flavors and local specialties not listed in any Michelin guide. The key to discovering these hidden gems? Avoiding touristed restaurants catering to visitors, and instead asking locals where they go to satiate their own cravings. Follow residents to their preferred spots and you may just land in ramshackle roadside stalls and street carts dishing up regional delicacies passed down through generations.
My most revelatory nibble occurred at a nameless floating fish market in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. To reach this ephemeral epicurean experience, I hitched a ride on a local vegetable trader’s boat around dawn, chugging along the Tonle Sap lake as the sun peeked above palm trees on the horizon. We arrived at a flotilla of rickety canoes congregating to sell the morning catch. The variety of fresh fish was astonishing - from giant barramundi to palm-sized batfish. I pointed at a meaty catfish and minutes later was savoring fiery Khmer fish amok stew made right onboard, the catch likely still flopping just an hour earlier. The symphony of sights, scents and flavors remains etched in my memory.
In Marrakesh’s anarchic souks, I followed a waft of slow-roasting lamb through the alleys to a cramped nameless grill shop, where Berbers seared mounds of plump spiced kebabs over smoking coals. Mouths watering, we wedged onto wobbly stools, pointed to the choicest cuts, and were soon relishing perfectly charred lamb paired with fluffy fresh nan bread. At less than a dollar per juicy skewer, it was a bargain feast that rivaled Marrakesh’s ritziest riads.
Even in Provence, I stumbled upon a hidden gem eatery off the tourist radar. La Maison du Peuple in the tiny town of Cordes-sur-Ciel occupied an abandoned workman’s cafeteria, retaining its utilitarian charm. But the humble décor belied exquisite seasonal cuisine bursting with the essence of Provence. My grilled duck glazed with lavender honey paired beautifully with a Côtes du Rhône red from their extensive wine cellar. All for a fraction of what I’d pay on a bistro’s terrace in Avignon or Aix. It just goes to show that tracking down local haunts always rewards the tastebuds.
Off the Beaten Path: Discover Hidden Gems with Our Intrepid Travel Writers - Small Town Charm Around the World
Beyond the thrills of big city lights, small town charm still shines bright for travelers seeking a more intimate connection to people and place. While urban centers brim with energy, they can overwhelm with crowds and sensory overload. But tucked away in rural pockets across the globe, tiny communities of just a few thousand residents or less offer a portal into local life at an unrushed pace. No massive museums or Michelin dining here - the real attractions are the people, stories, and traditions unique to each spot.
Visiting these outposts takes effort - long drives down one-lane roads, sometimes sketchy transport connections - but venturing beyond the tourist hubs always rewards. In eastern Iceland, Seyðisfjörður charmed me with its wooden Norwegian-style homes in teal, pink and blue nestled between steep mountains and a deep blue fjord. Kids played carefree in the streets, fishermen shared tales of the one that got away over beers at the pub, and the vibe exuded a contagious joie de vivre. An impromptu invite to an art show opening at someone’s living room erupted into an all-night block party. That personal immersion into Icelandic life would have been impossible in Reykjavik.
Tiny Viljandi, Estonia, population just 20,000, seduced with its forested hills surrounding an idyllic lake dotted with paddleboats in summer and iced over for skating come winter. The lack of foreign tourists beyond some neighboring Finns was refreshing, and locals gladly took me pub crawling through medieval cellars. Wandering the imposing hilltop ruins of the Teutonic castle as the last amber rays lit up the hillside birches felt transporting. Later, at an underground Estonian indie rock show, I was welcomed like a local regular rather than a visitor.
In rural Bali, a homestay in the rice farming village of Jatiluwih showed me the grace and generosity of Balinese Hindu culture, sipping coconut water while snacking on hand-rolled sweet rice delicacies with my host family. We strolled to the centuries-old water temple at dawn, laying offerings of frangipani blossoms, then planted rice seedlings together in the shimmering emerald terraces. No lights of Seminyak or trendy beach clubs could compete with this cultural immersion.