It is not down on any map, wrote Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, “true places never are.” While this sentiment may have held water back in 1851, it’s sadly not the case today – an era in which the most remote, saltwater-blasted outcrop on Earth will find its way onto TripAdvisor (“bijou, but breezy”) or Instagram (#OffTheBeatenTrack) and the locals will start building huts made out of shells to rent out on Airbnb.
Fear not, however, because amazing and stylish travel destinations do still exist. And for every thousand people heading off to Croatia, Cairo or Cancun, there’s a savvy holidaymaker with a plane ticket in his hand who has somewhere a little less obvious in mind. These are the ones to keep under your sun hat for 2019.
Bhutan is less than half the size of Ireland, completely landlocked, and no one heading there tends to do so with anything other than a well-thumbed passport. The historic, sparsely-populated, largely Buddhist terrain tucked between China and India is dotted with Himalayan peaks and, further south, lush areas of jungle – but they’ve cottoned onto the idea that tourism pays, so there’s also a smattering of luxurious accommodations.
Some of the most architecturally-striking are operated by Six Senses hotels, whose five lodges spread across Bhutan are brand new but are already considered design classics. This one requires saving a fair whack, mind. To deter low-cost tourism, visitors are required to spend a minimum amount per day — around £200 during peak months. That all sounds about as Buddhist as sinking a few pints down the local, but totally worth it.
Many a globetrotter has ticked Dubai and Abu Dhabi off their travel bucket list, but the neighbouring country of Qatar also has an ace up its sleeve – the coastal city of Doha. Aside from a phenomenal skyline, it has a vibrant arts scene and, of course, a raft of new stadiums being built for the 2022 World Cup. Rockstar architect I.M. Pei (the man behind the Louvre’s glass pyramid) came out of retirement to create the city’s Museum of Islamic Art – an unashamedly angular building that looks incredible by night and houses some of the region’s most important pieces.
Like Dubai, Doha is massively multicultural, meaning you can enjoy five-star flavours from all over the world, and if you visit in September you can take in the World Athletics Championships and return with a reasonably informed opinion about whether they’re going to balls up the footie or not.
Where do you have the best beach holiday you’ve ever had without actually dipping a toe in the ocean? Bacalar, that’s where. A relatively unknown lagoon in Mexico about 20km inland from the Caribbean, and a spot that is likened to the Maldives, it has everything the sun-kissed islands in the Indian Ocean have apart from whiny rich tourists.
Visit Bacalar and you’ll be down near Belize, where you can swim in water that is at times pure turquoise and at others a vivid deep blue. The town which bears the lake’s name borders its western shores and is compact, earthy and often called ‘the real Mexico’, which we assume means plenty of tequila.
Seattle? Seriously? No one goes to Seattle unless they fancy a rainy pit-stop during a long drive from San Francisco to Vancouver (or they really like Starbucks). But it’s not because tech nerds like Microsoft and Amazon are based there that the up-and-coming city makes this list. This spot on the map is making waves thanks to an industrious young population and cutting-edge art scene (urban art, lowbrow and performing arts in particular have exploded over the last few years).
There’s also the towering Space Needle which has just undergone a major design refurbishment, and the city’s waterfront which is being rejuvenated. However, what really makes us want to go to Seattle is pure grunge nostalgia: 2019 is the 30th anniversary of Soundgarden signing to a major label and Nirvana releasing their debut album. Smells like a road trip to us.
After somewhere different and architecturally intriguing which few people have ever visited (read: want to look cultured AF)? Welcome to Samarkand, a place you’ve never heard of that dates back to around 800 BC and is home to some of the most eye-catching structures you’ll ever see.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, though the Daily Telegraph reports that less than 1,000 Brits visit each year; a shame when you factor in the legendary Silk Road stopover that features such monuments such as The Registan (a jaw-droppingly ornate public square) and the intricately-mosaiced Bibi-Khanym Mosque. A fact to drop while you’re there: the neighbouring Gur-e-Amir mausoleum is actually a Mughal prototype for the Taj Mahal.
Five or six decades ago, the ancient cliff-top spot of Matera, just a few hours from the Amalfi Coast felt like it had been abandoned by the world: families would huddle down with livestock in the caves carved into its limestone foundations and disease was rife. To say new life has been breathed into this 7,000-year-old city would be an understatement. It’s the 2019 European Capital of Culture (honours it shares with Malta’s Valetta), and visitors can now bed down in one of the old caves in luxury, as some have been transformed into stylish hotels. This is caveman living 2.0.
Seoul, South Korea
South Korea? What could possibly entice you here when a visit to a certain naughty near-namesake to the north will see you held at US airports for years to come? Well, Seoul for starters. Mixing historical temples and palaces with impressive new architecture (the 555-metre Lotte World Tower with its 117th-floor glass-bottomed elevation deck was only finished in 2017), it’s a bustling metropolis with stacks of innovative public spaces such as Seoullo 7017, a spectacular elevated garden that was once an inner-city highway. (Not to mention one of the most innovative streetwear scenes in the world.)
If you really want a feather in your cap, head out to the volcanic island of Ulleungdo (AKA ‘Mystery Island’), a three-hour ferry ride away out in the Sea of Japan which is arguably one of the most arresting islands on Earth. If you like jagged peaks and towering rocks that rise out of the sea, you’ll likely agree.
If you’d have gone to Bilbao, Spain back in 1997, you’d have been way ahead of the architecture-hungry tourist masses. Arles – a medium-sized city in the South of France, not far from Marseilles – is offering trend-hunters a similar chance in 2019. We have Frank Gehry to thank again, only instead of a Guggenheim museum, the architect has put his pen to work for a twisting, mountainous tower, which is starting to take shape and will cap off a new 20-acre arts centre called the Luma.
Arles has a solid art history, having been home to both Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin (they actually lived there together in 1888) – but what surprises many first-time visitors is its massive, Roman amphitheatre, which still hosts year-round events. “Arles? I went there before it was cool, mate.”