2017's Most Amazing and Affordable Travel Destinations

  • 01 of 08

    In Europe: Lisbon, Portugal Is This Year's Hottest Destination

    Lisbon is magical
    ••• Everywhere you go in Lisbon, you'll murmur "I love views.". ©www.visitlisboa.com

    Here, the Hottest New Luxury Travel Destinations for 2016

    Luxury travelers are trophy hunters. They like to get to a vacation destination before everyone else does -- but in comfort and in style, and with good value, too. Here are 2017's hot destinations for thrills, chills, nice hotels, and modest prices.

    #1: Lisbon, the Travel Insider's Current Obsession

    Lisbon has been gathering steam as a cool destination for travel insiders and frequent vacationers. But now the gato is out of the bag, and everyone's raving about Lisbon. (To impress your most well-traveled friends, tell them you're planning a visit.)

    There are many good reasons to be loving Lisbon now. North Americans get there by one of the shortest transatlantic flights. It's much cheaper than other European destinations: here, a traditional seafood dinner for two, with good Portuguese wine, can cost $50 U.S. 

    This City Is Beautiful, with Views Galore

    Lisbon is an Atlantic port set on rising hills overlooking...MORE the ocean. Spectacular views are everywhere you look in this vertical city.

    Repeat visitors say that their favorite thing to do here is to walk Lisbon's stone-paved streets. (There's no good reason for high heels here, nor to demand a hotel gym.)  To saunter around Lisbon is to be transported a century back. Call it charm. Call it Lisbon. (And see Lisbon's must-dos.)

    Lisbon for Luxury Travelers

    The city is home to just a handful of true luxury hotels. They include the Four Seasons Ritz Hotel Lisbon and the Lapa Palace. Travelers who like the private feeling of a boutique hotel stay at Palacio Belmonte. Lisbon is stuffed with Airbnb apartments under $100 per night, too.

    Find Out More About Lisbon

    Check out Lisbon's official tourism site

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  • 02 of 08

    In Europe: Bordeaux in France, the City Everyone Name-Drops Now

    La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, France
    ••• Bordeaux's La Cité du Vin (The City of Wine) was designed to suggest wine swirling in a glass. ©Manu Dreuil/Flickr Creative Commons

    Bordeaux, Like the Wine?

    Yes, like the wine, made in this region. And because this is France, whose main export is wine, the region's capital city -- Bordeaux -- is the country's third-biggest.

    Bordeaux Is the Travel Insider's New Favorite City in France

    It's hard not to love Paris. But the French capital is sprawling, frantic, and expensive. By contrast, Bordeaux is manageable, affordable, and friendly. And since it's the wine capital of France, you can be sure that its food and drink are sensational -- and not nosebleed-priced. You can take a RailEurope bullet train from Paris (or from CDG Airport) to Bordeaux in under three hours.

    Where to Stay in Bordeaux

    For luxury travelers, there's really one choice in Bordeaux: the InterContinental Bordeaux - Le Grand Hotel. This is the city's most elegant, most central, most fabled hotel, now an American-branded InterContinental property. Its location is in Bordeaux's heart: on Place de la Comédie across from the...MORE neoclassical Grand Theater of Bordeaux (and an Apple Store, the place to meet Americans).

    The InterContinental flaunts two restaurants by the British superstar chef: the Michelin-starred Le Pressoir d'Argent Gordon Ramsay and the more informal Brasserie Le Bordeaux Gordon Ramsay.

    Upscale visitors who prefer smaller boutique hotels will feel more at home La Grande Maison Bordeaux, a 1700s mansion run by wine VIP Bernard Magrez, with a restaurant helmed by Pierre Gagnaire.

    Nearby Bordeaux Wineries and In-Town Wine Bars

    Most visitors to Bordeaux indulge in winery visits. Some of the most famous chateaux are within a short drive of the city, including Chateau Pape Clement. Here's more about wine tourism in and around Bordeaux

    Bordeaux offers dozens of wine bars, from the experimental to the intimate. CIVB Le Bar a Vin, run by the Bordeaux wine commission, is attractively priced and quite social. At the modernistic Max Bordeaux, you buy a pre-filed card that allows you tastes (or glasses) of Bordeaux's famed vintages and secret treasures. Both sell bottles to go.

    Bordeaux's New "City of Wine" 

    The dazzling La Cité du Vin (shown above) opened in 2016 to global acclaim. Set a short trolley ride from the center of Bordeaux, this is a wine experience that culminates in drinking only at the end, at a penthouse bar-cum-observatory.

    La Cité du Vin is much more than a museum: it's an immersive, interactive, multi-sensory exploration of what wine has meant to humans over the eons.  I spent three hours there and it was not nearly enough. Here's La Cité du Vin's official site and an Anglophone visitor's guide

    Sold? Prowl Bordeaux's tourism site and check out more reasons to visit Bordeaux (like incredible history, dining, walks, and vibrant parks).

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  • 03 of 08

    In Europe: Portugal's Douro Valley & City of Porto

    View of Porto in Portugal from Taylor Fladgate restaurant
    ••• What to do in Porto? Take in the view and drink hometown Taylor's port. ©Karen Tina Harrison

    Portugal Is Hot, and Travelers Are Discovering the Douro Valley and Porto

    The Douro Valley is Europe's oldest wine region, and a new generation of wine lovers is discovering its native red and white varietals. Nowadays, the Douro River is a favorite route of winery-focused river cruises. And the best part is: you get to experience Porto, at the mouth of the Douro.

    The Douro Valley's Porto Is One of the World's Loveliest Cities

    As evidenced by the photo above, the city of Porto is a sight to behold. It is set on steep hills bounding the Douro River, and the best way to explore Porto is on foot...over several days soaked in Porto's famous Port wine: strong, red, elegantly sweet. 

    In Porto, Stay in a Fabulous Luxury Hotel

    Porto's highest-end hotel is The Yeatman, a Relais & Chateaux member owned by the family behind the Taylor Fladgate port label. (The winery is next door to the hotel, and admission is free to the interactive Taylor Fladgate museum.)

    You don't need...MORE to stay at The Yeatman to enjoy its great, Michelin-starred Yeatman's Restaurant, which is open for dinner and wine tastings. And for lunch, there's no better (or more scenic) Porto midday meal than seafood and wine on the terrace of Barão Fladgate Restaurant next door (barão means "barrel"). Photographic proof is above.

    Find Out More About the Douro Valley and Porto
    Check out Porto and Northern Portugal'​s official tourism site

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  • 04 of 08

    In Europe: Slovenia, Beauteous Birthplace of First Lady Melania

    Slovenia's tourism treasure, Lake Blad
    ••• Lake Bled in Slovenia, First Lady Melania Trump's homeland. ©Marco Secchi/Getty Images

    An Undiscovered European Destination? Slovenia Is One

    Slovenia is enjoying its day in the sun. Many Americans now know it as First Lady Melania Trump's home country. Luxury travelers know it as a place to explore soon before the tourist hordes do.

    Where is Slovenia?

    Not quite the size of New Jersey, Slovenia is a small country in south-central Europe. It borders Austria to the north, Croatia to the south, Italy to the west, and Hungary to the east. Slovenian is a Slavic language, but most younger Slovenians speak some English.

    What Can You Do in Slovenia?

    Slovenia packs a lot of scenery and nature, and is considered one of Europe's greenest destinations. You can ski and mountain-climb in Slovenia's Alpine peaks; hike, bike, and relax in natural thermal springs on Slovenia's green Pannonian Plain, and sun yourself on Slovenia's 30 miles of Adriatic beachfront. And you just won't believe...

    Slovenia's Mysterious Karsts

    The topography of Slovenia's Karst region is...MORE unique in the world. It is a vast stretch of porous rock with ground water that rises and falls, creating caves, sinkholes, gullies, tunnels, funnels, and more caves. It's a paradise for hikers and photographers

    The Karst is also a rich wine region filled with family-owned wineries, many offering charming inns. Here's a good introduction to the Karst.

    And Gorgeous Bled

    The name isn't nice. But Bled is one of Europe's most scenic spots (that's it above). Set on the Austrian border, it's an Alpine lake with Slovenia's only island in the middle. Bled attracts visitors year-round to rustic inns on or near the lakefront.

    And then There's a Capital City, Ljubljana

    It's hard to pronounce (lee-you-blee-yah-na). But Slovenia's main city is easy to love. It's a dignified and lovely Austro-Hungarian capital with gracious architecture, a sparkling river, and an ancient dragon motif repeated everywhere. Here's Ljubljana visitor info.

    Find Out More About Slovenia

    It will tell you that Slovenia is the only country with "love" in its name: Slovenia's tourism site.

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  • 05 of 08

    In the Caribbean: St. Kitts, Quietly Catering to Luxury Travelers

    Marina on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts
    ••• Just another day on St. Kitts, at the Basseterre Marina. ˙©Giggel/Wikimedia Commons

    St. Kitts: An Authentic Caribbean Island Just Being Discovered

    Have you given up on the Caribbean, feeling it has been overdeveloped and gotten just too touristy? I agree that has happened on many islands. But not St. Kitts.

    This English-speaking, British-heritage isle is the bigger island of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Sleepy Nevis is best known to luxury travelers as the home of the Four Seasons Resort Nevis.

    St. Kitts is situated in the Lesser Antilles in the northern Caribbean, just to the east of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Getting there from the States is a breeze: change planes in San Juan, P.R.

    What's the Name About?

    St. Kitts' full name is Saint Christopher, as in Columbus, who claimed the island for the Spanish crown in 1493. Later, the island was ruled by the French, but the English took over in the late 1700s.

    What's New on St. Kitts?

    The island is experiencing a spurt of upscale tourism. Kittitian Hill opened in 2015 as a sustainable eco-chic...MORE resort community that grows much of its food on its fertile 400 acres. It offers residences as well as vacation villas and suites plus a golf course. (The name, which refers to St. Kitts residents, is pronounced kit-tee-shin.)

    The Caribbean's Latest Luxury Travel Lure: Park Hyatt St. Kitts

    Park Hyatt, a no-question five-star hotel brand, has announced March 1, 2017 as the opening date of the long-awaited Park Hyatt St. Kitts, a 126-room beachfront resort in a secluded cove. Expectations are high.

    Find Out More About St. Kitts

    Learn about this dignified island on St. Kitts' official travel site, and see the best things to do on St. Kitts.

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  • 06 of 08

    In Mexico: Groovy Tulum on the Tip of the Riviera Maya

    Mezzanine is one of the best hotels in Tulum
    ••• Mezzanine, a Tulum hotel with 9 casitas, sits 20 feet from the Caribbean. ©Mezzanine Tulum

    Tulum, the Cool End of Mexico's Riviera Maya 

    Tulum has been gaining steam for years as a yoga getaway, and it finally has an array of full-service luxury hotels plus a world-renowned restaurant. Go soon.

    What Tulum Offers Visitors

    Set at the southern tip pf the Rivera Maya, Tulum is known for its rather decrepit Mayan temple ruins. But nowadays, Tulum appeals to travelers who want to see the funky flip side of the sedate Riviera Maya.

    the Riviera Maya's north-south highway divides Tulum's downtown commercial area and its beachfront hotel zone. On or near the beach you'll find cool boutique hotels and even smaller inns that are devoted to alternative lifestyles, with yoga classes, wellness programs, and vegetarian menus.

    In the downtown district, you'll find natural spas and salons, yoga studios, surf stores, and indie boutiques and galleries. You will also see traditional Mexican businesses like taquerias and souvenir shops.

    Where to Stay in Tulum

    Tulum hotels have grown...MORE up and now boast elite affiliations. Papaya Playa Project is a full-service hotel stretching over a half-mile of beachfront. Its 85 casitas were renovated by Design Hotels' style team using only organic materials like bamboo and palm leaves, for the thatched roofs.

    The news is that Small Luxury Hotels has granted membership to Colibri Boutique Hotels, a collection of four boutique hotels set along Tulum's breathtaking beach. The largest of them is La Zebra, with 29 rooms and noted dining. Colibri's family-friendly, nature-oriented El Pez has 18 rooms and suites. Mi Amor, set on a rock cliff, and Mezzanine, focused on style and music, are adults-only. (The view from Mezzanine is shown above.)

    Tulum's Internationally Renowned Restaurant, Hartwood

    Hartwood Tulum, a one-of-a-kind restaurant, is the labor of love of American chef Eric Werner and his wife Mya Henry. The daily menu features the produce and fish that nature hs brought fresh that day, and everything is grilled over a fire or roasted atop a wood-burning stove. Hartwood is today a pilgrimage place for foodies from around the world. See Hartwood Tulum's website and its amazing story.

    Curious? Here's Tulum on one Web page

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  • 07 of 08

    In the U.S.: St. Augustine in Florida, Historic Yet Hip

    St. Augustine Florida pet-friendly destination
    ••• In pet-friendly St. Augustine, everyone wants to see the historic Spanish fort. ©floridashistoriccoast.com

    St. Augustine: Founded by Conquistadors, Discovered by Intrepid Visitors

    What could be new in the familiar Sunshine State? What's new is the country's oldest city, in north Florida. St. Augustine was established in 1513 by conquistador Ponce de Leon. He claimed to have found the Fountain of Youth: a mineral spring that still flows in the Fountain of Youth Park. (You can buy the water and test it yourself.)

    This Is Where the Robber Barons Wintered

    St. Augustine blossomed again in the late 1800s. Henry Flagler, the railroad mogul who built the railroads to Florida, constructed two spectacular hotels that became the winter home of high-society Northerners -- the origin of the "snowbird" phenomenon. You can tour Flagler's Hotel Alcazar and Hotel Ponce de Leon, today the Lightner Museum and Flagler College respectively. They don't build 'em like that any more.

    Today's Deluxe St. Augustine Hotels

    St. Augustine visitor accommodations tend toward B&Bs in graceful...MORE old homes. They tend to be very social, with communal breakfast and happy hour.

    Two luxury hotels beckon visitors who prefer the hotel experience. Casa Monica Resort & Spa, an Autograph Collection Hotel, is a unique blend of heady Spanish-Gothic vintage style and trendy dining and drinking. (The pool is photo-ready, too.)

    The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens has exceptional historic value. Formerly the Dow Museum of Historic Houses, The Collector occupies an entire block in St. Augustine landmarked Old Town, encompassing nine repurposed houses dating to 1790. Some of its 30 guest suites have a fireplace, many flaunt a balcony or porch, and all feature artwork from Kenneth Dow’s personal collection.

    What to Do in St. Augustine

    This tiny, walkable town excels in dining, boutique shopping, art galleries, and history -- everywhere you look. And if you pine for a Florida beach, a white-sand wonder awaits just over a bridge.

    The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is fun, too. The gators have free rein; you're the one penned into walkways. Later, you can cut loose with a free tour and tasting at the prize-winning St. Augustine Distillery.

    When I visited St. Augustine, I heard a fellow visitor comment, "This is an amazing tourist destination, but no one makes you feel like a tourist here." Read more about this authentic place on Florida's Historic Coast.

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  • 08 of 08

    In the U.S.: Albuquerque, New Mexico...Far Beyond "Breaking Bad"

    Los Poblanos Inn Albuquerque
    ••• Los Poblanos, a historic inn set amidst 25 acres right in Albuquerque. ©Los Poblanos Inn and Orgnic Farm

    Albuquerque: Walter White Is So "Back When"

    Most people know Albuquerque, New Mexico as the location of "Breaking Bad." But intrepid travelers are starting to know it as a definitely different travel destination.

    "Duke City" -- so-called because its Spanish settlers named it for the Duke of Albuquerque -- is an hour south of New Mexico's top travel lure, Santa Fe. The vast majority of Santa Fe visitors fly into the Albuquerque Sunport, rent a car there, and speed off to Santa Fe. But more and more New Mexico visitors are discovering that Albuquerque is worth a couple of days. 

    Why Check Out Albuquerque?

    Albuquerque excels in urban tourism. And because New Mexico is unique, its biggest city is, too. Albuquerque is a diverse place with definite Southwestern flair. And you won't be surrounded by tourists or feel you're in a Wild West theme park.

    Duke City's food scene is exploding. Tempting spots like St. Clair Winery & Bistro (a great-value wine...MORE bar), Stack House BBQ, and Joliesse Chocolate complement ubiquitous New Mexican eateries. And the bubbly booze that many connoisseurs consider to be America's best Champagne-style wine, Gruet, is made right in Albuquerque, complete with a tasting room.

    A Vintage Route 66 Town

    Albuquerque offers retro pleasure like a Thoroughbred and quarter-horse racetrack and casino, plus treasure-laden flea markets. Then there's Central Avenue, the portion of Route 66 that runs right through Albuquerque. You'll catch sight of great midcentury neon signs; the historic Maisel's Indian Trading Post; and the radiantly Art Deco Kimo Theater.

    Up, Up, and Away

    Year-round, you can take a film tour of Albuquerque's location sites. Early October marks the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, the country's biggest. Clinch your hotel room way in advance in "the ballooning capital of the world."

    Where to Stay in Albuquerque

    Duke City has two, soon to be three, hotels that are up to luxury travel standards. Hotel Andaluz is a stylish restoration of Conrad Hilton's fourth-ever hotel (he was from Roswell in southern New Mexico -- yes, the Roswell of alien fame).

    Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm (shown above) is layered with history. It was built in 1932 on a 1700s ranch by the architect credited with originating "Santa Fe style."

    Today, Los Poblanos is one of the most magnificent historic properties in the Southwest. Albuquerque's high-society weddings are held here. Los Poblanos is also a character-rich inn with  20 guest rooms amidst 25 acres with lavender fields and a working organic farm. This is a special place for insider travelers.

    Hotel Chaco, opening in or around April 2017, will be an exciting destination: a spa-centric hotel whose modern design recalls Chaco Canyon, the New Mexico ruins of a great Anasazi settlement. Expect to hear a lot more about Albuquerque following this attention-getting opening. See what's happening at Visit Albuquerque.