I spend all my spare time fantasizing about travel. Greece, Hungary, Vietnam. Part of me is shocked that there are so many whole countries, not just cities, that I have yet to visit. I pore over photos of postcard-blue skies and wonder how it is possible I have never seen Gaafu Alifu Atoll in the Maldives? But the weird part is this: there is nothing I hate more than traveling.
Anything involving airports and airplanes I start dreading a week ahead. I do not like being barked at by government workers. There is too much hillbilly in me for that. Nor am I particularly empathetic to the plight of the overworked flight attendant who would really rather not bring me a drink. Which I so desperately need. To wash down my Xanax.
So I was seriously thinking about spending the summer in my backyard until Alexa returned from Paris the other day, in full song about a walk through the Bird Market. My envy started to outstrip my loathing. You should see her photos. Now I am dying to go somewhere new this summer. But where?
I want to visit an exotic, overgrown garden and stand very close to a flower I've never seen before and memorize the shape of its petals. I want to stay in a hotel where the restaurant's menu depends on what the chef happens to be growing in a vegetable garden. I want to walk through a modern city park full of native plants, where 21st century ingenuity has created a self-sustaining urban oasis.
So...I volunteered at work to take a trip like Alexa's and to come back with more stories and photos for our new Travels with an Editor series. I'll be heading to an airport in late July. (I am already starting to wake up at 3 am with low-level anxiety about losing my wristwatch and keys and laptop in a plastic bin at security, but mostly I'm excited.) All I have to do is pick a place to go.
I've started compiling a list of must-sees, but...there are so many places that I don't even know exist. What if I am overlooking the one perfect destination that will change my life?
Here's a list of ten must-see places to start the discussion. Help me plan the itinerary. Where should I go? Where do you want to travel?
1. South Africa
Above: Photograph via Babylonstoren.
When I asked Julie where she would go, she didn't hesitate: "Babylonstoren," she said. It's a resort in the Cape Winelands outside Franschhoek designed by former SA Elle Decor editor Karen Roos. The restaurant menu revolves around the harvest from the enormous kitchen gardens.
Coincidentally, my friend Kathleen went to Babylonstoren last summer with her family. "Best, best, best, best place ever," she said. Everything about Babylonstoren, from its eco-conscious approach to gardening to its gorgeous glass greenhouse to it friendly resident ducks, is carefuly thought out to create a harmonious relationship with the natural surroundings. When it was time to come home, Kathleen cried a little as she wrote a thank-you letter to the staff.
Above: Photograph via New York Times.
Sometimes it's a good idea to be a copycat. If you have friends who took the perfect trip and have returned to regale you with blow-by-blow stories, don't be afraid to peruse their Flickr photos for hints about how to cobble together a replica itinerary. These people have already done the work.
For instance, a couple of summers ago my friends Bill and Dawn traveled around Spain by car and stayed overnight in a number of the 93 historic inns called paradores—former monasteries, castles, and forts built by the Moors—owned by the government. Upon their return, Dawn and Bill invited us over for thin slices of jamón, sangria, and a slide show. With the recent ominous news that Spain's crippling debt is causing the government to close some of the historic inns, it's a good time to show parador support.
3. Japan. In Tokyo, residents who rent rooms in "share houses" are also starting to farm communal gardens in the backyard. I'd love to visit a place like Moto-Azabu Farm to see what's growing.
4. The Serengeti.
Above: Photograph via Singita.
It occurs to me that if Ernest Hemingway were alive, he'd be glamping this summer. The other day, Sarah stumbled across a glamorous Explore Mobile Tented Camp operated by an "environmentally conscious hospitality" group that has 12 lodges and camps in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. This is for the traveler who craves the benefits of camping and being outdoors while simultaneously being surrounded by well-designed and luxuriously appointed interiors.
For more, see Camping, Seregeti Safari Style.
Above: Photograph by Tessa Boase.
There is something very seductive about the idea of stepping into someone else's life—and fully appointed home—for a week or two. British couple Tessa Boase and Nick Glass rent out their old stone farmhouse (complete with olive groves) located about 30 miles north of Rome when they're not in residence.
For more about Casa Poggio, see The Italian Job: Vacation Rental, Olive Grove Included.
Above: Photograph by Paul McClure via Flickr.
The best reason to go somewhere during the rainy season is that suddenly, everywhere you look, the dry, the brittle, and the dusty starts to turn lush before your eyes. Tropical downpours also keep down the heat in Nicaragua, where the rather isolated Morgan's Rock eco-resort is home to resident monkeys and sloths, its own beach, and a 4,400-acre rainforest. My friend Amy stayed there a few years ago and reported: "Best place we ever took the kids."
Above: Photograph via Wiesergut Hotel.
I am a big fan of going to a tourist destination in its off season. During winter months, when the mountains near Salzburg, Austria, attract hordes of tourists lured by some of the world's best downhill ski trails, I would never visit. I don't like cold. But in warm months? The same area is adrift in wildflower meadows. About an hour's drive from Salzburg is Wiesergut Hotel, whose owners have transformed an estate that has been in their family since the 14th century into a compound of modern lodgings, a spa, and restaurant. The nearby hiking looks phenomenal.
Above: Photograph via Giraffe Manor.
My 15-year-old daughter, Clementine, discovered this Doctor Doolittle fantasy: a hotel in the middle of a giraffe preserve in Africa. At Giraffe Manor, if you sit next to an open window in the dining room you might have your breakfast stolen by a long-necked thief. Built as a private home in the 1930s, the 12-acre resort is roamed by a herd of endangered Rothschild giraffe. From the photos, it appears giraffe are not shy. This may be your one chance in life to pet a giraffe; I imagine their coats feel like bristly velvet.
My husband is obsessed with HBO's Game of Thrones. OK, me too. In the aftermath of the "Red Wedding" episode, neither of us wants to be reminded of anything that has to do with the Stark family (the scenes of their Winterfell home were shot at a castle in Northern Ireland), but we would be perfectly happy to take a vacation to the warmth and sun of the fictional capital city of King's Landing. Much of the recent seasons of the show were shot on location in Dubrovnik and, according to Auto Europe, "If you look at the city, it’s easy to picture it as the fictional capital. The outer walls look as if they were built for the show. At least one scene was filmed on St. Dominic Street and the Fort of St. Lawrence."
Above: Photograph via Lambley Nursery.
The spectacular dry gardens of Lambley Nursery, located on a windswept plain about a two hours' drive from Melbourne, attract visitors from around the world. Here on the driest inhabited continent in the world are acres of brilliantly colored flowers and lush green foliage that owner David Glenn waters deeply only four times a year.
I'd love to visit Lambley, to see hundreds of varieties of flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, and other unusual plants imported from climates with hot dry summers and relatively cold winters. (Glenn's plants thrive in a climate where annual temperatures range from a high of 115 degrees F. to a low of 20 degrees F.)
For more, see A Garden You Water Four Times a Year.
OK, those of ten of my must-sees. What's on your list?