When it comes to domestic and international travel, large cities and hyped-up tourist attractions often overshadow hidden gems and sites less gushed about. This year, forego pricey tourist hotspots such as New York, Venice, and Paris to explore these three destinations.
Meteora, Kalabaka, Greece
Greece travel deep-divers are likely to have come across the stunning UNESCO World Heritage site of Meteora throughout their research, but to the general public eye, many have never heard of the picturesque, mountainous monasteries that make up Meteora. In fact, the word “Meteora” is Greek for “suspended in the air,” which perfectly describes the scenic holy monasteries constructed atop enormous sandstone rock pillars.
The town surrounding Meteora, Kalabaka, hosts plenty of hotel accommodations and eateries for visitors. What makes Meteora so magical is its relatively remote location from many big-time tourist attractions in Greece. Accessible by a four to five-hour drive, bus, or train ride from Athens, Meteora and the town of Kalabaka are a perfect getaway spot to escape large metropolitan traffic and crowds. Although it’s fair to expect a larger amount of tourists to a UNESCO World Heritage site during the warmer months, visit in the shoulder season (spring and fall), or even the winter if your bones are braced for the cold, to escape the crowds. While novice travelers to Greece are fighting off long queues and high prices in raved-about Santorini, you’ll be touring stunning monasteries in the sky for a fraction of the hassle and cost.
Mesa Verde National Park, Mesa Verde, Colorado
Sitting very much south of highly populated Denver, Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park has a unique way of making visitors forget that they’re still in the United States. Ancestral cliff dwellings carved hundreds of years ago are what makes Mesa Verde a must-see in Colorado. Guided cliff-dwelling tours are available May through October (highly recommended), while other self-guided tours and hiking trails are accessible year-round. To avoid peak season, book tours in early May and June, or late September and October.
A 50-minute drive from charming Durango, Colorado, Mesa Verde makes a fabulous day trip. The beauty of establishing a home base in Durango is its proximity to diverse dining options, unique boutiques and shopping experiences, and the option to ride the esteemed Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train – a sight not to be missed by anyone visiting the area.
Polignano a Mare, Bari, Italy
If the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean are calling your name, book a room at a bed and breakfast instead of an all-inclusive resort package in the coastal Italian town of Polignano a Mare. Along the Adriatic coast, Italy’s Puglia region is increasing in popularity among tourists, but still remains largely untouched by travelers. A summer destination for many Italians, Polignano a Mare is known for its white-washed historical center, pebble beaches, limestone cliffs, and warm, turquoise waters perfect for swimming or taking a scenic boat ride along the shore.
Puglia is home to delicious Italian food, such as authentic focaccia, sweet red shrimp, and, of course, gelato and wine. Foodies flock to all parts of Italy year-round, with the heel of Italy’s boot being no exception. The southern location of Puglia makes it warmer than Italy’s northern regions, leaving its beaches swimmable well into October. Reach Polignano a Mare by car or regional train from Bari or Brindisi, both of which have large airports that can be reached via connecting flights from Rome. If you rent a car in Italy, however, be prepared to pay a higher price for an automatic transmission, as automatic rental cars are few and far between. Comfortable, high-speed trains reach Bari and Lecce from large Italian cities such as Milan and Rome in a matter of hours, eliminating the need to book a rental car or connecting flight altogether. From Polignano a Mare, take day trips by bus or train to charming towns throughout the region such as Ostuni or Lecce, picked straight from a fairy tale and packed with baroque architecture and local cuisine.