Travelers’ habits are changing. Especially during the pandemic, people are bypassing big cities in favor of smaller destinations that attract fewer tourists, and outside activities such as hiking and biking are more popular than ever before.
To avoid crowds while spending time in the great outdoors, here are seven lesser known spots worth considering once it’s safe to head off wandering again.
France has been the most visited country in the world for years, with travelers making a beeline for Paris, the French Riviera, and the country’s world-famous wine regions. But what of northern France? The regions lying along the English Channel, such as Normandy, receive a small fraction of France’s tourists, which makes them ideal for travelers wishing to experience the country while avoiding large groups.
See the famous D-Day beach invasion sites of Normandy, the mellow seaside beach towns of Deauville and Trouville, the narrow cobblestone streets of Honfleur, and the majestic tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel.
The ‘other’ Greek islands
In the mid-1990s, Greece was receiving about 10 million tourists a year, which is by no means a bad haul. Yet by 2019, that number had more than tripled. Nevertheless, just five regions accounted for 88% of all overnight stays in 2017, namely the South Aegean, Crete, Ionian Islands, Central Macedonia and Attica.
With tourists tightly concentrated in the most popular Greek islands, that leaves many others with far fewer tourists, including Iraklia in the Cyclades island group and Lipsi in the Dodecanese.
Many international tourists to Vietnam head north to Hanoi and Halong Bay or south to Ho Chi Minh City. Yet several years ago, a small number of resorts bet that travelers would be attracted to the sleepier parts of Vietnam.
Anantara, a luxury brand from Minor Hotels group, was one of them. It opened Anantara Quy Nhon Villas in 2018 as the first five-star international hotel, in a part of Vietnam that received few international visitors.
The resort has 26 sea-facing villas, each with ocean views and private pools.
The brand opened another location, Anantara Mui Ne, four hours east of Ho Chi Minh City.
Both Anantara Quy Nhon Villas and Anantara Mui Ne are located in more off the beaten track destinations and in their own enclosed locations affording peaceful experiences, but within easy reach of local sites.
Another attraction to the country’s interior is the colossal Son Doong cave. First explored in 2009, only 1,000 travelers are permitted to explore it every year.
Not to be confused with Kanagawa, Kagawa is Japan’s smallest prefecture by geographic size. At about 724 square miles, it’s about twice the size of New York City, yet home to fewer than 1 million people.
In 2019, fewer than 550,000 of the nearly 32 million international tourists to Japan went to Kagawa, yet travelers looking for feudal castles, temples, and gardens can look into Urashima Village. The small luxury inn opened in January as a place for guests to work in silence, kayak in the sea, and explore the land by bicycle.
While Melbourne gets most of the attention from tourists in the state of Victoria, there are numerous destinations outside of the city that deserve recognition. One such place is the Dandenongs, a quiet mountain range dotted with bucolic bed-and-breakfasts, forest gardens, and family-owned restaurants.
Another visitor favorite, Olinda, sits just two miles down the road. Both are lined with artisan shops, antique stores and restaurants stocked with local wine. Travelers can also make the drive to Healesville Sanctuary for close encounters with wombats and kangaroos, or enjoy a beautifully preserved open-carriage steam railway.
Averaging 17 people per square mile, New Mexico is the seventh least densely populated state in the U.S. Nicknamed the “Land of Enchantment,” the state has national parks, Aztec Ruins National Monument, wonderous caves, and rugged red and white desert biomes.
Some of New Mexico’s most luxurious hotels, such as The Inn of the Five Graces and Hotel St. Francis, are in the capital of Sante Fe, which has a population of just 85,000.
Elsewhere, the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Sante Fe lies outside the city and overlooks the Rio Grande River Valley and the nearby Jemez Mountains where you can enjoy hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting, as well as cultural tours to Ghost Ranch or Bonanza Creek Ranch where a number of hit Hollywood movies were filmed.
Saba and Saint Eustatius
While the Caribbean islands as a whole normally average over 30 million international travelers a year, few head to the small Caribbean islands of Saba and Saint Eustatius, both of which are special municipalities of the Netherlands.
On Saba, the mountain-top Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa received a Travelers’ Choice Award from TripAdvisor in 2020, while Saint Eustatius (also called Statia) has house rentals ranging from humble bed-and-breakfasts to trilevel villas on Airbnb.
When it comes time to take off traveling again, think twice about the typical destinations on your list and enjoy both social distancing and an off-the-beaten track experience.