Virtuoso travel advisors reveal the under-the-radar spots on their Wanderlists.
This year, we’re all for chasing the thrill that comes with discovering a new place, or revisiting a favorite destination in an unexpected way. We asked Virtuoso travel advisors and industry pros to tell us about the locales that have them packing their bags. They gave us a peek inside their Wanderlists, plus shared the lowdown on where you’ll find more locals than tourists beside you on the beach, where you can see cherry blossoms without the throngs, and how to take in stark desert expanses from the cocktail car of a Victorian-era train. Their secrets and sound advice make for a year’s worth of grand adventure – we’ll see you out there.
Todos Santos, Mexico
Don’t call it the next Cabo – this town has an atmosphere all its own.
Just north of Cabo San Lucas lies an enclave for artists and surfers with white-sand beaches and formidable offshore swells. Todos Santos’ population numbers only a few thousand, which can leave visitors feeling as if they’ve discovered a spot untouched by outsiders. “Todos Santos is a magnet for those wishing to escape the crowds of more-touristed destinations in Mexico,” says Zach Rabinor, founder and CEO of Journey Mexico, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection. “It’s an enchanting town with a slower and more community-centered pace.” With a thriving local art scene, an afternoon spent gallery-hopping among pastel-colored colonial buildings in the town center belongs on any itinerary, as does a trip to the mountains, where Rabinor recommends hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Just be sure to save a day or two to get out on the water: The waves at nearby Cerritos Beach are considered ideal for novice surfers year-round, while the pros can access challenging breaks up and down the coast.
Get There: At the recently opened adults-only Rancho Pescadero, 103 suites and villas decorated in neutral tones overlook the Pacific Ocean or the Sierra de Laguna. Guests can discover local flora and fauna at the botanical garden and bird sanctuary when they’re not at the hotel’s secluded beach. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 resort credit.
Holiday like the Italians in a corner of Tuscany only locals know.
Maremma, a less-trodden stretch on Tuscany’s southern end, is beloved by Italians, who may or may not want to let the rest of the world in on their secret. Inland, winding roads flanked by vineyards and cattle farms lead to Etruscan ruins, thermal hot springs, and medieval villages. On the coast, pine- and rosemary-covered hills cascade down to rocky swimming coves and wild beaches. “The proximity of the countryside and the sea creates plenty of opportunities for a truly immersive Italian experience,” says Simone Amorico, co-owner of Access Italy, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection. “You really have the best of both worlds in Maremma.”
Spend a few days crisscrossing the region (bonus if you’re in a vintage Alfa Romeo with the top down), exploring the Parco Regionale della Maremma, sipping Bolgheri Sassicaia cabernet at Tenuta San Guido, and trying a nonna’s secret recipes at a family-owned seaside restaurant. Virtuoso advisors can work with Access Italy to arrange these experiences, plus guided hikes, village tours, and sails on the Tyrrhenian Sea. “Chartering a boat is very popular,” Amorico says, “but not everyone knows the secret spots in and around Isola d’Elba and Isola del Giglio like we do.”
Get There: Live like royalty at 57-room L’Andana, once the estate of Leopold II, the former grand duke of Tuscany. Guests can relax in the ESPA before a meal at the Michelin-starred Trattoria Enrico Bartolini. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a 50-minute massage for two.
All aboard for an unexpected safari experience.
Namibia is a country of superlatives: the world’s oldest desert (the Namib) and tallest sand dunes (Sossusvlei), plus Africa’s largest canyon (Fish River) and one of its most extensive collections of rock art (Twyfelfontein). And it’s all easy to see in one captivating trip. “For travelers who have been to Africa and want something different, Namibia is fabulous,” says Virtuoso agency executive Eleanor Flagler Hardy. “Its beauty is completely different than East Africa’s. A real sense of timelessness suffuses the whole region – the vastness is completely otherworldly.”
The country is also one of the few safari destinations you can explore by luxury train, spying the Namib’s quiver trees and dusty savannas from a wood-paneled suite, sipping sundowners on the open-air deck, and hopping off for game drives and overnights in Etosha National Park and Sossusvlei. “It’s a great combo of life on and off the train,” Hardy says. “Plus, traveling across the stark landscape in the comfort of your suite is much better than driving.”
Get There: Ker & Downey can arrange the ten-day train journey from Pretoria, South Africa, to Walvis Bay, Namibia. (In 2024, the trip is 11 days.) Departures: Multiple dates, April 4, 2023, through April 30, 2024.
Take a bullet-train time machine to old Japan.
While locals frequent Japan’s Tohoku region for fall-foliage sightseeing, fresh-powder skiing, and cherry blossoms that rival Kyoto’s famous blooms, tourists have yet to descend en masse upon the quiet northern prefectures once known as “the rice granary of Japan.” Take the bullet train through a landscape dotted with traditional homes and endless rice paddies to rove
Hirosaki Castle’s grounds during the late-spring cherry blossom season or hike an ancient, pristine beech forest during the region’s mild summers.
“The hustle and bustle of modern Japan is a must-see for first-timers, but in Tohoku, travelers can relax and take in the traditions and nature of old Japan,” says Reeka Ninomiya, a Virtuoso advisor. “Visit during the summer festival season, when lantern floats bob in the water and traditional dancing and food stands fill the streets.”
Get There: Tohoku’s famed trio of cultural festivals occur each August. Remote Lands’ private, 12-day Tokyo-to-Tsuruoka tour stops at each one, with hiking and castle visits too. Departures: Any day through March 1, 2025.
Indulge your natural curiosity on an island primed for adventure.
Come for the beef noodle soup, stay for the mountains. “Taipei is vibrant and modern, but it’s still close to hot springs and stunning scenery,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Anna Luquingan. “Taiwan is actually a hiking paradise.” Case in point: Taroko National Park, just south of Taipei on the small island’s east coast, where the Liwu River carved a sheer marble gorge over millions of years and travelers find mountain vistas, waterfalls, and a Buddhist shrine. Popular treks include the Tunnel of Nine Turns, a hollow trail carved into the marble cliffside, and Swallow Grotto, which is speckled with natural-potholes-turned-swallow-nests and culminates in impressive river gorge views.
Beyond the park, trips to whiskey distilleries, tea plantations, and historic towns lift the veil on Taiwan’s Indigenous cultures and Chinese and Japanese occupations. At Sun Moon Lake, traditional home of the Thao people, travelers can visit the Wenwu Temple before touring the lake on a private boat and ending the day with a cup of locally grown tea – it’s a proper juxtaposition of the multicultural country’s bounty of offerings.
Get There: Abercrombie & Kent’s new ten-day tour of Taiwan stops at Taroko National Park, Sun Moon Lake, a bustling night market in Tainan, and more. Departures: March 3 and October 20.
Find your own beach on this seriously stunning Greek isle.
Classic whitewashed buildings; quiet bougainvillea-draped lanes; and calm, pine-fringed beaches: Páros, a lesser-known Cyclades gem, has all the classic allure of Mykonos or Santorini, but far fewer crowds. “Páros feels local, with an energetic town, amazing food, and fabulous outdoor activity,” says Virtuoso travel agency executive Jack Ezon. “I was surprised at how chic and vibrant it is, without being too touristy.”
The island, reachable via plane or ferry from Athens or an hour’s ferry ride from Mykonos, has more than a vacation’s worth of activity on offer, from its buzzing port town of Parikia to the laze-all-day scene at Monastiri and Aliki beaches and the charming tavernas and churches in the inland village of Lefkes. To embrace its laid-back-but-still-glam vibe, make for Naoussa, a traditional fishing village that’s home to a slate of restaurants, beach clubs, and boutiques. A few of Ezon’s favorite spots: Mario Restaurant for fresh seafood, the Moraitis Winery for rosé, and Barbarossa for its sushi and A-list scene.
Get There: A few Greek Isles cruises call on Páros, including a seven-night, Athens-to-Istanbul voyage on Ponant’s 184-passenger Jacques-Cartier. (Departure: August 2.) To spend more time on the isle, stay at the 33-suite Parilio, a minimalist beauty just outside Naoussa. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.
The European slopes you haven’t skied – yet.
You might have to squint to see it on a map, this tiny, 181-square-mile independent principality tucked along the France-Spain border. Andorra is so small, it doesn’t have its own airport (most travelers arrive via a three-hour drive from Barcelona or Toulouse), but what it lacks in size, it makes up for on the slopes. Andorra’s peak location in the Pyrenees Mountains allows for some impressive beginner and intermediate runs. And while the area attracts plenty of Europeans, far fewer international fans have caught on. “I’m really excited about Andorra,” says Virtuoso agency executive Carmen Teresa Targa. (Tour operator Ski.com also cited a recent uptick in interest in the principality.) “New hotels have been opening lately, and it’s really been growing from an unknown ski destination.”
Choose between two ski areas: sprawling Grandvalira (which this season became part of the multi-resort Ikon Pass), with more than 130 miles of trails, or the family-friendly Vallnord, comprising three smaller ski resorts connected by a gondola and cable car. A low-key, Catalan-influenced après-ski scene ups the appeal – don’t miss the national dish, hearty escudella stew with sausage, pasta, and veggies – while quirky perfume and automobile museums and modern spas draw travelers to the compact capital, Andorra la Vella. Add a pre- or post-trip stay in Barcelona and you’ve got our new favorite ski getaway.
Get There: Virtuoso advisors can work with Ski.com and Alpine Adventures to create custom itineraries in Andorra that include skiing, of course, plus guided sightseeing, dogsledding excursions, and hot-springs soaks. One Alpine Adventures example: six days on the slopes, followed by three post-trip nights exploring Barcelona. Departures: any day between December and March.
It’s a journey to get to Georgia – a former Soviet Republic that sits at the intersection of Asia and Europe – but for skiers, the payoff is mountaintop bliss. “It’s a very off-the-beaten-path destination, which I feel are becoming harder and harder to find these days,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Courtney Sheeley. “There are hardly any crowds, incredible powder, Turkish baths, and a unique culture to accompany the pristine wilderness.” The Caucasus Mountains cover more than half the country, which is home to four ski resorts, including Gudauri, the largest and closest to the capital city of Tbilisi. Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine – invented in the South Caucasus some 8,000 years ago. Pair that with a hearty culinary presence infused with Russian, Turkish, and Persian influences, and you’ll quickly shake any après-ski chills.
Get There: Artisans of Leisure escorts travelers through Georgia on a ten-day private tour that includes food-market visits and hot-springs soaks in Tbilisi, winetasting in Kakheti, and monastery visits and cave-city tours across the Caucasus. In winter, travelers can add a day trip from Tbilisi for skiing or extend their tour for more time on the slopes.
The Río Negro, Brazil
An adventure on the Amazon River is already trip-of-a-lifetime material, but for intrepid travelers, the 1,400-mile Río Negro – an Amazon tributary accessed from the Brazilian city of Manaus – promises even more wild access to this tropical wilderness. “I love the power of the rain forest and the charm of the black río,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Luciana Dutra. “The Amazon is the lungs of the world, and the preservation of the forest and the growth of sustainable tourism are fundamental to the region's economy. A visit here is great for those who care about sustainability and love nature and adventure, and who want to disconnect.” On the world’s longest blackwater river, travelers explore Anavilhanas National Park, a UNESCO-protected island archipelago teeming with lush rain forest and diverse wildlife, including jaguars, anacondas, and the Amazon’s endemic pink dolphins.
Get There: Dive into the area on a five-day, round-trip-from-Manaus tour and cruise with Avanti Destinations, or Virtuoso advisors can work with on-site tour connection Abercrombie & Kent Brazil to charter private yachts on the river.
Skip Tuscany and Bordeaux this summer: There’s a stellar – and under-the-radar – winetasting region ripe for discovery in the United Kingdom. “With only a handful of big names in English wine, most travelers are surprised to find that there are hundreds of wineries around England, from the sunny Isles of Scilly to Kent’s chalky cliffs and even as far north as the Yorkshire Wolds,” says Virtuoso advisor Rachel Shoemaker. She recommends Kent, a bucolic county an hour’s drive southeast of London, for its beautiful coastline, top-notch culinary scene, and heavy concentration of wineries, including one of her favorites, Biddenden Vineyards.
Get There: Your Virtuoso advisor can arrange a day trip from London, where, later this year, the 120-room Raffles London at the OWO (Winston Churchill’s former Old War Office) will become the latest five-star to open in the city.
Stari Grad, Croatia
Dalmatian Coast road-trippers and Adriatic cruisers may know the Croatian resort island of Hvar, but few venture past the bustling capital of Hvar Town to the island’s north coast, where a low-key scene and gorgeous, palm-lined promenade await in the historic village of Stari Grad. “It’s one of Croatia’s oldest towns, founded by the Greeks in 384 BC,” says Virtuoso advisor Tesa Totengco, “with a more authentic and local feel than its neighbors.”
Get There: Totengco recommends a stay at the secluded, wellness-minded 53-room Maslina Resort, a 30-minute walk from the heart of Stari Grad. “Its mantra is mindful luxury.”
It felt like everybody was in Mallorca last summer, but this year, we’ve got Melides – a chic, sun-soaked village in Portugal’s Alentejo region – on our mind. “A confluence of artists, architects, and designers have birthed a creative community around art and nature in Melides – and 2023 is when it will all start to take shape,” says Virtuoso advisor John Clifford. “This isn’t Goa or Ibiza, but something better and more sublime.”
Get There: Travel advisors can work with Virtuoso’s on-site tour connections in Portugal to arrange luxury villa rentals and other experiences in Melides.
This Middle Eastern kingdom opened its borders to foreign visitors in 2019, and ever since, interest in immersive experiences in the country has grown steadily for many Virtuoso advisors, who say travelers are eager to be one of the first to explore this long off-limits, complex, and culturally rich destination. “I had an amazing experience in Saudi Arabia, exploring the seaside city of Jeddah, spending an unforgettable outdoor evening around Riyadh, strolling through the Diriyah Gate, and visiting the archaeological sites around AlUla,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Amalia Lazarov. “As much as I was looking forward to visiting, I learned that the Saudi people were just as excited to welcome me.”
Get There: Check into one of the 96 villas at Habitas AlUla for an archaeology- and outdoors-centric experience, or opt for the beach at the 220-room Shangri-La Jeddah. Several cruise lines – including Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Windstar Cruises – are set to make maiden calls in the kingdom on a slate of Arabian Sea voyages in 2023 and 2024.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
Arriving in Ha Giang, a six-hour drive north of Hanoi, feels like being let in on a true travel secret. The remote, less-trodden province is home to Vietnam’s Indigenous hill tribes (including the H’mong and Red Yao), who invite travelers into their villages to learn more about their culture and history. “Ha Giang is great for well-traveled people who love trekking and motorbiking,” says John Tue Nguyen, owner of Trails of Indochina, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection in Vietnam. “The area remains an authentic and intact mountain destination, offering spectacular nature and landscapes.”
Get There: Virtuoso advisors can work with Trails of Indochina to arrange trips to and cultural experiences in Ha Giang, along with cooking classes, voluntourism opportunities, and hikes into the province’s surrounding mountains and tiered rice paddy fields.
Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand kept its borders closed for more than two years during the pandemic – and there was a lot happening in Auckland while international travelers were away. “Its perennial natural attractions aside, Auckland has really come of age with a collection of new luxury hotels, buzzy new dining precincts, and waterfront developments that showcase local creativity and culture,” says Sarah Farag, owner and director of Southern Crossings New Zealand, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection in the country. The North Island’s multicultural hub is also more accessible than ever before, thanks to an array of new nonstop flight options from the U.S.
Get There: Stay at the new 195-room Park Hyatt Auckland or work with your Virtuoso advisor and Southern Crossings to find a private villa on the nearby winetasting haven of Waiheke Island or charter an eco-luxe yacht for exploring the surrounding Bay of Islands.