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Every year, I name my favorite new travel destinations. I love looking back and choosing the best of the best!
This was a year that started off slowly, then went into hyperdrive in the summer. After getting back from a three-week trip to Italy in June, I decided to travel a LOT more and barely saw New York between July and October. That eventually led to a decision to no longer live full-time in New York.
2019 was a year of Italy and Canada in particular. I’ve always been a frequent Italy visitor, but this year I pushed my travels to the next level and made a goal of visiting all 20 regions (and I went from 10 regions visited to 17!). As for Canada, this was my first time visiting since starting this blog in 2010 (!!) and I made up for lost time with several weeks of travels throughout Atlantic Canada.
This wasn’t quite as far-flung a year as 2018, when I visited every continent except Australia, but I’m very content with the results.
So what made the list of my favorite destinations?
In 2012, I chose places like Iceland, Montenegro, and South Africa.
In 2013, I chose places like Japan, Berlin, and the Scottish Highlands.
In 2014, I chose places like Sri Lanka, New Orleans, and Skellig Michael, Ireland.
In 2015, I chose places like Nicaragua, Albania, and Chicago.
In 2016, I chose places like Puerto Rico, Alsace, and Western Australia.
In 2017, I chose places like Ukraine, the Florida Keys, and St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 2018, I chose places like Antarctica, Hokkaido, and St. Croix.
Sometimes I choose one best destination, or a top three, or just list them all at once. This year, I felt like there was one best destination overall, plus one best country and one best city. The rest of the destinations are ranked equally and listed in no particular order.
Please note that this is only for destinations that I visited for the first time in 2019, so that eliminates places I’ve previously visited like London, Parma, and Prague.
My Favorite New Destination of 2019: Newfoundland
I find that the word “enchanting” is overused in travel writing — but there’s no other way to describe Newfoundland. I fell under its spell within minutes, and it was a feeling that hasn’t diminished whatsoever to this day. As soon as I visited, I knew that Newfoundland would be my #1 destination of 2019.
Newfoundland was a place that I had hoped to visit for years, ever since I got to know it through my friend Candice‘s writing. Seeing the outstanding musical Come From Away pushed me into overdrive and I nearly booked a flight that very night!
Newfoundland is a lot like Ireland — all the charm, all the friendliness, all the greenery, all the lilting accents — but more colorful and with a fraction of the tourists.
Each destination I visited was like a new treasure. I felt enveloped in happiness the whole time I was in Newfoundland — like I was truly part of the community. It’s such a rare feeling to find on my travels, and one that I hope to recapture soon.
And a reminder to my fellow travelers — you don’t have to travel somewhere difficult or dangerous to get a true off-the-beaten-path travel experience. There are plenty of awesome places close to home. Newfoundland excited me, thrilled me, and made me feel like a true adventurer.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Newfoundland
Do dinner on the beach in Twillingate with Krystal from Experience Twillingate. This was my favorite activity in Newfoundland. Krystal cooks the freshest seafood imaginable on a gorgeous beach, and it’s such a special thing to do that connects you with Newfoundland.
Get screeched in at Christian’s Pub in St. John’s. I think the less I tell you about this, the better — but it’s a Newfoundland rite of passage.
Stay at the Artisan Inn in Trinity. Trinity is a spectacularly beautiful village and Marieke and her people take such good care of their beautiful homes. I only had one night but I recommend staying a few days if you can!
My Favorite New Country of 2019: Georgia
Georgia was worth the wait. For years, I had been dreaming of visiting Georgia and all of the Caucasus; finally, the perfect opportunity arrived in 2019. I got to tour the country with several of my blogger friends and got to spend the most time in Tbilisi, a very cool city, and Svaneti, the isolated mountainous region with its own culture.
Georgia is home to gorgeous mountains, interesting and perplexing cities, and food so universally delicious that I’m shocked there aren’t Georgian restaurants in every major city. Mark my words: Georgian food is going to become much more popular in the next decade. And best of all, this is an extremely cheap country where you can travel like a baller while on a budget.
I believe Georgia is going to be one of the biggest up-and-coming travel destinations in the next few years. I sincerely hope the country is prepared for the influx.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Georgia
Don’t drive. The driving here is insane — don’t drive here unless you thrive in wild, unpredictable driving conditions.
Enjoy the food and wine culture. Georgian food is outstanding and the wine is cheap and quite palatable. My absolute favorite meal was at Shavi Lomi in Tbilisi, and don’t miss a night out at Wine Factory!
Visit Ushguli. It’s a rough and wild drive to this isolated Svaneti village, but once you get there, you’ll feel like you’ve made it to the end of the world.
My Favorite New City of 2019: Yerevan, Armenia
I’m an unabashed city girl and love visiting cities on my travels as much as I enjoy living in them. And while I visited a lot of cool new cities, from Lecce to Tbilisi to Olomouc. But nothing was as cool as Yerevan, Armenia.
I went into Armenia with few expectations and my first impression was delight at a taco truck parked outside my hotel. Taco trucks are so hard to find outside North America — but in Armenia?! I grew further enamored at the elegant, well-cared for streets, and the art-filled scene around the Cascade.
But Yerevan is at its best when it comes to its outdoor nightlife scene. There are so many cool cafes and restaurants, and the city is filled with fountains. Parts of it remind me a lot of Southern California — not surprising as Los Angeles is home to the largest Armenian community in the United States. I would absolutely spend a month in Armenia (during the summer, obviously!) and enjoy the atmosphere.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Yerevan
Learn about the Armenian Genocide before you go. It affects everything about life in Armenia today. My blog post linked below is a good starting point.
Have the bread at Temurnots, next to the Yerevan Cascade. Armenian bread is delicious, and this is my favorite bread place. Fill it with cheese, matsoni (strained yogurt) and fresh herbs!
Go brandy tasting at the Ararat Brandy factory. This is a fun tour and it’s something different from the usual wine or beer tour.
Read More: What’s It Like to Travel Armenia Today?
Lake Orta, Italy
In my efforts to explore more of Italy this year, I got off the beaten track. One place was in the lakes region of Piemonte. While Lake Como is extremely popular with foreign tourists, and Lake Maggiore slightly less so, Lake Orta is much more a destination for Italian tourists. Many Milanese have vacation homes here.
Lake Orta is splendid — much smaller than the most famous lakes, clean and dark, surrounded by mountains and even snow-capped glaciers. Orta San Giulio is a pastel-colored town that fits into the surrounding landscape perfectly. The area is surrounded by mountains, giving you great views in every direction. And one of my favorite agriturismi in the world is here, serving up fantastic Piemontese cuisine and wines.
Every now and then you need a quiet, peaceful getaway with no agenda. Lake Orta is my new favorite place for that kind of trip. I hope to return at least once a year.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Lake Orta
Eat at Il Cucchaio di Legno. This agriturismo served me one of the most outstanding meals I had this year — all for a very reasonable price of 33 euros plus wine. I would go back to eat here alone. Make a reservation in advance.
Take a boat to the island on the lake. This island is spooky-silent and has signs around the island extolling the virtues of silence. It’s an interesting place to visit.
Visit Mottarone. This mountain will give you views of several lakes in the region as well as the surrounding snow-topped glaciers.
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine, also called the Magdalen Islands, are isolated and hard to reach — but if you make it here, it’s well worth the journey. This archipelago north of Prince Edward Island is made up of thin, wispy islands where the borders erode and change with the tides.
I found the islands so delicate and precious — because they are going to be impacted by climate change, and are already being economically affected by most young Madelinots leaving for better opportunities. But it feels like there’s a positive change in the air — young people are coming back and opening new businesses. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a new era.
For now, these islands make a peaceful summer getaway, a place where you can enjoy nature and quiet in a place that seems temporarily suspended in time. Make sure you book everything way in advance.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for the Îles-de-la-Madeleine
Try the local brews at the À l’abri de la Tempête. This brewery is one of the newer businesses to open on the island and a very welcome one — warm and inviting, it’s the perfect place to spend a stormy afternoon.
Stroll the shops of La Grave village. This town is filled with picture-perfect cottages and makes a lovely and photogenic place for a stroll.
Gorge on cheeses at La Fromagerie du Pied de Vent. The islands are home to an excellent fromagerie with several homemade varieties. I took a few with me!
For years, my expat friends in Mexico had been raving about Holbox as their special island getaway. For people who lived right next to the beach on the Mayan Riviera, those were strong words. But once I visited myself, I realize what makes this island so special.
Holbox is what I thought Tulum would be and exactly what I wanted in a Mexican island getaway. There are no big brands, only small businesses. There are no cars; people get around by bicycle or golf cart. It’s definitely got tourist infrastructure, but it somehow seems to attract the right tourists — lots of backpackers and former backpackers who grew up, may have had kids, but kept the backpacker mindset.
I’m usually wary of the future of destinations like these, afraid that they’ll succumb to development — but Holbox seems to be doing the right thing. Development has been severely limited and a ban on single-use plastics is on its way. Hopefully Holbox continues to be the wonderful place it is.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Holbox
Stay at Casa Sandra. It’s a high-end luxury eco property, and it you can swing the cost, it’s DIVINE. From the gorgeous rooms to the poolside margaritas to the black tempura-fried onions (OMG!) to the peaceful breakfast atmosphere, I loved every minute.
Day trip to Cabo Catoche. Take a boat ride east and you’ll find Cabo Catoche — a gorgeous area with clear ankle-deep water. Go early enough and you’ll have the place to yourself.
Catch the sunset at Zomay. There are so many sunset spots throughout Holbox, but I really enjoyed getting a cocktail and watching the sunset from this popular beach bar attached to the eponymous resort.
Every year, there is an “it destination” that tons of travel bloggers start visiting organically out of the blue. One year it was Cuba; one winter it was Oaxaca; at some point Myanmar went into overdrive. This year, it’s the Dolomites, the gorgeous, jagged mountains of Italy’s far northeast, and suddenly this region became incredibly popular on Instagram!
I’ve long wanted to visit the Dolomites, part of the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) region of northeast Italy. And it was worth it — their beauty is spectacular. The Dolomites have a UNESCO World Heritage designation because of their unusual geology that leaves them jagged and color-changing depending on the time of day.
It’s also a reminder that Italy is an incredibly diverse place. The local language here is Ladin and they even speak different dialects of Ladin in different valleys! Anyone who thinks Italy is all the same boring thing should travel to the Dolomites.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for the Dolomites
Rent a car. I usually prefer traveling by train in Italy, but public transport in the Dolomites is much more limited. You’ll be better off renting a car and traveling on your own timeline.
Stay at Ciasa Salares. This boutique resort is designed beautifully, has outstanding award-winning cuisine, and next to the wine cellar is a chocolate room that is basically like Willy Wonka for adults!
Eat all the speck. “Speck” often means bacon or similar kind cured hard pork in Germanic Europe, but in the Dolomites it is the most feathery, delicate, smoky prosciutto ever. It’s fantastic and unique to this region.
When I got an invitation to visit Guyana on a press trip this past winter, I was overjoyed. This was a true off-the-beaten-path destination. Guyana actively discouraged tourism as late as the eighties; they thought it would ruin their country. And when you visit today, there is very little travel infrastructure in most parts of the country.
But the eco-tourism in the Rupununi is sublime. You can spend an evening on a riverboat tracking down giant crocodile-like caiman lizards. Giant otters are another local denizen; head out early and you might be able to spot an anteater. The landscapes are almost painfully beautiful. And Kaieteur Falls is so magnificent — but it defies belief that there isn’t even a guardrail at Kaieteur National Park!
Guyana is absolutely my pick for the next big offbeat wildlife destination. If you like to travel where few others go, put the country at the top of your list. And spend as much time as you can in the Rupununi.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Guyana
Do a food tour with the Backyard Cafe. This small business in Georgetown makes a really fun day touring the market before welcoming you back to their backyard to cook it all!
Hang out with the giant otters at Karanambu Lodge. They may be giant otters, but the little ones are like puppies! It’s fun to watch them eat and play.
Get really off the beaten path at Saddle Mountain Ranch. Ride ATVs, swim in the creek, and enjoy little electricity and absolutely no internet (they don’t even have a website!).
Read More: What’s It Really Like to Travel Guyana?
Imagine a region of Italy with mountains crashing down into deep lakes, terracotta-topped roofs, and some of the tastiest white wines around. Now let me tell you that you can enjoy this region without the tourist crowds that dominate more popular Italian spots. This is Trentino.
One reason why I love traveling Italy is because there is always more to discover, and it has a lot of diversity. I didn’t have many expectations for Trentino, but I grew to love the small, unpretentious city of Trento, covered in pastel murals and filled with fun bars. (Oh, and the main photo on the new home page of my site was shot in Trento!)
I loved feeling so under the radar, in a region where most of the tourists are Germans or Austrians on long-distance bike trips. I’d love to go back and see a lot more of Trentino.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Trentino
Spend a day at Riva del Garda. Only a tiny portion of Lake Garda is in Trentino, but this beautiful little village is a great day trip, with beautiful views from the clock tower.
Drink all the Trentodoc. Trentodoc wine comes from Trentino and it is fabulous — especially the sparkling white varieties.
Visit MART, the Museo di Arte Moderna, in Rovereto. This modern art museum has a lot of wonderful displays and makes a perfect excursion away from Trento.
What a truly amazing part of Canada. I spent quite a bit of time in Nova Scotia this summer — I did a Cape Breton road trip, I visited several places including remote Sable Island on my Canada cruise, and I spent a few days with my friend Cailin in her hometown of Halifax and visited nearby towns like Lunenberg and Peggys Cove.
What I loved about Atlantic Canada is that so much of it reminded me of New England — but I felt like Nova Scotia was so similar to Massachusetts! I loved the fantastic lobster for every meal, the natural beauty (especially Cape Breton Highlands National Park), the little folk art stands, and the interesting mixture of indigenous, Celtic, and Acadian cultures on Cape Breton.
Sable Island felt like the biggest travel achievement in Nova Scotia — this is such a remote island and it’s so hard to get to! But I have to say my heart belongs to Acadian town of Chéticamp. Nova Scotia deserves merit in so many areas. I know I’ve only scraped its surface and I can’t wait to return.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Nova Scotia
Eat all the lobster, constantly, whenever possible. For years Cailin has been telling me Nova Scotia has the best lobster in the world, and though it pains me to say…she’s right.
Paint masks at the Mi-Carême Centre in Chéticamp. I had no idea that such a cool festival existed in the remaining Acadian parts of Atlantic Canada! Learning about the masked, costumed mid-winter festival was a blast — and painting our own masks was relaxing and fun.
Have afternoon tea at Tartan Tea House. What makes this Halifax-area tea shop so special? You can actually borrow fancy hats to wear while enjoying your tea and pastries. EVERY PLACE SHOULD DO THIS.
Every Caribbean island has a way of taking your worries away (and likely replacing them with a cup of rum punch). But what makes Antigua special? It’s probably the most solid all-around Caribbean island I’ve visited. Sure, you’ve got your great resorts and beaches, but it’s more than that.
In Antigua, you can get out and hang out with locals a lot more easily than other islands. I loved everyone I met. The local food is excellent — even something with the name of “goat water” is delicious. The island has a lot of history and historic sites. There are hikes for all levels, activities for partiers, and some crazy sea activities like scooter snorkeling. Even the city of St. John’s was fun to explore on market day.
Being in Antigua felt like the sun was shining directly on me. It’s hard to find a destination that makes you feel like that.
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Antigua
Enjoy all the Antigua black pineapple. I swear that Antigua is home to the sweetest, most delicious pineapple in the world. Try it and I bet you’ll agree.
Spend a sunset at Shirley Heights. Not only is the best view on the island, the whole place turns into a party atmosphere with music, drinks, and dancing! While I enjoyed my Thursday night visit, I’ve heard Sunday is best because it’s the local night.
Take a catamaran ride. My favorite activity in Antigua was a catamaran ride, enjoying music and rum punch at sunset. The perfect way to end a trip to Antigua!
When it came time to find a base for a week in Puglia, Monopoli was absolutely the best choice. It’s not the most famous town south of Bari — Polignano a Mare next door gets a lot more visitors — but you can’t beat the vibe here.
Monopoli is a tourist-driven town, but it has such a nice atmosphere. It’s full of twisting, winding streets with white buildings and green shutters, green plants adding to the color throughout the city. It’s got a small beach and some beach clubs further out. Much of Puglian cuisine is vegetable-driven, but there is tons of fresh, delicious seafood available in its coastal towns as well.
Monopoli is a great place for lazy days. Have a nice lunch. Go for a stroll. Go for gelato — twice or even three times if you’re ambitious. This is Monopoli life!
Kate’s Top Recommendations for Monopoli:
Eat gelato at Caruso as often as possible. Caruso may be my favorite gelato spot on the planet, and that’s saying a lot. As in we were the weirdos loitering outside at 2:00 PM waiting for it to reopen. The flavors are inventive and interesting and the quality is top notch.
Day trip all over Puglia (and beyond). If you’re willing to walk a bit, you can park easily in Monopoli. One of my favorite day trips was to Matera and Altamura; another was to Alberobello and Locorotondo.
Have drinks and dinner in front of the sea wall. I loved catching those late evening sea breezes while nursing the perfect aperol spritz.