What if, in 2023, you took the side roads? From Suriname to Con Son in Vietnam, via the Kanchenjunga region in Nepal ... We offer you 15 exciting destinations that remain in the shadow of the must-see sites. All these places are from our new guide "Trips off the beaten track" which offers you 100 alternatives to the most frequented places on the planet. So, what will be your next trip off the beaten track?
|The small mountain kingdom that invests in community tourism|
Dominated by the Drakensberg and the Maluti Mountains, tiny Lesotho boasts the highest country on the planet, with a minimum altitude of 1,400 m. On a trek or hike on a sturdy Basatho pony through mountainous landscapes with a rare population, you will more likely come across a shepherd wrapped in a traditional wool blanket with colorful patterns than tourists. In 2019, only 800,000 international tourists crossed the passes more than 3,000 m from this former British protectorate, compared to the 15.8 million who explored Table Mountain, Blyde River Canyon, and other major sites in South Africa, which encloses the territory.
Backpacker lodges run by local communities, often in the old perched trading posts that served the villages of rondavels (round huts topped with thatch), are the well-kept secret of discerning travelers.
|The white city of Marc has the scents of Andalusia|
With its immaculate houses on the slopes of a Rif valley, little Tetouan has an irresistible charm. Port founded by the Phoenicians, the city preserves Roman remains of the third century. It owes its cosmopolitan air to several waves of immigration over the centuries. Jews and Moors expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the XVth century settled there, followed in the Ottoman period by Algerians fleeing French colonization. Between 1912 and 1956, Tetouan was the capital of the protectorate established by Spain in northern Morocco.
The Art Nouveau buildings of the Spanish quarter contrast with the maze of alleys of the medina. The presence of a leading School of Fine Arts, one of the best contemporary art museums in the country, and the Royal School of Crafts, which train young people in traditional skills such as leather work and zellige making, are additional assets. Yet Tetouan receives half as many tourists as its neighbor Chefchaouen.
Côn Sơn, Vietnam
|A protected nature haven and sea turtle refuge|
Among the 16 coral-lined volcanic islands and islets of the Con Dao archipelago off the coast of southern Vietnam, Con Son seems light years away from the busy cities of the Mekong Delta. This territory of 52 km2 and some 700 inhabitants, whose mountains descend to the shore, has large expanses of preserved forest, lotus-covered lakes, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Sea turtles come to lay eggs on the sand, while an abundant fault evolves in the waters where several wrecks lie. The island is also home to more than 80 species of birds and an endemic subspecies of long-tailed macaque can be seen. But, under its air of tropical paradise, Con Son hides a dark past.
It was indeed a hell for thousands of opponents of French colonization and common law prisoners who crumbled in the prison of the former Poulo Condore, later transformed into a re-education camp by the pro-American regime of South Vietnam. Old jails and cemeteries bear witness to this suffering.
|An immersion in the ethnic universe of the Indian "fast east"|
For a long time, Nagaland was the terra incognita of India, a kind of ultimate border, bounded by misty mountains and dotted with ethnic villages, as fascinating as it is out of reach because of bureaucratic burdens inherited from the colonial era. Over the past decade, the obstacles to travel have gradually diminished, but information has been slow to spread. In 2019, less than 6,000 foreigners visited the state compared to 1.6 million in Rajasthan.
Once referred to as headhunters, the various Naga groups have retained many of their ancestral traditions. While most have converted to the Christian faith, animist practices remain, such as decorating homes with buffalo skulls. Traveling to this distant land is not easy, however. We have to deal with slow transport and a certain lack of comfort. On the other hand, staying with villagers allows a deep immersion in a unique culture. The icing on the cake, you will hardly meet other foreigners.
|Discovering the spiritual and ecological island of Japan|
Shikoku rarely features on the itinerary of foreign travelers to Japan. The island has many assets, including events such as the traditional Awa Odori Matsuri dance festival, which attracts a crowd of Japanese visitors to the city of Tokushima in August. Similarly, the Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival, takes place in Naoshima, Shodo-Shima, and other islands in the Seto Inland Sea under Kagawa Prefecture. Finally, the venerable Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama ranks among the oldest thermal baths in the country.
The island is also home to more confidential destinations. Thus the green village of Kamikatsu, a champion of sustainable development, and the valley of the Iya, where you can stay in a kominka (traditional cottage) of the eighteenth century and raft down the upper course of the Yoshina-gawa. You can walk all or part of the pilgrimage route of the 88 temples or join the surfers on the rugged Pacific coastline, between Capes Muroto and Ashizuri.
Kanchenjunga Region, Nepal
|A trek in the Nepalese Himalayas in its raw state|
More than 57,000 trekkers and mountaineers jostle each year on the route that climbs Everest two-thirds to its base camp. Those who dream of equally spectacular landscapes wrapped in cathedral silence choose instead the wild and deserted region of Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), the third highest peak on the planet, in the far east of Nepal.
The 900 annual visitors to the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area are not entitled to an apple pie at every stage like those who tackle the Roof of the World. They must use a trekking agency to provide logistics along the arduous trails that lead to the mud camps of Pang Pema and Ramche.
Only a few rural villages provide hot meals to the brave who venture into this faraway region. But no matter how hard you try, the breathtaking natural scenery pays you back a hundredfold.
North Luzon, Philippines
|Mountain ethnicities, colonial architecture, and distant islands|
While the white sand beaches and dive sites around Boracay, Ceb, and El Nido enjoy world fame, northern Luzon is often ignored by tourists. Yet the region sums up the essence of the country better than any other island. Along the coastal road, surfers ride the waves in San Juan (La Union), Pagudpud, and Baler. On the west coast, the sixteenth-century town of Vigan features the finest Spanish colonial architecture in Asia. And, on the east coast, the impenetrable jungle contains many of the Philippines' endemic species Inland, the forest-covered Cordillera Central stands out for its rice terraces, whitewater rivers, hanging coffins, and skull-filled caves.
In the highland villages of the ethnically rich landlocked province of Kalinga, the not-so-distant days of headhunters are still remembered. Offshore, the peaceful traditional way of life of the Batanes Islands contrasts dramatically with the urban chaos of Manila.
Tubagua, Dominican Republic
In a country where few tourists move away from the bar and pool of their hotel, the village of Tubagua is a cheerful alternative. Perched on the edge of the Cordillera Septentrional and crossed by the Ruta Panoramica, a winding road that connects the Dominican cities of Puerto Plata and Santiago de los Caballeros, it is home to one of the most beautiful eco-lodges in the Caribbean. Modest one-story houses alternate with cow pastures; built in the traditional local style, the lodge enjoys a spectacular, elevated location.
Here, among the lush vegetation and rolling hills, stalls are set up on the roadside: there are all kinds of tropical fruits. Very different from the coast in terms of rhythm and culture, Tubagua is an ideal place to glimpse an authentic Dominican way of life, thanks to community tourism projects. Swap the air conditioning for the fresh mountain air and the merengué by the pool for a chorus of cicadas!
|A cosmopolitan population in a wild corner of South America|
Suriname, the smallest in South America, is also the least visited. One wonders why, as this little-known corner of the continent offers a singular and rewarding experience. After suffering coups and civil war in the 1980s, Suriname is now one of the safest countries in South America. Nestled at the mouth of the Suriname River, the beautiful Dutch colonial-style capital, Paramaribo, boasts UNESCO-listed architecture, vibrant nightlife, and excellent restaurants with spicy fusion cuisine, just like its cosmopolitan population. The majority of Suriname's inhabitants are descended from runaway African slaves (called Maroons or Bushinengué), Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese workers, English and Dutch settlers, and Amerindians.
The old plantations recall a dark chapter in the country's history when it was one of the most brutal slave colonies in European countries. Only a few hours by car or boat, the virgin forest covers more than 90% of the national territory and offers many opportunities to observe wildlife and discover the culture of the Bushinengué.
Big Bend National Park, United States
|A Texas park preserved from overcrowding by its isolation|
Mountains and desert meet at Big Bend, a vast national park nestled in a secluded corner of West Texas. Featuring steep gorges and walls, jagged peaks, and a verdant river corridor that draws a ribbon through the brush, this immense wilderness offers a wide range of adventure. You can spend your days walking bumpy paths, paddling languid rivers, and swimming in hot springs; in the evening, you will contemplate the Milky Way in one of the largest dark sky reserves in the world. Big Bend is also an Eldorado for birdwatchers, with more than 450 species of birds – more than in any other national park in the United States.
Make no mistake: Big Bend is far from everything. The nearest airport is more than 3 hours away and by car, any journey will be very long (at least 8 hours from Dallas or Houston). Small positive point: this isolation has protected him from excessive development.
The national park receives less than 10% of visitors to the Grand Canyon, and there is no need to book months in advance for a multi-day excursion – for example, rafting on the Rio Grande.
|The pearl of Tyrol, another jewel of the Austrian Alps|
If the only complaint you would make about Salzburg is that it is too touristy, know that an hour by train to the west is the Tyrolean town of Kufstein, nestled in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. It seems straight out of a Brothers Grimm tale: its cobbled streets are lined with pastel gabled houses and lantern-lit taverns, a medieval fortress dominates the course of the Inn, and a set of fir forests, meadows populated by cows and snow-capped peaks completes the whole.
Eminently romantic, Kufstein embodies Alpine Austria as we imagine it. The city had its national glory hour in the 1960s thanks to the song Die Perle Tirols (The Pearl of Tyrol). Whether hiking to the limestone peaks and ridges of the Kaisergebirge, skiing, or lazing by a sparkling lake, the setting makes you want to yell at the top of your lungs! Kufstein offers a beautiful mix of culture and outdoor adventures.
|A piece of Normandy where you can isolate yourself from the rest of the world|
It is said that it is the end of Normandy, it is also said that it is an island, so much the sea and the marshes penetrate it ... The Cotentin is a haven of nature, where water and land sometimes meet spectacularly. Finger towards the English Channel, the point of La Hague is whipped by the winds. Facing west, the Côte des Havre lives to the rhythm of the tides, as in Regnéville and its salt meadows. Facing the Channel Islands, Barneville-Carteret and Portbail are the two poles of the charm of the Côte des Isles. To the east, the Val de Saire and its mosaic of plots honor the definition of bocage, where, all granite, the pretty fishing port of Barfleur, distinguish among the "most beautiful villages of France", extends its pretty sandy beaches. Further south on the east coast, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a seaside and tourist resort, coupled with the island of Tahitou which faces it, immediately charms visitors.
The interior of the land reserves other beautiful encounters, such as Valognes, the "little Norman Versailles", and the castles of Bricquebec and Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicompte, where the shadow of Barbey d'Aurevilly still hangs.
Freiburg and the Black Forest, Germany
|A city at the forefront of ecology and a phantasmagorical forest|
The Black Forest is located right next to Bavaria. Its wooded hills and half-timbered houses evoke the same fantasy universe – with fewer tourists. Cuckoo and cakes aside, the Black Forest is illustrated by its high reliefs covered with fir trees and carved valleys, whose magic is felt as soon as you explore the remote corners on foot, by bike, or by car. In the Black Forest National Park, spruce trees rise above dark wood farms and glaciers unfold like deep blue silk sheets. Walking through the forest in the hushed early morning provides a rare sense of peace. In winter, put on snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore this magical landscape.
Sustainable tourism? Natürlich. In Germany, the Schwarzwald is the ultimate green destination: a new UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, green cities like solar pioneer Freiburg, and miles of impeccably marked cycling and hiking trails.
|To the wild reaches of the Atlantic via the Arctic coastal route|
The spectacular North Atlantic island has suffered from severe overcrowding: before the pandemic, the annual number of visitors reached two million – five times the population of Iceland. Far from the beaten track, you say? As it happens, most visitors limit themselves to a small corner of the island, radiating from Reykjavik, the capital, to the most popular sites – Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir, and the Blue Lagoon. Some continue south of the Ring Road to the glaciers of the Skaftafell and the icebergs of the Jökulsarlon lagoon.
The North offers a face of Iceland that many are unaware of. Roads winding along deserted peninsulas; beaches at the end of the world; geothermal pools in the middle of nowhere; special cities and museums; lava caves; islands where birds outnumber humans 10,000 times. A little recklessness and a car are enough to embark on an adventure and discover Iceland in its raw state.
|Balkan beauty with an exciting historical past|
Croatia receives 60 million visitors a year, Albania six million, and North Macedonia... 80 000. Its isolation undeniably reduces its power of attraction; however, from the pebble beach of the charming medieval town of Ohrid, the view has nothing to envy the sea. Between the vast Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, North Macedonia is not to be outdone when it comes to seaside tourism. And this warm country has many other attractions to discover during a stay.
Gorges and mountains carve vast areas, including a string of wild national parks, where a network of hiking trails has been woven linking villages dating from the Ottoman era dominated by fine minarets. Here thrive producers adept at Slow Food and community tourism initiatives. The region's complex past has a rich Greek, Roman, Ottoman, and Yugoslav heritage. Ancient roots to explore in the museums of Skopje, one of the craziest and most original capitals in Europe.