Where To Go On Summer Vacation? Six Writers Share Their Favourite Spots
Saranda, Albania. Photo by Mr Elion Jashari/Unsplash
So, what’s everyone doing this summer? If the question fills you with dread, you’re not alone. According to a recent study, 89 per cent of people in the US alone find making vacation plans a major source of stress and anxiety. Just choosing the location is hard enough: will it be too busy? Too quiet? Is last year’s “hot destination” still worth visiting, or will it be swamped by tourists?
On that point, at least, we can help: to take the horror out of coming up with a memorable summer vacation, we’ve done the hard work for you. We asked six of our favourite writers – from foodies to fashion lovers – to share their must-visit spots for 2023. So, whether you’re looking to laze on secluded beaches or fill your itinerary with daredevil activities, we’ve got the perfect destinations to smugly regale your friends and colleagues on your return. Oh, you haven’t been? You simply must.
01. For a road less travelled
Left: Machi Phu Monastery, Bhutan. Right: Thimphu, Bhutan. Photographs by Mr Michael Turek
By Mr Ashley Ogawa Clarke
Pity the person considering a break from reality right now: everywhere even vaguely vacationable has been Instagrammed to oblivion. But, when a friend mentioned Bhutan to me, I thought, “Huh, hadn’t considered that one before.”
With remote monasteries built into the snow-dusted mountains, evergreen forests and video-game worthy vistas, the last Himalayan kingdom (sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?) looks sufficiently unlike anywhere else on Earth. And with ancient walking trails that are said to be some of Asia’s most magnificent, it also sounds like a wholesome escape that’s more about going where the road takes you rather than following a must-see list that someone’s aunt and uncle posted on TripAdvisor. Better still, nobody I know has done anything like it before.
That’s probably because Bhutan does a good job at cultivating mystery and hasn’t exactly made itself accessible to outsiders. Until it reopened its borders after the pandemic last year (and it only opened to tourists at all in 1974), all previous visits had to be organised through a particular tour operator, significantly diluting one’s options for adventure.
Now that’s been done away with, intrepid tourists finally have the freedom to explore without any stifling itineraries. Unfortunately, this also means it’s much more expensive. A recently introduced daily visa fee of a rather frightening $200 – this goes to the country’s Sustainable Development Fund and ensures tourism is a positive force, rather than a blight, and who can blame them? – is admittedly enough to put most people off. But the promise of unspoilt landscapes, undiluted discovery and the absence of crowds when you get there, may just about make it worth it.
Apart from the treks and temple pilgrimages that a trip to Bhutan demands, though, I’m most excited about the food. From red rice to chillies and cheese, it all looks most excellently adventurous.
02. For all-out luxury
Pool at RAAS Devigarh, Udaipur. Photograph courtesy of RAAS Hotels
By Mr Richard MacKichan
Sure, you could jet off to the Maldives, decamp to the Caribbean, splurge on a suite in the south of France, but for some true luxury, I’d seek somewhere offering that little bit more. And, for me, few places do more quite as well as Rajasthan. (Not least more summer – the north-western state is at its best from late September onwards; your literal Indian summer.)
To try and describe the region fittingly is to flirt aggressively with cliché. Its tentpole cities – the lake city of Udaipur, the blue city of Jodhpur, the pink city of Jaipur, its capital – really are “vibrant”, “kaleidoscopic” and “heady”. Its natural wonders – the tiger-stalked Ranthambore National Park, the ancient Thar Desert with its smoothed-by-time rock formations – really can stun you into silence. So, bring a good camera; the sheer sensory overload will have you snapping like Mr Steve McCurry.
As such, a multi-stop trip is recommended – and there are plenty of next-level luxurious lodgings to mark on your map. Starting, perhaps, with a couple of forts. Mihir Garh, meaning the fort of the sun, rises like an ornate sandcastle from roti-flat Thar, some 30-odd miles outside Jodhpur. There are just nine suites tucked within its ramparts, so you’ll feel quite the king-of-the-castle as you dip in its bean-shaped infinity pool and survey the desert. If you’re partial to a horse ride – and this is quite the place for one – the stables are home to some prized Marwari stallions once ridden by Madonna.
For a bit more in the way of altitude, ascend the Aravalli hills outside Udaipur to the gates of Raas Devigarh where you’ll spend a lot of time marvelling at the vertiginous valley views. Inside, this wedding cake of a castle is of a more modernist bent, with jewel-toned touches that its former royal residents would surely approve of. As they would the floral-scented spa, which will have you positively floating.
To get up close and personal with nature, why not go camping? Not just any camping, mind, but camping Aman-i-Khás style: 10 handsomely furnished double-height tents inspired by Mughal hunting lodges, with full butler service, and excursions into Ranthambore to spot those legendary tigers in hushed reverence.
Mr Richard MacKichan is the editor-in-chief at Mr & Mrs Smith
03. For a social feed full of food pictures
Port Antonio, Jamaica. Photograph by Ms Beatrice Pilotto
By Ms Suzie Bakos
Located on the northeast coast of the island, the parish of Portland has become more and more popular among tourists who want an authentic Jamaican food experience. There’s a tendency to assume that resort stays are the only option for visitors to the island, but that’s certainly not the case if you choose the right area.
I’ll never forget the heavenly jerk pork I picked up from a vendor at the town’s Boston Jerk Center, which I devoured on my way to the Blue Mountains. And Ms Belinda’s riverside restaurant, accessible via a ride up the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft, offers up curry goat and crayfish cooked over an open fire. There’s an overarching vibe of home-made goodness and welcoming hospitality across Portland: there’s a reason why spots like Piggy’s Jerk Center are so beloved by tourists and locals alike. And, hey – if it’s good enough for Mr Anthony Bourdain…
Between meals, check out Frenchman’s Cove, where you can swim in both fresh and saltwater, and order cocktails among the palms. And fear not: if you get hungry there, you can order fresh red snapper, straight from the sea.
04. To get some use from those Gorpcore garments
Tower Arch, Klondike Bluffs area of Arches National Park, Moab. Photograph by Mr Neal Herbert/NPS
By Mr Jake Woolf
Last summer, I embarked on my own version of the Great American Road Trip, making the weeklong journey from Los Angeles to Connecticut. Out of all of the far-flung corners of the US that I saw, Moab, Utah is at the top of my list of places I can’t wait to revisit. (No offense to the never-ending corn fields of Kansas or what are, in my opinion, the overly pilloried small towns of Ohio.)
While you’ve gotta be somewhat intentional to get to Moab (it’s an hour south of the nearest major highway), its middle-of-nowhere charm is exactly why you go. Moab is best known as home to Arches National Park, which itself plays host to arguably the most picturesque hiking trails in the world (frankly, photos don’t do them justice). I found the scale of the rock formations and park so overwhelming at times that I had to stop in my tracks to simply remind myself that I was not only still in the US, but on planet Earth.
While I only spent just shy of 48 hours in the landlocked escape, Moab provides an intoxicating visual and mental reprieve from life in a metropolis. At one point, while looking out into the distance, I had flashes of bailing on the road trip and calling this my new home. (I later got spooked by the fact that Moab is mostly occupied by visitors, with only 5,000+ year-round citizens. You can take the man out of the city, etc.)
And from a style perspective, I felt like I was finally putting my Gorp-y fashion sensibilities to good use. In a place like New York, rocking Gore-Tex jackets and mountain-ready boots is as much an aesthetic choice as it is a practical line of defence against the occasional intrusion of the elements. In a place like Moab, these same items feel at home if not downright necessary. And as a sneaker enthusiast, it was straight-up cool to be in place that inspired Nike designer Mr Tinker Hatfield to create one of the Swoosh’s coolest shoes, the pioneering sneaker-boot hybrid aptly named the Air Mowabb.
Of course, there’s more ways to immerse yourself in Moab’s staggering red rocks than by foot. While I didn’t have time this trip, the next time I visit, I’ll be renting an SUV or ATV, the shops for which line the main drag in town. Even if traversing Mother Nature in one of man’s biggest inventions, a doorless Jeep Wrangler with 35in tires in the middle of Utah still feels like a more natural environment to break out my collection of belted hiking pants, tread-heavy boots and tastefully distressed jackets than the typical Sunday walk to grab a latte.
05. For budget-friendly beaches
Cape of Rodon, Albania. Photograph by Mr Drini Teta/Unsplash
By Ms Lucy Kingett
It would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that Albania has had its fair share of bad press. But take the time to peer past the incendiary headlines and you will find that hidden in plain sight between Montenegro and Greece is an alternative (and very affordable) holiday destination with jaw-dropping Alpine scenery, vast stretches of unspoilt national parkland and miles and miles of uncrowded coastline that puts its Mediterranean siblings to shame.
The best way to access some of the most beautiful but more remote areas is by car: fly into the capital, Tirana, and spend a night or two there, then head up into the Albanian Alps that straddle the north of the country. It’s a winding drive into the Theth National Park, but you will be rewarded with towering snow-capped peaks, wildflower filled plateaus, waterfalls, rushing rivers, traditional wooden villages surrounded by fields of haystacks. Spend a few days hiking or visiting the nearby Lake Komani, staying in one of the many bujtinas, or guesthouses, and feasting on wood-fired chicken and home-brewed raki.
Once you’ve tired of the mountains, travel south towards the Albanian Riviera, stopping off at the mountain towns of Berat and Gjirokastër for a wander through cobbled streets lined with Ottoman-era architecture, or at the ancient site of Apollonia. The southern beach hotspots of Himara and Saranda have their charms, but I’d suggest exploring the hidden coves and hilltop villages that line the coast from Dhermi to the Unesco World Heritage Centre of Butrint National Park, home to one of the areas favourite beaches, Ksamil. Best of all Gjipe beach, accessible via a 30-minute hike down the mountainside or by boat from Himara. The relative inaccessibility means the impeccable waters are uncrowded, and the beachside shack serving a menu of freshly grilled fish, chips, salad and beer is never too full.
06. If you forgot to renew your passport
The Kingdom of Hyrule
The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom. Image courtesy of Nintendo
By Ms Keza MacDonald
Heart-shaped, moonlight-bright lakes, blossom trees, a canyon leading to an otherworldly desert. Dense uncharted woodland and rolling plains. Bright coastal towns full of welcoming locals. Distinctive mountains and temple ruins that loom austerely over you; if you are feeling especially adventurous, you can climb them. Even an active volcano, Death Mountain (don’t be put off by the name).
I’ve spent many weeks there, taking a trip every four or five years of my life. It’s called Hyrule, and it doesn’t actually exist – at least, not in the real world. Still, you can visit it in Nintendo’s long-anticipated adventure game The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, which is due for release this May.
Virtual tourism is absolutely a “thing”, as anyone who spent much of 2020 chilling in Animal Crossing can attest. Obviously, it’s not the same as real travel, in the same way that Call Of Duty isn’t the same as an actual war. But it can still provide an escape, and a gateway to meaningful experiences. The Zelda games especially are so absorbing and well-made that they feel more like a place that you’ve been than a game that you’ve played.
Plus, we’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis; it only costs £50 to stay for as long as you want, and there is nil chance that you will return with a chronic stomach bug, broke and festooned with mosquito bites.