2015/12/02

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Places to Visit in 2016 "Advised by National Geographic"

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Capability Brown's Gardens, Britain

Capability Brown's Gardens, Britain
Photograph by Jason Hawkes, Corbis
With a sculptor's discerning eye, the 18th-century landscape designer Lancelot Brown transformed Britain's grand country estates forever. Brown reshaped formal gardens into rolling green parklands across the length and breadth of the country. His habit of telling patrons that their grounds had great "capabilities" is said to have earned him the nickname Capability Brown.

The tercentenary, in 2016, of Brown's birth (in 1716) offers a compelling reason to visit his landscapes now. Filled with sparkling lakes, softly sloping lawns, winding paths, and carefully framed views, Brown's gardens are as ingrained in the British psyche as the novels of Jane Austen.

In fact, filmmakers often set her stories in Brown landscapes, such as those at Chatsworth House and Burghley House (both appear in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice).

But Stowe estate, in Buckinghamshire, where Brown became head gardener for Lord Cobham in 1741, is where the seeds were sown for his vision of natural perfection. You can glimpse Brown's developing talent in its undulating Grecian Valley.

"Capability Brown accentuates the positives of topography," says historic landscapes consultant Kate Felus. His design "is sculpture, like walking through a Henry Moore." —Juliana Gilling

Tangier and Smith Islands, Chesapeake Bay

Tangier and Smith Islands, Chesapeake Bay
Photograph by Jim Lo Scalzo, epa/Corbis
In the middle of the lower Chesapeake Bay, almost facing each other across the Maryland-Virginia state line, sit two centuries-old, remote, and threatened communities.

Both Smith Island, Maryland, and Tangier Island, Virginia, were first mapped by Captain John Smith in 1608. Welsh and English settlers mainly took to Smith, while natives from England’s West Country favored Tangier. Residents of both islands retain unique “relic dialects,” passed down from their ancestors and preserved by isolation. Watermen here have lived off the bay’s oysters, crabs, and fish for almost 200 years. Their family names resound throughout the islands: Evans and Tyler on Smith; Parks, Pruitt, and Crockett on Tangier.

Life here is slower and quieter than on the mainland. Even with regular ferries, these are secluded places: few stores, almost no cars, and no bars (both Tangier and Smith are dry). The islanders constitute a tough and independent lot: Tangier folks refused to join the Confederacy over slavery, while Rhodes Point village, on Smith Island, was once known as “Rogues Point” for area pirates who operated from there.

Visitors can explore on foot, by bike (rentals are available on-island), and by boat. Both islands offer overnight accommodations in a few B&Bs—and take pride in distinct local fare. Smith Island Cake, a towering layered confection, is Maryland’s official dessert, while Tangier justly claims to be “the soft-shell crab capital” of the nation.

With their low-lying shores yielding to erosion and storm surges, these two marshy “islands out of time” may be running out of time. Yet islanders are fighting to hang on, holding fast as long as they can to their thin and vulnerable homes. —Stephen Blakely

Côte d'Or, Burgundy, France

Côte d'Or, Burgundy, France
Photograph by Günter Gräfenhain, SIME
With vineyards first planted by ancient Romans, the Côte d'Or—the most revered winemaking area in Burgundy (Bourgogne)—draws wine pilgrims from around the globe. Natives here insist there's no place in France with wine traditions more deeply rooted, more consciously cherished. They have something else to be proud of: In July 2015, UNESCO inscribed the region on its World Heritage List. Plans for a new wine center, the Cité des Vins de Bourgogne, will further celebrate this hallowed terroir.

A far cry from Bordeaux's flat landscape, historically dominated by aristocratic families, the fabled chalk slopes of the Côte d'Or form a snaking ribbon of land in some places no more than a third of a mile wide. This labyrinthine wine terrain about three hours' drive southeast of Paris is owned by hundreds of farmers, many of them descendants of peasant families and some with just three rows of vines in a field the size of a bowling alley.

Rent a bicycle to taste your way along the Route des Grands Crus, which includes oenophile-magnet vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet. At neighborhood haunt La Grilladine, in the medieval town of Beaune, pair the beef bourguignonne with one of the local vieilles vignes (wine from old vines). End the day at Hôtel Le Cep, in Beaune's historic heart. Third-generation family owner Jean-Claude Bernard sets the tone, worldly yet down-to-earth. Which is to say, Burgundian to the core. —Liz Beatty

Philippines

Photograph by Design Pics Inc, National Geographic Creative
In every family, there’s always an odd one out—and in the clan of Asia-Pacific nations, that member would be the Philippines. This nation of  7,107 islands (about 2,000 inhabited) began as a loose grouping of Indo-Malay tribes, which endured nearly 400 years of Spanish rule, then 48 years as a U.S. territory. Today the Philippines is a mix of tribal pride, Catholic fervor, American pop-culture savvy, and tropical affability.

Most visitors don’t linger in the muggy, traffic-clogged capital, Manila, but you should explore at least one of the Spanish churches in the old, walled center of Intramuros and stroll around Manila Bay at sunset.

Then head to some of the thousands of beaches, from the pink sands of Great Santa Cruz Island to the black sands of Albay. Divers off Palawan, Apo, and Siargao islands delight in hundreds of coral and fish species. On the southern isle of Mindanao, more than 1,300 land species—including the endangered Philippine eagle—reside in Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, which recently joined northern Luzon’s rice terraces as a World Heritage site.

If the Philippines is that quirky member of the family, it also is the one that always invites you over for dinner, a uniquely Filipino fusion experience that intermingles salty, sour, and savory flavors. —Erik R. Trinidad

Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
Photograph by Adam Hester, Getty Images
In Brazil, where idyllic beach escapes come a dime a dozen, the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte is ready to reveal that it's more than another sun-and-surf getaway.

Famed for nonstop sands, sea salt products, and the world's largest cashew tree, this region known as Brazil's elbow is where the Atlantic seaboard makes a sensual swerve. The state capital, Natal, three hours by air north of Rio de Janeiro, reigns over a coastline that racks up some 233 days of sunshine a year. Recently, the state's arid interior region, the historically poor sertão, has been seeing unprecedented love and investment from both the public and private sectors. The sertão is rich in local culture (clay figurines, woven palm mats) and cuisine (sun-dried beef, cassava fries). It also is the cradle of forró, a rambunctious musical blend of accordion, triangle, and zabumba drums that sends couples twirling much as it did during World War II, when the area housed U.S. troops who used the state as a "Trampoline to Victory" in North Africa. To this day, Rio Grande do Norte is one of the most welcoming, and sun-splashed, places in Brazil. —Michael Sommers

Greenland

Greenland
Photograph by Kathleen Wasselle Croft
The Inuit of Greenland call it sila, the immense natural world experienced with all five senses. It is the whispering wind that shapes the surface of the snow, the crisp inhale of Arctic air, the coarse touch of rocky shores.

"We know we can't control nature; we can only be close to it," says Greenlander Jane Petersen.

Kalaallit Nunaat, as Greenland is called by indigenous Inuit, is the great frontier of the north, a vast, stone-faced giant capped by an ice sheet more than twice the size of Texas. Aquamarine rivers squiggle across its white void, feeding a thousand thundering waterfalls that flow into enormous fjords. The qajaq (kayak) allows close sightings of spouting whales—and, if you're lucky enough to be on a small ship that can access remote habitats, Greenland may be the best place in the world to see polar bears in the wild.

Circumpolar athletes will gather in the capital, Nuuk, for the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, the largest international event ever hosted in the country. Along with skiing and ice hockey, participants will compete in ancient games such as the finger pull and kneel jump.

"We understand that we are only borrowing this land," says Petersen. "That is why we love sharing it with others." —Andrew Evans

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Google.com
Vast flows of solidified lava sprawl across Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, a blackened, primordial calling card from the park's most illustrious resident, the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele. Said to dwell in Kilauea, one of two volcanoes here that are among the world's most active, Pele has been a busy lady. Since 1986, hundreds of acres of new land have been created by molten rock welling up from deep inside Earth and spilling, hissing and steaming, into the Pacific Ocean.

"Lots of visitors come for the lava," says Clarence "Aku" Hauanio, the third of four generations of his family to have worked at the 520-square-mile Big Island park, which celebrates its centennial in 2016. "But there is so much more—the coast, the rain forest, the thousands of petroglyphs made by ancient Hawaiians, all the different plants and animals found nowhere else but Hawaii. You could work here for 29 years, like me, and still see something new every day." —Christopher Hall

Eastern Bhutan

Eastern Bhutan
Photograph by Johnny Haglund, Getty Images
The last remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom, Bhutan is distant by most standards. Flying in requires a plane nimble enough to navigate around mountain peaks and land in Paro Valley, the main tourist hub, where the number of hotels has tripled over the past decade as the once isolated country opens to more visitors. Then there is eastern Bhutan. This far-flung region remains largely unexplored by tourists. But the arduous two-day journey there by 4x4 delivers many rewards.

“You are the first foreigner we have seen in 22 years,” exclaims a surprised monk welcoming an American trekker to his mist-shrouded outpost near Mongar. In Lhuntse village, women display their vibrantly hued silk wares to Bhutanese traders, who travel here from the capital city of Thimphu in search of precious kushutara textiles. Family homestays fill in for hotels, offering travelers a place to sleep and dine on traditional dishes, including ema datshi, spicy chilies and cheese, often served with red rice. This is Bhutan at its most welcoming—the perfect adventure combination. —Costas Christ

Bermuda

Bermuda
cruisecentric.org
"I love you! God loves you!" repeats Johnny Barnes, a 92-year-old Bermudian who waves at passing scooters and cars each weekday morning at a roundabout in Bermuda's capital of Hamilton.

"We may seem very proper," says taxi driver Larry Rogers, "but we are also an eccentric island." Indeed, scratch the immaculately gardened surface of this British overseas territory, and you'll find a place brimming with personality. Every year, participants in the Non-Mariners' Race vie to construct the shoddiest vessels to see who sinks fastest; descendants of Native Americans proudly hold powwows; and policemen and businessmen insist on wearing knee-high socks with their shorts, no matter what the rest of the world may think.

You can beat the crowd headed to Bermuda for 2017's America's Cup by going now, and don't forget to say hello to Johnny. —Chaney Kwak

Danube River

Photograph by Ingolf Pompe, Aurora Photos
Flowing almost 1,800 miles from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the Danube River has been the main thoroughfare through central and eastern Europe for millennia. Herodotus called it the "greatest of all rivers" 2,500 years ago, and it still may be. Winding through ten countries, it's like a medieval version of Route 66, except your stops will be at 13th-century Gothic churches rather than diners, and you'll be treated to views of Transylvania instead of tumbleweeds.

Imagine the spires of the palace-bedecked capitals of Vienna and Budapest slowly rising above the trees as your boat glides around a bend. Then picture docking beside Old World towns such as Regensburg, Germany, orphaned by the modern highway system but enjoying a tourism rebirth via the burgeoning number of Danube River vessels.

Back in 1933, as he sat beside the Danube, famed travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote: "I lay deep in one of those protracted moments of rapture that scatter this journey like asterisks. A little more, I felt, and I would have gone up like a rocket." Cruise along this legendary river, and you may feel the same. —Bill Fink

Antarctica, South Georgia Island

Photograph by Mike REYFMAN
On a rocky beach, hundreds of thousands of noisy king penguins gather in a mosaic of black-and-white dots across grassy tussocks. Among them, fur seal pups bark, two-ton elephant seals galumph into the surf, and albatrosses patrol the air past slate gray cliffs and glaciers edging into the ocean.

Welcome to South Georgia Island, a hundred-mile-long expanse of peaks rising out of the South Atlantic 1,300 miles east of Ushuaia, Argentina. “It’s complete sensory overload,” says Eric Wehrmeister, a Lindblad videographer on the National Geographic Explorer, one of the few passenger ships that visit this remote isle. South Georgia was the promised land for shipwrecked explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew, who, a hundred years ago, sailed 800 miles across one of Earth’s most inhospitable seas in a lifeboat to get help here.

This British Overseas Territory is still reachable only by ship, and the five-day cruise from Ushuaia is strenuous, with summer temperatures in the 20s F. But brave it and you’ll see mountains no human has climbed, rare whales—such as fin-blue hybrids—and inquisitive waist-high penguins in one of the only places that remain as wild as they were when explorers like Shackleton were still filling in blank spots on the map. —Kate Siber

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Okavango Delta, Botswana
pixdaus.com
In a part of the world not given to small gestures and bland landscapes, Botswana's Okavango Delta still manages to leap out at a person as a singularly unlikely miracle. A massive fan of water that gets its start in rivers percolating out of the deciduous forests of Angola's highlands, the delta evaporates 200 miles later in the sands of the Kalahari Desert. This wilderness is one of the last places to see the Big Five of the traditional African safari: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. It so nearly wasn't.

By the 1900s, European and American hunters had killed almost all of the area's elephants, without which crucial channels in the delta silt up. But in the decades that followed, conservationists reversed the near collapse of this exquisitely balanced ecosystem and, in June 2014, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage site. Still, the designation will be meaningless unless the Angolan and Namibian governments also ensure that the rivers feeding the delta are protected.

The romantic intimacy of the delta is best explored in a guided mokoro (dugout canoe). Experienced this way, the Okavango is Venice with wildlife. The flash of a malachite kingfisher, the mocking shout of hippos, the cry of a hadada ibis—each is a reminder that without wilderness we are diminished, lonelier. We humans are a part of, not apart from, our rich, rare, and fragile world. —Alexandra Fuller


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