Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos
Shipwreck Beach, Zakynthos

Great Summer Getaways Off the Beaten Path

It’s time to get away from the crowds. We asked some of our intrepid travel writers to suggest their favorite relatively little-known vacation spots. They pointed us to enticing destinations of four continents.

 Perast, Kotor Bay, Montenegro Photo: Adobe Stock
Perast, Kotor Bay, Montenegro Photo: Adobe Stock

MONTENEGRO

Montenegro—one of the smaller pieces of the Balkan jigsaw—is often overlooked in favor of its northerly neighbor, Croatia, but it punches well above its weight as a holiday destination. Offering 70 miles of sparkling Adriatic coastline hedged in by the soaring hinterland that gives it its name (Black Mountain), this bijou republic offers a heady blend of shimmering superyachts, tumultuous history, and true wilderness. 

Northerly Kotor, reached via the fjord-like Bay of Kotor, is probably its best-known destination (and the second most popular cruise port in the Eastern Mediterranean after Venice). Over its history, Montenegro has been absorbed into various empires (they came for the strategic significance, but probably stayed for the beaches); and in Kotor’s mazy Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architectural stamp of the Venetians remains attractively in place. 

Travel south, and you’ll arrive at the Budva Riviera—a series of sand-and-pebble beaches that act as Montenegro’s rakia-fueled party central in warmer months. Emblematic of the riviera’s glamor is the fairy-tale tombolo of Sveti Stefan—a village-turned-Aman-resort that hosted stars like Elizabeth Taylor in the 1970s and tennis great Novak Djokovic’s nuptials in 2014. You can stay in any of the village’s renovated stone houses in the summer, while eight suites are available year-round within Villa Miločer, which dates from the 1930s and was the summer residence of the Serbian royal family. 

Historic Ulcinj, on the Albanian border, is the country’s southernmost city and well worth a visit for its pretty minarets and quieter sense of the modern. Quieter still is rugged Durmitor National Park, the hinterland’s headline act in the country’s northwest—a glacier-sculpted region that’s a magnet for hikers, adrenaline junkies, and, come winter, the ski set. 

But when summer arrives, it’s the often-solitary hikes amid serene glacial lakes and limestone peaks (many more than a mile high) that are the draw; and there’s also the plunging Tara Canyon—Europe’s deepest. Even more striking is the Mausoleum of Njegoš, precariously balanced on the summit of Mount Lovćen, a visit to which can literally cap off a sublime summer break.

—Chris Allsop

Camels on Cable Beach in Broome Photo: Adobe Stock
Camels on Cable Beach in Broome Photo: Adobe Stock

BROOME, AUSTRALIA

It’s easy to lose track of time in this Western Australian beach town, more than two hours by air from the state capital of Perth. Broome gained notoriety as a pearling outpost, but its natural beauty makes it a terrific vacation spot. 

On a hot summer afternoon here, Town Beach offers an idyllic place to swim or simply gaze out at the vast sparkling blue sea, but by evening it can transform into a mudflat crawling with crabs. In a matter of hours, over 30 feet of ocean can completely disappear. These dramatic tides also conceal fossilized dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point, about six kilometers southwest of Broome. At high tide, the vibrant orange rocks vanish into the Indian Ocean, while low tide reveals a stretch of rock pools. There’s only a short window of time, so everyone rushes to hunt down the footprints before the water returns to swallow them up. 

Broome is on the edge of the Kimberley, a remote region of Western Australia that’s rich with gorges, waterfalls, wildlife, and bulging boab trees. At the red bluffs of Riddell Beach, you can watch goanna skitter into the bush while breaching humpbacks explode out of the ocean. You can also see more of the Kimberley by taking a scenic flight over the unusual horizontal falls or driving a four-wheel drive across the Dampier Peninsula to Cape Leveque. 

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In Broome, you can window-shop for pearls in historic Chinatown, drive onto Cable Beach to watch tourist-toting camels, browse the Courthouse Markets, and work your way through the beer list at Matso’s Broome Brewery, trying to choose a favorite. (Don’t miss the ginger beer.) The summer days are sticky and hot, but you can always cool down under a swaying palm tree or with a refreshing swim in the ocean—if the tide is right. 

Lauren Fitzpatrick

Blue caves at Zakynthos island Photo: Adobe Stock
Blue caves at Zakynthos island Photo: Adobe Stock

ZAKYNTHOS, GREECE

As part of the Ionian archipelago (along with Corfu, Kefalonia, and Lefkada), the Greek island of Zakynthos isn’t like Mykonos. Or Santorini. And while its gorgeous calling card—the blindingly blue Shipwreck Beach—has launched a million postcards, calendars, and Instagram photos, the island is not a tourist magnet. Excursions to Shipwreck Beach, via tour boat, are widely available, but you have to share the experience. Zakynthos is perhaps better appreciated as a hideaway, a place where you can easily find a table at a taverna overlooking a sparkling cove and indulge in yogurt-based tzatziki dip, moussaka, and fresh fish.

The island begs for exploration, so rent a car and drive the coastal, clifftop road to Mikro Nisi, a family-owned taverna. You might have the road to yourself as you head deep into seaside ravines, passing the odd monastery or orange juice bar. The taverna appears out of a shimmer of olive trees: just past a little pebbly cove, it stands on the headland, the stone walls and blue rails of its patio ornamented with nothing more than orange life preservers. You can choose your fish from a drawer full of ice, then swim around the fishing boats that bob off the pretty promontory.

If you’re feeling ambitious, drive to Zakynthos’s west coast, crossing the thickest part of the island. Stop in a village in the interior—where you might be the only visitor—to pick up some local olive oil soaps. Unlike the better-known, drier Cyclades, this island is lush, with verdant valleys necklaced with rows of Mediterranean cypress. Sometimes you might have to stop for a sheep crossing. 

The twisty drive to Porto Limnionas—a subtropical fjord with a chic beach club—is worthwhile. You can rent a lounge chair and order pasticchio (Greek lasagna); and while it’s being prepared, you can swim from end to end, exploring limestone caves and appreciating the perfect clarity of the waters that surround one of Greece’s finest and most unusual islands, a little-known spot where near-solitude is among the foremost charms. 

Drew Limsky

 St. Andrews Photo: Adobe Stock
St. Andrews Photo: Adobe Stock

ST. ANDREWS-BY-THE-SEA, CANADA

St. Andrews in New Brunswick, Canada—a charming, little-known coastal town founded in 1783—offers beautiful and historical architecture on streets laid out in a formal grid. Also known as St. Andrews by-the-Sea, it’s just a mile from Robbinston, Maine, though the nearest border crossing is 18 miles away. Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy, which surround the peninsula of St. Andrews, have some of the world’s highest tides, up to 52 feet.

Start your visit with Genny Simard of Turtle Shore Adventures. A biologist and trivia expert, she’ll point out all the town’s colorful history by Jeep or on foot—your choice. Then, stroll along the waterfront, which offers excellent restaurants and tourist shops. Watch the lobster boats return home to the wharf. Beachcomb, play golf, try sea kayaking, or take a boat tour.

A perfect way to see the Bay of Fundy at low tide is by bicycle. Off-Kilter Bike riders don kilts (in honor of the town’s sister city in Scotland, St. Andrews) and pedal across the ocean floor to Ministers Island. The trip includes a visit to an historic estate on the island that a railroad magnate once owned. 

Fifteen types of whales are in the region, and Jolly Breeze offers whale watching on a super-fast jetboat. The intrepid can join a shark-tagging excursion or try saltwater fishing with St. Andrews Sport Fishing. Take the kids to the Fundy Discovery Aquarium for the fun-filled and informative Tidal Trek: Beach Crab Grab. 

Don’t miss Kingsbrae Garden, a 27-acre horticultural masterpiece with 2,000 species of perennials. You can have lunch al fresco at Kingsbrae Garden’s restaurant, Savour in the Garden. For dinner, choose the freshest farm produce and seafood at the Rossmount Inn (book it well in advance).

Where to stay? The Algonquin Resort is on a hill overlooking the town and offers a golf course and spa. Here, the bellmen have always worn kilts. St. Andrews became Canada’s first seaside resort town when the Algonquin was built in 1889 for well-heeled Bostonians who wanted to escape the city.

Margie Goldsmith          

Oslo Opera House Photo: Adobe Stock
Oslo Opera House Photo: Adobe Stock

OSLO, NORWAY

For a taste of Europe in the summertime, but without the crowds, Oslo is the perfect getaway. The Norwegian capital’s cosmopolitan streets and access to incredible natural resources deliver an enjoyable balance.

Oslo is a small, vibrant city (population 690,000) offering culture, delicious and diverse food and wine, and a beautiful waterfront scene. You can fly here nonstop via multiple airlines from many U.S. cities.

Opened in spring 2019, Amerikalinjen is Oslo’s newest hotel. It has modern and spacious rooms, with every amenity you could ask for. Menus change seasonally at its creative restaurants, and an in-house bagel bakery is opening soon.

A five-minute walk from Amerikalinjen is the Oslo Opera House, which features a full schedule of concert and dance events. The modern architecture and abundant artwork, inside and out, will keep you entertained until the show begins.

In summer, the vibrant waterfront is the place to be—restaurants spill onto the sidewalks and food trucks round out the offerings. The rooftop bar of the Thief hotel is one of the best spots to take in the city. The skyline and the Oslofjord will hold your attention.

You can’t leave this city without a jump into the fjord. It’s a calming alternative to the bustling environment of shopping, dining, and exploring. Floating nearby saunas can help you to warm up afterwards.

You can get a good taste of Oslo in as few as three nights. Ideally, though, you should give yourself more time in Norway to enjoy all the activities just outside the city—fishing, golfing, cycling, hiking, kayak tours, swimming, paddleboarding, and fjord cruises. 

Norwegian people are happy and live long for a reason.

—Amy Siegal

The Marblehead Lighthouse Photo: Adobe Stock
The Marblehead Lighthouse Photo: Adobe Stock

LAKE ERIE SHORES AND ISLANDS, OHIO

Driving from Port Clinton to Vermilion in northern Ohio takes just over a half hour. Exploring the area, though, requires several days. The region, which borders Lake Erie, offers noteworthy islands, wildlife viewing, fishing, boating, nautical history, and a premier amusement park.

Three islands are accessible by seasonal ferry service from Port Clinton, Sandusky, Catawba Island Township, and Marblehead, or you can take a flight from Erie Ottawa Airport. Private aircraft can land at this airport, which has a 5,646-foot runway, as well as at the airports on each of the three islands.

Best known for the village Put-in-Bay and the 352-foot-high Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, South Bass is the most popular of the islands. The monument was built a century ago to honor Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry and those under his command who fought in the War of 1812’s Battle of Lake Erie. It additionally signifies the long-lasting peace between Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. Also on the island are wineries, crystal caves, museums, other tourist attractions, and a nine-hole golf course.

Middle Bass, a much quieter island, offers a historic district, a wildlife refuge, and charming inns and cottage rentals. Make sure to tour Lonz Winery, reportedly once the nation's largest producer of wine. It closed in 2000 but recently reopened as part of the island’s state park. 

At just over four square miles, Kelleys Island is the largest American island in Lake Erie. European pioneers started to arrive in the early 1800s when the first limestone quarries began operation. Limestone is still quarried on the island, which includes Glacial Grooves, a National Natural Landmark and the largest easily accessible such grooves in the world. Rent a golf cart and explore the island’s natural beauty.

Marblehead Peninsula, between Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, is most often associated with its lighthouse. Built in 1821, it is the oldest lighthouse in continuous operation on the Great Lakes. The beacon and keeper’s house serve as a museum. Also of interest is Johnson’s Island, site of the only Civil War prison designated specifically for officers, where you’ll find a cemetery for Confederate officers. 

The area’s biggest claim to fame is Cedar Point, an amusement park that fills a 364-acre Lake Erie peninsula in Sandusky. The park, which started as a bathing beach, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. It offers 70 rides, including 18 world-class roller coasters, plus Cedar Point Shores Waterpark, show arenas, marinas, and hotels.

Also helping to make the area a great vacation destination are several quaint villages; miles of sandy beaches; and such museums as the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum, Liberty Aviation Museum, Merry-Go-Round Museum, Sandusky Maritime Museum, and Ottawa County Historic Museum.

Marilyn Jones

The morning in Machu Picchu, Peru Photo: Adobe Stock
The morning in Machu Picchu, Peru Photo: Adobe Stock

CUSCO, PERU

Cusco is the ultimate destination for a city break in the Peruvian highlands, and June to September is the best time to enjoy all it has to offer. Though these months represent the height of the southern-hemisphere winter, they see idyllic days with the clear high-altitude sunlight accentuating the vibrantly colored architecture and traditional clothing of the inhabitants. 

Temperatures, which peak around 67°F, are cool enough for pleasant trekking and for exploring the many Inca sites around the city. During these months, you’ll avoid the rain showers that complicate a visit at other times, turning the steep, cobbled alleys of the old town into cascades and the mountain trails to marshes. Nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing, making for cozy evenings around a fire and nights swaddled in alpaca-wool blankets. 

This is the best time to be in Cusco, but since it’s high season you’d be wise to book lodging and tours a couple of months in advance. The lively indigenous markets are in full swing and the city constantly seems to be gearing up for a series of unique festivals that date back to the time of the Inca: Qoyllur Rit’i (Snow Star Festival) and Inti Raymi(Festival of the Sun) take place in June and Pachamama Raymi (Earth Mother Day) happens in August.

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail that leads to it are the great drawing cards of this region; paradoxically, the network of ancient trails and mysterious temples—such as the Sacsayhuamán ruins around the outskirts of the city—are often overlooked. To get the most from your visit, hire a guide. And because altitude headaches can be a problem, be sure to schedule rest periods. 

Take time to simply wander, soaking up the backstreet ambiance and pausing at café terraces or coca-tea vendors (the ideal antidote to the altitude). Take time, too, for people-watching in the almost 500-year-old Plaza de Armas, with its incredible cathedral and the nearby Qoricancha (or Coricancha), considered the center of the Inca universe. 

Ancient Cusco was laid out to represent a sacred jaguar, and it is said that the roar of that jaguar was once heard across an empire that stretched 2,500 miles. Today Cusco is a mere shadow of its old self, yet this vivacious and fascinating mountain city remains the spiritual home of the Quechua people and of one of our planet’s richest, most alluring cultures.

—Mark Eveleigh

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