1. Corsica, France
Melting pot of Med to host Tour
Best for: Activities, events, food
Mixing the cultures of Italy and France yet fiercely Corsican, the French Mediterranean island of Corsica has a furious beauty. It is this epic beauty combined with its challenging topography that make it a spectacular choice to host the historic centenary of the initial stages of the Tour de France. Race organisers wanted the hundredth Tour to start in an enchanting location, and decided Corsica was the place; this will be the first time the race has braved its challenges.
2. The Negev, Israel
Desert in throes of transformation
Best for: Adventure, activities, off the beaten track
For decades the Negev was regarded as nothing but a desolate desert. But today, this region is a giant greenhouse of development. Think eco-villages, spa resorts and even wineries. In the next few years a new international airport at Timna is scheduled to open, followed by a high-speed railway to Eilat and more hotels. Time is running out to experience the desert as nature intended.
3. Mustang, Nepal
Last chance to see ‘forbidden kingdom’
Best for: Activities, off the beaten track, culture
The completion of a road connecting Mustang to China in the north and the rest of Nepal to the south will make all the difference to this remote region. Lo Manthang, or Mustang as it’s usually called, has been dubbed ‘little Tibet’ or ‘the last forbidden kingdom’; though politically part of Nepal, in language, culture, climate and geography, it’s Tibet. Until 1992 nobody from outside was allowed in; for a while after that it was opened up to a few hundred a year, and these days anyone can enter, though the pricey trekking permit keeps the numbers down. Expect that to change.
4. The Yukon, Canada
Putting the ‘wild’ in wilderness
Best for: Activities, adventure, off the beaten track
This vast and thinly populated wilderness has a grandeur and beauty that can only be properly appreciated in person. But while few places in the world today are so unchanged over the course of time, change has started coming fast to the Yukon. In 2013 it is still one of the least densely populated regions on the planet (there’s almost 14.2 sq km/5.5 sq miles for each hardy local) but its tremendous mineral wealth is drawing new residents in a reprise of the fabled Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Climate change means that parts of the far north are actually dissolving into the Arctic Ocean and the glacier-clad parks are undergoing profound change.
5. Chachapoyas & Kuelap, Peru
Hidden gem of the Andes
Best for: Adventure, culture, off the beaten track
Nestled in the northern Peruvian Andes, the placid mountain city of Chachapoyas is small, quiet and a pain in the neck to reach. But this charming agricultural centre sits amid some of the country’s most incredible cultural and natural treasures, including an entire river valley’s worth of pre-Inca ruins, the funerary site of Karajía, and one of the world’s tallest waterfalls. The glorious isolation isn’t going to last for long. For the past half-dozen years, the Peruvian government has been quietly paving roads and improving other infrastructure to make the area more visitor-friendly.
6. The Gulf Coast, USA
Coast on comeback trail
Best for: Activities, family, value for money
An area that has become synonymous with the words ‘oil spill’ doesn’t sound like it’d be a vacation must-do. But a lot has happened since a deep-water drilling operation off the coast of Louisiana went fatally awry in 2010. The Gulf Coast – never a place to take disaster lying down – has rebounded. Rolling sand dunes once again sparkle and seasonal travellers are once again enjoying the Gulf’s tepid waters, not to mention its tender locally caught fish. The ‘Redneck Riviera’ is edging back to its best.
7. Carinthia, Austria
Serene bargain nestled in Alps
Best for: Activities, family, value for money
With belts tightening across Europe, the Alps are fast becoming the exclusive preserve of the champagne set… but lesser mortals will find plenty to love about Carinthia. With ski resorts nestled on every mountain top, Carinthia is best known outside Austria for uncrowded slopes and après-ski where you don’t have to take out a second mortgage just to buy a beer. Backing onto Italy and Slovenia, the region dilutes the Austrian efficiency with Mediterranean laissez-faire. So where are the crowds? Check out Carinthia now, while peace and quiet reigns; it won’t stay like this forever.
8. Palawan, the Philippines
The ultimate archipelago for adventurers
Best for: Off the beaten track, adventure, culture
Palawan incorporates thousands of sparkling, rugged islands and is fringed by 2000km of pristine coastline. So far Palawan’s natural marvels have only been sampled by plucky backpackers. Not for much longer. The trail these pioneers have blazed is set to explode, with regional airlines waking up to Palawan’s potential and clambering to schedule direct flights to the capital. Throw in the mushrooming growth of style-conscious boutique hotels normally found in places like Ko Samui or Bali, and you can feel that Palawan is ready to hit the big-time in 2013.
9. Inland Sea, Japan
Japan without the bells, whistles and bullet trains
Best for: Culture, activities, off the beaten track
Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt Fuji… the islands of the Seto Inland Sea? You’d be forgiven if the name of this vast stretch of water in Japan’s west doesn’t ring any bells. With the exception of Miyajima, with its oft-photographed vermillion ‘floating’ torii (shrine gate), most of the Inland Sea islands aren’t on the usual international-tourist hit list. Fair enough. They’re out of the way, and there’s just so much to do in Tokyo. But those who make the effort are rewarded. Many of the islands in this roughly 400km-long waterway offer the chance to experience a Japan without all the bells, whistles and bullet trains.
10. Campania, Italy
Old classic prepares for epic year
Best for: Culture, family, food
Campania is home to Italy’s most sumptuous stretch of coastline (the Amalfi Coast), one of its most mind-blowing and ebullient cities (Naples), the menacing beauty of Mt Vesuvius, and the frozen-in-lava ancient Roman city of Pompeii. This year it is receiving an enormous injection of cash as part of its role in hosting the UN’s fourth Universal Forum of Cultures from April to July. Events will include art exhibitions from all five continents, music, cinema, dance, street artists and theatre, circus acts, food markets and workshops.