Being a Southerner, I never had a desire to visit the north. What good could possibly exist in a place that seemingly every Northerner was trying to escape from? They invade our shores first as snowbirds and eventually pull up roots completely to retire in the beautiful south. As I grew older, and after a few forced business trips I discovered the North wasn’t so bad. I loved architecture and history and the north had plenty of that so, my explorations continued.
Maine had eluded my checklist of states visited. Having no clue what was worth seeing, I asked the experts, my neighbors Ken and Joan Fink who call Maine home for much of the year. Ken is a highly descriptive man (all Mainers are) and it didn’t take long for him to paint a picture that appealed to me. Truthfully, all the talk about outdoor activities, scenery and must-see national parks was great but “my son owns a lobster boat” was convincing enough.
Ken and Joan wanted to treat us to our first lobster meal in Maine and their home was along our drive to Bar Harbor. Following Ken’s directions, we turned off the main road onto a boulder lined, gravel drive. I was wonderstruck by how lush, green and alive everything was. Pulling up to Ken and Joan’s home they greeted us in the yard and I asked, “Is this where the Hobbit’s live?” It was like The Shire had been dropped in the middle of the Maine woods. Wild ferns grew high on a forested bluff, and I could see glimpses of the ocean through the trees. I could have cancelled the trip and sat on their porch forever, but there was more of Maine to see. After a couple of fresh from the ocean lobsters, we left “the Shire” and continued north.
The scenic drive up US-1 was a charmer. Single church hamlets dotted the way, looking like movie sets. There were endless antique stores and artisan boutiques with locally handmade items from artwork to specialty foods. It’s shocking how many things a Mainer can make out of a blueberry.
Bar Harbor itself is a coastal beauty, its harbor filled with boats and yachts of every kind. Seemingly, all of Maine is a comparison of contrasts. It can be bright and sunny one moment, and in the next, shrouded with fog. One minute you’re walking across a land bridge connecting the town of Bar Harbor to Bar Island. Moments later, you better be ready for a chilly swim because the land bridge gets gobbled up by the tide and completely disappears. Our highest recommendation is a stay at the West Street Hotel. Bar Harbor's newest, most modern and stylish digs with Maine's only rooftop pool (heated)!
Walking through town you’ll see contrasts in the people, stores, homes and even the landscape. The homes in town range from blue collar bungalows to gilded-age mansions.
Bar Harbor draws a variety of visitors with its shops, taverns and hotels offering easy access to Acadia National Park. Admittedly, I had never heard of Acadia but after spending time exploring, it’s no wonder why it’s such a huge attraction. Unfortunately, I did have to pass on the famous sunrise viewing from atop Cadillac Mountain. I don’t do well with suggested arrival times of 4am.
Be sure to stroll along historic Shore Path. Starting from town, the path, created around 1880, winds along the eastern shore of town with views of the Porcupine Islands on one side and mansions on the other. By the time the path brings you back towards town, you’re in a shop laden area where you can refresh with a local blueberry soda and a lobster roll for lunch.
I must say that while I just needed to check a state off my list and had no real expectations, Maine was full of welcome surprises. For Heaven’s sake, even Paula Deen proclaims Bar Harbor’s Side Street Café as having one of the 10 best mac-n-cheese dishes in the country. If that can’t lure a Southerner north, nothing can.
London, Paris, Rome… Dream destinations for some and “been there, done that” for others. Popular destinations are popular for a reason. They’re easy to get to, and there’s a slew of information and advice from fellow travelers who have been and can tell you the best things to see and do. Their shops, restaurants and museums are well documented and the lines to see them can be legendarily long. But what happens when you feel like you’ve already been everywhere or you’re simply uninspired about your next destination? Enter the travel industry buzz-term d’jour, ”emerging destinations”.
Emerging destinations are not new places to visit. They’ve been there all along but for various reasons haven’t been popular for tourist travel. Perhaps getting there was difficult or a reputation for being unsafe kept them off your bucket list. Maybe they’ve been easy to reach and safe all along but have just been standing there like the shy girl against the wall at a school dance…afraid to speak up and be noticed for the great beauty she is. Shy no more, emerging destinations are speaking up by investing in infrastructure, advertising, safety and getting the word out about why you should visit.
The list of places considered emerging is quite long, but let’s focus on three generating a lot of buzz.
Cuba. The lady of the hour. You’ve heard a lot about Cuba lately but it’s still technically illegal to visit unless you’re on a sanctioned trip for one of about a dozen reasons. Airlines and cruise ships are making it easier, helping with the proper paperwork to ensure you stay out of trouble with the government. For the time being, visiting Cuba with visions of lounging on the beach is still illegal and tourist feedback is mixed. Some delight in seeing the lavish but crumbling architecture, the meticulously maintained classic cars and interacting with the Cuban people. But others say there’s still an uncomfortable political tension permeating the air and that the tourist infrastructure simply isn’t ready for American expectations. Kempinski Hotels, a luxury leader in Europe and around the globe plans to change the perception that Cuba has no luxurious accommodations with the opening of the gleaming Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana. We're visiting soon to try her out on her promises.
Colombia. Business breeds business and Colombia’s entry onto the list of hot places to visit is partially fueled by business travelers going for work in one of South America’s most thriving economies. When they aren’t working, they’re taking notice of what Colombia has to offer from spectacular colonial cities, to beach towns busting with culture and nightlife. Most people don’t realize the often snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains reach well into Colombia offering a vastly different landscape from the perception of palm trees and sweltering temperatures. Big cities like Cartagena on the coast and Bogota in the mountains are luring travelers in increasing numbers year over year. The luxury Four Seasons hotel chain believes in the country so much, they recently debuted two new properties. The Four Seasons Bogota and the Four Seasons Casa Medina.
Romania. The dark seductress of Europe. Romania suffers from a perception problem but this is a land of villages that look plucked from a fairytale and the Carpathian mountains, home to legendary Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula (perhaps part of that perception problem). In a short amount of time you can travel from the Danube river, to the capitol city of Bucharest and out to the Black Sea, taking time to stop in medieval towns and visit storied monasteries once viewed as safe havens from the clutches of the vampires still rumored to come out at night. Romania is a striking country with fascinating architecture stemming from being at a crossroads of eastern and western Europe. If you’re seeking a chance to seemingly step back in time…Romania will delight without hurting your wallet.
These are just a few examples, but emerging destinations offer an exciting opportunity to see new places and experience things that your neighbors haven’t yet. Don’t rule them out when thinking about your next trip. Just remember that although they are trending, they may not have the creature comforts you expect, like a Starbucks on every corner. But with an adventurers’ spirit and open mind, a trip to an emerging destination might be the greatest journey you’ll ever take.
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