The Aurora Borealis, one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena, is visible from late November to the end of March within the Northern Lights zone—latitudes 65 to 72 degrees—where solar particles collide with atmospheric gases to create technicolor curtains of lights in multiple locations. Among the best places to view the lights is Sweden’s Icehotel, a hotel and art exhibition made of ice from the river Torne, which each year is reincarnated in a brand new design. While a permanent part of Icehotel—Icehotel 365— is open year-round thanks to solar panels, in winter, when winter sprinkles the whole of Jukkasjärvi with snow, artists from around the world take part in creating Icehotel. After snowmobiling to the arctic wilderness, take in nature’s spectacular light show, then return to the ICEBAR before retiring to a warm bed surrounded by ice. (icehotel.com) – Justine Amodeo
Since 2004, Virgin Galactic tycoon Sir Richard Branson has been working on the world’s first commercial spaceline and more than 700 customers have plunked down the 10% deposit for the $250,000 ticket for the two-hour flight on carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft SpaceShipTwo. Once passengers are onboard, WhiteKnightTwo will take off and climb to an altitude of 50,000 feet where pilots will release SpaceShipTwo to coast into space, where “celebronauts” will leave their seats and “experience true, unencumbered weightlessness.” Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, plans to transform access to space for the benefit of life on Earth. When? Only the stars know for sure. (virgingalactic.com) – J.A.
If the ends of the Earth and architectural marvels enchant you, go southeast, to the heel of the boot, and see any of the little towns that dot the craggy seaside shores where you can explore ancient grottos or purchase olive oil just pressed that day. For a storybook stay, visit the famous triangular Trulli houses of Alberobello. Crisp cerulean blue waters beckon you to swim out to the salty sea near Gallipoli—a stunning cliffside sea town with bold, blue colored boats and pastel colored walls, where bicycles languish in the sun alongside hanging salami and cheese. The best way to explore this area is from one of the Thinking Traveller’s curated concierge staffed private villas. (thethinkingtraveller.com/thinkpuglia) – Suzette Lipscomb
This rural, walled city near the eastern border is most famous for producing China’s most well-known sage, Confucius, who encouraged loving compassion. Unless you’re an expert on Chinese history, arrange a tour with an English guide through the sacred sites. Visit the Temple and the Cemetery of Confucius, where you can focus on the majesty of the misty forest, and absorb peaceful vibrations from 300,000 graves of direct descendants flanked by ancient statuary, some dating back to the Ming Dynasty. Leave a wish on the red tagged alter for Confucius in the afterlife. You can walk, rickshaw or taxi through the small town, where scooters speed by stuffed with kids hanging off all sides like octopi. Shangri-La Hotel, Qufu is a new, 5-star property with convenient access to all the sites. (shangri-la.com/qufu/shangrila) – S.L.
The minimalist and elegant designs of the Danes have influenced the world for decades. Most recently, that creativity has been harnessed towards the ambitious goal of a CO2 neutral country by 2025. Do as the Danes do and ride bikes along the canals and visit the original Tivoli Garden, (where Walt Disney is said to have been inspired to create Disneyland). Find the flag flying at Amalienborg Palace, that indicates whether the beloved prince and princess of the oldest monarchy in the world are in residence, and take a boat ride along the water to the old mermaid of Hans Christian Anderson’s imagination. There is no better place to catch views of the new Henning Larsen designed Royal Danish Opera House than from the sea, or inside, where can enjoy a performance from the main stage surrounded by the opulent building and gilded foyer. (visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen-tourist) – S.L.
Less than 45 minutes by train or taxi from Venice is a magical spa town with healing waters where you can spend your days in a robe and your evenings in a jacket or gown. Grand Hotel Abano is one of the five family owned GB Resorts that cures their own mud and offers a variety of paths to wellness via their doctor staffed spa programs. Access mineral rich waters from geothermal springs situated beneath the town and let a “fangina” apply your “fango” (mud), the benefits of which have been the subject of numerous scientific studies by the neighboring University of Padua. Italians can obtain a prescription to take “the cure” from their doctors, and have the spa visit deemed a medical necessity. Take a cue from the Italians, invest in your health, alternate your days between various water based workouts, tranquil treatments and submersion in geothermal pools. (gbhotelsabano.it/en)– S.L.
For scuba divers and snorkelers seeking historical ruins beneath the waves, the five-month-old Thanda Island is a private island adventure located in the Shungi Mbili Island Marine Reserve of southern Tanzania. Offering all things aquatic for families and groups of friends to experience, Thanda Island is one of a few private tropical islands around the world. Off-grid, solar-powered and environmentally sensitive, the island experience plays out in total seclusion across 20 acres, with three-quarters of a mile of coastline with a pristine white sand beach. Depending on the season, guests staying in the five-bedroom villa which can accommodate 10 adults and additional children may be able to watch green and hawksbill turtles nesting and their eggs hatching; sight and swim with gentle whale sharks that congregate just south of the island from October to March; and if very lucky maybe spot endangered dugong while diving with qualified instructors. (thandaisland.com) – J.A.
The new Dragonfly cable at the award-winning Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador allows guests to hover safely above the wild 3,212-acre Reserve, where snails as big as a fist and poisonous snakes as small as a pinkie coexist with ocelots and monkeys and cougars and voice-throwing cuckoos. In its mission to conserve yet reveal the wonders of nature, the eco lodge has introduced specially designed metallic gondolas that allow four guests and a guide to experience the world from a new perspective, spotting birds and animals in the tree branches, wafting over rivers and waterfalls, slipping in and out of misty clouds, and taking in stunning views of greenery. The cable system is stretched between two stations and suspended across six towers, with a station at the halfway point for embarkation and disembarkation. (mashpilodge.com) – J.A.
Since explora Valle Sagrado opened at 9,500 feet in the Andean Highlands in 2016, travelers enjoying the Sacred Valley can visit traditional towns barely touched by the force of globalization, ancient ruins impeccably conserved over the passage of time, emerald lagoons at the foothills of snowy peaks and immense fluvial valleys that open between mountains. There are 27 explorations to experience on foot, van or bicycle. In the Urumbamba River valley, guides will lead you to Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and other archeological sites. In the Huaypo lagoon plateau, you can move along local routes, passing between lagoons, farming communities and cornfields. You can also discover the peaks of the mountain range, an area still largely untouched by tourism. Other explorations include the city of Cusco and the not-to-be-missed sanctuary of Machu Pichu. (explora.com) – J.A.
Encircled by forests and rice paddies, Angkor’s ruins are the last vestiges of the Khmer Empire, and while boutique hotels, trendy cafes and luxurious spas have added new life to the town of Siem Reap, it’s the architectural glory of the temple ruins that will take your breath away. The grand Angkor temples are crowded with tourists and involve climbing with your hands and feet, but go very early (5 am) or late (5 pm) and take in Angkor Wat, the Bayon (famed for its 37 stone faces) Preah Khan (a maze of vaulted corridors, fine carvings and lichen-clad stonework that was built in the 12th century) and Ta Prohm (the spot Angelina Jolie made famous with her movie Tomb Raider) or some of the smaller temples such as Neak Pean and Ta Som. If you want to avoid the crowds, stay at the luxurious Amansara and book a private guide who can arrange for an archeologist to join you for a private helicopter tour of the temples and countryside. (aman.com/resorts/amansara) – J.A.