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Go Here, Not There

Amanpulo resort in the Philippines.  

Instead of Tahiti:
Try windsurfing, or be pampered poolside by a personal butler.
The initial problem with a trip to the Philippines is picking which corner to visit: The country comprises more than 7,000 islands. For sugar-white sand and sparkling lagoons, head to Pamalican and Boracay. The former is home to the elegant Amanpulo resort (from $750;, and guests are flown straight there via turboprop plane from Manila. Each of the 40 casitas are modeled after traditional thatched huts; springing for one of the eleven lavish villas will afford you a private chef, butler, and pool. When you’re not lounging beachside, take a windsurfing lesson, fish for wahoos, or stroll the island’s perimeter—if you’re lucky, you will spot sea eagles and baby sharks. On the larger Boracay, book a room at Shangri-La’s recently opened Borocay Resort & Spa (from $363; Swim and snorkel at the hotel’s Banyugan and Punta Bunga beaches, and check into the CHI spa for a hilot, a Filipino healing massage. Scuba divers should also consider day trips to neighboring islands: Coron is famous for its shipwreck diving, and Culion, a former leper colony, is bordered by coral reefs.

Instead of Paris:
See a first-rate museum, and shop Portugal’s Champs-Élysées.
Portugal’s picturesque capital, legendarily built across seven hills alongside the Tagus River, has as much romantic appeal as the City of Lights. Book one of the six suites (three just opened in March) at the stunning Palacete Chafariz D’El Rei (from $240;, a nineteenth-century aristocratic mansion decked with period antiques. By day, admire the impressive collection at the Gulbenkian museum; shop the Chiado, Lisbon’s version of the Champs-Élysées; and stop for custard tarts at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. Once night falls, choose between Michelin-starred restaurants: the opulent Tavares, the city’s oldest dining establishment, or Eleven, to experience the avant-garde culinary stylings of chef Joachim Koerper. Afterward, follow the crowd along the narrow, cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto, where bustling bars offer glasses of ginjinha and plenty of fado music.

Parrillero at Estancia Vik in Uruguay  

Instead of Argentina:
Bike the rugged countryside, and devour fire-pit barbecue.
A surge of interest in Argentina means that many have already experienced the pulsing Buenos Aires and natural beauty of Patagonia. But nearby lies another, less-trodden country. Fly into the capital of Montevideo, rent a car, and drive along the southern coast to Colonia del Sacramento, a seventeenth-century town whose historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Stay in one of the five rooms at the rustic La Vigna (from $120,, where you can borrow bikes and explore the countryside. When you’re ready to head back east, check into an artist-designed suite at the sprawling (4,000 acres!) Estancia Vik (from $500; Lounge by the stone pool, take one of the Criollo horses for a ride, and dig into grilled meat galore at the parrillero, a tin-lined Uruguayan barbecue room complete with central fire pit. Finally, head for Punta del Este, a cosmopolitan stretch that has become a Miami-like retreat for the country’s jet set. Reserve an Isay Weinfeld–designed bungalow at the new property Las Piedras (from $600;, and make a beeline for the popular La Barra and José Ignácio beaches.

Instead of Istanbul:
Museum-hop in the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
Syria’s relations with the U.S. are finally warming, which means the road to Damascus is more welcoming than ever (assuming the country isn’t swept up in Egypt-like protests). The capital—more than 3,000 years old and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site—is staggeringly beautiful. Check into the lavishly decorated nineteenth-century mansion turned five-star boutique hotel Agenor (from $259;; each of the twelve rooms looks like something out of a Scheherazade story, with antique chandeliers, Oriental rugs, and basalt washbasins. Located on Straight Street, the hotel is steps away from the galleries, restaurants, and shops (don’t miss the Khan Mall) that crowd this Old Town thoroughfare. Spend hours browsing the collection—including the first alphabet on a stone tablet—at the massive National Museum; catch a concerto at the Dar Al-Assad for Culture and Arts; ogle the resplendent Umayyad mosque, which reportedly holds the head of John the Baptist in an ornate tomb; and end your day by browsing the treasures at the nearby Al-Hamidiyah souk (just be ready to bargain).


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