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Mayu adjusts the kimono of Koiku, a fellow geisha, before she goes to work at a party this past June at the Asada luxury restaurant in Tokyo.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Travel restrictions will likely be lifted in 2021, though when exactly is still unknown. In the meantime, Globe and Mail travel writers share stories about the places they’re dreaming of going. Since part of the fun of travel is in the research, we hope this inspires your plans for future journeys.


Torngat Mountains National Park, N.L.

It’s the ocean I miss more than anything. I miss its ability to calm, to soothe, to brighten the mood – to experience “the blue mind,” the beneficial effects of water on our well-being.

And so I dream of Torngat Mountains National Park. Located on the subarctic tip of Labrador, the 9,700-square-kilometre expanse is the North Atlantic at its most wild and sublime. Mountains are in the name, but the life of this park is the water.

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Turbulent Zodiac rides along inlets and rocky coasts of the Labrador Sea yield sightings of seals and polar bears – sometimes one as hunter, the other as prey. On land, bear guards are required on all excursions beyond the fenced base camp, so strong is the presence and threat of the great white symbol of the north. But from the water, the creatures can be observed at ease, as they bound among boulders and shepherd curious cubs away from nosy onlookers.

Calmer boat rides alongside minke whales allow the opportunity to dance with icebergs, magnificent beasts of a different kind.

It is the size that wows at first, easily five times the height of the vessel. Then it is the colour that dazzles – not white but the palest blue, accented with icy, translucent stripes of aquamarine, the unseen 9/10th glimmering turquoise beneath the surface. Finally, it is the shapes that capture the imagination – this one a castle, the next one taking the form of an Arctic hunter’s profile.

On sailing adventures deep into the fjords here, any of life’s turmoils are rendered insignificant, dwarfed by 1,500-metre-high mountains made of rock that has existed for four billion years, making it some of the oldest on Earth.

Come ashore on a beach, hike over a hill and rush into an ice-cold lake for an exhilarating life-affirming swim. Amid this an ancient landscape I have never feel more present.

Part of our country, yet remote at the best of times, the Torngats felt a whole world way this year because of the Atlantic Bubble. When they are in reach again, they will be worth the journey.

– Domini Clark

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The Palmer River Valley at Torngat Mountains National Park.

R. Chipeniuk/Parks Canada


Innsbruck, Austria

It was the alpenglow that stopped me in my tracks. The bustle of Innsbruck, Austria – the trams, the locals popping in and out of shops, the kids blazing by on scooters – all of it dropped away while I admired the sun setting on the snow-capped mountains that ring the city.

With the Alps some 200 metres from Innsbruck’s Old Town and the roiling Inn River skirting the downtown core, a deep breath will fill your lungs with fresh alpine air. (Find a water tap and you can fill your bottle with mountain spring water, too.) The intoxicating blend of outdoor and urban delights makes this Tyrolean capital of just more than 300,000 people, so delightful.

Long a favourite getaway of Hapsburg royalty, Innsbruck makes it easy to escape into the mountains. Generous Welcome Cards are handed to visitors who stay two or three nights; the card offers free guided hiking programs (winter and summer), rides on public transit and access to several lifts and cable cars. In winter, skiers can purchase a Ski-Plus-City card that combines lift access at 13 nearby resorts (including transportation) and entrance to Innsbruck’s many museums for some cultural après-ski.

The Old Town is busy with local shops and its Gothic mansions ooze charm. Yes, that is a roof made of gilded tiles still shining since Maximilian I had it built in 1500. You might try true Austrian cuisine at the oldest inn in town – Goldener Adler, where several centuries of European royalty, and even Maria von Trapp, have dined and overnighted. Search out the funicular, with a fantastically futuristic design by Zaha Hadid, and ride it to 2,000 metres elevation. The view and cafés here are lovely, but another cable car lands you at Nordkette park for hiking in summer, expert skiing in winter, and an excellent spot for 360 degree views of the Inn Valley and Alps year round.

In 2021, watch for several music festivals in town and free summertime performances of traditional music at the Imperial Palace courtyard. In June, Crankworx, the world’s largest mountain bike event, takes place in the nearby mountain parks.

– Catherine Dawson March

Visitors to Innsbruck can get Welcome Cards that offer free public transit and museum access.

Handout


Japan

The best pizza I’ve ever had was not in Naples. Outside a tiny mountain town in the Japanese Alps, there’s a family-run café that serves up perfect miso-sauced pies. After a half-day of hiking the Nakasendo Way, an Edo-era trade route now popular with “slow travel” seekers, I ate two (easily) while staring out over the top of my host’s courtyard train set at misty Mt. Ontake.

In Kyoto, where my hike had begun, I sampled a dozen or so Japanese street snacks in the cramped stalls of the Nishiki Market, most memorably thin slices of seared Wagyu beef served with cold beer. In Tokyo, at the end of the hike, I ate three bowls of ramen from three different places in the 36-hour window I had before my flight home.

When I think about Japan, I think of how much I miss its exciting food scene. Still, one has to fill the hours between meals.

This was going to be Japan’s year. Tokyo was prepared to welcome thousands from across the globe for the Olympic Games. In anticipation of the influx, the country has been finding ways to drive tourism into less-travelled regions. Tourists have been walking the Nakasendo since its restoration in the 1960s, but tour operators such as Walk Japan are highlighting trails in less-travelled areas – from Himeshima to Usa in the subtropical south and Kushiro to Memanbetsu on the forested north of Hokkaido.

And in the meantime, Tokyo is gearing up to relaunch the waylaid Olympic festivities on July 23, 2021. The Olympic rings have already been resurrected at Odaiba Marine Park, the marathon swimming venue. And gamers of a different sort will be happy to know that the opening of Super Nintendo World in Osaka will go ahead in February.

– Corrina Allen-Kiersons

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Masked pedestrians walk near the Olympic rings in the Odaiba section of Tokyo on Dec. 1.

Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press/The Associated Press


Blue Lagoon, Iceland

I knew from the moment my suite door closed that a stay at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon was going to be special. The sound of the door latch sliding into place was almost imperceptible; that soft click a tiny indication of the design thinking that went into making this resort, overlooking the moss and milky waters of Iceland’s famed spa destination, not just a hotel but an experience. As a guest, you don’t so much walk through the hotel as float, the serenity of the outdoors creating an equally calming vibe inside.

The mission of Reykjavik-based Basalt Architects, the studio behind the property, was to allow the building and the natural terrain to become one. “Nature was the guide,” says lead architect and firm founder Sigridur Sigporsdottir. The minimal design, featuring concrete, rusty metal, glass and wood both inside and out, lets the craggy lava rocks and famed thermal water be the stars. Throughout the hotel, accommodations for the natural landscape have been made. The most memorable might be the Champagne room in the subterranean wine cellar of the restaurant Moss, where bottles perch on lava stone ledges waiting to be popped.

Iceland has many draws aside from its soothing thermal waters – the landscape is captivating; if the sky is clear and the stars align, you can view the Northern Lights; summer can seem eternal thanks to the midnight sun, and its food scene is rich in unique flavours. Seafood lovers have an abundance of choice, ice cream is a delicacy, with homegrown flavours like rye bread available at Kaffi Loki, and the fine dining scene is competitive, with The Retreat’s Moss joining Michelin-starred Dill, Kol Restaurant, Vox and others.

But it’s especially on my radar in 2021 because of its recently launched remote work visa, which allows foreigners to live and work on the island for up to six months. That, and I covet a return to the cocoon of The Retreat.

– Maryam Siddiqi

The Retreat spa is a stylish way to take in Iceland's Blue Lagoon thermal springs.

Blue Lagoon


Porto, Portugal

I was sitting in a tiny taverna on a small street in Porto when the package arrived. Andre Apolinario, the host of my Taste Porto food tours and as effervescent as the Porto Tonicos I’d been enjoying regularly, delivered the tiny bag with a knowing smile. Inside was chocolate from Arcadia, one of the best chocolate makers in the city. I’d mentioned how much I wanted to taste everything in Porto, and Andre had delivered with a tour that led us to Pastels de Chaves (flaky pastry stuffed with veal), the Terylene (roast pork loin) sandwich at Porto’s oldest restaurant, Flor dos Congregados, and the Port cellars that dot the city. But we were short on time and the chocolate had evaded us. While I nibbled on petiscos – small plates of cured meats, cod croquettes and more – with our group, Andre had quietly slipped away and made the purchase. I tucked my special treat in my bag, one of many tasty souvenirs, along with tins of sardines, tubes of pumpkin jam and pocket-sized bottles of Port, for home.

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Porto was the last trip I took before the world came to a grinding halt. Over the past few months, I’ve nibbled my way through those treats, each bite and sip bringing me back to the riverside patios, sunset lit skyscapes and jovial moments. From the slow walks required by cobblestone streets and ceramic tiled architecture, to the infectious joy of local purveyors who offer a sample and wait to see the smile spread before packing up your purchase, I quickly fell in love with the city.

As I left, they were putting the finishing touches on the World of Wine – a new cultural district in the city that includes museums, restaurants, a wine school and more – and I raised a glass and vowed to return to see it in action. When the world starts to spin again, I intend to fulfill my promise.

– Heather Greenwood Davis

Porto's Cais da Ribeira and Ponte de Dom Luis I are reflected in a glass of wine.

Getty Images/iStockphoto


Antigua

It’s a sunset that I can’t forget. Back in March, with borders closing and the world shutting down, I sat on a lounger, stretched out over some of the finest sand in the Caribbean, at the newly opened Hodges Bay Resort and Spa. To my left, a group of Instagram models posing with a couple dozen rescue puppies. To my right, a celebrity chef wrapping up a photo shoot. It was surreal and beautiful. And it was my last breath of the tropics, before the early spring, first-wave lockdown. The world was burning, but for the moment, I was only focused on that great ball of fire, dipping into the blue, just on the horizon.

Antigua is a small island in the West Indies. In about half an hour, you can drive all the way across, from the busy capital of St. John’s to the tall ships in English Harbour. It is a place blessed with beaches. As the slogan goes, they have 365 of them, one for each day of the year. But this island rewards those who search, who explore the back roads.

I rode with local guides, going from the grand sweep of Jolly Beach, a kilometre-and-a-half stretching to the horizon, to Half Moon Bay, a perfect crescent of almost-pink shoreline where locals come with coolers and chairs, and reggae bands play on the weekends. And then, inland, cruising along cliff-clinging dirt roads, and through dense rainforest, and along fields growing the national fruit, the super-sweet black pineapple.

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On one visit, I spent the night at The Great House, a 17th-century plantation in Mercer’s Creek, with its original sugar mill. Since then, its patio has become a popular, local pop-up restaurant, bringing together the catch of the day (lobster, snapper, mahi) paired with fruits and veg, picked from their own gardens. In my dreams, I’m sitting there right now. And because Antigua was fast to flatten the COVID curve, and keep it that way, reopening to international travellers back in June, I’m hoping my dreams soon become reality.

– Tim Johnson


Utah

As we soared past the low desert and mountain ranges, I was mesmerized by the rust-coloured terrain that stretched endlessly from my window seat view. As soon as I landed at St. George Regional Airport, I knew I had arrived somewhere special. The southwest corner of Utah has an otherworldly allure, with hikers and nature lovers travelling from afar to catch a glimpse of the mesas, deep canyons and vermillion desert up close. Fortunately, I had arrived in December, the quiet offseason providing the chance to spend some time outdoors and to reflect on the year without the crowds of tourists. To find a moment of solitude in Zion National Park is almost unheard of in the peak summer months. In the winter, the only noises heard were the crunch of freshly fallen snow under my feet and the wind rushing through slot canyons. I trudged along the riverbed through the low-tide of Virgin River in The Narrows, sheltered from the cold by towering sandstone cliffs. The slick rock and flowing water gave this hike a meditative quality, forcing me to take a moment to be focused on the path, concentrating on each step, and in awe of the surrounding canyon.

My route wound north through Utah, stopping to admire the thin spires of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, which were dusted with snow, and to hike through the canyons and domes to Chimney Rock pillar in Capitol Reef National Park.

When the border reopens, I am eager to return to Utah to explore this region in a new way. Either by train, hopping aboard the Rocky Mountaineer’s new Rockies to Red Rocks, or relaxing in one of the luxury encampments at the recently opened Camp Sarika by Amangiri.

– Caleigh Alleyne

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Masked hikers travel a portion of the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park this past November.

Nikki Boliaux/The New York Times


Hydra, Greece

Hydra, Greece

Just 72 kilometres from Athens’s modern port of Piraeus is the island of Hydra (pronounced ee-drah). Dazzlingly whitewashed villas and houses with bright blue shutters and fiery red window box geraniums climb the hillsides that slope up from Hydra’s horseshoe-shaped harbour. The island is the only one in the country to have long ago banned cars and motorcycles to preserve a 19th-century ambiance, which explains why I’m stuck in a donkey jam.

The burro carrying my luggage up the steps of a steep winding cobblestone lane has encountered another pair of heavily laden beasts blocking a hillside intersection – one hauling a bathtub and another a bedroom dresser. Petros, my handsome donkey driver, calmly backs up his boys and the tangle dissolves with a clatter of hooves and a convivial laugh. After a year of going nowhere, it’s this kind of standstill that I long for.

There is plenty to explore here, even though the island is less than 65 square kilometres. Strolling one of the cliff-side pathways out of the port, high above the rugged, rocky coastline present spectacular views across the indigo Saronic Gulf. There are postcard-pretty seaside hamlets such as Kamini, Castello and Vlychos and there are churches everywhere – this island alone has more than 300 for its 2,000 native Hydriots.

The island exudes a go-slow Boho atmosphere, so it’s no surprise that it has long been a magnet for artists and intellectuals such as Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and French painter Chagall. Leonard Cohen lived here on and off for decades. It was in Hydra that the famed poet/songwriter/singer wrote Bird on the Wire, which he observed when electricity cables first came to the island.

The art scene comes to life annually with the long-running Hydra School Projects, a summer exhibition of prominent international artists. And at the hub of Hydra’s creativity is Deste Foundation’s Slaughterhouse Project. A former stone seaside slaughterhouse transformed by billionaire Greek/Cypriot collector Dakis Joannou into an art space, the gallery hosts the work of a different artist each season and attracts art aficionados from around the world from June through September. Jeff Koons is the 2021 summer star.

– Margo Pfeiff

On the Greek island of Hydra, a bier is carried into the sea last April for a Greek Orthodox Good Friday ritual mourning the death of Jesus.

Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press


Laos

It’s 4:30 a.m. in Luang Prabang, and I’m sitting on a dusty curb in the dark, holding a warm rattan basket with steamed rice. A few women join me in, sitting in front of their homes, carrying similar baskets. I’m not waiting for sunrise to illuminate a temple or catch a glimpse of a wild creature. I’m joining the daily ritual of tak bat in Laos, the giving of alms by providing novice Theravada Buddhist monks with their morning meal.

Participating in this Buddhist ritual offered me a welcome introduction to Laotian culture, where ancient philosophies are intrinsic to daily life. With a population of approximately seven million, this Southeast Asian nation is often overlooked by travellers for Cambodia and Vietnam, though it shares a similar history of French colonialism and communist governments. Laos doesn’t have massive metropolises with backpacker beer streets or historic temples featured in Hollywood blockbusters, but its unhurried rhythm encourages visitors to stop and savour.

In 2021, Laos will shine when it celebrates Boun Pi Mai, the solar new year on April 14. Festivities to welcome good fortune, happiness and health include locals splashing water on everyone and everything in the 3,000-year-old tradition.

And must-see sites include Wat Phu, a 10th-century Hindu temple complex, which predates Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, near Pakse in southern Laos; capital city Vientiane’s glittering heart Pha That Luang, a 16th-century gold stupa; and Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and former royal capital of Laos, with its gilded Wat Xieng Thong. South of Luang Prabang, the Pak Ou caves, tucked into limestone cliffs above the Mekong River, are worth the steep stair climb to see hundreds of miniature Buddhas. Entry fees total less than $20, another benefit for budget-savvy travellers, and even before the pandemic, crowds were few.

– Waheeda Harris

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A tourist soaks in a pool of the Kuang Si waterfalls outside Luang Prabang.

MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images


Tweed Coast, Australia

On a map, it’s not that easy to differentiate the swaths of shore and countless beach towns that dot the Queensland and New South Wales coast below Brisbane. Among Australians and Canadian alike, most of the name recognition belongs to the Gold Coast in the north – home to famed Surfers Paradise – and at the southern end to Byron Bay, a once-rustic enclave that’s evolved from hippy to hipster with its Instagram-trap cafes and celebrity residents, like Chris Hemsworth.

But sandwiched between these two tourist juggernauts is Tweed Shire, a 35-kilometre slice of coastline that stretches inland through dense UNESCO World Heritage rainforest teeming with wildlife and tropical produce, reaching up to misty mountain ranges. And the area is having a moment.

The beauty of the Tweed – in addition to the splendour of its pale sand, aquamarine surf and lush volcanic hinterlands – is that everything I want to see is within a 20-minute drive.

My first taste of the region is at Halcyon House, a once-dilapidated surf motel turned chic retreat. Over a house welcome drink – made with colour-changing Ink Gin from Husk Distillers, whose sugar cane fields, distillery and brand-new tasting room are just 15 minutes inland – I plotted out my next few days against a boho beach house backdrop stylish enough to hold up in Malibu or the Hamptons. My sights were set on the numerous small-scale farms that make up an informal regional culinary trail.

Madura, Australia’s only sub-tropical tea estate, boasts 50 acres of tea bushes; Farm & Co., a produce stand slash café slash working farm, tempts taste buds with its baskets of sweet organic pineapples and kiwis; and Tweed Valley Whey Farmhouse is a fourth-generation sustainable cheesery.

When I inevitably hit my food wall, I hop on one of Halcyon House’s free cruiser bikes and hit the New South Wales Coast Cycle Trail, which runs from Brisbane down to Melbourne – not that I’m looking beyond the Tweed. For me, 2020 has been about seeking out unexpected pleasures without going far; when it’s time to travel abroad again, I can’t wait to apply that slow, micro-focused approach to this tiny slice of Australian coastland that truly has it all.

– Alyssa Schwartz


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