Summer hot spots: Where to head to on vacation this year

 

Summer is almost upon us and that means vacation. With the dollar getting stronger each week and a relatively robust economy, getting out of dodge has never been easier nor more affordable. But where should you head to this year if you’ve only got a week or two of vacation time? We’ve picked the five best under-the-radar summer travel spots—from national parks to quaint towns to whole countries—in the U.S. and beyond. So pack your bags and dopp kits and hit the road. Your journey awaits.

Isle Royale National Park

The United States is known for its vast national park system—who hasn’t heart of Yellowstone or Glacier?—with thousands of miles of wooded and coastal terrain featuring native flora and fauna. One of the least-visited and -heralded national parks is Isle Royale on Lake Superior. Michigan’s national park is a little more than 200 square miles in area but packs a wallop in scenery and solitude. It’s a backcountry mecca, boasting acres of unspoiled rocky terrain and small lakes amid spruce and fir trees. The island doesn’t have any permanent residents nor roadways, which means you have to head here by ferry or seaplane. Hike, kayak, scuba dive, or bike to your heart’s content. You might spot moose or wolves or a variety of other reptiles and mammals.

Rangiroa

Bora Bora is well known to honeymooning couples but nearby lies an island chain worth visiting for its beautiful beaches, world-class diving and authentic feel. Rangiroa is the one of the largest atolls in the world and is a scuba diver’s paradise. Shaped like South America, the atoll has only two permanently inhabited islands but its coral reef and sandy beaches lure in-the-know visitors every year. Divers head to Les Sable Roses—yes, that’s really pink sand!—to spy marine fauna. Shoppers haggle with local farmers for affordable freshwater pearls. Le Sauvage remains the place to stay on Motu Avea Rahi. Here you won’t find a spa, electricity, water sports or WiFi. It’s a place to literally and figuratively unplug from the every day (don’t worry, the staff does provide oil lanterns after sunset).

Montenegro

I wrote about Albania before but nearby Montenegro deserves a mention, too. This coastal Balkan nation is filled with national parks, historic cities and beautiful unspoiled beaches. Think Croatia 20 years ago. Like it’s neighbor to the south, Montenegro is an emerging economy with tourism as its strong suit. You’ll find old towns and beautiful lakes galore. Head to the Ulcinj coast region on the Adriatic Sea for well-preserved monasteries, sandy coves and beautiful blue water. Perast is a small town in Boka Bay that boasts old architecture and seaside restaurants featuring flavorful grilled fish. Skader Lake sits in a valley with indescribable views. Breathe in the air and breathe in the joy.

Segesta, Italy

If you think you’ve seen one ruin you’ve seen them all, think again. Segesta, Italy, is fast becoming a go-to spot on the archaeological vacation circuit. Once the capital of the ancient and elusive Elymian people, today it enjoys an enviable position as a historic site not overrun with tourists. Encompassing seven structures, the site is worth a day trip if you’re staying in Sicily. The doric temple, built around 430 BC, is the highlight, boasting 36 well-preseved columns. The other six structures on the site—the amphitheater, agora, fortress, church, mosque and city walls—are a must for history buffs, and photographers will enjoy picture-perfect views of the hills and canyon beyond from various vantage points. Local thespians sometimes enact plays at the amphitheater during the summer.

Røros, Norway

Since Frozen became a hit, everyone is Norway crazy and thanks to great deals on Norwegian Air, it’s never been easier or cheaper to get there. Yes, Oslo, Bergen and the fjords are a must but don’t miss picturesque Røros. Situated just below the Arctic Circle, this small mountain town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts clean lakes and forested valleys that can be enjoyed year round. Try your hand at mushing or taste some rømmegrøt (aka sour cream porridge) at one of the local farms. Admire the medieval-looking wooden one- and two-story homes in this former mining town that was destroyed by the Swedes in the late 1600s.