Travel Notes features a selection of accommodations, restaurants, activities and insight into the destinations found on Stories + Objects. Our team researches and personally evaluates each recommended place or activity included on the list. In certain cases, the locations under exploration are remote or emerging, thus every effort has been made to provide recommendations based on actual experience and the best option offered at the time.
The enchanting island of Sumba is one of the most authentic Indonesian island cultural experiences still in existence. The part-Christian, part-Animist worshipping inhabitants live mostly in traditional villages with stick and palm built houses and with subsistence farming practices. In recent years, the island has begun attracting adventurous travelers seeking a gentler pace and wilder Indonesian experience than overrun Bali thanks to Nihi Sumba, a luxury resort twice voted as Travel & Leisure’s Best Hotel in the World. Nihi is the island’s first and, as of now, only resort founded originally as an upscale surfer’s retreat due to the world-class waves found nearby. Now as a widely touted destination, it is working to simultaneously improve the lives and livelihoods of the island natives by training and employing them as staff as well as providing education, clean water and medical clinics through its Sumba Foundation.
Bali is known for its idyllic beaches and surf breaks, but a more relaxed and verdant beauty awaits travelers willing to traverse the land to the more pristine jungle and rice paddy landscapes surrounding Ubud. The UNESCO designated water canals and sacred flowing rivers dominate the scenery which is a welcome respite from the cacophonous and chaotic streets of Kuta, Seminyak and beyond. Ubud town is a lively, yet more relaxed, mix of locals and artistic-leaning ex-patriots which means there is a nice balance of the quiet nature one desires and high quality amenities. Traditional Balinese culture and design is a focus with hotels like COMO Uma Ubud offering unique experiences to guests to delve into the essence of what makes the island such a unique and wonderful place to visit.
The Dimbula District is a distinctive part of Sri Lanka’s foremost recognized tea growing region, The Hill Country, which also comprises the picturesque Nuwara Eliya District. Dimbula and its location within the Bogawantalawa, also known as “The Golden Valley” was one of the first areas to be planted in the late nineteen century. Per its nickname, the landscape is most notable for its lush greenery, waterfalls and steeply sloping tea plantations growing what is considered the best quality tea on the island. The difficult to reach region is accessible via a long car journey, a train to nearby Hatton, or more easily a float plane landing directly on Castlereagh Reservoir near the highly recommended Relais & Châteaux Ceylon Tea Trails with views of the Dunkeld Estate tea plantation where our storytelling takes place.
Sur, Oman is an ancient port town roughly one and a half hours from the Omani capital of Muscat. Sur has been an important town for sailors and trade with East Africa and India since the sixth century given its position on the coastal waters of the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. It became known for its shipyards, where large wooden boats have been constructed by hand for this trade. Today, Sur remains a worthy day trip destination for visitors staying in Muscat looking for a glimpse into the country’s seafaring past or combining with trips to the nearby wadis. Our Sur Travel Notes include a combination of recommendations for both cities.
The Dhofar region of Oman offers a diverse landscape of supreme beauty stretching from the Arabian Sea coastal shores to the Rub’ al Khali, the world’s largest sand dune area. The area yields the best quality grades of frankincense. Visitors come from all over Arabia to see the spectacular greening of the mountains and low-lying areas during the Khareef season between July and September when the rest of the peninsula is unbearably hot.
Essaouira, Morocco is an ancient port city also known as Mogador. It was likely established as a key seaside trading post during the fifth century before common era by a Carthaginian navigator named Hanno. The picturesque old medina is protected by eighteen century seafront ramparts lying adjacent to the main beach where one can watch the sun slip past the horizon just behind the namesake landmark island. Its serene pace and fresh seafare makes it a destination favored amongst natives and travelers alike.
Nara was the first imperial capital of Japan established in the eighth century. Often overlooked for nearby Kyoto, the beauty of Nara, its impressive shrines, collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with its over-friendly deer make for an unforgettable day trip to a quieter chapter of Japan’s history.
Palomino is a seaside town meeting the foothills of the lush jungle mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where the most prominent of the indigenous Colombian tribes reside, including the Kogi and Arhuaco. While currently accommodating the intrepid traveler and backpack set, the natural beauty of the setting along with the mystical energy of the nearby tribal lands that offer easy accessibility and myriad accommodations will surely set the destination up to be the Goa or Tulum of Colombia.
Cabo de la Vela can be found on the La Guajira peninsula of Northern Colombia where the unforgiving desert meets the sea in an unforgettably beautiful setting. These ancestral and sacred lands of the Wayuu have recently been discovered as a world-class, kitesurfing destination, making it more and more possible to find transportation and no-frills accommodation on the cape. Due to the remote, off-road location and passage into tribal lands, it is best to travel the region with a trusted tour guide such as Alta Guajira Tours
Bangkok, the seemingly endless metropolis of over eight million inhabitants, is a thoroughly modern city whose charm is best found on foot and by wandering through the narrow residential alleyways of the older districts, including Ban Bat in the old city's temple supply neighborhood. Often behind closed gates or tall walls, the hidden gems that we uncovered would have been nearly impossible to find without our indispensable guide, Kob, who serves as a local expert working closely with our friends at Indagare Travel.
The Denizli province, including the village of Buldan, is deeply rooted in Turkey's rich textile cultural legacy with quality cotton grown in the area for the expert weavers to craft their wares, including peshtemal towels which originate from the region. The abundant mineral springs throughout the area allowed it to develop as a prominent spa destination from Roman times until today. The relics and ruins of these settlements set within the otherworldly landscapes, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site Pamukkale, are associated with these healing waters, and can still be enjoyed by travelers in the here and now.
Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, which left an indelible imprint on the city’s charm and old world sophistication. Here, tradition harmoniously balances with modernity. A manicured state of nature melds into urbanity. Rich in meticulously preserved history, this is where one truly begins to understand the roots of Japanese culture.
The town of Kamogawa lies within the Chiba Prefecture just a two-hour train ride south of Tokyo on the Pacific Coast. The town is mostly known as a laid back fishing suburb, and home to a popular marine aquarium park. A visit to Kamogawa can easily be enjoyed as a day trip from Tokyo when one needs a break from the pulsating city and a moment to relax in an unfussy seaside setting with fresh, salted air, and perhaps partake in the budding surf scene.
Taha’a, known as the Vanilla isle, is a small island in the Society Islands chain of French Polynesia. Accessible only by boat from nearby Raiatea, it sways to the rhythms of the laid-back Tahitian lifestyle with one of the most desirable of all the island resorts just off-shore.
Fakarava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotu Atolls of French Polynesia. The atoll has received the UNESCO biosphere reserve designation for its pristine waters and flourishing aquatic life. Only eight hundred people live on the island with one small village and thoroughfare through the narrow strip of habitable land. A pleasant hour and half long flight from Pape’ete or, if preferred, a yacht or sailboat cruise, transports one to the enchanting land where the local sharks are as friendly and mellow as the local Fakaravans. Fakarava remains untouched and tourism is relatively under-developed with only a handful of small pensions and restaurants on the island.
Qamsar is a small village in the Isfahan Province of central Iran. As the village is small, the most suitable accommodation and dining options can be found in the nearby town of Kashan. Kashan is an ancient desert oasis town with a rich history of carpet weaving and other arts presented within a lively main bazaar in a city center full of well preserved, stunning examples of Persian architecture. American, British and Australian tourists require a travel guide to visit, but the sights, sounds and, during rose harvest season, the scents are sure not to disappoint.
Isparta is a southern Anatolian province known as the land of roses, located approximately two hours inland from the Turquoise Coast town of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea. The scenic countryside features gently rolling hills covered seasonal blooms with their scent, of rose or of lavender, drifting on breezes towards Lake Burdur. As the area has not yet developed the caliber of accommodations qualifying for this travel guide, our recommendation is to visit the fields and local producers on a day excursion arranged during the harvest season by perfumer Joanne Klein Wolternik, www.essentialtravel.nl.
The Peninsula de Yucatán of Mexico is known mostly for the white sands and turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya, and the archeological marvels of the Ancient Mayan world. A different experience awaits those who venture further out into the lush jungles and colorful towns to discover the culturally rich, authentic lifestyle of the Yucatecans. The Peninsula boasts beautiful and diverse landscapes of flora and fauna, from the gulf shores to the seaside with dense tropical forests and mystical cenotes, watering holes, in between. An ideal climate paired with a delectable local cuisine, and the melding beauty of colonial and indigenous stone architecture, ensures that it remains a quintessential escape for the global aesthetes and sophisticates that tend to linger, return, and for some, remain permanently in idyllic Yucatán.
Fès, Morocco was founded in 789 AD as the the first city of Idris, and was the nation’s modern day capital until 1925. The ancient walled city center and Medina of Fès El Bali is considered one of the world’s largest car free zones where nine thousand-plus alleyways are navigated solely on foot, by donkey or with the aid of a handcart. The inward facing charm of the city reveals itself only when one steps inside the beautiful courtyards of the dars and riads, typically built in stark white plaster accented by brightly colored tiles, ornate woodwork and often filled with antique treasures from the skilled artisans who have dwelled in this deeply cultured enclave for nearly thirteen hundred years. Fès with all its hidden charms still reigns as the creative capital of the North African country with an abundance of craftsmen and trade districts within the old walls and new boundaries of the city.
The commune of Beni Fouda lies in the heart of the Rif Mountains. Isolated and difficult to reach, yet absolutely worth a day’s journey from Tangier or Fès to experience life in one of the most traditional societies of Morocco, the Riffian Berbers. The colorful and unique indigenous Berber architecture punctuates the landscape surrounded by rolling hills of ancient olive groves. While a driver, guide and translator is essential, it is evident even with the language barrier, that the people living there are of open hearts, minds and awaiting the moment to share their hospitality and culture with their guests.
The Basque Country, known as Euskal Herria in the Basque language Euskara, is one of the most stunning regions of Europe. Inhabiting Northwestern Spain and Southwestern France, its landscapes extend inland from the beautiful Atlantic coast to verdant rolling hills to the impressive peaks of the Pyrenees mountains. Travelers are taken with the aristocratic architecture of Biarritz and the Basque houses that line the hills of the charming seaside villages Saint Jean du Luz and Hondarribia. At the same time relaxed and regal, all who visit are as in awe of the pounding surf at Mundaka as they are in awe of the culinary curiosities of Donostia-San Sebastián, where one will find the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the world.
Havana, the capital city of the nostalgic, forbidden isle of Cuba, was founded in 1514 as a strategic location for the Spanish conquest of the Americas by the explorer Diego Velásquez. Its low-lying colonial architecture is melded in with towering Brutalist structures that are both often aging in beautiful decay. Havana is sensory overload. Its colorful character, that of the city and of the people, and the music that fills the dance halls into the streets carry an optimistic spirit that is as refreshing as it is puzzling given the scarcity on the island. Those who take the chance to visit before inevitable change comes to call will forever romanticize the moment when Cuba was both a glamorous time capsule and Cold War relic.
Pinar del Río is a province on the westernmost tip of Cuba. It features some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island, from steep limestone mogotes and verdant green valleys to turquoise waters. The microclimates and incredibly fertile soils have made the area one of the best tobacco growing regions of the world. Although the accommodations and overall tourist infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired at this time, some of the most authentic Cuban experiences await travelers willing to explore a few hours outside of Havana and adjust to the country pace of life in the province.
Île de Ré is a small island located on the west coast of France two miles off the coast of La Rochelle in the Poitou-Charentes region. Originally an archipelago consisting of a few small islands brought together by silage and the formation of the salt marshes, Île de Ré’s abundant waters and soil means that local markets and restaurants are stocked year-round, not only with salt, but with locally cultivated potatoes, wine and oysters that are harvested at low tide off shore. The idyllic weather and charming villages make the island a favored destination for chic Parisians and nature enthusiasts alike.