Image: Lhasa, Tibet
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In Tibet, Lhasa's Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama, stands on a hilltop.
updated 1/21/2011 12:09:00 PM ET 2011-01-21T17:09:00

Lhasa, Tibet
Few places feel so enticingly remote as Lhasa, surrounded by the Himalayas, cloaked in Tibetan Buddhism, and—at 11,975 feet—one of the highest cities in the world. Now this mystical destination is not just for the backpacker set, thanks to the month-old St. Regis Lhasa Resort (doubles from $253; dinner for two $57), the first of a handful of new hotels that are upping the ante on luxury on Tibet’s windswept plateau (Shangri-La and InterContinental are on the horizon for 2012). The hotel pays homage to local architecture with sloping white façades and long, narrow windows. All 162 guest rooms are decorated with latticed-wood furniture and photographs depicting local daily life; many rooms face the iconic Potala Palace. If you’re having trouble adapting to the altitude, the resort’s Iridium Spa promises to melt away any malaise with a massage using the region’s cypress and azalea herbs. The on-site Si Zi Kang restaurant serves Tibetan-Nepalese dishes such as shamdey, a yak-and-potato stew served with pag (hand-molded barley cakes). A short stroll from the property is the seventh-century Jokhang Temple, which houses Tibet’s most sacred statue of the Buddha. A few steps east you’ll find a warren of market stalls selling handmade turquoise earrings and silk thangka paintings. For the best selection of artisanal crafts, head to Dropenling Handicrafts Center, a nonprofit shop selling everything from scarves made from soft yak hair to embroidered door curtains, said to protect you from both cold drafts and evil spirits.
— Christopher Kucway

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Kimberley, Australia
The rust-colored landscape in northwestern Australia is as wild as it gets—it’s one of the last frontiers in a country known for having plenty of rugged, off-the-beaten-path areas. Until recently, mostly archaeologists and thrill seekers ventured into the Kimberley’s untouched territory (roughly three times the size of the U.K.), which has close to 2,000 miles of virgin coastline and caves with Aboriginal paintings said to date back 40,000 years. That’s all changing now that more cruise vessels are dropping anchor along the Kimberley’s rugged shore. The most notable among them is the 106-passenger Orion of Orion Expedition Cruises (10 nights from $7,735), which has 53 light-filled cabins—some with private balconies—and marble-clad bathrooms. After a stop in Broome, the region’s largest town, with white-sand beaches and 19th-century Japanese-style architecture dating to the heyday of the area’s pearl industry, it’s all wet landings: Zodiac boats are your only transportation to the natural wonders that await. You’ll travel up a wildlife-filled river to King George Falls, the mightiest waterfalls on the Kimberley coast, and make an excursion to Montgomery Reef, where green sea turtles, sharks, and rays can be spotted in the waters below. Just be sure to take lots of pictures—there’s no place to buy a postcard.
—Sherri Eisenberg

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Zambia, Central Africa
Raw and undeveloped, the game-rich nation of Zambia has long attracted veteran travelers for its rugged walking safaris and rustic bush lodges, but it has remained relatively under the radar. As a handful of major safari players lay the foundation for a bigger presence in the country, Zambia is poised to become the next great African destination. In June, Sanctuary Retreats (from $550 per person per night) will open Zebra Plains, four luxe tents on South Luangwa National Park’s eponymous river, which is frequented by elephants, leopards, and giraffes. With vintage campaign furniture and even a library, it’s the kind of old-world aesthetic usually only found in East African properties. Ecotourism operator Wilderness Safaris (from $530 per person) has expanded to Victoria Falls with Toka Leya, where 12 tents on a riverbank are linked by teak walkways. A handful of new camps along the Zambezi River, known for its adventurous canoe tours, have cropped up. Among the best is Sanctuary’s Zambezi Kulefu, where a large pavilion is lit with lanterns at dinnertime. Not to be outdone, the smaller, family-owned operators are revamping their long-established bases as well. Bushcamp Company (from $350 per person), which pioneered South Luangwa walking safaris with Norman Carr Safaris (normancarrsafaris.com; from $432 per person per night) and Robin Pope Safaris (robinpopesafaris.net; from $400 per person per night), has renovated all six of its park camps, most stunningly at Zungulila, where four thatched-roof dwellings have canopy beds and plunge pools facing the antelope-filled plain.
—Douglas Rogers

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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
With its colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets, San Miguel de Allende may be a model for historic preservation, but a recent influx of innovative restaurants, art spaces, and hotels is adding a vibrant modern edge to this unesco-protected city. The most telling sign of the city’s evolution? The new Rosewood San Miguel de Allende (doubles from $295), the first international luxury resort, tucked away on four palm-studded acres near the historic center. Hand-carved furniture from Guadalajara decorates the 67 guest rooms, some of which have verandas facing the Gothic-inspired La Parroquia cathedral, while public spaces evoke a hacienda with arcaded walkways and courtyards. Design aficionados will fall for Fábrica La Aurora, a 1902 factory turned art center a 10-minute walk from downtown, with more than two dozen contemporary galleries and boutiques that showcase the region’s best artisans. Stop in at Superficie for colorful tiles made in the nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo, famous for its pottery. At creative Café Rama (lunch for two $17), a bustling downtown lunch spot, try international dishes (Andalusian pulled-pork sandwich) with indigenous ingredients (crunchy jicama). After dark, follow well-heeled locals to the laid-back terrace bar La Azotea (drinks for two $13) and try the signature cactus martini, a tequila-and-vodka concoction blended with Cointreau, lemon, and cranberry.
—Catesby Holmes

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