We've asked 10 people who explore for a living to reveal the places they've recently "discovered" — in other words, the best places you've never heard of (and, frankly, neither had we). Go now, before the rest of the world catches up.
Enrico Pizzorni: Tour leader for , which runs small-group cycling and hiking trips in the U.S. and Europe
A native of Piedmont, Italy, Enrico Pizzorni grew up idolizing cyclist Fausto Coppi, who won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d'Italia five times. In 1998, Pizzorni channeled his cycling talents into a gig leading and then developing small tours for Ciclismo Classico, which leads bicycle groups through Europe and New England. When destination-hunting in the off-season, Pizzorni says he tries to find "a cycling route that has something different to show the customer every day. Even if the landscape is nice, if it doesn't change after a week, it may become boring."
One of the company's most varied routes begins in Puglia by the Adriatic Sea and heads southwest across the arch of Italy to finish in Calabria. After completing that trip, Pizzorni and a colleague wondered if they could find a more appealing place to stay than their base in Potenza.
One night they skipped dinner to scope out the surrounding villages. "It was dusk, and we were driving up a little mountain and then through a tunnel when all of a sudden this incredible place appeared," recalls Pizzorni. The tunnel is no longer open — visitors to Castelmezzano now enter town from a different direction — but cream-colored houses still hug the sides of craggy peaks known as the Dolomiti Lucane for their resemblance to the Dolomites in northern Italy. (The region around Castelmezzano was once called Lucania.)
Wandering among the fairy-tale village's alleys, Pizzorni and his colleague — who were by then starving — lucked upon Al Becco della Civetta, a restaurant with an adjoining hotel run by a family that seeks to preserve recipes such as cavatelli con la mollica (pasta covered with bread crumbs). "They make things that you don't hear about even in the other nearby villages," marvels Pizzorni. He recommends a 20-minute after-dinner stroll further up the slope to the base of the rocky spires that overlook Castelmezzano's 13th-century church, the ruins of a Norman fortress, and the Basento valley. "It's very romantic," he says. "Italy is full of these unknown places."
How to get there: Public SITA buses from Potenza take about an hour, sitabus.it, $3; Al Becco della Civetta, 7 Vico 1 Maglietta, 011-39/0971-986249, beccodellacivetta.it, cavatelli $8, doubles from $101.
Henry Madden: Co-owner of the Rio de Janeiro-based companies and
Henry Madden traveled around the world for six years as an investment banker — but that all changed in March 2003, as soon as he and his high school friend Paul Irvine arrived in Brazil for vacation. Within eight months, the two had quit their jobs, moved to Brazil permanently, and embarked on a yearlong road trip through the country.
As the co-owners of two Rio de Janeiro-based companies, Dehouche and Anteater Travel, Madden and Irvine scout around South America nearly every week for their businesses. "We pop over to Patagonia or Paraguay for a week to check something out," explains Madden.
Madden can't say enough good things about Caraíva, a rustic beach town at the southern tip of the state of Bahia. It's a laid-back vacation spot for Brazilians from Rio and São Paulo who are willing to make the 44-mile trek from the nearest airport in Porto Seguro down a partially unpaved road. "It's a little too far for some, but that's a good thing," says Madden. There are no cars in Caraíva — visitors leave theirs by the river and ferry across to the town. What Caraíva does have is a wide gold-sand beach and a calm river where visitors can float away the afternoon adrift on inner tubes. "It's so lovely, it's almost surreal," says Madden. The town also borders tribal land where there's a village at which visitors can buy local handicrafts. In the evening, everyone convenes at the few restaurants. "My favorite has seating beneath a large tree," says Madden. "I particularly love the fish stew."
Rooms at Pousada da Barra are basic but appealing — though there's no air-conditioning, all eight rooms have ceiling fans and balconies that take advantage of cross breezes between the river and the ocean. "There's a rhythm to the place," says Madden. "It means that everybody is at the beach at the same time. You can stay a week and know everyone in town."
How to get there: Round-trip TAM Linhas Aéreas and GOL Transportes Aéreos flights from Rio, from $206; taxi to Caraíva from Porto Seguro, $103; Pousada da Barra, caraiva.com, from $78.
BARANJA REGION, CROATIA
Anne Wood: Program director for , a small-group adventure-travel company founded in 1969
Anne Wood spends about a third of the year in Europe and the Pacific for Mountain Travel Sobek. During a recent visit to Croatia, she became fascinated by the remote northeastern region of Slavonia.
Osijek, a town about a three-hour drive from Zagreb and the scene of much violence between the Croats and the Serbs in the early 1990s, has, Wood says, "a beautiful old square, with 18th-century Austrian-influenced architecture in pastel blues and yellows." Less than an hour's drive north of Osijek is the Baranja wine region. "Flat fields of wheat turn into rolling vineyards dotted with tiny A-frame cottages," says Wood. "These are actually centuries-old, family-run wineries."
Behind each house, a big wooden door opens into a wine cellar where 200-year-old barrels store traminac, pinot blanc, merlot, and other varieties. "Usually somebody brings fresh-baked bread from the kitchen, and then we sample wines and enjoy the scenery," says Wood. She recommends the cellars in Zmajevac and Suza, and Baranjska Kuca, a restaurant in Karanac. There, musicians play traditional songs while venison, sausages, and fish stew are prepared in an outdoor oven and served family-style.
Though locals are friendly, "it's not easy to find your way around," says Wood. "People don't speak much English, if any."
How to get there: Wine Cellar Josíc, 194 Planina, Zmajevac, 011-385/98-252-657, josic.hr; Wine Cellar Mihalj Gerstmajer, 31 Petöfi Sandora, Zmajevac 011-385/91-351-5586; Baranjska Kuca, 99 Kolodvorska, Karanac, 011-385/31-720-180, baranjskakuca.cjb.net.
ESTACADA, UNITED STATES
Pancho Doll: Author of four . His fifth, on the Northwest U.S., will come out this spring
Pancho Doll is a swimming-hole explorer, averaging 24,000 miles every 12 months, all while living in his '95 Toyota Tacoma and chatting up locals to get the scoop. His favorite recent discovery is Estacada, Ore., an old logging town about an hour's drive southeast of Portland on State Route 224.
"I was there looking for swimming holes along the Clackamas River and its tributaries," says Doll. "Great results, too. There are no fewer than six spots to jump into clear, cool Cascade runoff, plus a hot spring."
The town itself has two main relics from its boom days: a larger-than-life logger carved from a tree trunk and Hong's Chinese Restaurant & Lounge. Previously known as the Safari Club, the place is a roadhouse with taxidermy all over — tigers in the front window, a family of jaguars in a corner — but from what Doll gathered, the wildlife really comes out on weekends. The lounge's sign is supposed to read BAND EVERY WEEK, but the N fell off and the owners never replaced it.
Doll also recalls a coffeehouse, The Grind, that had free Wi-Fi — no small thing when you spend half the year in your pickup truck.
How to get there: Hong's, 116 SE Fourth Ave., 503/630-3208; The Grind, 105 SW Hwy. 224, 503/630-7700.
Geoff Watts: Co-owner of and coffee buyer for Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, a Chicago coffee-roasting company
Geoff Watts was fresh out of college when he began working as a barista for Intelligentsia in 1995, the same year the socially conscious coffee-roasting company launched in Chicago. In his current role as green-coffee buyer, Watts spends up to nine months a year sourcing coffee beans in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. "We want to change the culture from being a farmer to being an artisan," he says.
Of the 18 countries where Watts works, Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, intrigues him most. "That's the same area where the human race originated. I guess it's a natural pairing," he quips. Small coffee farms and towns like Yirgacheffe, which lends its name to the coffee varietal grown in the region, dot a river valley about a six-hour drive south of Addis Ababa. "It's just beautifully wet, and the soil's really rich," says Watts. "You can tell the coffee enjoys being there."
It's also ideal for hiking, horseback riding, cycling, and taking a dip in the hot and cold springs. Watts recommends Yirgalem as a regional base; travelers can stay at the Aregash Lodge, where the 10 round, thatched-roof tukuls (bungalows) are decorated with woven baskets and handcrafts typical of the local Sidama people. They have a strong tradition of consuming coffee and perform elaborate ceremonies when preparing and drinking it, especially in the presence of visitors. "The culture is fascinating, and the people are so friendly and gentle," says Watts.