Dream Destinations: Eight destinations for a culture hit

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

This secret lake in the southern Balkans is a rival to its Italian or Swiss counterparts.

THE EXPERIENCE Lake Como too crowded with Clooney-watchers, and purse strings too tight for Lake Geneva? Try Lake Ohrid. Considered too beautiful to belong to one country alone, it is the jewel of both Macedonia and neighbouring Albania. Even though the western Balkans are as calm as they've ever been, the main occupants of the lake's many, many cafes and sultry beach clubs are predominantly bikini-clad eastern Europeans and expatriate Macedonians, including Macedonian-Australians. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed lake's three-million-year-old waters run deep – they plummet to 300 metres – and are genuinely crystal clear.

 The best place to base yourself is Macedonia's major lakeside town, Ohrid, with its cobbled streets, geranium-lined windows and two-toned Byzantine monasteries set on the water's edge, all crowned by a 10th-century castle. Each July, this fortress's gloriously crumbled ramparts and amphitheatres host the month-long Ohrid Summer Festival, which draws opera singers, orchestras and actors from around the world.

IDEAL FOR Lovers of European history and spectacular lake views.

PRICE Intrepid's Western Balkans Uncovered trip costs from $2925 a person; intrepidtravel.com; exploremacedonia.com.

– Belinda Jackson

LIKE THIS? Croatia's Plitvice Lakes are fed by cascading waterfalls and the national park that surrounds them regularly appears on lists of Europe's most beautiful; croatia.hr

Hong Kong, China

Districts that remain undiscovered by tourists are coming into their own.

THE EXPERIENCE The original home of the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong remains one of the world's great foodie destinations. Still relatively tourist-free, the Sham Shui Po district in Kowloon is the perfect place to eat like a local and try dishes such as pineapple buns (which contain no pineapple), walnut cookies (which contain no walnuts), rice rolls, and egg noodles with shrimp roe.

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Hong Kong Foodie Tours leads small groups through the area, stopping off at a different venue for each dish. But you'll also discover local culture at markets, traditional medicine stores and the buildings that house the city's infamous "cage homes". The recently relaunched Ovolo Central hotel is in a great location while offering some respite from the bustling crowds of downtown. It also features a new vegetarian restaurant, a rarity in Hong Kong.

IDEAL FOR Foodies and shoppers.

PRICE From $HK2035 ($365) a night; ovolohotels.com. The Sham Shui Po food tour costs from $HK770 ($138); hongkongfoodietours.com; discoverhongkong.com.

– Craig Platt

LIKE THIS? Macau is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong and offers more than just casinos. The Portuguese influence from its colonial days can still be seen in Macau's architecture and, especially, its food – a Macanese egg tart is a must-try; visitmacao.com.au.

Mak Kwai Pui, the co-founder of Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong.

Mak Kwai Pui, the co-founder of Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. Photo: Supplied

Britomart, New Zealand

Britomart has shed its seedy past to become one of Auckland's swankiest enclaves.

THE EXPERIENCE Venture down the once-insalubrious cobbled lanes and streets of Britomart and you'll fi nd buzzing restaurants like Amano from the happening Hip Group, plus chic galleries and legendary ice-cream from Giapo. It's also home to local fashion legends Karen Walker, Zambesi and Trelise Cooper, as well as the SO/Auckland hotel, housed in the former Reserve Bank building. Designer Benny Castles has incorporated a volcanic theme that runs throughout the decidedly unconventional 130-room hotel. This extends from the staff's burnt-orange jackets teamed with sneakers through to the wallpaper and neon art installations. Need a drink? Visit the whimsical Mixo Bar, with its impressive "Mega Chandelier" by Marcel Wanders, or head to the rooftop Hi So Bar and gaze over your cocktail towards Rangitoto Island. 

IDEAL FOR Design and food aficionados.

PRICE From $NZ469 ($450) a night; sofitel.accorhotels.com; britomart.org.

– Sheriden Rhodes

LIKE THIS? Try the Oasia Hotel Downtown Singapore in the lovely, gentrified Tanjong Pagar port district; oasiahotels.com. visitsingapore.com.

San Francisco, USA

The California city is still a hub of artsy cool, but is constantly reinventing itself.

THE EXPERIENCE All hail hilly San Francisco. Not just for its many architectural icons – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coit Tower – and its host of historic bohemian neighbourhoods such as Haight-Ashbury, but for its rising status as a destination with a gold standard in museums, galleries and international cuisine. Blending old and new as effortlessly as the city itself is the Proper Hotel in the historic mid-market area, an easy walk to upmarket Union Square, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Asian Art Museum.

Proper guests beat the queues snaking around the block every Friday and Saturday night and catch the lift straight up to its chic rooftop lounge, Charmaines, for some of the best cocktails and views in the city. Built in 1906 and meticulously restored in 2017, the Proper is now one of the hippest places in the city; book well in advance.

IDEAL FOR West Coast culture vultures.

PRICE From $US365 ($515) a night; properhotel.com; sftravel.com.

– Greg Callaghan

LIKE THIS? Try San Diego, with its compact CBD bursting with museums and galleries, Mexican-influenced cuisine and one-third fewer rainy days; sandiego.org.

The rooftop lounge, Charmaines, at San Francisco's Proper Hotel.

The rooftop lounge, Charmaines, at San Francisco's Proper Hotel. Photo: Proper Hospitality

Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar

Experience amazing underwater encounters in an unspoiled and under-the-radar tropical location.

THE EXPERIENCE The temples of Bagan and the floating gardens of Inle Lake have joined the ranks of Asia's top attractions, but Myanmar still has a few surprises up its sleeve. Foremost among them is the Myeik archipelago, a collection of 800 islands in the Andaman Sea that is a magnet for divers. Live-aboard boats are a popular choice for those keen to plunge in and meet nurse sharks and manta rays amid colourful corals. For those who would rather sleep on terra firma, the eco-chic Wa Ale is the lodging of choice.

Guests stay in tented beach villas or treetop houses and can choose from a range of individual excursions that includes jungle hikes and kayaking through mangroves, as well as snorkelling and diving. Don't miss the opportunity to meet the local Moken people, also known as the sea gypsies. These nomadic seafarers possess extraordinary skills, including the ability to free-dive to remarkable depths.

IDEAL FOR Scuba divers and Robinson Crusoe wannabes.

PRICE Rates at Wa Ale from $US400 ($563) a person a night twin share, including full board, transfers and select activities; waaleresort.com; tourism.gov.mm.

– Ute Junker

LIKE THIS? The Philippines island of Palawan ticks all the most compelling tropical-island boxes thanks to its white-sand beaches, lush jungles and soaring mountains; experiencephilippines.org

Vienna, Austria

The reigning "world's most liveable city" is an irresistible mix of history and hot spots.

THE EXPERIENCE Vienna's reputation for the traditional – ballroom dancing, quaint coffee houses, Christmas markets and grand architecture – precedes it. But there's also a hipness to the Austrian capital that manifests in cool neighbourhoods, galleries and boutiques, and an eclectic (and often electric) nightlife. The new Park Hyatt Vienna plays to both sides of that coin. Dubbed the pearl in the group's crown, this art deco palace started life a century ago as the Bank of Austria's HQ and pays elegant tribute to that heritage.

The cavernous former banking chamber also houses a popular restaurant and bar with a separate entrance that invites the city's nightlife inside. The spa and swimming pool occupy the old bank vault, and the building's scale and elegance continue into its 143 rooms, including 35 suites ranging in size from 35 to 170 square metres, Austria's largest. 

IDEAL FOR Ball and concert attendees, high-end shoppers and cocktail sippers. PRICE From €430 ($689) a night; hyatt.com; wien.info.

Andrew Ireland 

LIKE THIS? Try Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme in Paris, a favourite of locals and visiting celebrities, where the real luxury is discretion; hyatt.com; en.parisinfo.com.

Taketomi Island, Japan

The home of Japan's newly anointed Dark Sky Park is a cultural treasure lost in time.

THE EXPERIENCE In the countdown to the Rugby World Cup later this year and the 2020 Olympics, all eyes are on Japan, which is what makes this destination in the East China Sea so appealing. More than just geography separates it from mainland Japan. For centuries, this tiny island was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a peace-loving nation which adopted Buddhism from the Chinese while also inventing karate. Hoshino Resorts quietly inserted itself into this timeless landscape in 2012 with its "village" of 48 Ryukyuan-style bungalows and program of traditional arts and crafts.

There are bullock cart rides through bougainvillea-shaded villages and traditional weaving with local artisans in this "blue zone" – the term for places where many people live longer lives (often beyond 100). Finish the day with a degustation dinner served against a backdrop of glittering constellations.

IDEAL FOR Slow travellers, astronomy fans, been-there-done-that types.

PRICE From ¥51,600 ($654) a night; hoshinoya.com; visitokinawa.jp.

Belinda Luksic

LIKE THIS? Try Fogo Island in Newfoundland, where the striking Fogo Island Inn was designed in harmony with the island's traditional way of life; newfoundlandlabrador.com; fogoislandinn.ca.

Take a bullock cart ride through shaded villages on Japan's Taketomi Island.

Take a bullock cart ride through shaded villages on Japan's Taketomi Island. Photo: Courtesy of Hoshino Resorts

Downtown New York City, United States

The historic heart of the city is now its most vibrant part.

THE EXPERIENCE Anchored by two stunning architectural landmarks – Santiago Calatrava's Oculus transportation hub at the World Trade Centre site, and Renzo Piano's new Whitney Museum of American Art under the High Line – the in-between of below 14th Street is an urban wonderland teeming with essential restaurants, galleries and sights. On the Lower East Side, a newly invigorated art scene pulses on weeknights. Come the weekend, Tribeca's dining scene hums. And the tiny boutiques and European-inspired cafes of the West Village are charming just about all of the time.

Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, housed in one of the city's tallest and most interesting residential towers and designed by Robert A. M. Stern, is an appropriately chic home base. It boasts one of New York's biggest indoor pools, a destination spa beloved by locals and, from the Gotham suites on the 23rd floor, large step-out terraces. Plus, a short walk away from its front door is almost every useful subway line.

IDEAL FOR Foodies, barflies and art appreciators.

PRICE Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown rooms start from $700.

–​ Amelia Lester

LIKE THIS? Hong Kong's frenetic energy is a close approximation and the Upper House a superb urban retreat; upperhouse.com.

The Four Seasons Hotel, Downtown New York.

The Four Seasons Hotel, Downtown New York. Photo: Christian Horan

To read more from Good Weekend 52 Dream Destinations visit The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

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