Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011

We travel a lot, to destinations both well-known and unfamiliar. In our defense, it is our job to travel like mad, to explore the world and then write about our discoveries.

Though most travel writers find something or other of interest in most places we visit, there are always those personal favorites that rise above the rest. This year, we decided to scribble our favorites down for you. Some of these spots we’re tipping for greater coverage in 2011, while others are simply tried-and-true favorites that we can’t stop raving about to our friends and the various publications that allow us to write for them. Over the course of this week, we’ll weigh in on our favorite hotels, airlines, gadgets, apps, and websites.

So, without further ado: Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011.

Mike Barish. St. Kitts. I genuinely enjoy how locals and visitors frequent the same beach bars and restaurants. During evenings on the strip, I’d recognize staff members from my hotel doing the same thing I was doing: enjoying the ocean breeze with a cocktail and some jerk chicken.

Kraig Becker. Everest Base Camp, Nepal. For adventure travelers, a visit to Everest Base Camp is one of the best treks in the world. The 12-day hike isn’t just about the destination, however, as you walk in the shadow of the Himalaya each day, passing through sleepy mountain villages steeped in Sherpa culture along the way. The scenery, and altitude, is a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Catherine Bodry: Ko Chang, Thailand and Sayulita, Mexico.

Joel Bullock: My favorite new roller coaster of 2010 is Carowinds’ Intimidator. Carowinds is located on the border of North and South Carolina in Charlotte in the heart of NASCAR country. It was only fitting that the park design a racing-themed roller coaster that bears the nickname of racing legend Dale Earnhadt. Intimidator is an exciting ride. It’s the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in the South East.

David Downie: As a general trend, I revisit places that have fallen off the tourist maps, or that have been taken for granted, and delve deeper into favorite destinations such as Paris and Rome, which are infinitely rich and fascinating and satisfying. Cities: Paris (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Rome (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Genoa (food, wine, scenic beauty, history, magically restored architecture), Bologna (food, food, food and atmosphere and architecture), Helsinki (scenic beauty, atmosphere, seafood). Countryside destinations: Burgundy (wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Massif Central (hikes, scenery), Drome-Provencal (ditto, plus truffles and wine), Tuscany (art, culture, museums, wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Italian Riviera (ditto).

Don George. (1) Peru‘s Sacred Valley. I finally made it there this year and was enchanted by scenery, history, culture, people, cuisine. Machu Picchu is of course life-transformingly amazing but the other untouted ruins all around the valley are equally amazing. (2) Kyoto, Japan. The cobbled back quarters of this ancient city are as enchanting now as they were when I first visited 30 years ago. Tiny temples, impromptu shakuhachi concerts, apprentice geisha in full splendor. (3) Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Incredible island scenery, hospitable people, stunning lagoon, peaceful and laid-back lifestyle, thriving dance, carving, and textile arts scene.

Tom Johansmeyer. If you’re a cigar smoker, nothing beats Esteli, Nicaragua. On just about any budget, you can spend a few days down there. Make a few calls in advance, and you’ll have the opportunity to tour tobacco fields and cigar factories. Even if you aren’t a smoker, it’s amazing to see such craftsmanship in action.

Jeremy Kressmann. Hanoi, Vietnam for its great history and architecture, awesome cuisine, and intriguing Cold War sights. Secondly, Laos. The rugged north of the country has great hikes and the buzzing cultural capital of Luang Prabang is totally worthwhile.

Grant Martin. Bogotá. Forget what you’ve heard about kidnappings, drugs and danger, Bogotá is the new cosmopolitan capital of South America. With quaint, brick streets, a buzzing commercial district and a hip, young population, there’s not much to dislike about this place. Get there before the rest of North America figures it out.

Melanie Nayer. Shanghai. The city of old and new hit a turning point when it hosted the World Expo, and set the stage for Shanghai to become one of the most talked about–and visited–cities in the world.

Sean McLachlan. Ethiopia. Friendly people, rugged scenery, historic sites, and great coffee. What more could you want? Beautiful women, good food, adventure travel? Ethiopia has all that too.

Laurel Miller. Ecuador, especially Cotopaxi National Park (see above), because it’s stunningly beautiful, uncrowded, and there are loads of outdoor recreational opportunities. Ecuador is an amazingly diverse country, kind of like a mini-Peru but with very low-key tourism. There’s also great whitewater rafting/kayaking and mountaineering, fascinating indigenous culture, beautiful colonial cities, delicious regional foods, and the people are wonderful. There’s so much more to Ecuador than just the (admittedly spectacular) Galapagos.

Meg Nesterov. Bulgaria is cheap, creative, and easy to explore. Several of my most well-traveled friends already rave about it. Go now before tourism overexposes the country.

Heather Poole. Positano, Italy. It’s just so beautiful and the food is amazing. I’m a flight attendant and I have a four year-old son, as well as a husband who travels over 100,000 miles a year for business. Our life is like a game of tag. So when it comes to vacations all we want to do is relax. I love to be able to sit on a balcony and let the vacation come to me.

McLean Robbins. Telluride. It’s not new, but as ski towns go it feels non-commercial and relatively untouched. You’ll find truly friendly people (and your fair share of under-the-radar celebrities), but also the country’s best extreme skiing. And it looks like heaven when it snows!

Annie Scott. I’m big on Vienna. It’s a magical city that embodies everything I think of when I think of Europe: culture, history, cathedrals and class. I think the Swiss Riviera may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Lake Geneva looks so pristine you could drink it, and the French influence gives everything from the dining to the shopping that elusive je ne sais quoi. Lastly, I had a marvelous trip this year in Zambia where the wildlife was rampant and the scenery was enchanting and unexpectedly dynamic: sweeping plains, dreamlike riverscapes and incredible trees. The thrill of being immersed in the bush is hard to match.

Alex Robertson Textor. Lima, Peru continues to pop. While the Inca Trail is old hat, Lima is emerging as a major destination on its own. Perhaps most notable is the Peruvian capital’s excellent restaurant scene, which is as disarmingly inexpensive as it is top-notch. I also have to mention green, rustic, jaw-droppingly beautiful Dominica as the Caribbean’s top adventure destination. Dominica has a number of fantastic eco-lodges that showcase the island’s natural beauty wonderfully and are priced reasonably.

Karen Walrond. As a diver, I love Cayman. Love it. Very touristy, but the diving is beyond anything I’ve seen, and i’ve been diving all over the world. And I’m partial to Grand Riviere in my homeland of Trinidad, which isn’t touristy at all. Between April and June, you can see Giant Leatherback turtles nesting in Grand Riviere.

[Image: Flickr | alepheli]

Galley Gossip: Ask a flight attendant – Positano, Italy

While on a flight to Stansted, England, on our way to Venice, the New York based international flight attendant working on my side of the cabin eyed the book, Frommer’s Italy 2008, in my hands as she poured a little cream into my coffee. “Are you going to Italy?”

“We are,” I said, nodding my head at the husband who was asleep beside me. When she placed the cup of coffee on my tray table, I said, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. So where exactly are you going in Italy?”

Venice, Positano and Rome. Have you been?”

The flight attendant laughed, “Have I been? Too many times to count!” Click went the break of the cart. “I’ll be back as soon as I’m done with the service.” And like that she was gone, off to the next row where she offered the passengers behind us coffee, tea, cordials and dessert.

Want to know good, yet affordable, places to go, and eat, on your next vacation? Ask a flight attendant. Flight attendants are much like cops in respect to knowing great places to visit. Yet unlike cops, flight attendants aren’t just familiar with one city, they know the ins and outs of many different cities. Don’t believe me? Just ask the flight attendant on your next trip. You’ll see.

Ten minutes later the flight attendant was back at my row, a pen in hand. She placed a piece of paper on my tray table, a customs and immigrations form, and flipped it over. On the back she wrote the word POSITANO, and then began to draw as she said, “I go to Positano two to three times a year. Here’s what you need to do…”

“What?” said the husband who was now leaning over my shoulder.

“Positano,” I said. “She’s giving us the scoop on Positano.”

“My favorite place in the whole world,” said the flight attendant.

What I didn’t know at the time was Positano would soon become my favorite place in the whole world, too. It’s that amazing. That beautiful. And the food…absolutely delish! It’s the kind of place where you can just relax, sitting on your ocean view balcony, and let Italy come to you.

“Now this is the Doma.” She placed her finger on a sketchy looking arch. Then she marked a spot with an X. “Right here is a ceramics store. You’ve got to go here. This is where I bought the most beautiful set of ceramic plates. They’re gorgeous. Brown with red in the center and white around the edge, they’re perfect for the Valentine’s day dinner I host every year at my house.”

‘We’ll have to look for those,” I told the husband, and meant it. I wanted Valentine’s day plates, too!

And look over there – we found them, the beautiful Valentine’s day plates! At the store. Just like she said. But for some reason we didn’t buy them. Now I wish we had. Next time. Trust me, there will be a next time.

Three X’s marked the spots of good places to eat. “This is where you want to get your morning coffee. It’s right on the beach.” A box was drawn. “This is the gas station where you can buy bus tickets that will take you to Ravello and the Amalfi Coast.”

“We’re definitely doing that,” I told the husband.

And we did. Though we did it by scooter, not bus. What an amazing and unforgettable ride.

More X’s and boxes were drawn, as suggestions and recommendations were made. We only had three nights in Positano, so I was starting to wonder if we’d even have time for all of the things she wanted us to do, things we just had to do! Honestly, I think she was just as excited about our trip, if not more so, than we were! And this was our honeymoon trip – five years late.

Our trip to Italy in May was fantastic, and Positano, without a doubt, was the highlight. Heavenly is the only word to describe it. I can’t wait to go back. So if you’re reading this, Miss New York international business class flight attendant, thanks for the advice. And if you, dear reader, are thinking about going to Positano, here are my suggestions to you…