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The best places you've never heard of

Sep 23, 2008

Rundown of the best new places—as determined by people lucky enough to have exploration be part of their job description.

Willunga, Australia
Dan Philips: Founder of the Grateful Palate, an Oxnard, Calif.–based company that sells specialty foods and kitchen accessories, imports wine, and even runs wineries in Spain and Australia.

One of Philips's favorite discoveries is the town of Willunga (pop. 5,064), an hour's drive south of Adelaide. "It's in the McLaren Vale region, the greatest area in the world for producing Shiraz and other red wines of just about any sort," says Philips. He always makes sure to stop by the Willunga Farmers Market for the fish and oysters from nearby Gulf St. Vincent, fresh milk and cream, wood-fired bread, and grass-fed beef. "It tastes different depending on how and where the cows were raised," he says.

What really earns Philips's enthusiasm, however, is a local pizza parlor. "Russell's Pizza is like a monastery of pizza, food, and culinary pleasures," he says. "Russell Jeavons built the place himself — even the oven — and he grows a lot of the herbs, vegetables, and fruits served at the restaurant. He plops oysters and squid right on top of the pizza dough, slides it into the brick oven, and cooks it all together. Russell's is only open two nights a week, which makes it feel even more special."

Information: Car rentals from $36 a day; Willunga Farmers Market, Willunga Town Square, Saturday mornings; Russell's Pizza, 13 High St., open for Friday and Saturday dinners only (reservations suggested), pizzas from $23.

Chapada Dos Veadeiros, Brazil
Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira: Cofounder of Novica, a National Geographic–associated organization with eight international offices that enables local artisans around the globe to sell their crafts over the Internet.

"I love Chapada dos Veadeiros, in the state of Goiás," she says. "It's where I go to recharge." The 253-square-mile national park, about 150 miles north of Brasília, has vast amounts of natural quartz crystals, which are said to have mystical powers. "Many Brazilians believe this is the highest level of concentrated energy in the world," says de Oliveira. Activities, both in the park and the surrounding region, include bird-watching, hiking, swimming, and exploring waterfalls, such as a breathtaking septet called Loquinhas.

The park's high season is April through September, but de Oliveira says she'll never forget being there on New Year's Eve. "It felt as though we were at the center of the universe. Chapada dos Veadeiros has some kind of unusual and wonderful magnetic quality that I can't quite explain or understand."

Information: Park admission (only with a tour) $2; hotels and pousadas in nearby towns Alto Paraíso and São Jorge arrange day trips to the park for about $40.

Graskop, South Africa
Christian Chumbley: Regional manager of Backroads, a 30-year-old travel company based in Berkeley, Calif., that specializes in small-group, multisport tours.

Graskop, a tiny artists' community about four hours by car from Johannesburg, has a special place in Chumbley's heart. He discovered the town a dozen years ago when researching his first itinerary for Backroads. "The town is a crazy blend of hip artists and traditional Afrikaner farmers," he says. "Its artistic scene is vibrant because of a more recent influx of Shangaan, Swazi, Zulu, and other African groups that have come to the area since the end of apartheid."

Once a mining center, Graskop now thrives on galleries and roadside art stands selling sculptures and baskets. Artists even decorated the 37-room Graskop Hotel; the 1960s-era motel displays works including a glass installation and wall hangings made of stuffed cloth arrows.

Information: Car rentals from $25 a day; Graskop Hotel, from $81 with breakfast.

Weymouth, England
John Chatterton and Richie Kohler: Scuba divers who inspired the books Shadow Divers and Titanic's Last Secrets.

Weymouth's cobblestoned streets, Georgian homes, and sandy beaches along the English Channel are magnets for British sunseekers. But for divers, its waters have their own attractions: "Wars and storms have been sinking ships here for more than 900 years," Kohler says. "In one day, you can rub shoulders with Roman shipwrecks, 16th-century Dutch sailing fleets, and submarines from both world wars."

When on shore, Kohler and Chatterton explore nautical antiques stores and old bookshops before sitting down with a pint at The Boot Inn, a 400-year-old pub that's rumored to have been popular with 17th-century pirates. Today, the town's stone quays host a mix of fishing boats—which sell sea bass, scallops, and lobsters—and high-speed catamarans. Since no trip to the English seaside is complete without fish-and-chips, a local introduced the divers to Marlboro Restaurant, where the Johnsons have been serving the dish for three generations. "It's best enjoyed with liberal amounts of salt and malt vinegar," says Kohler.

Information: Trains from London take three hours, from $24; The Boot Inn, High West St.; Marlboro Restaurant, 46 St. Thomas St., large fish-and-chips from $11.

Gaziantep, Turkey
Philippe de Vienne: Cofounder with his wife, Ethné, of Épices de Cru, a spice importation and retail business based in Montreal, Quebec, and coauthor of the cookbook La Cuisine et le Goût des Épices.

One of the couple's favorite discoveries is in southeastern Turkey, near the border with Syria. "This region is a crossroads of Syrian, Kurdish, and Turkish cultures," says de Vienne. "Anywhere else in Turkey the cooks might use four spices in a dish. Here, they use 15. There's a wonderful depth of flavor in the food." De Vienne especially raves about the food in Gaziantep and, in particular, its baklava. The dessert's main ingredient, pistachios, abound in the surrounding countryside. "It's worth it just to fly to Istanbul, hop a plane to Gaziantep, eat the baklava, and go back home," says de Vienne. "It's that good."

Information: Round-trip Turkish Airlines flights from Istanbul to Gaziantep from $200; Anadolu Evleri hotel, from $112 with breakfast; Imam Çagdas restaurant.

The best places you've never heard of
Chapada Dos Veadeiros, Brazil / Photo: Pedro Luz Cunha/Alamy

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