Being a travel journalist has its obvious perks: experiencing different cultures, racking up airline miles, and seeing new sights from the mountains in Peru to the legendary landmarks in Paris, to name a few. Even better is being able to share our discoveries, so that others can enjoy the world as we have. That said, every travel writer has a few spots -- be it hidden streets, under-the-radar restaurants, or lesser-known towns -- that they keep to themselves for fear that writing about them (and sometimes, even talking about them) might lead to overcrowding, overtourism, and ultimately, loss of its secretive appeal. But because we’re feeling generous today, we’ve decided to spill some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path spots, from a hidden room in a popular museum to a place where you can buy cookies from cloistered nuns. But let’s just keep it all between us.
“I’m not much of a ‘hidden gem’ person. I prefer big, obvious gems. Give me the sparkle of Paris, London, or New York City — places where everyone is going, with good reason. (Museums, restaurants, and culture galore!) But occasionally, I stray away from the masses and discover something that has twinkle but isn’t as known. That’s how I feel about Lille, France. This city, at the tippy-top of the country, has a wonderful mix of Belgian and French cultures. Crepes and waffles are served side by side here. And that marriage is also reflected in the architecture. You’ll see the brickwork and little zigzagging rooftops more commonly associated with Belgium along with the Belle Epoque stylings associated with France. This city also has its own Notre Dame and its own fine-art museum. While Lille hasn’t made it on the map for most Americans, thank goodness (we tend to head to Mont Saint-Michel or the beaches of Normandy instead), it has been discovered by another set of tourists — French ones — who come to this spot using a speedy one-hour train from Paris.” — Maria Teresa Hart, Senior Editor
“Stories Books & Cafe in the up-and-coming hip neighborhood of Echo Park is my favorite lesser-known haunt in Los Angeles. The space is divided between a used bookstore and a cafe. Titles focus on local authors and interests, and the cafe makes homemade desserts and (of course) avocado toast. Prices are affordable, Wi-Fi is free, and there’s a pleasant dog-friendly back patio. There’s always at least one perfectly styled person working on a screenplay, but the crowd is diverse and there’s usually an open table. Free refills on ginger peach iced tea, FYI.” — Megan Wood, Editor
“As an art history major at NYU, I spent hours and hours at the Met, yet somehow, years later, I’m still discovering new rooms. One of my more recent discoveries is the third floor. Just looking at the building, it’s obvious that there are multiple floors. The majority of the collection lives on the first two, and I always assumed that the upper floors were reserved for staff offices. As it turns out, there are several rooms open to the public on the third floor, but you have to enter them from very specific points on the second floor. If you enter from the American Wing, you’ll find several period rooms on the third floor, then there are two separate third-floor exhibition spaces that can be entered from the Asian Art department. The first displays cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas and religious art from Tibet and Nepal, while the second currently holds a special exhibition on animal representations in Chinese silk and lacquer, as well as a permanent display dedicated to the Chinese Treasury of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Personally, I love discovering new rooms at the Met, away from the highlights that most tourists flock to. Plus, it’s nice to get some peace and quiet in this city, and you can find that in these off-the-beaten-path galleries!” — Stefanie Waldek, Editor
“Some tourists may not realize that in many cities in Spain, it is possible to buy baked goods from cloistered nuns. It’s not always easy to find the right location to purchase them (typically, you’ll buzz to enter a door in a courtyard or narrow street, and then buy the goods through a window inside) and the hours can sometimes be limited, so just seeking them out is part of the adventure. Madrid’s nun cookies are somewhat better known, but we arrived at the wrong hour and weren’t able to get any. Later, we happened to spot a sign for some nun cookies while wandering around Toledo. So keep an eye out when wandering Spanish cities if clandestine cookies appeal.” — Kelsey Blodget, Senior Executive Editor
“Here’s a place I want everyone in the world to know about, but would still like to have all to myself next time whenever I return. There’s a lone food truck hidden in a thick grove of trees on the beach in Mauritius. It’s called Cabane du Filao, and it is truly wonderful. It’s run by Vicky and Trisha, a husband-and-wife team who catch seafood every morning (Vicky) and cook it in the truck’s tiny kitchen throughout the day (Trisha). On my visit, I had the lobster (on Trisha’s recommendation), which she served with buttery herbed rice and icy Phoenix lagers, plus bananas soaked in rum and flambéed for dessert. My boyfriend and I — along with the couple, their teenage son (and his pet parrot!), and some faraway fishermen — were the only ones on the beach that night. I am happy to share this recommendation, but just know that I plan on going back someday, and when I do, I’m really going to need the situation perfectly replicated — and I hope future Cabane du Filao visitors have the same experience. There’s really nothing like eating dinner under the trees on a quiet beach, chatting with the family who is responsible for it, and hearing nothing but waves, wind, the sizzle of pan oil, and the occasional car zooming down the coastal road.” — Anne Olivia Bauso, Associate Editor
“An Beal Bocht Cafe & Bar, a cozy Irish pub near Little Dublin, is a real gem of a place up in Riverdale in the . The one-room establishment has a brick fireplace and walls covered with Ireland-related framed photos and newspaper clippings, plus it hosts live music a few nights per week. It’s a welcoming and homey spot that’s bound to lift your spirits, especially in the drudges of winter.” — Rachel Klein, Editor
“Traveling in Latin America as a vegetarian isn’t always the easiest feat, but it’s surprisingly easy if you’re in Mexico City. Gatorta is a street food stand that slings vegan versions of Mexican street food classics like tacos, tortas, and gringas. It’s perpetually flocked with customers and is so good that it draws plenty of non-vegetarians as well. It’s located right near Insurgentes on Calle Puebla. For a sweet fix afterward, cut across the street to Panificadora Montserrat, which makes classics like conchas, pan de muerto, and cuernos.” — Kyle Valenta, Senior Editor
“Our discovery of Kornmehl Farm, a restaurant that doubles as a dairy farm in Israel, came as a happy accident. While driving back from Makhtesh Ramon, the geological landform located at the peak of Mount Negev, our stomachs began growling, almost as if it were signaling the fact that we were approaching greatness. Knowing that we were in the middle of nowhere, we were in search of any place with food, but what we found was even better. Overlooking the Negev Desert, this restaurant is situated in an old train car and serves fresh cheese that’s made locally. Indoor and outdoor seating are available, so you can enjoy the surrounding landscape while sampling freshly made food. The best part? You’ll be sharing the experience with goats who call this place home — and can even watch the adorable animals being fed and milked daily.” — Alisha Prakash, Editor
“Tourists and locals alike flock to the city’s numerous parks when they want to swap pavement for greenery and honking taxis for chirping birds. If I’m at work and want a particularly calming, plant-filled spot for my lunch break, I walk about five minutes to St. Luke in the Fields Garden on Hudson Street. It feels like a secret garden that’s lush with colorful flowers, wooden benches, and fluttering butterflies, though it’s open to the public from 8 a.m. to dusk or 5 p.m., depending on the day. I’ve never struggled to find a spot to enjoy the peaceful setting, and the outlawing of cell phone conversations, dogs, and smoking help retain its relaxing, oasis feel.” — Lara Grant, Editor
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