If 2016 didn’t leave you with a strong desire to escape … well, you’re in the minority. It’s no coincidence that the annual “where to go” list appears just as the days are shortest and darkest.
Personally, I feel we all deserve a vacation just for surviving a very stressful year. Here are some suggestions for adventurous distraction in 2017:
Canada: For the second year in a row, our northern neighbor makes the list — and no, not as a haven for liberal émigrés. In 2017, Canada is throwing a country-wide, year-long party to celebrate its 150th birthday, while one of its oldest settlements, Montréal, is fêting an amazing 375 years. Throw in a still-cheap currency, a Leonard Cohen exhibition planned for Montréal’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and the bragging rights associated eating Montréal deli in its hometown — and even Republicans have plenty of reasons to venture north.
Kicking off with New Year’s festivities from New Brunswick to Saskatchewan, the party continues with cultural programs celebrating Canada’s “diversity and inclusiveness,” from Jewish Toronto to indigenous music of the Yukon. It’s a most welcome message in these fraught times, and a reminder of why so many Jewish and other immigrant communities have flourished here.
Lisbon, Portugal: Jewish heritage tourism has been a bright spot for Portugal, which launched its official itinerary of Jewish quarters around the country in 2011. A standout on that list: Belmonte, a cobblestoned village just outside of Lisbon, where a new synagogue was dedicated in the 1990s for a revived Marrano community, along with a Jewish Museum.
Last spring, the village saw the opening of Portugal’s first Jewish hotel: the Belmonte Sinai, which boasts 27 comfortable, modern rooms and a kosher restaurant. The centrally located lodging is a short walk from Belmonte’s Jewish sights — and a short drive or train ride from the capital, where a major Jewish Museum is slated to open sometime this year in the historic Alfama district.
Culver City, Calif.: Back when Garbo and Groucho were famous, movie studios popped up along the flat terrain of Culver City, a sleepy West Side enclave that until recently wasn’t on the radar for L.A. visitors. The back lots are still there, but as it celebrates a century as its own municipality, there’s a lot more to do these days in quirky, pedestrian-friendly Culver City.
The vibe is youthful and retro-hip, with 1940s buildings and plenty to explore at street level: artisan bakeries and outdoor cafés, art galleries and a laid-back, burgeoning Jewish scene. Catch a play at one of several intimate neighborhood theaters — like the one named for fellow centenarian Kirk Douglas, where the Center Theatre Group puts on well-reviewed works.
Paphos, Cyprus: It’s an interesting and hopeful time for Cyprus, where a decades-old stalemate between the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied eastern half shows signs of easing. Jewish life is also blossoming around the island, thanks largely to an energetic Chabad presence, but also to Cyprus’ popularity with Israelis and Jews from the former Soviet Union.
For this year’s Mediterranean vacation, you could do far worse than the sandy beaches and mellow port vibe of Paphos, a city on the southwest coast that is a European Capital of Culture for 2017. Jews first established a presence here during the Roman period; Paphos abounds in important mosaics from that era, as well as crumbling, sun-bleached ruins from as far back as Alexander the Great. This year, visitors will find a lively program of concerts and exhibitions celebrating Paphos’ multi-ethnic history and vibrant present.
Colombia: When my friend honeymooned in Cartagena, Colombia two years ago, the Prince of Wales and his wife were lunching in the same café. Neither my friend nor Prince Charles is known for edgy taste in vacations — so their presence in once-war torn Colombia was as good a bell-weather as any of this country’s transformation.
Now that the 52-year war between Colombia’s government and a rebel group is officially over, the tourism renaissance is in full swing. Cartagena, a historic walled city, is already a favorite stop for cruise ships, and nearby Caribbean beaches are blossoming into resorts. Before huge crowds arrive, take advantage of 2017 to stroll Cartagena’s UNESCO-anointed downtown, explore the green hills of Medellín or dive into culture in Bogotá, the lively capital.
Washington, D.C.: It’s anybody’s guess what impact the incoming Trump administration will have on the capital’s renascent neighborhoods and burgeoning cultural scene. But right now, D.C. is hipper, more Jewish and far livelier on weekends than any time in recent memory, so 2017 is the time to check it out if you haven’t yet. The coming year brings spring festivals of Jewish music and film; a major exhibition for Jewish feminist artist Barbara Kruger, now on view at the National Gallery’s reopened East Wing; and the city’s second kosher restaurant, planned for this fall inside the Museum of the Bible.