This is a guest post from travel expert Marilyn Jones. Check out her blog TravelWithMarilyn.com for worldly advice on top destinations. All photos in this post are Marilyn’s.
Often times it’s the most unexpected things in life that present the most cherished memories. Such can be the case with your vacation destination, too. Sure, you could spend a fortune traveling to that super popular tourist spot in the Caribbean or the big city known for extravagance and bright lights.
But with wide notoriety comes a high price tag. Not only are hotels and resorts more expensive in popular destinations – especially during peak season or in a prime location – but attractions, restaurants and cost of vacationing can also add up. Consider a different type of trip: somewhere with a bit less hype but plenty of pizazz.
We’ve rounded up 9 towns across the world that offer a treasure trove of secrets just waiting to be discovered. They may not get mentioned in the tabloids, but these retreats have their own unique fame.
And that’s not to mention their affordability. Stay in a vacation rental for up to 60% savings compared to a hotel. You’ll get extra living space, added privacy and fun amenities like a pool, hot tub, game room or outdoor patio with barbecue grill.
Find the perfect property for your home base and see what surprises these 9 great getaways have in store.
Gem Capital of the World
If you’re looking for treasure – quite literally – then this is your place. Mining for rubies and sapphires began in Franklin in 1870. Today Franklin offers 10 tourist mines, eight gem shops and the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum for its visitors.
Mason Mountain Mine near Franklin, for example, is one of only two rhodolite garnet mines in the world — the other is in Madagascar, Africa.
The BMW factory is a major attraction in Greenville, but there’s plenty other reason to stay a few days.
Falls Park on the Reedy is a 32-acre crescent-shaped greenway nestled up against the historic West End Historic District. The center point of the park is a pedestrian bridge that curves around a waterfall. The 355-foot long suspension bridge is supported by cables on only one side — a design unique in the United States. Restaurants, hiking and biking paths, and artwork, including a newly installed piece by Dale Chihuly “Rose Crystal Tower,” are also in the park.
The west end is home to locally owned gift shops and clothing boutiques housed in century-old warehouses. Restaurants along Main Street are upscale and feature excellent menus including Soby’s New South Cuisine, Pomegranate on Main and Larkin’s on the River.
Medieval Walled City
It’s an incredible experience walking past St. Mary Madeleine Church, through the high gate and into the cobblestone streets of Pérouges, a medieval village overlooking the Ain River Valley.
An exact establishment isn’t known, but in 1167 Seigneur d’Anthon closed in the population with a wall to defend against the troops of the Archbishop of Lyon. Seventy years later Pérouges earned communal freedom. It has never been under the direct rule of a lord. Citizens here were craftsmen, merchants and farmers.
The village is shaped like an oval. Rue de Rondes is the outer street that follows the line of the wall. From rue de Rondes several smaller streets jut inward toward Lime Tree Square, place du Tilleul, one of the best-preserved areas.
Life-size bronze statues of US presidents stand on nearly every street corner in Rapid City’s historic downtown. The project began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency.
Don Perdue, a local businessman, first came up with the idea for The City of Presidents. Considering Rapid City’s close proximity to Mount Rushmore, the idea was a good fit for the city often hosting tourists visiting the famous monument and the Black Hills.
With the exception of Barrack Obama, which is coming soon, every president is now represented. This is one of the largest publicly owned displays of art providing visitors a walking tour of history.
Wilmington has been an underrated tourist destination for decades with its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, but these days just as many tourists make their way to the coastal city because of its Hollywood connection.
It all started in 1983 with Firestarter starring Drew Barrymore. Since then more than 500 television and movie production teams have used Wilmington and the surrounding area as the backdrop for their films including Iron Man 3, The Conjuring, Under the Dome and Sleepy Hollow. It’s easy to find filming locations from Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, A Walk to Remember and Sleeping with the Enemy to name a few.
An excellent way to learn more is on a Hollywood Location Walking Tour.
The island’s Dutch heritage is evident in its architecture and colorfully painted buildings along Oranjestad streets
There are no buildings left from 17th century Dutch Colonial times, but Fort Zoutman, built in 1798, helps paint a vivid picture of the island’s past. There is also a historical museum here, a treasure trove for anyone wanting to discover more about Aruba’s history.
In 1637, settlement began on Aruba when Oranjestad’s Bay of Horses became an intermediate harbor for trade between Curaçao and Venezuela. It would be more than a century before the Dutch, now in control of the island, felt a fort was needed to protect Aruba from pirates and other enemies.
Since drillers discovered oil at Red Fork in 1901 — just across the Arkansas River from Tulsa — followed by another strike south of town, Tulsa has been known as the “Oil Capital of the World.”
As the city’s population swelled from about 7,300 people in 1907 to 141,000 in 1930, oil industry leaders lured businesses, bankers and investors to the city.
In building a new downtown, Tulsa’s moneyed-men gravitated toward the modern French design featured at the 1923 Exposition of the Decorative Arts in Paris which, much later, would be coined Art Deco.
This sudden building boom gave Tulsa one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in the United States — today bested only by Miami and Chicago.
Visitors only have to drive around the city or take a stroll along downtown streets to discover these architectural treasures.
The Legacy of Paolo Soleri
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is a popular tourist attraction in Scottsdale. Another legend who made Scottsdale his home was Paolo Soleri, an Italian immigrant who studied under Wright and decided to make the desert his home.
Although he had early success in architecture, he is best known for his art complex — Cosanti — and his decorative bells.
A tour of the Cosanti headquarters offers an understanding of his art, the innovative design of the buildings and the man, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 93. Throughout the complex Cosanti bells sway in the breeze, adding a lyrical inspiration to the setting; a magical compound of art.
There are only six Caribbean UNESCO sites. The decision to spotlight Willemstad was based on “outstanding value and integrity, which illustrates the organic growth of a multicultural community over three centuries, and preserves to a high degree of significant elements.”
Walk along the Punda (East) side of St. Anna Baystroll past brightly painted, centuries-old colonial buildings that reflect the island’s Dutch influence, and be sure to explore the colorful Curaçao Floating Market.
Synagogue Mikve Israel-Emanuel (Snoa) is another must-see location. Dating back to 1728, it is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the New World. The Jewish community began on Curaçao in the 1650s; founded by Jews who were displaced during the Spanish Inquisition.