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Three Sensational Destinations

Escape to Mexico's Nayarit Riviera, take a train through the Canadian Rockies, or cruise Europe's historic Danube River.

  • Danube River flowing past Regensburg, Germany, image
    Photo caption
    The Danube flows past Regensburg, a medieval German town.
  • Manzanillas Beach, Four Season Punta Mita, Mexico, image
    Photo caption
    Picture-perfect Manzanillas Beach at the Four Seasons in Punta Mita, Mexico.
  • Rocky Mountaineer train drives through British Columbia, Canada, image
    Photo caption
    Scenic British Columbia unfurls beside the Rocky Mountaineer.

Mexico's Riviera Nayarit

On Mexico’s central west coast, the city of Puerto Vallarta gets the greatest global name recognition. One of the country’s most visited destinations, its foodie scene and colonial charm draw serious numbers of cosmopolitan travelers—no mean feat for a spot where bargain margaritas and late-night discos were once the big draw.

Just 10 miles to the north, at the foot of the western Sierra Madre, travelers can discover the Riviera Nayarit, a lesser-known stretch of golden beaches. Here, urban attractions give way to a less hectic scene, and activities range from sunbathing and surfing to up-country treks and whale-watching on Banderas Bay. Though the region already provides plentiful lodging, many more resorts—funded by government grants and corporate investments—are planned.

For now, the vibe on the Riviera is still relaxed. The area’s southern gateway, Nuevo Vallarta, offers dozens of hotels, plus gourmet restaurants, exclusive golf clubs, and yacht-friendly marinas.

The villages and resorts that dot the rest of the coastline hold their own distinct charms. Bucerías, a traditional Mexican town with cobblestone streets and colorful houses, boasts one of the country’s most pristine beaches. Punta Mita, up the coast, is another high-end resort destination. And Sayulita offers boutique hotels, good waves, and great fish tacos.

With at least 20 other stretches of beach along 192 miles of coast, this slice of Mexico is ripe for exploration.

Canada’s west by rail

Cutting a rail line to the Canadian Rockies took thousands of men, loads of dynamite, and a large volume of whiskey. Now travelers can enjoy the fruits of that labor aboard the Rocky Mountaineer’s dome cars. Last year the rail tour company added a Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., extension with stunning shoreline views, broadening its appeal for passengers south of the Canadian border.

From Vancouver, trains make different journeys through British Columbia to Alberta. The routes traverse breathtaking alpine scenery on their way across the Continental Divide to Jasper, Calgary, or Banff and Lake Louise. Most trains roll through the Coast Mountains past Hell’s Gate, a narrow in the Fraser River named for its treacherous construction conditions, en route to the snow-mantled peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

Each car has at least one host who makes sure you won’t miss the bald eagles, bighorn sheep, and maybe even bears along the way. To maximize viewing time, travel takes place during daylight hours, with overnight stays in hotels, such as Calgary’s century-old Fairmont Palliser and other classic lodgings built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Trips run April through October; autumn colors make the late season particularly beautiful.

Danube river cruising

Western Europe’s longest fresh waterway, the Danube, has attracted visitors for millennia. These days its appeal is stronger than ever—and part of a bigger trend. The number of river-cruise passengers worldwide has been rising an average of 10 percent a year over the past five years, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

What’s drawing all the attention? In a word, intimacy. Most ships cruising the Danube carry 130 to 190 guests, compared with 3,000 or more on a typical ocean liner. A large cruise ship can bring you to the edge of a country but no farther. A river ship, usually no more than 450 feet long, takes you right to the heart of Vienna, Budapest, and other cities and villages on the water.

Cruise packages are generally all-inclusive, with food, drink, Wi-Fi, and ground excursions rolled into the price. That leaves guests with nothing to worry about except choosing a glass of wine and finding a good seat from which to admire the gorgeous scenery: the white cliffs of the Danube Gorge, for example, or the grand arc of the Danube Bend, where the river curves gracefully through green hills dotted with the red tile roofs of Hungarian homes.

Photography courtesy of Four Seasons Punta Mita (beach); courtesy Rocky Mountaineer (train); by FilmFoto-02/Alamy (Regensburg)

This article was first published in September 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.