The top 10 "it" holidays for 2008

Looking for a new vacation spot this year? Try Mozambique, Oman, or even revisit Paris, all of which feature on a list of the top 10 must-visit destinations for 2008.

www.Concierge.com said the places on its annual list of the top 10 "it" places share a few common denominators, a new crop of hotels, protected natural appeal, and with enough substance to make a journey worthwhile.

"Many of the destinations on this year's list have undergone a transformation," said Peter J. Frank, editor-in-chief of www.Concierge.com

1. Mozambique, Africa
After a devastating civil war 15 years ago, the country is now open to visitors to enjoy its 1,500 miles of Indian Ocean coastline and archipelagoes with superb diving, the vibrant capital of Maputo with an exciting Afro jazz scene, and national parks that are slowly restoring the wildlife to prewar numbers.

2. St. Lucia
One of the most striking islands of the Caribbean, with copious rain forest, sparkling waterfalls, and a fair share of pretty beaches, St. Lucia has kept a relatively low profile in the last decade, and is mostly the secret of a fiercely loyal group of repeat visitors. But the word is out this season.

3. Montenegro
Montenegro was cut off from the world during the civil war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, so few travelers know this stretch of mountainous Adriatic coast with quiet beaches and picturesque fortress towns. But insiders are calling this the next Croatia or the new European Riviera. Though Montenegro has adopted the Euro, prices remain much lower than in Croatia and Italy.

4. Ecuador
Low-profile Ecuador is emerging as Latin America's best-kept secret, with a sophisticated cultural scene and enough adventure to keep adrenaline junkies pumped. Start your trip in newly glamorous Quito, the country's colonial capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city just received a $40-million face-lift, and a number of stylish new restaurants and restored hotels are also fueling the renaissance.

5. Sicily
Long the domain of fusty grande-dame hotels and package tourists covering well-trod itineraries, the Italian island is experiencing a revival, thanks to a new generation of enterprising hoteliers and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Start your trip in the northwest near Trapani, an area of vineyards, Baroque villages, and cuisine with a North African zing then head across the island to Syracuse, arguably Sicily's most beautiful city.

6. San Diego
San Diego is going through an unprecedented growth spurt, with a particular focus on the young, the restless, and the loaded. Leading the charge is one of Miami's main luxury players, the Setai, set to open in April 2008 in the Gaslamp Quarter, following close on the heels of a brand-new Hard Rock Hotel.

7. Hainan Island, China
Exchange Honolulu's high-rises and crowds for empty beach and gentle surf, add in coral reefs, sleepy mountain towns, rain forests, and hot springs, and you'll find the country's answer to Phuket or even Bali. The island, located southwest of Hong Kong and not far from the Vietnamese coast, has a distinctly Southeast Asian vibe that has proven popular not only with domestic visitors but as a side trip for international travelers to Shanghai and Beijing.

8. Oman
Dubai might be the fastest-growing area in the Middle East but Oman is becoming the destination of choice for the more eco-minded, adventurous traveler. The mix of beautiful beaches, traditional cities that retain a genuine desert culture, and one-of-a-kind hotels is unbeatable. Must-stops include the Wahiba desert for sandboarding and camel riding, Muscat for the Chedi hotel and the authentic souks, and the clean beaches.

9. Puerto Escondido and the Oaxacan Coast, Mexico
The future of this unmanicured stretch of nirvana is much more secure now that FONATUR (the Mexican agency responsible for the development of Cancun, Cabo, and Acapulco) seems to have run out of steam in its attempt to make it the country's next big thing. For now, the beaches are home to fishing villages, quiet lagoons, and coconut plantations. The idyllic beach ending of the film "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was shot here.

10. Paris
France's capital has never lacked for charisma, what with its atmospheric cafes, astounding art collections, rarefied cuisine, and romantic ambience. But lately there's a fresh emphasis on innovation and ingenuity, whether in art, architecture or gastronomy.

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