Amazing as it may sound today, famously gay-popular places like Austin, Mykonos, Rehoboth, and Prague haven’t always had much of a following with the GLBT community. Cities and resort communities change over the years, some becoming more fashionable with gay travelers, and others falling out of favor. In fact, there are big cities, alluring towns, and beautiful resorts all over the world that, while scarcely known to gay travelers at the moment, have the potential to develop into tomorrow’s next queer hot spots. Here’s a look at a dozen potential “family-friendly” destinations to watch, from formerly conservative cities like Nashville and Indianapolis, which are becoming increasingly progressive, to picturesque vacation spots like Tasmania and Mauritius that have only lately begun capturing the attention of the gay jet set.
America’s 13th-largest city, Indianapolis has been far less popular as a GLBT destination than most other major metropolises over the years, in part owing to its comparatively right-of-center political demeanor and bland reputation as more business-oriented than leisure-driven. Nevertheless, local gay business leaders and the city’s Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association are currently working hard to change perceptions and promote the increasingly visible GLBT scene and publicize Indy’s playful side. You’ll find quite a few lively gay and lesbian bars here, along with a handful of historic gay-friendly B&Bs and some wonderfully appealing, artsy neighborhoods with an engaging mix of attractions and shopping.
Relatively affordable compared with many other European nations, and a darling of food and wine connoisseurs, Portugal been generating plenty of buzz of late among sophisticated travelers, and its capital city, Lisbon, is steadily emerging from its somewhat conservative shell as a leading gay and lesbian getaway. The city now produces a guide for gay visitors, and the GLBT community has been credited with helping turn around the once grim Bairro Alto neighborhood, transforming it into one of Europe’s most charming gay villages.
Neighboring Croatia gets more attention with gay travelers, at least among the nations that make up the former Yugoslavia, but romantic, beautifully preserved Slovenia and its capital city of Ljubljana (pronounced lyoo-blyah’-nah) are fast developing a pink fan base. Ljubljana looks and feels much the way Prague did before the latter became inundated with tourists and excessive commercialism. With its medieval castle, narrow streets, and ornate bridges, it’s a fine city for a strolling. You’ll also find a handful of gay bars and cafes, and, to the delight of cinema buffs, Ljubljana hosts an increasingly prestigious gay and lesbian film festival, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2009.
Mauritius and Reunion Island
These small islands off the coast of Africa, about 500 miles east of Madagascar, have lately become favorites with Euro jet-setters. Some say Mauritius has the potential to become another Ibiza or Mykonos, with pulsing gay discos beginning to spring up here and there. This island with a population of about a million and a diverse cultural heritage (with English, French, Indian, and Chinese influences) is renowned for its spectacular white-sand beaches. About 120 miles to the southwest, the French island of Reunion (population 800,000) is a volcanic formation with magnificent mountain peaks rising to more than 10,000 feet and a nascent but fast-growing tourism industry. Together, the islands make for a stunning, remote hideaway, and they’re already drawing a number of gay visitors from South Africa, Australia, and Europe.
Mexico City, Mexico
With a metro population of nearly 20 million and one of North America’s most exciting cultural and arts scenes, there’s no question that vibrant—if in some ways chaotic and unpredictable—Mexico City has plenty of gay and lesbian residents. As a gay vacation destination, however, Mexico’s capital metropolis has yet to develop a major following. Its reputation is picking up, though, as more and more visitors return home to spread the word about the trendy dining scene, relatively affordable luxury hotels, cruisy gay nightlife, and huge Gay Pride parade held in late June each year. With its relative low cost and a wealth of direct flights from elsewhere in North America, look for Mexico City to become ever more popular among U.S. and Canadian travelers.
Although it’s smack in the middle of America’s so-called Bible Belt, Nashville has become steadily more gay-friendly in recent years. The city has embraced progressive politics, environmentalism, and the arts with great gusto, and a handful of funky little neighborhoods around town (East Nashville, 12th Avenue South) abound with GLBT-popular coffeehouses, restaurants, and boutiques. For these reasons, plenty of “family” are moving to Nashville these days, in search of a slightly more intimate and better-planned alternative to such gay Southern mega-cities as Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.
Nova Scotia, Canada
Although it’s just the second-smallest of Canada’s provinces, Nova Scotia and its historic capital city of Halifax offer plenty to see and do, including a handsomely preserved waterfront, exceptional theater and fine arts venues, and verdant parks and gardens. Elsewhere in the province are such popular draws as Lunenburg, a colonial seaport and shipbuilding center now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the charming fishing village of Peggy’s Cove. Gay-owned and gay-friendly B&Bs abound in the towns already mentioned as well as in such scenic communities as Annapolis Royal and Shelburne.
Punta del Este, Uruguay
Sometimes dubbed the St. Tropez of South America, the swanky beach and casino resort city of Punta del Este hugs the southern coast of Uruguay and has long been fashionable with the GLBT residents of neighboring countries like Brazil and Argentina. As a gay resort, Punta del Este has loads of potential but is probably a few years from developing international GLBT cachet. Still, there’s a long and beautiful stretch of beach with a popular queer following (Chihuahua), and this town of 10,000 has a couple of gay bars and gay-popular hotels.
San Luis Obispo County, California
The legalization of gay marriage is but one reason scenic San Luis Obispo County is one of California’s best gay-friendly vacation secrets. This area with a charmed setting along the Pacific has one of the nation’s most exciting winemaking scenes (especially around the town of Paso Robles), and the largest community—San Luis Obispo—is a lively university town with dozens of superb restaurants and a fun, friendly gay scene. At the southern end of this county that’s midway along the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you’ll find a number of gay-friendly resorts between the towns of Avila Beach and Pismo Beach.
The so-called “Paris of the East”, with a population of more than 13 million and a breathtaking skyline of countless postmodern skyscrapers, Shanghai is rapidly becoming Asia’s must-see destination for cutting-edge shopping, fashion, and the arts. Attitudes toward gay people are slowly but surely changing for the better—just in the past decade, the city has seen the opening of several gay bars, along with an extremely popular and attractive gay entertainment-hotel complex. As thousands of ex-pats from all over the world continue to visit and relocate to this exciting, dynamic city, the gay scene will surely explode over the next few years.
This rugged island state off the southeast coast of the Australian mainland used to have a somewhat conservative reputation, but the tides have turned in recent years. Many gays and lesbians have moved to this laid-back, stunningly beautiful land, known for its natural beauty (don’t miss Cradle Mountain or the Freycinet Coast). The island’s tourism office produces an extensive guide for GLBT travelers, and you’ll find a number of “family”-owned accommodations around this island that’s roughly the size of West Virginia and has a population of about a half-million.
Spain already has its share of stunning gay vacation areas (Ibiza, Sitges), and in the sunny Andalucian region, yet another has lately begun to emerge: the picturesque beach town of Torremolinos. Numerous hip restaurants and bars have opened, especially in the La Nogalera neighborhood, and the town also has about a dozen resort hotels catering heavily to the GLBT crowd. Spain’s fabled Costa del Sol has long had a popular following with northern Europeans, and Torremolinos looks poised to develop into one of the continent’s top gay vacation hubs.
Andrew Collins is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA and eight additional travel guides. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.