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Hottest Travel Destinations of 2011

Lhasa, Tibet

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Lhasa, Tibet

Few places feel so enticingly remote as Lhasa, surrounded by the Himalayas, cloaked in Tibetan Buddhism, and—at 11,975 feet—one of the highest cities in the world. Now this mystical destination is not just for the backpacker set, thanks to the month-old St. Regis Lhasa Resort (doubles from $253; dinner for two $57), the first of a handful of new hotels that are upping the ante on luxury on Tibet’s windswept plateau (Shangri-La and InterContinental are on the horizon for 2012). The hotel pays homage to local architecture with sloping white façades and long, narrow windows. All 162 guest rooms are decorated with latticed-wood furniture and photographs depicting local daily life; many rooms face the iconic Potala Palace. If you’re having trouble adapting to the altitude, the resort’s Iridium Spa promises to melt away any malaise with a massage using the region’s cypress and azalea herbs. The on-site Si Zi Kang restaurant serves Tibetan-Nepalese dishes such as shamdey, a yak-and-potato stew served with pag (hand-molded barley cakes). A short stroll from the property is the seventh-century Jokhang Temple, which houses Tibet’s most sacred statue of the Buddha. A few steps east you’ll find a warren of market stalls selling handmade turquoise earrings and silk thangka paintings. For the best selection of artisanal crafts, head to Dropenling Handicrafts Center, a nonprofit shop selling everything from scarves made from soft yak hair to embroidered door curtains, said to protect you from both cold drafts and evil spirits. —Christopher Kucway

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