Every fall, travel fanatics and tourist bureaus eagerly await Lonely Planet's publication of the hottest spots to visit in the coming year. Well, Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 is out. There are the 10 Best-Value Destinations, Top 10 Regions, Top 10 Countries, Top 10 Cities, and much more (including a ranking of bookshops!). Publications in the selected places are already boasting, while travelers are debating their relative merits, and some folks are simply scratching their heads. Here's the rundown of noteworthy choices.

  • No. 1 Country: Albania  Sure, this pick has its fans, but can someone explain this one to the rest of us? Thankfully, Lonely Planet published this part online (much of the rest is only in the book):

Picture a place where rulers have names like King Zog, Enver Hoxha and Bamir Topi. Set the scene with coastal cliffs, snow-capped mountains and jungle-wrapped ruins. Cast some female 'sworn virgins' to fill the roles of men who have been lost in ancient blood feuds. Let the spoken dialects be known as Tosk and Gheg. Make it that daily life is governed by a code of conduct with 1262 instructions including 38 on hospitality towards guests.

It may seem like you've just conjured a medieval fantasy novel rather than an up-and-coming travel destination, but this is Albania in all its epic, eclectic glory.

  • Places You Thought Had Lost Their Luster  Take Europe, for example. Lonely Planet notices that three of its top 10 countries are in Europe: Albania, Bulgaria, and Italy. That makes "Europe the most awarded continent this year." Here's another interesting pick: New York City at the head of the top cities list (it's closely followed by Tangier, which seems a little more up-and-coming). The guide also puts visiting the 9/11 memorial at No. 3 for the 10 Best Things to Do.
  • Shetland Islands? Seriously?  It's the fifth-ranked region, and Brits are flabbergasted. (FYI: Ahead of the Shetland Islands in the regions list are Istria, Croatia; Marquesas Islands, Polynesia; and Cappadocia, Turkey, with the American West Coast coming in seventh.) The Guardian's editorial on the subject says the ranking "caused predictable and unjust astonishment" by defending the islands as worthwhile. The editors do wonder, though, why the publication only included Shetland, suggesting a few other British islands of overlooked charm. Then Lesley Riddock, also at the Guardian, weighs in on the potentially patronizing gesture of emphasizing the islands' wildness and isolation. Bonnie Alter has a few more observations at Tree Hugger:
The food sounds pretty local and fresh ... : seawater oatcakes, Shetland black potatoes and mackerel with rhubarb.

Shetlanders aren't too worried about being over-run with tourists since the region has an unfair reputation as being bleak and desolate; it's hard to reach and expensive.

  • Speaking of Isolated  Number six on the country list is Vanuatu. The explanation: "For those in search of authentic experiences, Vanuatu is hard to beat."
  • But the Good News for 'Intrepid Travelers,' explains Bonnie Alter at Tree Hugger, is that "the guide book has chosen some wild and remote places to visit in the search for something new."
  • Some Other Fun Lists  Not everyone's up for traveling to Vanuatu, but the Best-Value Destinations list could be helpful. Topping it: Bangladesh. Surprises include Paris in the number four spot and the Wire's own Washington, DC at three. The undoubtedly somewhat bootleg version of the lists at Shoestring.kr also shows a fascinating Top 10 Places to Learn How to Cook, dominated by Asia (Luang Prabang, Laos; Hoi An, Vietnam; Chiang Mai, Thailand; and Goa, India).