The next year will break major tourism records, so this is the time to go big with your plans. Because you’re definitely not staying home
INFLATION, recession, global conflict, labour unrest and stock market volatility cannot stop our human desire to get away.
Some call it the tourists’ revenge: After two years of Covid-related restrictions, travel in 2022 rebounded nearly to pre-pandemic levels. International travel boosted spending in the world’s most-visited cities and was a key contributor in driving their recovery. Total tourism spending in 2023 is projected to be US$1.16 trillion (RM5.01 trillion) globally, and may surpass even 2019 levels as travellers from China return to the road.
Restaurants and hospitality brands are leaping to meet the moment. Resorts both vast and tiny are opening up in hot cities and remote getaways around the globe. Chefs have crafted adventurous dining experiences to serve a newly rambunctious clientele. Many museums and cultural institutions are emerging, refreshed and renewed.
With that in mind, we put together a list of 21 places that can fulfil whatever you want most in a vacation, whether it’s outdoor adventure, luxurious pampering, delicious food, decadent nightlife or simply, a little peace and quiet. And to help you maximise your time off, we gathered insights from destination experts on the most ideal (and questionable) times to travel; paired with custom hotel price data from Google, finding your perfect trip is easier than ever.
Golf and Glow in St Lucia
St Lucia has been the Caribbean’s answer to virtually every kind of vacation demand: Adventure, romance, nature, culture, cuisine — it has it all. That’s been especially true over the past year, as tourism returned to, and even surpassed, pre-pandemic levels. A record 39,000 visitors arrived in July alone. Travellers hiked into the lush, volcanic Piton Mountains, relaxed on white-sand beaches and devoured dishes that blend Caribbean, Indian, American and European influences. St Lucia’s collection of high-end resorts offered much-needed relaxation and recovery.
Droves more are sure to come this year, as new openings and initiatives help the island continue to bounce back. Cabot Saint Lucia will make its debut on a 375-acre (151.75ha) peninsula on Gros Islet. The sophomore development from the creators of Nova Scotia’s acclaimed Cabot Cape Breton golf community opens for preview play in March; real estate, guest villas, dining and wellness offerings will roll out later in 2023 and 2024. The highly anticipated debut follows last year’s grand reopening of Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort nestled in a lagoon surrounded by steep mountains and 100 acres of protected rainforest. After a five-month closure, guests were met with new beach bungalows, a bar and a refreshed swimming pool. (Get a peel-and-massage treatment in the rainforest treehouse — it will add a shine to your skin and bring a glow to your spirit.)
The St Lucia Tourism Authority is inviting travellers to discover the island’s more intimate and exclusive accommodations through its new Collection de Pépites. The programme showcases luxury villas and boutique properties such as Rabot Hotel, a 25-room eco-lodge located on a 140-acre cacao farm overlooking the Pitons.
When to go: December through April is the high season and a great time to get out of the cold. June and July offer great values along with guaranteed sun and highs of 80°F (26.6°C).
When not to go: August through November is hurricane season in the Caribbean, though in St Lucia — which is far to the south — high humidity and heavy afternoon rains are the bigger risk.
Whom to call: Skylark
Go (Way, Way) Back in Time in Central Georgia
Macon occupies a key place in American Indian and Black history — and with its bicentennial in 2023, the city is ready to show it all off. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park is a prehistoric riverfront site where the Muscogee Nation lived for more than 12,000 years. Housing more than 2,000 American Indian artifacts and offering six miles of trails, it’s expected to be named Georgia’s first national park when a three-year federal review concludes soon.
In the historic downtown, stay at the former bank turned 94-room Hotel Forty Five, part of the Marriott Bonvoy collection. There’s also the Woodward Hotel, named after the owner’s grandfather, an English professor; expect books of Southern literature in its nine luxe rooms. Situated on an alley surrounded by buzzy local eateries, it has rooftop patio views. The city’s culinary scene is home to more than a dozen Black-owned restaurants, such as Macon soul food institution H&H Restaurant and plant-based barbecue favourite Southern Vegan Soul Cafe.
Macon’s pop-music roots can be found at the Capricorn Sound Studios and Museum, which memorialises the record label for Otis Redding, Al Green and the Allman Brothers. Oprah already gets the vibe — she was spotted here while producing the musical remake of The Color Purple. Filmed around town, it’s due out in December.
When to go: Spring and fall offer prime weather as well cultural riches, including the Cherry Blossom Festival and the rich musical happenings sponsored by Mercer University’s McDuffie Centre.
When not to go: July and August can be oppressively hot; January and February are quite dreary.
Whom to call: Travel Experts
Splash with the Kids in the Ivory Coast
This French-speaking nation with Atlantic beaches, dense forests and skyscrapers is positioning itself as the next hot spot in West Africa. (Step aside, Ghana.) From 2017 to 2019, overseas tourist arrivals in Ivory Coast were increasing at an average annual rate of 7.2%, reaching two million visitors. That’s also when the Ivorian government began its “Sublime Côte d’Ivoire” plan, which aims to bring in four million tourists a year by 2025.
A new 60,000-seat stadium fits within this ambitious vision, set to open in time for the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament in January 2024. “Aérocité”, a US$1.6 billion development rolling out over the next several years, will expand the international airport and create an urban complex with luxury hotels, a water park, residences and event spaces.
Abidjan, the country’s entry point, is a lagoon-facing commercial city that’s started to see the arrival of five-star boutique hotels. La Maison Palmier — Marriott’s first member hotel in West Africa — has a stunning art-deco design, lush poolside gardens and a French-Ivorian restaurant attracting well-heeled locals. At the Noom Hotel Abidjan Plateau in the business district, wind down by an infinity pool overlooking the Ebrié Lagoon or take in Abidjan’s skyscrapers by night from the Sky Bar. The Sofitel — a property built in the 1960s as one of Africa’s first modernist hotels — was renovated in 2019 and also deserves a visit.
To escape the city rush, take a 20-minute boat ride to Ile Boulay’s trendy Boulay Beach Resort. But don’t miss Ivory Coast’s laid-back Atlantic beach towns, which are perfect for families. In San Pédro, opt for La Maison du Soleil (+225 07 59 44 07 69) or Hotel Eden Roc Ivoire. In Assinie-Mafia, Coucoué Lodge is a popular weekend escape. Stop at the Grand Bassam market on the way to sample choukouya, roadside marinated and grilled meats with onions and tomatoes.
When to go: Warm temperatures vary little year-round and humidity is ever present in varying degrees. But travelling in the dry season from November to March, with the best months being December and Januar y, offers the best chance to experience abundant wildlife and cultural celebrations, such as November’s Festival of Masks.
When not to go: Avoid the rainy season, from June to October. The national parks close and flooding can complicate overland travel.
Whom to call: IamSheGlobal
See a New Toronto Every Time You Visit
Canada’s largest city continues to be one of North America’s most ever-changing — and fastest-growing — metropolises. This year will be no different: The Nobu Residences Toronto, a complex including a hotel and one of the brand’s flagship restaurants, is expected to open this summer in two 49-storey towers erected atop the 128-year-old Pilkington Glass Factory. And an Andaz hotel will be at the heart of Foster + Partners’ 94-storey mixed-use One tower, which, when done, will be Canada’s tallest residential building.
Toronto’s dining scene is upping its already well-established game, too: Israeli chef Eyal Shani will soon bring his veggie-forward Mediterranean fare to his first Canadian outpost, Miznon, while local culinary stars Hanif Harji, Antonio Park and Patrick Kriss have just put the finishing touches on new restaurants. In September, Michelin dropped its first Toronto guide, highlighting 13 star-worthy restaurants, including Kriss’s Alo. (It has a French-tasting menu — Michelin catnip.)
Bringing the city’s three million residents closer together is the Bentway, a C$25 million (RM81.43 million) urban project transforming a derelict highway into a pedestrian-friendly retail, art and exhibition area that’s flourished since its first phase opened in 2018. In 2023, the sustainable park will begin its ambitious next phase, making even more of downtown walkable and accessible.
When to go: Take advantage of summery temps, or lean into fall for pretty foliage and thinner crowds — barring the Toronto International Film Festival in September — until winter.
When not to go: March and April, when the brutal winter often drags into an uncomfortably cold and rainy spring.
Whom to call: Entrée Destinations
Rediscover Regal Relics in Madrid
Long the staid sister to beachside Barcelona, Madrid has begun to shed its government-town reputation and become the destination of choice amid the resurgence of European tourism. Not only does it have a fraction of the foreign visitors, it holds just as many big-city perks as London, Paris and Rome — including some of the best museums in the world, a decadent dining and drinking scene, and a central park to rival New York’s.
Stunning refurbishments at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz and Marriott’s Edition have all been completed in the last two years, rescuing historical, palace-style buildings from disrepair. At another newly opened hotel, the Four Seasons, Andalusian celebrity chef Dani Garcia has taken over an indoor-outdoor ment-town reputation and become the destination of choice amid the resurgence of European tourism. Not only does it have a fraction of the foreign visitors, it holds just as many big-city perks as London, Paris and Rome — including some of the best museums in the world, a decadent dining and drinking scene, and a central park to rival New York’s.
Stunning refurbishments at the Mandarin Oriental Ritz and Marriott’s Edition have all been completed in the last two years, rescuing historical, palace-style buildings from disrepair. At another newly opened hotel, the Four Seasons, Andalusian celebrity chef Dani Garcia has taken over an indoor-outdoor lunch.
When not to go: Mid-July through mid-August can be sweltering.
Whom to call: Made for Spain and Portugal
Take a Fresh Look at Modern Edinburgh
Known for its Gothic architecture, grey weather and abundance of literary figures, the Scottish capital can be easily pigeonholed for its stoic antiquity. But several hotels are breathing new life into old buildings.
Gleneagles Townhouse, a long-awaited follow-up to its sister country estate in Perthshire (established 1924), opened in June, with 33 rooms set within the Old Town’s historic British Linen Bank. Inside, original fireplaces and wood panelling contrast with modern artwork by local artists and quirky Toile de Jouy wallpaper. The Townhouse was soon joined by the 222-room Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, another restoration project — this one making over the mid-19th century India Buildings with all the flash and crimson flair the brand is known for. Its Commons Club bar and restaurant is an ode to Scottish larders with seasonal cuisine, and the rooftop bar offers a fresh perspective on the city’s skyline.
This winter, the 214-room W Hotel Edinburgh will be part of the 1.7 million sq ft TH Real Estate development, bringing new shopping, restaurants and entertainment to the upscale St James Quarter.
Summer brings out the best in the city, though: The Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, runs through the bulk of August. Just in time, 100 Princes Street will open; the historic former home of the Over-Seas League social club (dedicated to international friendship and understanding) will honour Scottish lore while bringing a high-fashion look inspired by Alexander McQueen and an “anywhere-anytime” ethos to service. Millennial British lifestyle brand Hoxton will also open a 211-room property in 10 conjoined Georgian townhouses in the Haymarket neighbourhood.
When to go: The September/October and April/May shoulder seasons are great for sightseeing, while prime summer is filled with entertainment. December features Christmas Markets and winter charm.
When not to go: Apart from December’s festive cheer, it’s cold, rainy and snowy from November to March — not great for outdoor sightseeing.
Whom to call: Travel Edge
Soak Away Stress in Kyushu
Japan’s third-largest island, crowned by a constellation of still-blazing volcanoes, sets the backdrop for many of the country’s touch points. Kyushu’s wondrous ecology fuels a bumper crop of unique fruits and vegetables, including mind-bending citrus, such as puckery kabosu, sweet-and-sour hyuganatasu and the gigantic yellow banpeiyu. The soil is spiked with such a density of minerals that its wild, primordial forests are the inspiration for anime fairy-tale lands, including the one in Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Tonkotsu ramen was born in the backstreets of Hakata; wash it down with shochu or sake, both of which are distilled abundantly from the ample fields of rice, sweet potato and barley nearby. The national passion for ceramics has turned Arita and several other little towns into points of pilgrimage.
The country’s onsen culture (bathing in hot springs) is best articulated here, too, at frothing resort towns such as Beppu. New Shinkansen bullet train routes opening in late 2022 and 2023 are making it easier than ever to access Kyushu’s hidden hamlets and seaside villages, many of which are sprouting compelling new ryokan, or inns. Hoshino Resorts’ luxury wellness brand, Kai, has recently expanded in Mount Unzen and in Yufuin with a Kengo Kuma-designed resort. And a new Ritz-Carlton will soon open in Fukuoka, as well. The small, ultraluxury resort Tenku no Mori opened in the woods right outside of Kirishima with onsens in each cottage and a warning on its website that the dress code is “naked”.
When to go: October, November and early December are the best months to visit, as the weather cools and the leaves change, making hopping from hot spring to hot spring even more enjoyable. There’s a bevy of local festivals, as well. Cherry blossom season in April and May sees wisteria and azaleas at their most spectacular.
When not to go: Avoid June, July and August, when the heat and humidity reach unpleasant levels and the threat of monsoon can suspend travel.
Whom to call: InsideJapan Tours
Party-Hearty in Thumping Dubai
The Middle East’s over-the-top playground is turning up the volume this year. Atlantis the Royal, a long-awaited ultraluxury beach-front resort on the manmade Palm Jumeirah, is expected to open to guests in February. Its nightlife centrepiece, Cloud 22, offers sweeping views from 22 stories up and features a 90m infinity pool, private cabanas and a DJ. A-list chefs Heston Blumenthal and José Andrés are on board. Nobu, too, is moving over from sister property Atlantis the Palm as Nobu by the Beach, a pool club.
Other new hotels don’t just focus on adults — they ban kids entirely. Côte d’Azur Monaco promises 24/7 festivities on manmade archipelago the World; Terra Solis, a 21-and-over desert resort outside the city from music fest host Tomorrowland, has two restaurants and offers day passes and sunbed rentals. Kids are allowed at Siro, a new fitness-themed hotel, but would they care about the 1,700 sq m of workout and recovery space?
Michelin has been on an expansion tear, and Dubai has benefitted from a new list: In June the guide recognised 11 eateries with stars. But don’t forget local standouts such as 3 Fils or Orfali Bros. The only drawback? They don’t serve alcohol.
When to go: November to March, when the weather is often a perfect 80°F during the day. December and January evenings bring temperatures just cool enough to require a light jacket when eating dinner outside.
When not to go: May to September, but especially not June, July or August. The “feels like” temperature in the summer is regularly above 130°, and the humidity increases at night, making it feel somehow worse. (Even though you think of Dubai as a desert city, it’s on the Persian Gulf.)
Whom to call: & Elite
Discover Nepal without Roughing It
With its gold-topped temples and snow-covered Himalayan peaks, Nepal has long been the stuff of backpacker legends. Most cash-rich tourists make a beeline for the roughly US$40,000-a-pop Mount Everest climb, but that’s set to change now that Mountain Lodges of Nepal, a recently rebranded collection of upscale accommodations, aims to boost luxury hospitality in all corners of the country.
The collection extends from the fringe of south-central Chitwan National Park to the dramatic Mahalangur Himal range, which consists of four of the six highest peaks in the world. Other outposts dot the lush valleys of the Annapurna Circuit. Some of its properties, the Phakding Lodge among them, have been around for more than a decade but will receive a top-to-toe refurbishment combining Nepali architectural hallmarks such as warm woods and intricate weavings with modern amenities including a new farm-to-table restaurant built on the hotel’s former helipad. Others, like the Deboche Lodge at 3,820m that’s set to open in the last quarter of 2023, will be built from the ground up.
The crown jewel, however, will be Shinta Mani Mustang. Opening in May in the remote Upper Mustang region on the edge of Tibet, this 29-suite all-inclusive retreat is inspired by traditional Tibetan dwellings and the Jurassic-era ammonite fossils found around the nearby riverbeds. Off-site expeditions include tours around the Buddhist fresco-in-scribed “sky caves” lining the Kali Gandaki River and multiday treks with stays at Shinta Mani’s pop-up hotel rooms.
When to go: Mid-September through November for prime expedition trekking in the Everest and Annapurna regions.
When not to go: The rainy season of June, July and August.
Whom to call: Mountain Lodges of Nepal
Ogle World-Class Art in Oslo
The Norwegian capital is undergoing a quiet renaissance. An overhaul of the Sorenga neighbourhood in the last decade turned an old container dock into one of the city’s most popular swimming spots, just steps away from the architecturally marvellous Oslo Opera House, designed by Norwegian starchitects Snohetta AS. Along with the Astrup Fearnley Museet, the city’s museum of modern art, the shoreline also includes a new home for the country’s National Museum. It can display 6,500 artworks — twice the number that were previously on display — including pieces like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
The pandemic wreaked havoc on hotels and bars in Oslo, but that’s made room for a number of exciting entrants now being ushered into the scene. Among them, in one of Oslo’s oldest neighbourhoods, is the Sommerro Hotel. Housed in the former headquarters of the city’s electrical company, it boasts three bars and five restaurants.
The city also serves as a jumping-off point to explore Norway’s mountains and fjords. Inventive hospitality options such as the Juvet Landscape Hotel’s glassy modern buildings are perfectly situated over rivers and mossy hills in northwestern Norway; at Under, a restaurant on the south coast, guests dine 5m below the surface of the North Sea.
When to go: May, June and September, with their long days, when the sky never gets completely dark, allow ample hours for exploration without the tourist crowds you see in July and August. Norway’s National Day (May 17) is a huge nationwide celebration, with parades, parties and citizenry donning traditional dress.
When not to go: Avoid the darkest months of December, January and February, when the very short days and cold temperatures can hinder outdoor activities.
Whom to call: Black Tomato
Cross 21st-Century Frontiers in the Marquesas Islands
Consider for a moment that the Arctic and Antarctica aren’t the last great unexplored realms of our planet. A once under-the-radar expanse exists in the heart of the South Pacific, almost 900 miles east of Tahiti where a few sparse islets pierce the waves. Like Tahiti’s peaks on steroids, the mountains of the Marquesas archipelago are the dramatic remnant of cataclysmic volcanoes that erupted aeons ago, and their craggy ledges and summits are now the subject of countless Instagram posts, sparking a surge in tourism.
For Sven-Olof Lindblad, who forged his reputation as a leading purveyor of polar sailings, the South Pacific has become his newest obsession. (He even left his post as CEO of Lindblad Expeditions Holdings Inc in 2021 to focus more readily on the region.) Now he plans trips around the Marquesas archipelago on his private vessel, the 154ft Hanse Explorer, to allow scientists and explorers to conduct underwater conservation studies. When he’s not using the vessel for scientific purposes, luxury guests can rent out the superyacht and see this hidden world for themselves; it’s the only private ship with a dedicated Marquesas itinerary.
And Lindblad Expeditions — in partnership with National Geographic — is rerouting some of its vessels in the South Pacific, adding far-flung island-hopping circuits to their respective itineraries in 2023. Several international cruises are also including the islands of the Marquesas as new ports of call, allowing passengers to experience the destination that inspired much of Paul Gauguin’s work, whether it’s on hikes to lone-some black-sand beaches or horseback rides through interior jungles.
In December the Marquesas Arts and Culture Festival, held once every four years, returns to the island of Nuku Hiva. Visitors can watch as Polynesians gather from thousands of miles away to practice their haka war dances, hunt for wild game and tap intricate tattoos on their bodies.
When to go: Watch melon-headed whales swimming more closely to the surface — and birth their young — in September and October. December hosts the dazzling Marquesas Festival, while the shoulder season of March, April and May promises idyllic weather.
When not to go: July and August, which can be very busy with French families on holiday, should you prefer a more private paradise.
Whom to call: Aranui
Explore Maine’s Finer Side
For Americans, visiting the Pine Tree State is a little like taking a quick trip to a foreign country. There’s the distinctive geographical blend of craggy stone beaches, storm-blue lakes and fuzzy, fir-topped mountains. The local cuisine, of fresh seafood augmented by hardy farm-to-table veggies and berries, is likewise famous beyond its borders. And there’s the general quiet, which you’ll find in forests, on the water and, often, among the stoic people who live there. Sailing, hiking, skiing, canoeing, fishing, hunting and hammocking are among the myriad restorative activities beloved by natives and visitors alike.
In other words, it’s a dream escape from urban life, which is why it’s grown more popular than ever over the past decade. Restaurant-jammed Portland added a few more in 2022, including Twelve, a dining room from former Eleven Madison Park chef Colin Wyatt, and the Danforth, a cocktail lounge by the Death & Co team. An expansive rooftop bar, Luna, has also elevated the city’s nightlife, offering gorgeous harbour views from the new Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront hotel. Further Down East (that’s up the coast, in Maine-speak) on the vast Deer Isle, chef Devin Finigan has created a romantic destination with Aragosta at Goose Cove, which opened in 2019. Guests can stay at one of 12 cottages and suites and partake in a tasting menu of locally sourced halibut, lobster, oysters, kelp and duck or dine in a greenhouse perched right over the water. (There are also walk-in-only happy hours Mondays through Wednesdays.)
If a preppy paradise is what you’re searching for, fashion designer Todd Snyder has continued his partnership with the Hidden Pond resort in Kennebunkport and designed 20 one-bedroom bungalows in an appealing rustic style. While there, take a boat ride, get a CBD-infused massage at the spa or simply relax on the beach. Some even have sand!
When to go: July through mid-October sees the most consistently good weather, with brilliant fall foliage starting in September. For winter sports enthusiasts, mid-January through mid-March bring ideal snow and ice conditions.
When not to go: April through mid-May is often rainy, cold and grey. For those who like to hike, fish and otherwise spend time in the outdoors, the brace-yourself conditions of the mud and black fly season can continue well into June.
Whom to call: Your Maine Concierge
Take Care of Business in Milan
Italy’s fashion capital is no longer just about style — it’s poised to become a nerve centre of global business with the arrival of networking-focused social clubs. In December the Ferragamo-owned Lungarno Collection introduced Portrait Milano, a 73-room hotel housed in a building that was one of Europe’s oldest seminaries. The property’s transformation included filling its 30,000 sq ft plaza with restaurants and boutiques. Named Piazza del Quadrilatero, it connects Corso Venezia and Via Sant’Andrea for the first time, modifying pedestrian access through the fashion district.
A short walk away on Corso Venezia, private club Casa Cipriani has 15 rooms and a signature Italian restaurant. Later this year, networking juggernaut Core Club will open its first outpost beyond New York and San Francisco in a nearby palazzo.
But a great international business city needs a great dining scene, and Milan holds its own with a multitude of decorated restaurants. In 2022 beloved chef Diego Rossi, whose Trippa Milano has been ranked the best trattoria in Italy, opened Testina, with a compact menu focused on popular classics (veal cutlet) and overlooked dishes (veal head gratin). Andrea Aprea’s new bistro at the Luigi Rovati Foundation draws on his Calabrian roots and gastronomic flare (think amatriciana foil-wrapped potatoes). But the city’s greatest culinary talents are on display at the Mercato Centrale, which has quickly become a foodie hub — serving up cured meats, Chinese dumplings, lush Italian rice dishes, as well as pizza and bread from master baker Davide Longoni.
When to go: From the end of September until Christmas, the Milanese are in town and the energy of the city is at its authentic best.
When not to go: August. Like most major European cities, it can be very quiet, with many restaurants and local shops closed for the summer holidays.
Whom to call: IC Bellagio
Tramp Like Harfoots in New Zealand
After a hiatus of more than two years during the pandemic, New Zealand is once again offering outsiders the adventure of a lifetime at the bottom of the world. The country’s untamed natural beauty, back on screen in Amazon Prime Video’s Rings of Power series, is on fullest display along its 10 Great Walks, which can take three to five days each.
Covering landscapes from volcanic plateaus to golden beaches and snow-capped mountain ranges, each hike is a unique experience in a different part of the nation. The most popular is the Milford Track, a four-day “tramp” (in local parlance) on the western side of South Island that winds through lush rainforest, over a mountain pass and into the Milford Sound — a fjord created by the sea flooding a glacial valley that writer
Rudyard Kipling dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world.” The walks, administered by the Department of Conservation, are often booked months in advance, and each trail has campsites or huts with common bunk rooms and a shared kitchen topping out at NZ$110 (RM306) per night. There are also less rustic private offerings at considerably higher prices.
Or skip the tracks entirely and join winery company Invivo this month for the first flight from Auckland to Queenstown that features a tasting of eight different wines in the air. And Americans take note: Air New Zealand now offers nonstop flights to Auckland from New York.
When to go: The spring (September through November) and fall (April and May) shoulder seasons see prime destinations at their tranquil best, with better availability for anything that needs to be booked. Peak summer travel (December through March) requires flexibility and early planning.
When not to go: The winter months of June, July and August, when many outdoor attractions are closed.
Whom to call: Southern Crossings
Awaken Your Senses in San Francisco
The tech hub has been in the headlines lately for its vacant office towers and empty downtown streets, but its residential neighbourhoods are thriving, and the city more broadly is glistening in a hospitality renaissance. With the crush of workers gone, now’s a great time to use San Francisco as a home base for outdoor excursions in nearby Marin County and Napa Valley — or just to avail yourself of the city’s less-packed restaurants, bars and hotels.
Take the posh 1 Hotel in the Financial District: Composed of salvaged redwood, native greenery and rustic stones, it’s an organic oasis across from a promenade that stretches from the Oracle Park baseball stadium to amusements at Fisherman’s Wharf. The new Luma in Mission Bay is also within cheering distance for Giants fans. The Line SF just planted a flag in the gritty Tenderloin, showcasing local artwork in the hotel’s public spaces and cocktails by inventive bartender Danny Louie. Near Union Square, Auberge is transforming the 1911 Spanish revival Hearst Building, which is set to open this year after a renovation under the eye of decor mavens Roman & Williams. It will have 150 rooms, plus a restaurant, roof-top lounge and spa.
Many wonderfully idiosyncratic restaurants opened in 2022 in the city, including Shuggie’s Trash Pie + Natural Wine in the Mission District, with crispy-crust pizzas topped with gnarled mushrooms, bruised squash and other “ugly” produce that would have been discarded elsewhere. Don’t miss nearby Mijoté, which serves a blend of Californian and French cuisine by chef Kosuke Tada, or Damansara, an inviting Malaysian canteen in Noe Valley. And locals are cheering the return of Liholiho Yacht Club after a three-year closure; the Lower Nob Hill hangout serves riotous Hawaiian flavours from chef Ravi Kapur.
When to go: September and October. It’s sunny and temperatures are in the 70s (20°C), so everyone is out in the parks and cafes. There are usually great performances, exhibits and cultural events taking place as well. November and May can also be beautiful.
When not to go: Proper summer is crowded, and it can often be gloomy thanks to Karl the Fog, which rolls in after a scorcher. January and February are peak rainy season and often quite cool.
Whom to call: Azurine Travel
Savour a Sip of Africa’s Deep South
Think of the South African wine lands, and Stellenbosch or Franschhoek likely spring to mind. This year, consider driving 100 miles southeast to the Western Cape’s Agulhas wine triangle, where a handful of pioneering cellars are tapping into the region’s unique coastal terroir and brisk sea winds to produce expressive wines with wonderful minerality and freshness. Syrah and sauvignon blanc are the standout cultivars — try Strandveld Vineyards, Lomond Wines or the Giant Periwinkle — but pinot noir also thrives in these cooler climes. On the banks of the Breede River, the rocky vineyards at Sijnn Wines shape impressive Rhône-style blends.
Elsewhere, book a guided tour of the Nuwejaars Wetlands, where 25 landowners are conserving 113,000 acres of the Agulhas Plain, reintroducing hippopotamus and Cape buffalo to their traditional ranges. Make your base at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, which protects the endemic fynbos, or shrubland, vegetation of the region.
The original Garden Lodge was entirely rebuilt in 2022; its 11 contemporary suites are hidden amid ancient milkwood forests.
When to go: South Africa’s Western Cape
is a fickle place, so be prepared to experience all four seasons in one day. Spring and fall (September/October and March through May) are a little like Goldilocks’s porridge: It’s not too hot and windy, but also not too cold and rainy. For whale watching, June, July and August are primetime, just don’t forget to pack a jacket (it’s winter).
When not to go: South Africans travelling locally make December’s festive season and the two weeks surrounding Easter (April 9 this year) particularly crowded.
Whom to call: Mango African Safaris
Visit a Spa in the Loire Valley in Sustainable Style
Dreams about France’s Loire Valley usually conjure fairy-tale châteaux rising elegantly out of manicured gardens and Disney-perfect towns. But the sleepy region, with its rolling hills of green pastures and gently bobbing hot air balloons, is embracing a more modern, sustainability-minded hospitality. Several revolutionary properties have sprouted up in the past two years, including Loire Valley Lodges, with 18 actual treehouses hidden deep in a lush, 750-acre forest. There, masseuses will come to your room for treatments on your terrace, and the menu at the in-house Ardent restaurant highlights produce from the garden, such as cabbage stuffed with foie gras. At Les Sources de Cheverny, a new-in-2022 resort built out of an 18th-century château and farm, you can delight in locavore dishes in the blonde-wood barn restaurant Le Favori and sample ethically produced bath products in your suite.
Locals are especially thrilled about Fleur de Loire, a sparkling five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel debut in Blois from hometown hero chef Christophe Hay, whose prior restaurant, La Maison d’à Côté, had two Michelin stars and a green star for sustainability before it closed. The new resort is built in a 17th-century hospice constructed on the orders of Gaston, duke d’Orléans, Louis XIII’s brother, and it offers a patisserie, spa and 50ft indoor pool. The main attractions, however, are the two dining rooms — both of which rely heavily on its 2.5 acres of gardens for produce and on local rivers for sturgeon, carp and other fish. Try the souffléd pike crepe with crunchy quinoa before heading off to sleep in a custom-made bed. And then spend the next day exploring the stunning countryside and nearby wineries by foot, tour bus, bike or even, yes, balloon.
When to go: Easter (April 9 this year) kicks off the season with many chateaux holding colourful events. After spring’s erratic weather passes, May to October open up the natural bounty of the valley, especially when the lavender fields burst into colour in July and the harvest commences in the fall.
When not to go: November through early spring are cold and often wet — you’ll even see snow flurries — and you won’t get to appreciate the gorgeous gardens that grace the region’s famed chateaux.
Whom to call: Embark Beyond
Snag a Deal in Dizzying Istanbul
Turkey’s largest city is buzzing, in part because of an influx of Russians and Ukrainians alongside the typical Middle Eastern and Western European visitors. Normally a summer vacation paradise, the country recorded its second-highest tourism revenue ever in chilly October. Hotels remain full and reservations at top restaurants are hard to nab.
If you can, book a table at Turk Fatih Tutak, which, with its two stars, holds the highest Michelin rating in Istanbul. (The guide arrived for the first time in October, a welcome recognition for the city’s elite dining establishments.) Not on the list but worth a stop is Avlu. It serves excellent Turkish dishes at the newly refurbished Four Seasons, which occupies a former Ottoman jail in the historic district of Sultanahmet. Galataport, a mostly completed cruise port complex, was built to service enormous ships, but its retail and restaurant spaces bring a bit of Dubai-like glitter to the shores of the Bosporus. Later this year, an ultraluxe Peninsula Hotel is set to open with a long pool right along the strait’s edge. It follows the 2021 opening of an 86-room Mandarin Oriental, also on the water. The bars in summer feature gorgeous views and endless opportunities for people-watching, as does a gorgeous Soho House set in the Palazzo Corpi, the former US embassy.
Runaway inflation has driven up prices, leaving shop owners struggling to make updates to keep pace. Luxury retailers in fancier neighbourhoods such as Nisantasi or at huge malls like Zorlu Centre see out-of-towners queuing up for lira bargains. But those looking to party the night away may have to ask a local: The government hasn’t fully lifted the Covid restrictions on late-night music, sending the once-raucous party scene underground after 1am.
When to go: Although everything in Istanbul is open year-round, the May/June and September/October shoulder seasons offer beautiful weather without the summer crush.
When not to go: July and August if you hate crowds.
Whom to call: Sea Song Tours
Hang out with Elephants and Gibbons in Isan
Thailand’s northeastern region is a clutch of sleepy rural provinces that are more similar to Laos than the Bangkok capital. The area has never had the cachet of the country’s mountainous north or beach-hemmed south, either, but that’s slowly changing now that its hospitality scene is turning heads on the global stage.
In Khao Yai, Thailand’s oldest national park and the elephant-populated green gateway to the region, hotel designer Bill Bensley helped craft the whimsical look of the new InterContinental. With wall-mounted luggage racks and clerestory ceilings, the hotel’s 45 rooms mimic luxurious train cabins, and its 16 suites and French restaurant inhabit actual rail cars salvaged from junkyards across the country.
Nearby, the new Marasca Khao Yai is just as playful. Stay in safari tents or converted Volkswagen T2 vans equipped with your own outdoor barbecue grills and hot tubs. Either option is a great home base for days of exploring the park, seeking out elephants, gibbons and moon bears (oh my!) among the lush emerald hills and pounding waterfalls.
The region’s fiery cuisine also made its debut in the 2023 edition of Thailand’s Michelin guide, which deemed numerous Isan mainstays as a good value: They include larb authority Lab Somphit in Nakhon Ratchasima and grilled chicken specialist Kai Yang Rabeab in Khon Kaen. Also mentioned on the list is fine-dining trailblazer Samuay & Sons in Udon Thani. Chef Weerawat “Num” Triyasenawat, considered the René Redzepi of Thailand, turns oft-forgotten local ingredients — pickled bamboo shoots and steamed field crab, for example — into tasting menus. Clued-in foodies book its tables weeks in advance.
When to go: November and December offer amazing weather, with huge blue skies, cooler days and the Red Lotus Lake in full bloom. The whole region breaks into colourful local parties at the end of Buddhist Lent (Oct 28 this year).
When not to go: From April through September, Isan has oppressive midday heat and very heavy monsoon rains with localised flooding.
Whom to call: Smiling Albino
Chill by the Beach in Trancoso, Brazil
In 2020, Spanish photographer Marta Tucci was sent on assignment to Trancoso, a chic beachfront town 650 miles or so north of Rio de Janeiro on the coast of Bahia in Brazil. “In the first week, I fell in love with the place,” she says from the town she and her property developer husband now call home.
The couple isn’t alone. This village was once best known as a counterculture hide-out in the 1970s and 80s during the Brazilian military dictatorship; it transformed when the fashion pack began descending roughly 15 years ago to rent out the little houses here, which sit on and around the quadrado central. Bob Shevlin and his partner, Wilbert Das, Diesel’s former creative lead, were pioneers. “The first house we bought on the town square — in 2006? — it had no glass windows,” he recalls, noting they slept on the floor for a while. The pair went on to open the 13-room Uxua Casa Hotel & Spa in 2009, a magnet for the likes of Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Shevlin says Trancoso has undergone another radical change over the last two years: Folks like Tucci are flocking to live long-term in this chic beachfront hideaway. Many of Shevlin’s international friends are spending considerably more time here than they did pre-pandemic.
The uptick in year-round residents has spurred an increase in amenities, too, bolstering what’s long been available at luxury deli Empório le Marché, which hawks imports such as asiago cheese and mortadella. Nexo Brunch & Coffee Bar, for instance, is run by a young Brazilian nutritionist and her husband. Another coffee shop, Café Na Praça, is on the way. And São João Batista Burger & Pizza slings hamburgers in a homey setting.
Still, the sleepy, laid-back appeal of the village persists. “I was really hoping to find a place where I could spend a bit more time,” says Tucci of life here. “We’re taking it slow.”
When to go: Trancoso is warm year-round but not too hot, with high temperatures rarely reaching above the 80s. Whale-watching season is June to October, with September and October offering the uncrowded ideal.
When not to go: July is rainy, with an average monthly precipitation of approximately seven inches. And if you’re seeking a low-key escape, avoid New Years and Carnival (Feb 17-22 this year).
Whom to call: Landed
Join the Jet-set Party in Panama City
In 1914, all eyes were on skinny Panama when its eponymous canal opened, making Panama City the new crossroads of the Americas. Once a backwater, the growing burg was suddenly one of the world’s most cosmopolitan destinations, thanks to the influx of transplants from Europe, India, China and the Caribbean who helped construct the waterway.
Fast-forward more than 100 years, and the capital has retained its vibrant multicultural flair. And Panama City is finally starting to get the attention it deserves, especially on the international culinary stage. Standouts include Maito, a fine-dining venue that showcases indigenous ingredients and Panamanian flavours, and Fonda Lo Que Hay, which puts a swish, mod twist on the traditional roadside hangout.
Two hotelier heavyweights, Accor SA and Hyatt Corp, have bedded down in town, each with offerings in their luxury portfolios, the Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo and the Hotel La Compañia respectively. Both are in the Unesco-protected old city quarter, which blends historic boulevards with red-hot nightlife. They pair perfectly with the growing number of resorts flanking Panama’s exquisite beaches: Properties such as Bocas Bali, with overwater bungalows and soon-to-open bamboo treehouses, are giving neighbouring Costa Rica’s classic stays a run for their money.
Jet-setters are starting to arrive en masse now that an expansion of the international airport is welcoming a handful of new direct flights from the US. The relaunch of Copa Airlines’ layover programme, meanwhile, is encouraging a stop in Panama City for a few days at no extra charge.
When to go: Panama’s dry season stretches from January to mid-April, but it’s the first two months of the year when ocean breezes cool the metropolis and the rooftop bars and restaurants truly come alive.
When not to go: October and November, when Panama’s long rainy season (mid-April to mid-December) is at its worst.
Whom to call: Costa Adventures — Bloomberg
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition