By David Hochman
Originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Virtuoso Life.
We tapped into Virtuoso’s travel advisor network to find out where the well-traveled are headed in 2016. Not every hot spot garners a mention – Myanmar has made everyone’s list every year since we began asking – but we think these must-see destinations will make the coming year the best traveled yet.
Beyond the Taj Mahal
If you’ve visited India
, you’ve probably done its Golden Triangle in the north: Mumbai and Udaipur to Jaipur and Agra on the way to Delhi. The south, however, is the connoisseur’s darling. Think of culture-rich Cochin and Kerala as India 2.0, says Victoria Boomgarden, a Virtuoso advisor based in Naperville, Illinois. “You’ve got pearls, beaches, maharajas’ palaces, tea plantations, and a breezy, laid-back atmosphere that still feels off the map,” she says. Rare Royal Bengal tigers roam Mysore’s Nagarahole National Park. Kerala’s Kolukkumalai Tea Estate is the world’s highest. And the region is a natural gateway to another destination on the rise, Sri Lanka
, home to a stunning pair of Aman resorts
Over 17 days, Big Five Tours & Expeditions
’ south India journey takes in Bangalore’s monuments, the tenth-century pilgrimage center Chikmagalur, Nagarahole National Park, and Kerala’s halcyon backwaters – by private houseboat.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Virtuoso advisors have seen India bookings jump a whopping 212 percent over the past year.
CON DAO, VIETNAM
It’s known as Vietnam
’s untouched archipelago, but it won’t be for long. Under French colonial rule, the 16 velvet-green islands off the mainland’s southern shore were cut off in order to sequester prisoners. Today, Con Dao is a much happier destination – a haven for snorkelers (and idlers) and a throwback to tranquil Asian outposts of yore. On the serene island of Bay Canh, day-trippers wander through tropical rain forest to a nineteenth-century lighthouse. Protected hawksbill and green sea turtles come to nest on 13 local beaches from May through October. Heaven is a day spent zigzagging through the picturesque seas by catamaran.
“Six Senses Con Dao
provides the stunning experience my clients are looking for, combined with authentic local flavor, in a place that not many people know about,” says Tasmania-based advisor Belinda van Tholen.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Travelers are flocking to Vietnam, fueling a 270 percent increase in bookings within the Virtuoso network over the past year.
Fjord cruisers have always loved the area in and around Bergen and Geiranger, but those in the know are heading above 66 degrees north latitude. “The Arctic Circle has the most stunning natural scenery and the northern lights,” says advisor Belinda van Tholen, who has a fondness for the locals: polar bears, walrus, seals, and arctic foxes.
Virtuoso’s on-site connection in Norway
works with travel advisors to arrange land and sea itineraries that let you take in vivid skies, massive glaciers, and unusual wildlife.
Since Homer’s time, the Mediterranean’s largest island has lured travelers questing after coastal views, ancestral villages, and, OK, maybe the perfect cannoli. But lately Sicily is drawing a high-flying, globe-trotting crowd. “It’s very much a microcosm of the country, offering so much of what people seek in Italy
, but with its own historic sights and its own subculture,” says Carrie Wallace, a Chicago-based travel advisor. Explore fortified hill towns such as Erice, Agrigento’s Doric temple ruins, Michelin-starred restaurants in Ragusa, and rich Greek history in once-grand Siracusa. With splashy views to Mount Etna and two gorgeous Belmond properties – Grand Hotel Timeo
and Villa Sant’Andrea
– seaside Taormina is Sicily’s answer to the Amalfi Coast.
Visit culinary and arts capital Palermo, the medieval countryside, museums, and volcanic sites during Artisans of Leisure
’s seven-day private exploration of Sicily.
JOSE IGNACIO, URUGUAY
South American Hamptons
Ponying up for a favorite pastime at Estancia Vik.
Manhattan-based advisor Bobby Huebner lets out a happy sigh when he talks about José Ignacio, Uruguay
. “It’s where the Hamptons’ flair and feel meet South America,” he says. Two hours from Montevideo
and just outside Punta del Este, it’s the ideal spot to combine an estancia (ranch) and beach stay at the posh Vik properties. “Regional art is featured and highlighted within the decor and design of the buildings themselves,” Huebner notes. Daily workshops help guests find their flow while painting or taking photos, and those craving a deeper escape can book Vik’s seven-day yoga retreat.
Horse rides at dawn, languid art walks, parrot-watching, splendid solitude – it’s all on the menu at Estancia Vik José Ignacio
and Playa Vik José Ignacio. The properties are happy to arrange local tours or help you do nothing at all.
Virtuoso travel advisor Carrie Wallace calls it the “American safari.” In Montana
, western Colorado
, and New Mexico
, a growing network of exclusive and ecologically conscious lodges is catching the attention of adventure and wildlife lovers at home and abroad. “No, it’s not the Serengeti, but the visitor experience is remarkably similar,” Wallace says. “From morning to evening, guests are looked after. There’s great food, local culture, and game spotting. It’s a sophisticated circuit that’s attracting world travelers.” Vast ranches and plush reserves such as Gateway Canyons
resort and The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch
are close enough to visit together on scenic drives or private flights. “You may not get white-tablecloth, formal luxury, but rather a New World sort of luxury, where the hospitality, beauty, and solitude are unforgettable,” says Wallace.
Chef, geologist, and “Jeeper” Bruce Sawyer at Virtuoso’s on-site tour operator for the western U.S. works with Virtuoso advisors to make places such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone feel like your own private national parks. Or try Montage Deer Valley
’s two-day Montage-to-Moab trip – a chartered flight and bike-and-hike odyssey into red rocks country.
BY THE NUMBERS:
The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016 – and it’s giving every fourth grader in the country a parks pass to celebrate.
Better Than Ever
Last year’s devastating earthquake could not shake the indomitable spirit of this sacred country in the Himalaya, and tourism matters now more than ever: Visitor numbers in 2015 were down 40 percent from the previous year. “The most impactful way travelers can boost Nepal’s recovery is quite simply by going there,” says Martha Merle, a San Francisco-based advisor who recently returned from Kathmandu. “A first-timer to Nepal wouldn’t know there had been an earthquake. The country is as stunningly beautiful and magical – and the people as gracious and heartwarming – as ever.” For visitors who want to go beyond bolstering the economy with their dollars, volunteering even for a day can complete an itinerary and provide a rewarding experience like no other.
GO: Remote Lands
customizes private ten-day journeys that begin in the Nepali capital before heading into the Himalayan hinterland, with overnights at classic outposts such as Tiger Tops Tented Camp.
Now’s the Time
With full diplomatic relations restored and travel restrictions easing between the U.S. and Cuba
, why go now? Put it this way: In five years, most of those vintage American cars will likely be gone. The corner seafood shack could be replaced by a smartphone kiosk. You might even find Frappuccinos on the Plaza Vieja. “Visit Cuba as it is now, stuck in a 1950s time warp, before developers get their hands on it,” says Manhattan-based Virtuoso advisor Fallon Hirschhorn.
GO: Abercrombie & Kent
recently launched a private seven-day people-to-people itinerary in Cuba, with tours led by a local architect, meetings with renowned ceramicist José Fuster, private salsa lessons, and a visit to a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
BY THE NUMBERS:
In a recent survey, Virtuoso advisors named Cuba the top emerging destination for 2016.
Far and Away
“Off the grid” is easier said than done these days, but the enchanting Fogo Island Inn
is far-flung enough to be unplugged in the best ways. Newfoundland is hard to get to, sure, but that’s part of the mystique of a region with seven seasons (“ice,” “berry,” and “trap berth” are the other three). Some even call it the next Patagonia
. “We’re talking one-of-a-kind, on-the-edge travel,” says Katherine Norton, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in Birmingham, Alabama. Guests of the ultramodern inn are paired with “Fogoers” based on interests, and those locals serve as community hosts. “A village fisherman, artist, or teacher becomes your guide and shows you their hometown through their eyes,” Norton explains. Activities are distinctly analog: making bread, rowing punts, watching caribou, skipping stones. Social media can certainly wait till you’re home.
Most guests arrive at Gander, the closest commercial airport, by way of Halifax, Nova Scotia, though the island’s airstrip supports small-aircraft and helicopter landings.
“With its easy access to neighboring South Africa
is emerging as a hot add-on to time on the Cape and on safari in the bush,” says Franklin Lakes, New Jersey-based Virtuoso advisor Bobby Zur. Beginning this year, more high-end hotel brands will establish footholds in the country’s Bazaruto Archipelago. The additions will complement existing properties such as the Azura Retreats on Bazaruto’s Benguerra Island
and on Quilalea Island
in Quirimbas National Park. These will be “particularly enticing for those travelers who appreciate a Robinson Crusoe, barefoot-luxury factor,” Zur says. Everywhere along the coast, the water is fabulous. Dive sites aren’t crowded. You can see dolphins, humpback whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and giant turtles. Most intriguing, though, are the elusive, curious-looking dugongs, related to manatees – and elephants.
As part of a 12-day bush- and beach-focused southern Africa itinerary, African Travel
spends a few days in Mozambique’s palm-lined coastal capital, Maputo, before hitting a tented camp on the beach for snorkeling among the reef fish.
SCOTLAND’S WHISKY TRAIL
Specialty tours bring wonder to the most familiar places. Seeing Scotland
with a whisky ambassador combines science, history, flavor, and a few drams of grown-up merrymaking. Advisor Victoria Boomgarden arranged such a trip for her husband’s 60th birthday last year in consultation with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. “There’s no better way to do it than on the Royal Scotsman,” the Belmond train into the Highlands, Boomgarden says. For a journey like this, the party begins with a private tasting at Edinburgh’s Balmoral
hotel, which stocks representative bottles from every distillery in Scotland under lock and key – more than 500 in all. The next morning, a piper plays you downstairs to Waverley Station, where you board the train with your whisky guru for a journey to all the best glens and lochs. It might sound clubby, but the trip is full of surprises. “It wasn’t a bunch of guys sitting around with cigars,” Boomgarden promises. “We met many young women pairing Scotch with fine food, and every stop had some new shop or gallery, or fabulous country hotel.” Those who want more can extend the trip with a few days of golf, horse trekking, or R&R at any of Scotland’s grand hotels.
Virtuoso advisors work with on-site UK tour operators who know the ins and outs of distilleries and can put together whisky tours by train or private car – or village-to-village ambles.
CABO SAN LUCAS
Baja is Back
This popular destination got even better with major revamping in the wake of 2014’s Hurricane Odile, which left $1.2 billion in damage. The upgrades have brought extra luster to already luxe oceanfront hotels. Two new golf courses also opened: Quivira Golf Club (designed by Jack Nicklaus) and El cardinal at Diamante (designed by Tiger Woods). The local economy will thank you for teeing off.
Here’s how Maggie Stein, a Virtuoso advisor based in Manhattan, sizes up Cabo
’s resort options: “One&Only Palmilla
offers a very family-friendly environment and one of the area’s only swimmable beaches. Las Ventanas al Paraíso
is the place for honeymooners – it even has a romance coordinator on the property. Esperanza
works for multigenereational travel or groups because it has a lot of large villas and residences with multiple bedrooms. The Resort at Pedregal
is for people (mostly couples) who want to be close to some action, since it’s located near town.”
If you'd like to work with a Virtuoso advisor on your next trip, connect with one here.
(Elephant photo, top right: AJP/Shutterstock)