When it comes to travel, being in the right place at the right time
is everything, agree our advisors, and planning ahead is key. “Half of the travel experience is about the anticipation,” says Spokane, Washington-based Maggie Condon Campos, one of a panel of experts we tapped to share their favorite trips and help ensure your vacations are always in season.
With autumn’s chill comes brilliant foliage, Mother Nature’s last hurrah before landscapes become blanketed beneath snow. Virtuoso travel advisor Robert Merlin of Saint Louis, Missouri, suggests a few favorite autumnal experiences: “foliage hikes, menus that highlight in-season ingredients, and sleeping near open windows.”
Tried-And-True: New England and the Maritime Provinces
It’s the leaf-peeper’s paradise, the Avalon of autumn. Fall foliage in New England and the neighboring Canadian Maritimes must be seen to be believed, as deciduous trees explode in every shade of gold, orange, yellow, and red.
With a Twist: Bavaria, Germany
- DO IT: During a ten-day voyage with Royal Caribbean International, guests can admire fall foliage from the 300-foot-high observation capsule aboard the 4,180-passenger Anthem of the Seas while traveling between Cape Liberty and Canada’s Saint John (or Halifax).
Come autumn, Bavaria’s alpine forests burst with some of Europe’s finest fall colors. Several trails let you take full advantage, starting with the aptly named Romantic Road, which also leads through the Franconia wine region (just in time for harvest season), as well as to finely preserved medieval walled cities and the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle.
Three more autumn alternatives:
- DO IT: Beer halls and bratwurst top a celebration of all things Bavarian on Kensington Tours’ private seven-day adventure through Berlin and Bavaria’s capital, Munich.
- Austin, Texas, gets down during the annual Austin City Limits Festival. Virtuoso’s Merlin recommends staying at W Austin, Four Seasons Hotel Austin, or Lake Austin Spa Resort: “All provide a great backdrop to explore the city’s music and culinary scene.”
- Our fall season is one of the best times to see wildlife in Zimbabwe, when animals congregate around diminishing water holes in the nation’s little-visited national parks. Nine-day private journeys with Cox & Kings have guests seeking out the “big five,” sleeping under the stars, and taking a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.
- “One of my favorite fall getaways is Northern Ireland,” says Virtuoso advisor Maggie Condon Campos. Visitors to County Down can
join locals working the oyster beds, she notes, then help shuck oysters and mussels – “with some fresh-baked bread and Guinness, of course!” Your travel advisor can work with one of Virtuoso’s on-site tour operators to arrange the experience during a customized tour of the country.
Time to hibernate? For a bear, maybe. The first snowfall sends sports enthusiasts into hyperdrive with skiing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, and every other wintry escapade imaginable. There just aren’t enough hours for all the snowboarding and snowshoeing, ice-skating and ice-caving – although the shorter days do leave more time for hot tubs, hot toddies, relaxing massages, and roaring fires.
Tried-And-True: Park City, Utah
When it comes to winter wonderlands, Chicago-based Virtuoso travel advisor Carrie Wallace steers clients straight to Park City. Home to stellar ski resorts,
the vibrant mountain town has it all, including bobsledding at Utah Olympic Park. During the holidays, Wallace recommends families ride the North Pole Express in Heber Valley to meet Santa and have hot chocolate with Mrs. Claus.
With a Twist: Megève, France
- DO IT: Two-hundred-twenty-room Montage Deer Valley not only grants ski-in/ ski-out access to Deer Valley Resort, but also offers plenty to do for nonskiers and families. “Kids can earn merit badges for completing resort activities such as wild- life spotting,” says Wallace.
While hardcore skiers might prefer places such as Méribel and Courchevel, Wallace gives the nod to Megève for its charming atmosphere: “With upscale shopping, lavish holiday decorations, an ice-skating rink, carriage rides, and views of Mont Blanc, it’s the perfect little alpine village.” For something different, go hot-air ballooning (yes, even in winter) or skijoring, in which skiers are towed behind a train of horses or dogs.
Two more (warm-weather) winter spots:
- DO IT: Home to Michelin-starred dining, an outdoor sauna, 27 contemporary rooms and suites, plus five traditional chalets, Alpaga Megève provides plenty of cozy places to warm up to the winter atmosphere.
- While it’s not typically on Americans’ radar, Madeira, the main island in the eponymous Portuguese archipelago, is a prime spot for New Year’s Eve, with impressive fireworks over Funchal Bay. Celebrate
in style while staying at Belmond Reid’s Palace, perched cliffside above the sea.
- Average temps in the 80s and passport- free travel for U.S. citizens are just two of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ main draws. Aspen, Colorado-based advisor Brian Payntar Harris recommends staying at Caneel Bay Resort on Saint John. “Have your advisor request Cottage 7, which was once Laurance Rockefeller’s residence, and book a private dinner in the ruins of the island’s old sugar mill.”
Ah, spring! Birds are singing, bees are buzzing, flowers are budding, and love is in the air. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the season more than the delicate cherry blossom, whose relatively brief blooming period is a metaphor for the transitional nature of life and a reminder to seize every moment.
Tried-And-True: Washington, D.C.
In 1912, Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki presented President Taft with 3,000 cherry trees as a token of goodwill between Japan and the United States. Since 1935, D.C. has celebrated that enduring friendship with the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, which features a variety of themed events and activities, including a grand parade, concerts, a kite-flying competition, and waterfront fireworks.
With A Twist: Japan
- DO IT: A selection of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite books and personal artifacts adorns the public areas and 95 guest rooms at The Jefferson.
Spring in Japan is “magical,” says Kirkland, Washington-based Virtuoso travel advisor Sean McClinton. For prime hanami (cherry- blossom viewing), he suggests Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, along with Nara’s Mount Yoshino and the Path of Philosophy in Kyoto. His tip: “To avoid busy daytime crowds, consider lighted nighttime viewings.”
Three more spring alternatives:
- DO IT: Petal-viewing season coincides with Ponant’s nine-day voyage from Osaka to Mai- zuru aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral. Visits to prime hanami spots include Okayama’s Korakuen Garden.
- Virtuoso’s McClinton suggests tennis enthusiasts hit the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, for the chance to “get up close and personal with your favorite tennis stars in a way you can’t at any other major tournament.” Practice your backhand with professional instructors at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa.
- Uncommon Atacama Horseback riding in Moon Valley and hiking up the Sairecabur caldera are par for the unconventional course at Chile’s Explora Atacama. Leave plenty of time for stargazing at the resort’s observatory: The Atacama Desert’s night sky is sublime.
- New York City advisor Fallon Hirschhorn recommends a triple treat: Mexico City for its “booming contemporary art scene,” Oaxaca for its Tlacolula Market (“a foodie mecca”), and Tequila for authentic tastings.
Perhaps it was the work of Jack Kerouac, or maybe it’s just in our DNA – but for most of us, the seduction of the open road is simply too much to resist. All a great road trip requires is being open to the unexpected, a killer playlist, and chucking schedules out the window (figuratively, of course).
Tried-And-True: California’s Pacific Coast Highway
California’s State Route 1 is, for Virtuoso travel advisor Crystal Warner of New York City, the quintessential road trip: “Over 600-plus miles, you’ll see stunning coastal views, seaside villages, and untouched forests, and make your way through some sunny wine-making districts too.”
With A Twist: Iceland’s Ring Road
- DO IT: Your advisor can work with American Excursionist to craft a tailor-made 11-day trip between San Francisco and Laguna Beach with your choice of luxury rental car. Kayaking trips along the Santa Barbara waterfront, as well as exclusive tours of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, are all possible.
Journeys along the Ring Road
– an 830-mile-long route encircling Iceland – promise a host of snow-covered mountains, active volcanoes, icebergs, lava fields, black-sand beaches, and towering waterfalls. Two of Warner’s Icelandic must-sees: Landmannalaugar, a lunar-esque landscape located in the country’s highlands (“It really is otherworldly!”), and the Blue Lagoon (“You wouldn’t visit Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower.”).
Two more great summer trips:
- DO IT: Treks on lava beds, hikes near a volcano, dips in geothermal pools, and travels along the Ring Road are all part of a six-day Iceland multisport adventure from Backroads.
- On a seven-day Arctic Kingdom tour, Inuit guides lead guests across Baffin Island to witness polar bears, bowhead whales, and calving glaciers. The threat of extinction for all three reinforces the need to go now.
- New York City advisor Bobby Huebner recommends a family tour of Florence and Rome with an expert private guide for “behind-the-scenes access that will send your kids back to school with a firsthand look at history.
Originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Virtuoso Traveler