Winter: North America & the Caribbean
The West Coast is dotted with towering mountain ranges and swanky ski resorts, but we have natural beauty of another variety: the Caribbean. Hurricane Irma may have hit spots like St. Maarten/St-Martin hard, but 70 percent of the Caribbean’s islands were left untouched. According to Andrea Filippi, vice president of global sales for Belmond, 75 percent of St. Maarten/St-Martin is ready to ring in the winter season with resorts like Belmond’s La Samanna reopened in December, following a $25 million renovation. All-inclusive, adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort also debuted its new look last month, with sister property, the 10-acre, 420-room Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa, quickly following in February.
With its UNESCO-listed Blue Mountains (home to the world-famous coffee) and lush jungle, Jamaica is tacking on a few new luxurious touches in the form of 120-room, beachfront S Hotel Jamaica (from the same owners as Kingston’s popular Spanish Court Hotel), opening in Montego Bay in January. This winter, iconic GoldenEye (where Ian Fleming penned James Bond) will debut its new FieldSpa—two spa huts sitting in the new spa cove, a sliver of sand hugging the lagoon (meaning guests can paddleboard from their villa right to the treatment room). Hole up Bond-style in one of the chic beach villas along the sand (picture outdoor showers, standing tubs and patios prime for sipping Blackwell’s namesake rum), and spend the day sampling refined farm-to-grill Jamaican fare like jerk chicken and grilled plantains at picnic tables overlooking the emerald green lagoon.
If you prefer your powder in the form of snow instead of sand, set your sights on Park City, Utah—the largest ski and snowboard resort in the U.S., featuring 7,300 acres, 348 trails, 41 lifts and eight terrain parks. Hop on a direct flight from Fort Lauderdale to Salt Lake City (Delta’s morning flight will land you in time to hit the slopes before lunch) and settle into the renovated Grand Summit Hotel, A RockResort, fresh off a $15 million facelift, where après-ski is served up in spa fashion with mini treatments waiting post-slope.
Spring: SOUTH America
Chilean autumn (our spring) is one of the best times to visit the country, whose standout wine scene is quickly rivaling that of neighboring Argentina. Santiago, which sits under the shadow of the snow-capped Andes, has become one of South America’s under-the-radar capitals of cool with its design-centric barrios, or neighborhoods, and growing gastronomic scenes. Immigrant artisans settled in the Barrio Italia back in the 19th century, but the historic neighborhood is just now having its moment. Stroll along the main strip, Avenida Italia, pausing to admire contemporary art galleries, antique shops and boutiques, with old homes opening up to a number of stores and cafés spilling out onto the street. One of the barrio’s best spots for an afternoon pick-me-up: Café de la Candelaria, with its heavy, farmhouse-style tables, wrought-iron patio chairs and secret garden-like courtyard crawling with vines.
Call the five-room, modern Maison Italia 1029—a 19th-century home swathed in locally stitched textiles—your base, setting out to sample the country’s vino at hot spots like Bocanáriz, where you can order thematic tasting flights, which makes deciding between the bar’s 349 bottles a whole lot easier. Ambrosía, ranked No. 24 on the list of “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018,” is another eatery to add to your list. Chef Carolina Bazán pulls from her past experience at Parisian hot spot Frenchie to craft the whimsical, market-to-table menu that adds a French touch to classic Chilean fare.
Food and wine are two reasons Chile ranks high on travelers’ lists, and this year’s solar eclipse makes three. One of the prime viewing places: Elqui Valley near La Serena, Chile’s second-oldest city. If you would rather visit a valley closer to the capital, picnic on the foothills of the Andes in Cachapoal Valley, home to 150-year-old Viña San Pedro’s winery.
From South American cities like Montevideo or Ushuaia, you can easily hop on an expedition liner to the southernmost continent: Antarctica. “Adventure travel is one of the fastest growing market segments in our industry, and the demand to visit some of our planet’s wildest places is rapidly increasing,” says Kimberly Krusell, founder and executive travel consultant at Honu Travel. “While retirees still compose a substantial segment of Antarctica travel, there is a growing number of clients from different demographics who are choosing to visit now.”
Parisians flee France in summer, but for transplants like myself (a Fort Lauderdale native who now calls Nice home), this is a favorite season to visit the capital city. July is a month-long holiday, from the fireworks on festive Bastille Day to the climactic finale of Le Tour de France along the Champs-Élysées. (Fans can even hit the road cycling with some of the pros on Tour de France-themed rides with operators like Mummu Cycling.) “France has almost always been steady with us,” says Jeannie Cartier Sauleau, president of Sixth Star Travel, a Virtuoso agency based in Plantation. “The interest has grown tremendously for culinary and wine experiences, and what better place than France, including Paris—home to over 70 Michelin restaurants?”
Paris features iconic institutions like the Moulin Rouge and former Hemingway haunt Café de Flore, but even the city’s legendary landmarks welcome a bit of modernization from time to time. After a decade at the helm of Eiffel Tower eatery Le Jules Verne, Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse is getting dethroned, with molecular master Thierry Marx stepping in to take his place. Rive Gauche hot spot Hotel Lutetia (once frequented by the likes of Picasso and James Joyce) is also getting a facelift in the form of a $234 million renovation, shrinking the room count from 233 to 184—with two suites showing off 360-degree city views.
From Paris, board the 40-minute, high-speed train to Champagne, where the region’s first luxury spa hotel, the 49-room Royal Champagne, opened last summer in a former 17th-century coaching inn overlooking the Marne Valley. The perfect weekend itinerary: start with winery tours through big-name maisons like Mumm or Veuve Clicquot before indulging in a facial at Royal Champagne’s Biologique Recherche-branded spa. Then, take your Champagne tastings up a notch with the recently launched Champagne Armand de Brignac (aka Jay-Z’s bubbly) tasting menu at three-Michelin starred restaurant L’Assiette Champenoise. (The langoustine matched with the magnum of Blanc de Blancs is heavenly.)
For wine tours that are off the beaten track, head to the Pelješac Peninsula, an hour drive from Dubrovnik. The coastal Croatian city, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” receives more than 500 cruise ships per year, with tourism growing 10 percent annually. Ranked one of Virtuoso’s “Top 5 Emerging Destinations,” Dubrovnik can thank critically acclaimed HBO series “Game of Thrones”—the season 8 finale airs this spring—for placing the city in the international spotlight. Embrace your inner Daenerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons), tracing the character’s steps through the walled city, which served as the backdrop for King’s Landing.
“Dubrovnik is such a magical place, with amazing architecture, interesting alleyways filled with shops and cafés, crystal clear waters and a cable car to the mountaintop for an overlook,” Sauleau says. “‘Game of Thrones’ has increased the interest as they film there—and there are plenty of tours oriented to those interested—but, of course, there is far more to Croatia, with Split, Istria and Zagreb, not to mention other more unknown spots with secluded beaches, history and friendly locals.”
Steer clear of the cruise ship crowds, staying just a 5-minute walk outside of the medieval city walls at Adriatic Luxury Hotels’ Hotel Excelsior (a favorite of both Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Taylor—as well as the “Game of Thrones” cast and crew). The former royal villa, which dates back to 1913, features mid-century modern-outfitted rooms with wraparound terraces that show off two of Dubrovnik’s best views: pine forest-filled Lokrum island and the walled city (best seen while soaking in a bathtub). Start the evening on the hotel’s terrace with a signature cocktail at sunset, admiring the glowing Old Town before moving inside for a fine dining feast at gastronomic Sensus, where the slow-roasted osso buco braised veal will practically melt in your mouth.
Fall: Africa & Asia
New flights from New York (JFK) to Nairobi launched in fall. The first U.S. direct route is one of many reasons the Kenyan capital is stepping into the spotlight as one of Africa’s more enticing cultural hubs, proving it’s more than a stopover city en route to safari in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where the wildebeest migration roars through from July to October. Galleries like Polka Dot and antique shops like White Elephant Trading Co. are popping up in the well-heeled neighborhood of Karen (where “Out of Africa” author Karen Blixen once lived), while German-inspired craft breweries like Brew Bistro are paving the way for Nairobi’s local beer scene with its rooftop eatery in the city center. History buffs will love the landmark hotel Fairmont The Norfolk, a Christmas gift from Major C.G.R. Ringer to the city in 1904 that counted everyone from Winston Churchill to Princess Patricia of Connaught as guests.According to the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report, river cruising is one of the top travel trends, with travelers straying from traditional rivers in Europe to more exotic stretches in Southeast Asia. “Based on our clients in the South Florida area, luxury cruise bookings have jumped to the top,” Sauleau says. “Destinations are a combination of cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe in the spring, summer and fall; South Pacific (Tahiti and Fiji) and Asia in the winter and spring; and the Caribbean in winter.”
Avalon Waterways recently launched its second river ship on the Mekong, the colonial-style, 18-suite Avalon Saigon, which cruises from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Each day on the river, set out on everything from oxcarts to sampans (small, flat-bottomed wooden boats), cruising through floating villages and touring Angkor temples by tuktuk before hopping back onboard for a truly local lunch crafted by the ship’s talented Cambodian chef. When disembarking in Siem Reap, toasted to the maiden voyage in one of the most glamorous places possible—Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. It is the original luxury lodging for the first round of intrepid travelers in the 1930s heading to bucket list sites like Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious monuments in the world.