The Big Idea: Time to Roam
Travel is emerging, reshaped and reimagined, with a newfound focus around one idea: time. Today, travel is about taking time, with longer trips and fewer breakneck pit stops, lingering and exploring with greater leeway. Plenty may have vacationed in 2020 but often to easier, closer destinations: St. Barts, perhaps, or Mexico. The chance to explore again has inspired travelers to prioritize extra time they just never considered before. In 2019, 21 percent of trips booked by Asia specialist operator Remote Lands were longer than two weeks; now two-thirds are 15 days or more. Greaves Tours, which focuses on India, has seen the number of stops on itineraries halved, to just two or three compared with six or more two years ago; trips now lean longer, with far fewer one-week requests.
Travel allows time together. Families are reconnecting this way after separation, voluntarily or otherwise, during the pandemic. It’s not uncommon for groups to span three or four generations, 20 or more people exploring together where 8 might once have been the maximum. Adventurous, vaccinated eighty and ninety somethings whisk their grandchildren on safaris and to the Seychelles, each family grouping chartering a jet for their trip. Many of the older travelers drive these bookings, the pandemic’s memento mori giving them an extra jolt of carpe diem. New smaller hotels have emerged tailor-made to this booming market, ideal for full buyouts: see Lopud 1483, a five-suite 15th-century monastery in Croatia owned and run by art-world doyenne Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, or Xigera, in Botswana, a safari camp with just 12 suites.
The way we book has changed, too: either long ahead or with just weeks to spare. Silversea’s 139-day, 34-country world cruise, sailing from Sydney in January 2023, sold out within hours of cabins going on sale in March, almost two years in advance. A chance to savor anticipation for longer, sure, but also a sign of a practical problem: Many top hotels and destinations are booked solid through the start of 2022, often by rolled-over bookings; there’s barely a room free at the top lodges in Chile for the rest of the year, for example.
But cancellations always occur, so ultra-last-minute high-end trips are also on the rise, per Houston-based travel adviser Sarah Groen, of Bell & Bly. Every week, 70 percent of her time is now spent on requests for complex trips with less than two months before departure, compared with about 30 percent before. It’s a reflection, too, of the flexibility that the changing landscape of the pandemic taught all travelers. The ultimate embodiment of that? The new Magical Mystery Tour from Wonderlust and Travel Sommelier: an $11,999-per-person journey where the destination isn’t revealed until the day of travel.
New Openings: Castello di Reschio, Italy
It was Count Benedikt Bolza’s father, Antonio, who bought this rundown, 3,700-acre estate in the Umbrian hills. That was in 1994, and the family has lived there ever since, painstakingly restoring the historic structures dotted around the property. Handily, Bolza junior is an architect as well as an aristocrat and so could personally supervise every aspect.
This spring, the family finally opened up its passion project, a 36-suite hotel, in addition to the farmhouses it already rents to guests. There are several restaurants on-site—the casual Il Torrino is charmingly carved from the estate’s onetime watchtower—as well as a full spa. Best to book the private suite for treatments there, with its own fireplace and heat cave, or “tepidarium.” Much of the furniture throughout is from Benedikt’s own line, B.B. for Reschio, alongside antiques and curios foraged from local markets.
A truffle-hunting expert comes to the estate to take guests on seasonal trips through the local countryside—on foot or, if they prefer, on horseback via the Equestrian Centre. Horse-mad visitors, whether beginners or lifetime riders, should plan on several days of dressage, with mounts trained under the tutelage of Antonello Radicchi, who has run the center for the family for almost two decades. Doubles from around $915 per night, including breakfast
Paradero Todos Santos, Mexico
It’s only 45 miles up the coast from Cabo San Lucas, but this corner of Baja California Sur couldn’t be more different from Mexico’s party capital. Close to the Tropic of Cancer, it has earned a biosphere-reserve designation from UNESCO for the diversity of flora and fauna ranged around five distinct microclimates clustered together: desert, mountains, beach, oasis and farmland.
The five-acre Paradero resort is sensitively designed by Mexican-Swiss firm Yektajo & Valdez. Minimalist and low-slung, the 35-room beige concrete hotel blends into the countryside. Book one of the Sky Suites, and you can drift off to sleep in a suspended “star net” that looks both up and out. The property is centered on a 100,000-square-foot botanical garden, filled with more than 20,000 plants, a prime source of raw ingredients for the restaurant. The owners intend for this to be the first in a small chain of luxury properties focused on the outdoors—“paradero” loosely means “stop on the road”—so rates here include activities, allowing guests to explore the surroundings in depth. Try guided hikes or farming and gardening tutorials in a greenhouse. Look for the hordes of hummingbirds, which use the region as one of their breeding grounds. Doubles from $550 per night
Henry’s Townhouse, Marylebone, London
Owners Steven and Jane Collins pivoted from their initial plan to operate this seven-room site as an exclusive boutique hotel, creating instead what they call a “hidden home” offered solely on a buyout basis.
The entire experience here is conceived as staying with friends, albeit tony British ones. Breakfast and afternoon tea are served in the pantry, in front of a cozy Aga cooking range, and there’s an honesty bar stocked with British tipples, such as Chase vodka. Paint everywhere is Farrow & Ball, of course. The interiors were overseen by Russell Sage Studio, the firm behind the Goring Hotel, where the British royal family has often billeted guests.
The townhouse’s location is unlikely, if appealing: in Marylebone, an artsy, Village-y northwest corner of central London. The hotel’s name underscores the listed building’s artistic heritage: Henry Austen once lived here, and his sister Jane was a visitor, even referencing the address in some of her novels. If you haven’t brought your own copy of Persuasion et al., there’s a snug here stocked with first editions of her works. Curl up with one in the pelmetted reading seat in the downstairs lounge. Nightly buyouts from $6,800
Alila Marea Beach Resort, Encinitas, California
San Diego is synonymous with the water, whether glorious beaches or dedicated surfers. It’s one reason Hyatt’s ultra-luxury offshoot Alila named its latest resort Marea, or “tide” in Spanish. This is Alila’s first new build Stateside, sitting in the ham- let of Encinitas, just north of San Diego.
The water dominates the design of the 130 rooms and suites here, with driftwood-toned paneling and polished-concrete floors pebbled like nearby South Ponto Beach. Almost every room has a balcony, or patio, for panoramas of the Pacific. Book a first-floor room with a private fire pit, too.
It’s no surprise that the restaurants emphasize seafood under the auspices of James Beard Award semifinalist Claudette Zepeda, who grew up nearby. Vaga will be eclectic, corralling influences from the Middle East to the Philippines, from a chef who relishes in her childhood nickname of “vagabond.”
Head to the ocean-inspired Spa Alila for treatments that incorporate handmade products, such as the Pacific salt body scrub with wild sage and dwarf-pine essential oils, or hit the water with private surfing lessons. Better still, book a flight in an open-air biplane—the hotel can easily arrange it—and cruise up the coast. Doubles from $639 per night
Kruger Shalati, South Africa
Kruger National Park is named after an early South African president, who crusaded to set aside land there as a game reserve. Its first warden was an eccentric expat Irish-man, James Stevenson-Hamilton. He instituted measures to foil poaching, protecting the animals within the reserve, and brought wealthy colonials out to see the site for themselves—and so, hopefully, encourage their patronage.
Stevenson-Hamilton certainly had a flair for making an impression, often whisking visitors into the veldt by train both to see the wildlife and to party, wildly. This brand new hotel, a glass-walled 13-carriage train with 24 rooms and a lounge, is a nod to his expeditions, although it’s permanently parked on a bridge on the Sabie River rather than commuting along a railway line.
Guests should expect to see animals from their rooms, as designer Andrea Klein- loog explains. “We’ve seen leopards walking under our feet while we were build- ing,” she says, “and the red-billed quelea, the largest herd birds, swirling around our heads in spring and summer.” Indeed, the Basotho-inspired blankets on the beds, in dusky pink, nod to that particular resident and are designed, like many of the interior elements, by local talent—in this case, 29-year-old Rustenburg-based Bonolo Helen Chepape. Doubles from around $556 per person per night, all-inclusive
One & Only Mandarina, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
This 82-acre property forms part of a 640-acre development overseen by the same Mexico City team behind the ultra-luxe hotel hub Mayakoba, on the east coast. The concept here is similar, bringing a five-star, low-density vision of hospitality to the coast north of Puerto Vallarta, about an hour from Punta Mita.
Pacific Ocean beaches, lush flatlands and Sierra Madre Occidental foothills provide the backdrop for a polo and equestrian center, beach clubs, food by celebrity chef Enrique Olvera, adventure courses and even a residential complex, the first by O&O. The crown jewel, though, is the resort, an all-villa hideaway dedicated to reflecting the soul of its ancient rain forest setting. After a smoke-ceremony welcome performed by their butler, guests settle into one of the 105 treehouses and villas, many of which have plunge pools and ocean views. Opt for a grand villa: You’ll get complimentary activities like wine and cacao tastings.
A Rosewood property will soon join this development, with the goal of creating an ultra-luxe Mayakoba-style tourism hub on Mexico’s west coast. Pioneers, though, should book a trip right now. Doubles from $1,210 per night
Higashiyama Niseko Village, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Japan
There are 70 runs and more than 2,000 acres of skiable terrain total, including an extensive backcountry network, across the four linked ski areas in Niseko, Japan. It’s not unusual to see a foot of extra snow per day here, too—deep, light and powdery. No wonder this mountainous area of the northern island of Hokkaido has emerged as a must-try for any ski obsessive or has lured Ritz-Carlton to debut just the fifth in its ultra-luxury Reserve properties nearby.
The entire 50-key hotel is predicated on the Japanese concept of kachou fuugetsu, or discovering yourself through nature. The ski-in, ski-out resort sits at the base of Mount Niseko Annupuri, surrounded by the extraordinary countryside. The hotel has its own staff of mountain and nature reservists on tap to help guests explore as they wish, whether finding the best fresh powder or going off-piste to roam the backcountry. The lure in green season goes beyond hiking and adventures, with access to two golf courses in the complex, including one designed by Arnold Palmer. Whatever the time of year, make sure not to leave this area without ordering some miso ramen noodles—this is the region where they originated. Doubles from around $870 per night
Xigera Safari Lodge, Botswana
Xigera is a magnificent new lodge spread across a thicketed island on the channels of Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. It’s the most lavish hotel to open so far in the Okavango Delta and the most ambitious project yet from the Tollman family, who earned their expertise in hospitality running Red Carnation hotels, known for luxury properties such as Ireland’s Ashford Castle.
Xigera has a dozen 1,980-square-foot luxury suites, each of them decorated with one-of-a-kind timber sculptures, hand-thrown ceramics and textiles, all created by over 80 artisans from across Africa. The standout spot for overnighting, though, is the private treehouse, about a half-mile from the lodge proper, where you’ll be surrounded by animals. Four of Africa’s big five (lions, leopards, buffalo and elephants, but not rhinos) live in this region. Look out in particular for Alice, the resident lioness, who’s known to roam the area, her cubs in tow. Xigera draws guests not just for the wildlife but for the artwork, too: The treehouse itself is striking and sculpture-like, a nod to the colossal custom collection of African art throughout the property.
Make no mistake: This is a safari camp aimed for indulgence as much as exploring. There’s a spa (with a deck) supplied with Tata Harper goodies and a glimmering pool, as well as a wine cellar stacked with bottles of Bouchard Finlayson, another Tollman enterprise. Doubles from $2,320 per person per night
Reboots, Reopenings & Renovations: La Mamounia, Marrakech
The sprawling, palatial La Mamounia underwent a major upgrade of its public spaces last year, just in time for its centenary in two years’ time. Parisian designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku were unleashed on the interiors, carving out a brand-new cinema for the 209-key hotel, as well as reimagining the Churchill bar as a 20-seat caviar-championing tasting room. Doubtless gourmand Winston would approve: He came here regularly to paint in the winters before and after World War II.
The main changes, though, revolved around the restaurants, where two superstar French chefs now tag team. Pâtissier Pierre Hermé will offer macarons and more at Le Salon de Thé, as well as throughout the property; check out the tiny satellite patisserie in a kiosk in the leafy gardens. And Jean-Georges Vongerichten will operate two spaces here: a new Asian restaurant and a reconceived Italian one, both with terraces near the pool.
The best new spot, though, is tucked away: The VIP dining salon L’Oenothèque is a 12-person tasting table hidden in the wine caves underground, where guests can eat surrounded by thousands of bottles of the world’s best vintages. Doubles from around $775 per night
The Saxon, Johannesburg
The luxury hotel in leafy Sandhurst is known for its glorious 10-acre gardens, a legacy of its former life as a private residence for insurance tycoon Douw Steyn. So when tourism was halted last year, the hotel’s owners expedited a radical renovation of the common areas to better connect with the outdoors: See how the Qunu restaurant now opens onto the terrace there. The walls were covered with a mural, based on a photo by Justin Badenhorst of a wild Syringa tree at sunset at the hotel’s sister property, Shambala Private Game Reserve.
The renovation also emphasized another aspect of the Saxon’s history. It was here that late president Nelson Mandela lived after his release from prison, and he edited his autobiography on-site. So now the artwork behind reception calls out that connection: pencil drawings of Mandela, depicting the stages of his life, by Dean Simon. Book a stay at the largest suite here, a 4,300-square-foot room, named in his honor. Doubles from about $660 per night
French Polynesia was one of the first long-haul destinations to reopen after the border closures across the world last spring, relaxing entry controls on July 15. The sparsely populated tropical archipelago was already ideally suited to socially distanced travel, but it enacted an impressive series of protocols that became a gold standard for others to follow. These included stringent PCR testing before arrival and contact tracing in-country, plus a follow-up test that was handed to all visitors at passport control to be returned four days later. The authorities also built rapid-testing stations at the main airport and even extended an offer to cover quarantine expenses for travelers who tested positive prior to departure.
The impact on luxury travel was palpable, per charter specialist Justin Crabbe, CEO of Jettly. He booked 192 flights in the whole of 2019, and is on track to top 260 in 2021. Tahiti’s progress was paused by a shutter order from Paris in early February, but the destination is primed to rebound after it reopened once more on May 1.
La Réserve Ramatuelle, France
Michel Reybier and Jacques Garcia are an inseparable duo, at least when it comes to hotels. Reybier, a tycoon who built his fortune in meat processing before pivoting to vineyards and hotels, has hired the opulence-obsessed interior designer for two other properties in his La Réserve group of hotels, as well as his own mansion in Bordeaux.
Last year he tasked Garcia with another project: renovating the decade-old La Réserve Ramatuelle, six miles outside Saint-Tropez. With 27 rooms and suites, and 14 hillside villas, the sleekly futuristic property is a wellness-focused hotel, with an almost 9,000-square-foot spa.
Garcia was an unlikely choice to reimagine the site, as he’s best known for city-center hotels such as La Réserve’s Paris location. Nonetheless, the results are captivating: Garcia’s whimsy is well suited to the place, retaining the hotel’s signature neutral palette but adding splashes of green and blue. He overhauled the common areas, including the lobby, the patio bar and the Michelin two-star restaurant La Voile, captained by chef Eric Canino, with an aesthetic that’s a deliberate nod to the 1960s, when Cocteau, Picasso and Co. brought a jolt of artistic glamour to the area. Note the hand-sculpted lights by Julien Capron, grandson of local ceramic artist Roger, who was part of that wider creative cabal. Doubles from around $1,085 per night
One to Watch: Fred Swaniker
Business and conservation don’t seem like natural partners, but Ghanaian-born Swaniker believes he can integrate them successfully in Africa. Swaniker worked for McKinsey after earning a scholarship to school in America, and his consultant training underpins the idea for his African Leadership University (ALU). The continent will have a larger workforce than China or India by 2035. Swaniker wants to teach its young people to work in areas like conservation. In doing so, he’s helping them to leverage the economic opportunities of the continent’s wildlife riches and to redress the problem that much of the money spent on luxury travel in Africa doesn’t directly uplift local communities.
The first of the ALU campuses opened in 2015. Swaniker approaches education unconventionally: Lessons include student-led workshops and online classes from topflight professors worldwide (he has an MBA from Stanford). Swaniker initially aimed to create a network of universities across the continent, but learned quickly that, even with scholarships and a repayment program, costs for travel, tuition, room and board were often a barrier.
Cannily, he has now pivoted to smaller sites, dubbed ALX, offering cheaper certifications aimed at directly prepping students for careers rather than conventional degrees. First up: Nairobi, Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Dakar and Lagos.