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From a Resurgent Puerto Rico to the Mexican Hamptons, the 13 Best Places to Travel in 2019

From the Caribbean to Cambodia, Texas to Tunisia, these are the hot destinations to book this year.

Le Barthélemy is luring St. Barts regulars to Grand Cul de Sac Bay Photo: Pierre Carreau

A new year brings with it resolutions, a fresh start, and—for travel junkies—a new crop of bucket-list destinations. In 2019, we’ve got our eye on a globe-full of noteworthy spots, each timely for its own reasons. Some, like Cambodia and Tunisia, are enjoying an influx of eye-catching luxury hotels, while others—like Matera, Zimbabwe, and Ireland’s north—are in the spotlight for cultural or political reasons, and some of our favorite spots in the Caribbean warrant extra love as they emerge refreshed and ready for business. Whatever draws you to explore a destination for the first time—or see how it’s changed since your last visit—there’s something in these 13 global standouts that’s sure to inspire plenty of 2019 travel.

St. Barts

There’s no shortage of good news coming out of the Caribbean this year. A highlight is the rebirth of St. Barts following the island-wide devastation left by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. With the first round of reopenings celebrated late last year, and another under way, 2019 is shaping up to be the perfect time to enjoy the island at its fully restored glory.

The latest crop of reopenings includes the renovated Le Toiny, back with eight new freestanding villas, an expanded bar, and its award-winning, open-air signature restaurant; and the cliff-top Hotel Christopher, where the 42 rooms all have direct views over the island’s northern coast. Perched on the white sands of Grand Cul-de-Sac, Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa has restored its 44 rooms to their Paris-goes-to-the-beach style. Le Sereno is also back in action, having rebuilt from the ground up with a new bar, new spa, and new room categories. Giving us reason to come back again and again, meanwhile, are the highly anticipated reopenings of longtime favorites Le Guanahani and Eden Rock, both of which have projected late-2019 arrivals.

St. Barts aerial view

St. Barts  Photo: Courtesy Comité du Tourisme de Saint Barthélemy

Matera 

Located in the southern Basilicata region around the “ankle” of Italy’s boot, Matera spills out over a craggy hilltop down into two adjacent gorges where, in a network of limestone caves, humans had been living since prehistoric times. But this year, the ancient city is getting buzz for a new reason: It’s the 2019 European Capital of Culture.

Twelve months of cultural programming will run the gamut from contemporary art exhibits, poetry readings, and dressmaking workshops to concerts, operas, and theatrical performances, including an interpretation from The Divine Comedy. In between the events, visit some of the more than 150 ancient cave churches in the area, savor the local Basilicata variation on Italian cuisine (and wine), and stay in boutique hotels like the Sextantio, where the atmospheric rooms and suites are set in converted grottoes. “Exploring Matera is a journey back in time,” says Matteo Della Grazia of Discover Your Italy, which creates bespoke itineraries throughout Matera. “It showcases a part of Italy where history, traditional life, and natural and man-made beauty converge.”

Matera Basilicata Italy

Matera, Italy  Photo: Courtesy of Discover Your Italy

Phnom Penh

Move over, Siem Reap—Phnom Penh is getting its time in the sun, thanks to an influx of notable hotels in and around the Cambodian capital city. Occupying the top 14 floors of the business district’s Vattanac Capital Tower, the Rosewood Phnom Penh opened last year with 175 rooms and suites, a global selection of restaurants, and a 37th-floor sky bar. Sleek and modern also is the aesthetic of The Bale, a new collection of 18 oversize suites set along the Mekong River and accented by a top-notch gourmet restaurant, spa, and Khmer cooking classes.

There’s plenty happening just outside town, too. Atop Bokor Mountain, find sumptuous surroundings and a rich history at Le Bokor Palace, a 1925 colonial-era hotel that was redone and relaunched last year. Once you’re settled into one of the 36 elegant suites, enjoy easy access to ancient pagodas and the scenic Opal Coast. If forests are more your speed, designer Bill Bensley’s Shinta Mani brand has expanded to Cardamom National Park with the new Shinta Mani Wild, which opened in November with 15 tented suites nestled high among the trees.

Shinta Mani Wild exterior

Shinta Mani Wild  Photo: Courtesy Shinta Mani Wild

 

Valle de Bravo

Located roughly two hours west of Mexico City, Valle de Bravo has earned the nickname “the Hamptons of Mexico City” for its regular influx of weekenders. It’s no wonder the picturesque region is a favorite escape from the cosmopolitan life: Offerings range from paragliding and horseback riding to waterskiing and sailing on mountain-ringed Lake Avándaro, making this pastoral retreat a nature lover’s paradise. And now, it has a trio of new hotels, encouraging weekend visitors to stay a while.

“Valle is what modern Mexico is about,” says Waldemar Franco, founder and president of the Rodavento hotel group. “It’s a living, genuine place, not a curated colonial attraction.” Franco is the brain behind much of the Valle’s new reputation, thanks to his hotels, which include Hotel Rodavento—a sophisticated forest retreat that’s like summer camp for adults—and La Casa Rodavento, a converted mansion boasting seven suites and a gourmet restaurant by noted Mexico City chef Diego Isunza Kahlo (a distant relative of Frida’s). Recently, the Rodavento brand also launched Cinco, a boutique spot that’s another ideal home base for monarch butterfly sanctuary visits, market tours, and splashy adventures on scenic Lake Avándaro.

La Casa Rodavento, Valle de Bravo

Casa Rodavento  Photo: Courtesy Mosaic Hotel Group

 

Tunisia 

The spectacular backdrop for iconic films in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises is now ready for its own close-up, thanks to the arrival of hotels from two top luxury brands. Set along a hillside in the upscale Gammarth neighborhood, Four Seasons Hotel Tunis features 200 sea-view rooms and suites, plus indoor and outdoor pools and a Roman-inspired spa. Those on the clock will find easy access to the central business district, while vacationers can explore the UNESCO World Heritage–designated 4th-century Medina, or take a picnic and private guide to the seaside ruins at Carthage. And come this spring, you can head southwest to the town of Tozeur—a hub for Saharan adventures—for a stay at the new Anantara Tozeur Resort, a dreamy spot in the heart of the desert that can arrange camel caravans with local Bedouins and visits to Chott del Djerid, the largest salt lake in the Sahara.

Anantara Tozeur

Anantara Tozeur, Tunisia  Photo: Courtesy of Anantara Resorts

 

Zimbabwe

After 40 years under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is—as new president Emmerson Mnangagwa proudly declared—“once again open for business.” On the tourism front, the stability means new safari camps and tour itineraries, and the return of some of Africa’s top safari guides (most of whom left during the Mugabe era).

In late 2018, Wilderness Safaris, which operates some of the top lodges in the country, resumed management of the elegant Chikwenya Camp in Manna Pools National Park, while Singita’s Pamushana Lodge also reopened last year following a stunning renovation of its chic suites and a five-bedroom villa. Great Plains Conservation is back in Zim, too, with a collection of new experiences that includes the Great Mana Expedition, a six-night-minimum, six-guest-maximum adventure safari that takes travelers deep into the private Sapi Reserve in the Middle Zambezi Biosphere. And just 15 minutes from Zimbabwe’s most famous attraction, Victoria Falls, old favorite Stanley & Livingstone has been revamped under new management by South Africa’s More hotel group.

Singita Pamushana Lodge 

 

Puerto Rico

Even if you missed out on snagging tickets for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 16-day run of Hamilton this January, there are still plenty of ways to show your support for Puerto Rico. Namely, by visiting, as the hospitality industry has been at the forefront of the island’s sweeping post–Hurricane Maria resurrection.

Leading the charge are resorts like Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a onetime Rockefeller estate featuring luxe accommodations and one of the best spas in the Caribbean, and the sophisticated St. Regis Bahia Beach, which completed a $60 million refurb in December. San Juan is also buzzing with hotel news: The legendary beachfront El San Juan Hotel dropped $65 million on its redo, adding major amenities such as the Caribbean’s first Well & Being Spa and a restaurant by Miami’s star chef Juliana Gonzalez. The glam O:LV Fifty Five in buzzing Condado debuted in December with 26 suites and a posh oceanfront pool deck. Nearby, the chic Serafina Beach Hotel is bringing a bit of Miami-meets-Manhattan style to the Island of Enchantment, with a South Beach–inspired vibe and a culinary program from the team behind New York’s Serafina restaurants. Wherever you check in, you’ll find plenty more to explore as Puerto Rico emerges from its tragedy better than ever.

beach hotel Puerto Rico pool

Serafina Beach Hotel  Photo: Courtesy of Serafina Beach Hotel

Ireland’s North 

As Brexit looms, so do concerns about what might happen to the open border between Northern Ireland and the northern regions of the Republic of Ireland. Before any changes take place, take advantage of the still-seamless travel between the two areas with a trip to some under-the-radar parts of the Republic.

Traveling north from Galway will bring you to Sligo, a picturesque region of waterfalls, lakes, and wide beaches. Farther up in Donegal, check in to Lough Eske Castle, a restored mansion with a lovely spa and fun dining scene, all tucked into a postcard-perfect setting. It’s a comfortable base from which to pop into Donegal Town—be sure to pick up some tweed from Magee (founded in 1866), which crafts fabrics for top international labels—and explore the stunning Wild Atlantic Way, the rugged western coastline dotted with colorful villages.

Heading east to Northern Ireland, you’ll also find Belfast booming with new world-class attractions like Titanic Belfast Experience (a fascinating dive into all aspects of the doomed ship) and the new Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition, which runs through September. While you’re there, check in to the Titanic Hotel Belfast, a buzzing spot set in a heritage-listed building where the famous vessel was designed.

Donegal, Ireland

Donegal, Ireland  Photo: Christopher Hill

The Azores

You’ve heard the buzz—now’s the time to see for yourself why this collection of Atlantic Ocean islands is so enchanting. Less than a five-hour direct flight from East Coast gateways like New York and Boston, the Azores archipelago is an autonomous region of Portugal, making it the closest European land to the U.S. And surprisingly, each of its islands comes with its own culture: The largest, São Miguel, boasts crater lakes, tea plantations, and the vibrant city of Ponta Delgada, while Terceira island is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site old town and the Algar do Carvão Natural Reserve (one of the few places on earth where you can descend into a volcanic chimney and lava chambers).

No matter which island you land on, be sure to sample traditional pastries and the famous Azorean cheeses, sip homegrown vinho, and savor spicy stews and fresh seafood. The region’s tour operator Azores Getaways can organize custom island-hopping itineraries full of engaging experiences, with overnights at top-notch hotels like the wellness-focused Furnas Boutique Hotel, the contemporary Azor Hotel, and the soon-to-open Lava Homes.

São Miguel 

 

Austin

Texas’s capital is growing up—and growing fast—blossoming into a tech and entertainment hub, and this year, a top destination for virtually every type of traveler. In February, the opening of Miraval Austin will secure the city’s reputation as a world-class wellness destination, with innovative culinary and spa programs. Adding a dose of contemporary style to the city hotel scene is the latest outpost from Proper Hotels, which will be set within a 32-story high-rise in Austin’s burgeoning downtown. Nearby, California-based Auberge Resorts is turning the historic Commodore Perry Estate into a boutique hotel that promises to become the city’s most luxurious.

New culinary adventures are also on the calendar this year, with more upscale eateries joining Austin’s famed Tex-Mex and barbecue joints. Top picks include the recently opened Arlo Grey from Top Chef winner Kristen Kish, as well as new James Beard Award nominees Olamaie and Otoko.

Spa resort Miraval Austin Texas

Miraval Austin  Photo: Courtesy Miraval Austin

 

Georgia 

Black Sea coastlines, towering mountain ranges, colorful historic cities, hills lush with vineyards—for a relatively small country, Georgia offers something for everyone. Just ask Jay Ternavan, founder and CEO of JayWay Travel, which has been planning itineraries in the country for years. “Georgia still has that untouched, authentic feel with minimal outside influences,” Ternavan says. “Now is definitely the time to go, while you can still enjoy that signature experience.”

Explore this former Soviet country by starting in the capital city of Tbilisi, which can serve as a home base for day trips to ancient monasteries, four-wheel adventures in the Kazbegi mountain range, and the hilltop town of Signahi (known for decades as “the Tuscany of the Soviet Union”). Adventure-lovers should head west to the city of Kutaisi—close to ancient fresco-lined churches and canyon-dotted national parks popular for hiking, rafting, and kayaking—while the Black Sea–side resort town of Batumi showcases both the historic and modern aspects of the country. Along the way, enjoy traditional music and folk dancing, savor signature cuisine (from dumplings and spiced meat skewers to khachapuri, a Georgian take on pizza), and mingle with the open and hospitable locals.

Tbilisi

Tbilisi  Photo: Courtesy The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi

 

Namibia

While the legendary sand dunes and crooked-tree landscapes of Namibia’s desert national parks have been attracting the safari circuit set for years, now’s the time to head north to its more remote regions, which, thanks to a collection of new lodges, just got easier to explore. Here, the safari experience is less about animals—though seals, flamingos, oryx, springbok, and desert-adapted elephants, lions, black rhinos, and mountain zebras do call the area home—and more about the sheer feeling of traveling back in time, or to another planet. Not that you’d be missing earthly conveniences: Following the 2014 opening of Wilderness Safaris’ stylish, solar-powered Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, 2018 saw the arrival of Natural Selection’s six-suite Hoanib Valley Camp—a joint venture between local communities and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation—and Shipwreck Lodge, where the 10 cabins resemble marooned vessels, and views over the Atlantic are endless. And while you’re in the country, pair your trip with a visit down south to the soon-to-open Sonop, a 10-tent camp in the heart of the Namibian Desert from Zannier Hotels founder Arnaud Zannier.

Sonop desert

Oryx in the Namib desert  Photo: ronnybas/Shutterstock

 

Belize

After decades of keeping a low profile, Belize is suddenly seeing the opening of standout upscale properties that put you close to the country’s diverse attractions, while still honoring the pristine environment and under-the-radar vibe. Some of the biggest names are yet to come: Four Seasons’ Caye Chapel private island—which promises golf, overwater bungalows, and private residences, all close to top diving sites—is slated to open in 2021, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s much-anticipated, eco-luxe Blackadore Caye is now scheduled to launch in 2020.

But there’s plenty of reason to go now, starting with the breezy-chic Itz’ana Resort & Residences, located just 40 minutes from Belize’s legendary diving site, Great Blue Hole. Also new to the hospitality scene is Mahogany Bay Resort, which offers British Colonial–inspired style, a saltwater pool, and a private beach club. And for adventure with a dose of ancient culture, the visionaries behind Itz’ana also operate Ka’ana, where private excursions to towering Mayan ruins, scenic waterfalls, ancient cave pools, and more are guided by dedicated specialists.

Belize luxury travel

Itz’ana Resort & Residences  Photo: Courtesy Itz'ana

 

 

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