November 1, 2016

10 Places to Escape It All (But Still Find a Scene)

From the new Tulum to the Uruguayan Tuscany and from Lima's jet-set spot to the always-on Palm Springs

  • Written by Julia Buckley

Holbox, Mexico

Crystal waters, pristine sands and a blossoming arts scene – it’s not for nothing that Holbox is being spoken of as Mexico’s “new Tulum.” Tucked round the corner of the Yucatán peninsula from Cancún (a four-hour bus and boat-ride away, via Chiquila), much of the 26-mile long island is a nature reserve and the navigable parts are crammed into an area that’s easily explored by bike or buggy (there are no cars here).


Thanks to its location, Holbox is growing at a slower rate than other Yucatán rivals, but you’ll still find faux rustic hotels like Casa Las Tortugas, restaurants serving everything from traditional Mexican to sushi (get the lobster pizza), hammock-filled beaches and an annual festival of murals – the 2016 edition starts 22nd November.

Johannesburg, South Africa

Not so long ago, people only really flew to Jozi to leave it – for Kruger National Park, to connect to Cape Town, or to visit Soweto before going on their way. These days they’re staying for Maboneng, a formerly gritty part of the CBD that’s morphed into Johannesburg’s most effervescent neighbourhood, packed with local designers, galleries and restaurants.

Copy of Uncle Merv's_2706

Maboneng’s pretty self-contained – there’s a park, numerous public artworks, a theatre and Africa’s first design museum (MOAD) – but it’s also worth branching out to Braamfontein, a 10-minute ride away, for more nightlife and a landmark Mandela mural by Shepard Fairey.

Máncora, Peru

In Peru’s extreme north, on the border with Ecuador, warm waves pound against sunbaked beaches, and Máncora – a one-time fishing village turned surf town – is where the Lima jet set come to wind down. They don’t just come for the swell, but the beachfront bars and restaurants that play music out to the Pacific, the food (La Sirena de Juan serves some of the best modern Peruvian food on the 1500-mile coast) and the neighbours: humpback whales from July to October and giant turtles year round.


Accommodation’s in the likes of Ecolodge, designed in local bamboo, wood and stone by its architect owner. BA launched direct flights from Gatwick to Lima this year, making it less of a hike.

Accra, Ghana

How to recover from an economic crash? If you’re in Accra, the answer is by ploughing all energy into your creative scene – and doing it so well that Nick House is inspired to open a club, Carbon, at the end of the year.

Spearheaded by the couple behind Yolo Experiences – which runs a clutch of restaurants as well as La Maison, a twin-centred boutique that the NYT compared to 10 Corso Como – the ‘new’ Accra’s a hub of galleries (friend of the Tate Marwan Zakhem just opened Gallery 1957), craft co-ops and design-led bars and restaurants. Kempinski arrived last year, and, of course, there are beaches – Labadi is one of the best, bathed by the Gulf of Guinea.

Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands

Off limits till 2003, when the US Navy relinquished its base there, Vieques attracts a more refined clientele than its neighbour, Puerto Rico. While it’s been popular with Americans for a while, Norwegian’s new direct flights from Gatwick to San Juan, a 25-minute hop away, have opened it up to influences from across the pond.


As well as the white-sanded beaches, bio-luminescent waters and fishing villages like Esperanza, there’s a W Resort (or “retreat”, as they call it). But the Spanish Virgin Islands (or Puerto Rican Virgin Islands as they’re also called) are best seen from the water. The Moorings do week-long yacht rides around the islands, with killer catering.

Palm Springs, USA

Palm Springs’ weekender status has been cemented by a flurry of recent openings including Arrive (a hotel owned by Ezra “sixth-employee-of-Facebook” Callahan), retro steakhouse Mr Lyons and the Architecture and Design Center – there, of course, to cement the city’s status as mid-century modern capital.

Visitor Center_2_Photo credit Arthur Coleman

Speaking of which, despite the arrival of big hotel brands (Kimpton and Andaz move in at the end of this year), those in the know are abandoning the Parker for the redeveloped L’Horizon, a collection of 1950s bungalows so sumptuous that even single-night guests (like early patron, Kanye West) get their names engraved on the door.

Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

Unawatuna vies with Hikkaduwa for pole position on Sri Lanka’s surfing podium, but for a gentle beach scene linked to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Galle is just five miles away – it’s pretty much unbeatable.

11 Galla Swimming Pool

Coconut palms shade the crescent of sand, music floats across from the beach bars, and restaurant Kingfisher takes the catch of the day and turns it into meals rated amongst the best in Asia. The scene scrubs up nicely in Galle, where Amangalla – one of Aman’s two Sri Lankan properties – has taken up residence in a 17th Century Dutch colonial building.

Garzon, Uruguay

Those who’ve already ticked off Playa Vik and La Huella now head half an hour inland to Garzón, the “Uruguayan Tuscany” where state-of-the-art, sustainable winery Bodega Garzón recently opened its doors, complete with a restaurant to compete with the sleepy village’s staples, El Garzón (owned by Francis Mallmann) and Lucifer (Mallmann protégée Lucia Soria).

Stay at El Garzón (it’s a restaurant-with-rooms), or plough on to boho La Pedrera. The coastal road opened up this year when a Rafael Viñoly-designed bridge was built over the Garzón lagoon (you could only previously cross by raft), connecting Maldonado to the Rocha province.

Trancoso, Brazil

The José Ignacio of Brazil, where the fashion set fly in (helicopter is the easy alternative to a bumpy hour-long drive from Porto Seguro), check into fishermen’s cottages-turned boutique hotels and play at anonymity. Transcoso pairs primary coloured Portuguese colonial lodges with one of Brazil’s most bewitching beaches, spread the other side of a mangrove swamp.


The slow life centres on the sand by day and round the Quadrado square with its ostentatiously low-key bars and restaurants by night. By day, do paddle boarding, ride along the beach, boat to Mirror Beach and of course, some yoga.

Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

The northernmost of the seven Emirates has everything you’d expect from the UAE – dune bashing, a water park, glamping at a faux Bedouin camp – but none of the brash glitz of Dubai.

D4D_8655 Camels Desert Browsing Tree

Backed up against the Hajar mountains on the Arabian Gulf, RAK’s increasingly drawing an adventurous crowd, with biking, climbing and – next year – the world’s longest zipline, threaded around the Emirates’ highest peak, Jebel Jais. Qatar Airways introduced a direct flight from Doha in March, June saw the introduction of 12-hour DJ sets on the beach and there’s the Waldorf Astoria.


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