It’s quite obvious this list has been put together while temperatures in Britain are positively Arctic. But rather than giving you the obvious—Tulum for New Year, Positano in September, skiing the Alps in winter—these are the kind of travel destinations for 2016 that you won’t find anywhere else on the internet (or at least all in one handy article that also tells you when’s best to go, like this one here).
Though it’s all subjective, the best holidays I’ve had are those that combine dilapidated, local charm with the creature comforts money affords. Somehow it just makes two-weeks seem to go further. The £5 beach shacks are often the places you stumble upon, and—when you do—return to over and over. Most of the places listed here are for your end of trip blow-out, or for when a weekend glamping just won’t cut it.
A hot tub fit for a Roman emperor, Bath
My father grew up in Bath when you used to be able to swim in the actual Roman baths, surrounded by mosaics, crumbling pillars and the smell of sulphur – when you could look up out into the sky on winter’s nights. Those days (the 60s) are long gone. Today, the Aquae Sulis complex is much less interactive—it’s just a museum—but last year saw the launch of the Gainsborough Bath Spa, which pumps the mineral-rich waters directly to the bathtubs of its suites.
Sacred geometry in Sri Lanka
Live out your Indiana Jones fantasies—and risk vertigo climbing the rope bridge by the Temple of Doom that crosses the 300-foot gorge by the Victoria Dam—just outside of Kandy, right in the middle of the Sri Lanka. It’s not far from the Kandalama Hotel, which, with its vertical gardens became an instant icon of eco-tourism when it was built in the 80s. New kid on the block, the Tri Hotel, in Sri Lanka’s south west, also has some interesting biomimicry of its own. Designed around the golden ratios of the Fibonacci sequence—which informs so much of nature, from the reproductive patterns of rabbits to the spirals of a snail’s shell—its lakeside bungalows look like the perfect spot to chill after a hard day ‘exploring’ the beaches nearby.
The world’s oldest hotel, Iran
You’ve probably seen Iran at the top of many 2016 travel lists – and rightly so. Top of most people’s itineraries is taking in the Silk Road city of Esfehan, and the series of gardens that link some of the most beautiful buildings in the Middle East. In a country where fun is basically illegal, if you’ve not found yourself invited to a friend of a friend of a friend’s house party to scope out the bandage-dressed babes knocking back bootleg vodka, you might find evenings get a little tedious. Which is why the courtyard at the Shah Abbas hotel in Esfehan is such a delight – a 17th century caravanserai converted into one of the world’s first ‘7-star’ hotels before the revolution; spend nights sipping hibiscus and tamarind tea, while classical music set to a beat of water trickles amongst the fountains of the jasmine scented gardens.
Defragging urban life in the Azores
Anyone who lives in a city will know the feeling of having been there too long. So for the past three New Year’s Eves, I’ve decamped to La Gomera in the Canaries to walk through the laurisilva rainforest covering the island’s mountaintops. The Japanese have known this for years, and even have a name for it, Shirin-yoku—forest bathing—which has been commodified by marketing types in much the same way as wild swimming was a decade ago. While I would happily fly back to La Gomera in a flash, with Ryanair now flying direct to the Azores from London for around £100 (a quarter of TAP’s flight via Lisbon before), a trip island-hopping and hiking in spring, as the flowers come to bloom in the forest, might very well be on the cards.
Lucid Dreaming in Japan
You don’t need DMT to have an out of body experience in Tokyo – the jetlag combined with the sensory overload of Shibuya crossing is enough. Japan is the realm of the senses: grab yourself a copy of the Michelin guide to the capital (which has more stars than New York and Paris combined), and take advantage of the lunch deals on offer. When you feel it’s time to get out, the peace and quiet of the countryside really puts into perspective just how full on Tokyo is—the billboards also play music!—so spend a night at the Dream House. An old ryokan converted by Marina Abramovic for the 2012’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, the house encourages us to “dream in order to face ourselves… and relate to the traditions and heritages which are gradually disappearing amidst the bustle of the technological age.” Recharge your subconscious in the day at James Turrell’s House of Light—a traditional Japanese house transformed by a sliding roof into a ‘Skyscape’—just next door.
Watching the Euros in France
With Nice 25 miles to the west, and Italy a little bit further along the Riviera to the east, the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat is the perfect base for watching the football in France this summer. Set in 17 acres of gardens full of the kind of flora that has made Provence the centre of the world’s fragrance industry; rooms are in the early 20th century palace – the modern Residence Wing features suites with massive glass-panelled sliding doors that open onto terraces and private plunge pools. Aim to bag yourself some tickets for games at the nearby Stade de Nice, and drive over to Cinque Terra for cicchetti and cries of alora for the Italy games. Spend downtime chilling at the hotel’s pool, which you reach via funicular and some surprisingly wild shrubs. To paraphrase the legendary football manager Brian Clough, I wouldn’t say the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat was the best hotel in the business, but it is probably in the top one.
Float on a raft down a river in Sweden
Following midsummer, for about six weeks of the year, Sweden becomes one of the most beautiful places in the world. Bright blue skies plus 24-hour sun, and the streets of Stockholm come alive with boys and girls in very short shorts. And while the Baltic remains pretty chilly throughout the year, the near-constant sun warms up the lakes and rivers to more than tolerable temperatures (it also means you can get a tan at 10 in the evening). So once you’re done scoping out the natural beauties of Stockholm, head out into the countryside to check out the natural beauty of the forests – build your own raft and spend a week floating down the Klarälven and fish for your supper.
The ultimate art safari, Brazil
And with the Olympics in August, you’re going to see a lot of Brazil on your screens – you may even be tempted to visit. If so, take a detour a couple of hours outside of Belo Horizonte, where you’ll find one the world’s most unique art institutes. Inhotim, is a sprawling complex of art projects by some of the world’s most important artists set in 5000-acres of manicured forest. There you’ll also find Douglas Gordon’s Sonic Pavilion, an amplification of the ground 200 metres below, a Matthew Barney bulldozer “masturbating” a tree trunk, and a pool which you can swim in broadcasting John Cage’s Notations album underwater in one of Helio Oiticica’s Cosmacoca’s “expanded paintings”. If that all gets a bit overwhelming, hop on a golf buggy to one of the cafes to sip a caipirinhas and hang out in a Campana Brother’s wicker chair while taking in Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden.
Go high-low in Peru
From flying over the Nazca Lines and spending evenings floating above Lake Titicaca on a reed bungalow in the south, to communing with the plant spirits of the Amazon via Iquitos, hiking the Sacred Valley to Macchu Pichu, Choquequirao or Ollantaytambo; and fitting that all in with a meal at Virgilio Martinez’ restaurant Central in Lima, and feasting on ceviche and Pisco Sours by the beach in Mancora in the country’s north – you’ll need at least a month, if not an entire gap yah. You could rough it the entire way, but a night at one of the Inkaterra eco-hotels found in four of the country’s many corners is blissful. With British Airways flying to Lima direct from London this May, that long-promised ‘sabbatical’ has just gotten one tiny step easier.
50 shades of blue in Mozambique
While there are hundreds of reasons why Ipanema might just be the best city beach in the world – the one thing it doesn’t have is a sunset. I’m quite particular when it comes to my sun, sea and sand—top tip: don’t book before checking Google Earth—and, generally, West-facing beaches are best, as they let you take in the sunset and an extra hour or so of sun. I’m not a morning person so I’m usually happy to sacrifice the sunrise (and east-facing beaches) in return for another hour or so in bed. But staying somewhere as dreamy as the Quirimbas archipelago in northern Mozambique—particularly the Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort, which is being refurbished and will reopen in spring—will even have me jumping out of bed for a day of 360-degree rays.
A cabin commune in northern California
Just after we featured Fritz Haeg’s geodesic dome in LA, back in August on Amuse, we got an email from the artist-activist saying that he was selling up to devote his time to another utopian social project – Salmon Creek Farm. Founded in 1971 by a group of refuseniks, who built their own homes, made their own clothes and grew their own food, Salmon Creek Farm was one of the most influential communes of the counterculture – and Fritz and his coterie of progressive intellectuals are keeping the flame alight today. Every now and again, he lets out one of the eight cabins on the farm, a couple of miles from north California’s Mendocino coast, through AirBnB.
The ultimate waterworld, Fiji
I don’t quite get why you would need a swimming pool when you’re on a Polynesian atoll surrounded by some of the softest sand, clearest waters and healthiest corals in the world, but when the pool is as spectacular as the 60,000 square foot pools within pools of Laucala’s, you’re sure as hell not going to say no. The private island resort in the Fijian archipelago owned by the Austrian Red Bull billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz sees 25 villas spread across 12 square kilometres. Which leaves plenty of the island untouched and another 240 acres for farmland to grow and raise food on site – the rest comes from the sea. Ranging from £2,500 – £24,500 a night for the villas, it’s probably going to take all year to save up for this trip.
Float on a raft down a river in Sweden image courtesy of Hipfel/Starck
Marina Abramovic’s The Dream House image courtesy of Anzai
- Beach Hut
- Belo Horizonte
- Cabin porn
- Douglas Gordon
- French Riviera
- Fritz Haeg
- Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat
- Helio Oiticica
- Hot tub
- Inhotim Institute
- James Turrell
- La Gomera
- Marina Abramovic
- Quirimbas Archipelago
- Sri Lanka
- Swimming Pools
- Virgilio Martinez
- Xerxes Cook
- Yayoi Kusama