Ready, Set... Unwind
Published: June 2009
By David Kaufman
When time is money, who can afford a whole week off?With three continents an easy overnight away, today's escapes are short and sweet. Our picks for Berlin, Marrakesh, Buenos Aires, Puerto Vallarta and Montego Bay
A generation ago, the average weekend getaway amounted to little more than two days by the shore or a quick hike in the mountains. Escaping to Europe seemed like an impossible proposition due to the expense, distance, shortage of flights, and the popular notion that overseas travel was something saved for special occasions. But the number of weekend trips taken by Americans jumped 70 percent between 1986 and 1996, today accounting for more than half of all U.S. travel, according to the Weekend Travel Report. Our heavy work and social schedules make it hard to plan longer vacations; because we now prefer multiple, shorter trips, airlines have changed the way they do business. Thanks to deregulation, the advent of the hub system, "open skies" agreements allowing more flights between countries, the introduction of lower-cost air carriers, and a greater number of direct flights, Americans can easily spend long weekends in Europe, South America—even the Middle East. Most Asian destinations are still out of reach for weekenders, despite nonstops to Hong Kong. But with Boeing promising a new high-speed jet later this decade, who knows?A weekend spent sampling dim sum on Victoria Peak may just be the glamorous getaway of the year 2010. Until then, here are five weekend adventures you can have right now.
Departure cities: Washington, D.C.; New York; Chicago.
Flight time from Washington: 8 hours, 20 minutes.
Why Berlin: As of this year, Germany's capital is finally accessible via nonstop flights from the United States, departing from Washington, D.C.; it's also easily reached through Frankfurt—among the world's best organized and most civil airports. Weekenders can get a sampling of Berlin's new museums, edgy art scene, and avant-garde fashions.
Forty winks: The Hotel Adlon (77 Unter den Linden; 49-30/22610; www.hotel-adlon.de; doubles from $240) is centrally located, with large rooms and views of both the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. The luxurious 204-room Four Seasons Hotel Berlin (49 Charlottenstrasse; 800/332-3442 or 49-30/20338; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $235) has Biedermeier-style interiors, Juliet balconies, and a health club.
Choice table: Reserve at Vau (54-55 Jägerstrasse; 49-30/202-9730; dinner for two $115) well before your departure date. Chef Kolja Kleeberg brought the first Michelin star to the former East Germany with his menu of French- and Mediterranean-influenced German cuisine.
Must-see: For a glimpse of Old Berlin, there's the Gendarmenmarkt, a central square surrounded by French and German cathedrals, and the Konzerthaus Berlin—which dates back to 1819. And nothing illustrates New Berlin better than the reconstructed Reichstag, capped with Sir Norman Foster's soaring dome of glass and once again home to the federal government (1 Platz der Republik; 49-30/2273-2152).
Easy souvenir: The former Royal Prison Porcelain Manufactory continues to produce handmade and hand-painted china. Pick some up at the stores (27 Kurfürstendamm, 49-30/886-7210; 35 Unter den Linden, 49-30/206-4150) or visit the factory for discounted seconds (1 Wegelystrasse; 49-30/390-090).
Airplane reading: Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories.
Web resource: www.berlinfo.com.
Departure cities: New York; Boston.
Travel time from New York: 11 hours.
Why Marrakesh: Even with the layover in Casablanca, Morocco's enchanted city affords easy access to another world—most of the travel is overnight, so you'll be there by noon.
Forty winks: The legendary La Mamounia (Ave. Bad Jdid; 212-44/444-409; www.mamounia.com; doubles from $210) has expansive gardens and personalized, efficient service. More intimate and less costly are traditional riads, or courtyard mansions, such as Riad Noga (78 Derb Jdid Douar Graoua; 212-44/443-386; doubles from $132), with three roof terraces and a large swimming pool. Choice tables: Two restaurants currently compete for culinary supremacy. The old-timer is Yacout (79 Derb Sidi Ahmed Soussi; 212-44/382-929; dinner for two $110), a renovated palace deep in the medina that serves expertly prepared couscous and tagines. The newcomer, Le Tobsil (26 Derb Moulay Abdallah Hezzaien; 212-44/444-052; dinner for two $92), located in a restored, rose-strewn riad in the Bab Ksour area, delivers French-tinged Moroccan fare.
Must-see: By day, the Djemaa el-Fna, the main square, bursts with snake charmers, juice vendors, and colorful cafés. Come dusk, it's illuminated by hundreds of glowing lamps.
Easy souvenir: A temporary henna tattoo—a bridal ritual painted in floral, geometric patterns—will easily outlast your weekend. Or pick up a carpet in the medina; be sure to bargain, and carry it home if you can.
Airplane reading: The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles.
Web resource: www.tayara.com/club/mrocbd1.htm.
Departure cities: Miami; Atlanta; New York.
Flight time from Miami: 8 hours, 35 minutes.
Why Buenos Aires: Believe it or not, the lively Argentine capital is an easy overnight flight away. Since it's only two time zones from the East Coast, there's little jet lag in either direction, so it's better for your internal clock than Europe. The big draws: new hotels, restaurants, and up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Forty winks: Open only a year, Design Suites (1683 Avda. Marcelo T. de Alvear; 800/337-4685 or 54-11/4814-8700; www.designsuites.com; suites from $180) is a contemporary 40-suite abode for Philippe Starck fans, with a heated lap pool and a hip lounge.
Choice table: Eating in Buenos Aires means meat—lots of it. One of the city's best parrillas (grills) is La Brigada (465 Calle Estados Unidos; 54-11/4361-5557; dinner for two $40), whose 29-ounce steak will keep you nourished for the entire weekend.
Must-sees: Everyone in town is eager to visit the soon-to-debut Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (3415/23 Avda. Presidente Figueroa Alcorta). Opening in early 2002, it will display more than 150 works by such artists as Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral. Always a favorite is Eva Perón's tomb at the stunning Recoleta cemetery.
Easy souvenir: Yerba mate tea sets are the classic gifts for grown-ups, while anyone with a sweet tooth will appreciate alfajores—pastries with dulce de leche, a caramel filling made with milk.
Airplane reading: Manuel Puig's Buenos Aires Affair.
Web resource: www.buenosaires.com.
Departure cities: San Francisco; Los Angeles; Dallas.
Flight time from Los Angeles: 3 hours.
Why Puerto Vallarta: In this classic on the Mexican Riviera, art galleries, whale-watching, and a Four Seasons resort are replacing old Love Boat clichés.
Forty winks: The Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita (Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, 800/332-3442 or 52-3/291-6000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $360) is 45 minutes from downtown, overlooking Banderas Bay. It's worth the drive: the 1,000-acre oasis has red-tile-roof casitas, an infinity pool, and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Choice table: The artsy Red Cabbage Café (204A Calle Rivera del Río; 52-3/3223-0411; dinner for two $40) serves dishes that were once prepared by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, including chiles en nogada.
Must-sees: Galería Arte de las Americas (2 Edificio Marina Las Palmas, No. 1516, Marina Vallarta; 52-3/221-1985) focuses on contemporary Mexican art by masters and new talent alike. Watch humpback whales migrate through Banderas Bay—a rare opportunity to witness these giants at play (December-March).
Easy souvenir: The Huichol, one of the region's last remaining native peoples, are famous for their beadwork, originally used for religious ceremonies. Shop for colorful bracelets, prayer bowls, and animal masks at Huichol Collections (490 Calle Morelos; 52-3/223-2141).
Airplane reading: Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera.
Web resource: www.allaboutpuertovallarta.com.
Departure cities: Chicago; New York; Houston.
Flight time from Chicago: 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Why Montego Bay: The famed beaches, vibrant crafts markets, spicy cuisine, and reggae-funk nightlife. With an early-morning departure, you can be on the beach by lunchtime; you can also stay there well into the afternoon on the day you head home.
Forty winks: Just outside the city center, the new Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall (1 Ritz-Carlton Dr., Rose Hall; 800/241-3333 or 876/953-2800; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $205) has 427 rooms and suites decorated in a mix of Ritz-Carlton refinement and Jamaican colonial chic. The service is efficient and the golf course has the best greens on the island. For a more authentic Jamaican flavor, stay at Round Hill Hotel & Villas (Round Hill Bluff; 800/972-2159 or 876/956-7050; www.roundhilljamaica.com; doubles from $240), with beautiful tropical villas and gorgeous views of the bay.
Choice table: More down-home than hotel dining are the nearby jerk centers, which serve traditional "jerked"—or spiced—chicken and pork, along with steamed fish and Jamaican-style breads. At the Lilliput Jerk Center (Main Rd., Rose Hall; 876/680-0179; dinner for two $10), sit outside, chat up the locals, crack open a Red Stripe, and dig in, sans utensils—a quintessential Jamaican good time.
Must-sees: The beach, of course.
Easy souvenir: Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is among the world's best varieties, and available at most grocery stores.
Airplane reading: Ian Fleming's Live and Let Die.
Web resource: www.montego-bay-jamaica.com.