Travel + Leisure’s Editor in Chief Shares His Favorite Destinations of 2016
I’m fortunate to have the chance to travel all over the world, and while I love far-flung and exotic locales, some of my favorite experiences this year were surprisingly close to home. From a few superlative hotel stays in the Northeast and Western United States to a lovely break in Mexico, these experiences proved that travel doesn’t always require a long journey to be memorable — not that I’d ever say no to that!
I’ll never forget when I finally made it to Twin Farms one cold and snowy January weekend. I’d wanted to go for ages, in large part because the property’s 10 cottages, tucked amid the forest outside Barnard, were done by one of America’s great interior designers, the late Jed Johnson, in 1993. (In the years since, another talented designer, Thad Hayes, has overseen the property’s evolution.) The setting was wintry-magical, and the cottages did not disappoint in either originality or comfort. But what I’ll always cherish is that utterly peaceful evening my husband and I spent in our cottage — a gorgeous space that evoked a Japanese ryokan — curled up in front of a roaring fire, sipping wine and working our way through an intricate jigsaw puzzle. The best hotels make memories like these, through an alchemy of setting and design and experience. Doubles from $1,600.
Coastal Rhode Island
Late last summer I had the good fortune of finding one of my new favorite summer getaways, the much-lauded Ocean House in Watch Hill. A full-scale reconstruction of a 19th century property that once stood on this site (it had fallen into disrepair and was deemed unsalvageable in 2003), the Relais & Châteaux resort has all the feel of a grand old seaside hotel, set on 13 landscaped acres fronting a lovely stretch of private beach. Although there’s fine creative cuisine, an excellent spa, and zippy Mercedes Benz convertibles you can borrow for a jaunt up to Newport, to me the great fun of the place was indulging in the simpler pleasures of simpler times: croquet and squash,cocktails on the porch, curling up with a book on a wicker chair amid the voluptuous blooms of hydrangeas. Rooms are fresh and bright and eminently comfortable; I stayed in one of the Signature suites, the Morgan, a showstopper duplex done up in the style of a vintage motor yacht. Doubles from $655.
London, United Kingdom
Has London become one of the best hotel cities in the world? I think so. On a recent visit, I had yet another great stay, this time at the Corinthia, a beautiful old Victorian building not far from Trafalgar Square and just up the street from the National Gallery. The light-filled property has a fresh, contemporary look and the service is impeccable, but its suites are what really set it apart. I highly recommend the River Suites, which have terrific views over the Thames, or if you’re looking to really splurge, the seven penthouses are among the city’s most spectacular lodgings. I stayed in the Actor’s Penthouse, a glamorous duplex with a lovely terrace. Doubles from $830.
New York, New York
One of my favorite ways to create the feeling of an impromptu getaway is to check myself in to a hotel in my own city. Recently, looking for a way to create a special evening for my husband’s birthday, I reserved a room at The Lowell (doubles from $885), in New York City. The Lowell is one of our great residential-style hotels, small in scale (74 rooms), with no grand lobby but rather a small check-in desk at the edge of an intimate entrance hall. Rooms have been given a fresh new look by designer Michael S. Smith; we stayed in the Garden Suite, which has the feeling of a perfect New York City apartment, with chinoiserie details, a sleek kitchen, and two terraces overlooking the rooftops of Manhattan. This fall the hotel will unveil its new restaurant, Majorelle (prix fixe from $110), under the direction of Charles Masson, of La Grenouille fame. Mr. Masson himself oversaw a special dinner for us on our terrace: a perfectly prepared roast chicken, an elegant Bordeaux, a fine sunset. Who could ask for more?
Quintana Roo, Mexico
I recently had a couple of terrific resort stays while in Mexico on business. NIZUC Resort & Spa (doubles from $365) is less than 15 minutes from the Cancún airport yet feels a world away from the hubbub of town. It has six great restaurants (check out Ramona, entrées $20 - $46, which we profiled last year) and a super spa, and I loved my serene indoor-outdoor room with a private pool. About 45 minutes south, Rosewood Mayakoba (doubles from $695) is a true oasis. The beach is sublime and the rooms are lovely, but the warm and impeccable service is what sets the place apart: my butler noted my interest in mezcal and surprised me after a long day with a trio of artisanal mezcals set beside a drawn bath.
I finally made it to a hotel I’ve long wanted to see: North Island (from $3,315 per person per night, all-inclusive), in the Seychelles, a secluded Wilderness Safaris retreat of 11 villas on a private island. (You might recall hearing it’s where Kate and William honeymooned.) The resort is a study in castaway chic — the extravagantly sized villas manage to combine every modern convenience and perfect butler service with the romance of beds draped in mosquito netting, rustic outdoor showers, and walls hung with stringed shells. Conservation efforts on the island mean, among other things, that green and hawksbill turtles nest in great numbers on its beaches — and oh, those beaches: pristine in every way, with talcum sand fronting aquamarine waters that are rich in marine life for superb snorkeling and fishing.
I had the great pleasure of spending a few days at Amangiri (doubles from $2,300), which gets my vote for one of the very best resorts anywhere in the U.S. Set in a remote corner of southwestern Utah — fly in to Las Vegas or Phoenix and then drive for just over four hours — the property is a Zen oasis amid the mesas and hoodoos of the high desert. Rooms are serenely minimal cocoons with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a private terrace with daybeds and a gas fireplace facing a completely unobstructed view of the wilderness beyond. There’s a spectacular pool built into the rock, a great indoor-outdoor spa, delicious food, and a handful of on-property hikes that take you to caves with rock paintings and slot canyons. Plus, this is rich national parks country: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Monument Valley are all within striking distance for explorers. A gorgeous retreat that delivers silence and stillness — to my mind, the ultimate in luxury.
It is well known that D.C. has become a great eating town, and on a recent visit I had a number of terrific meals. But I was honestly unprepared for my dinner at chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s Masseria (prix fixe from $98) to be one of the best I’ve had all year, anywhere. The space is casual-chic, with a big open kitchen and a bar that spans from the interior to a tiled courtyard draped with string lights. A stylish crowd sips cocktails like the Fumo di Uva: Cognac and fennel liqueur blanketed in smoke infused with lemon and star anise. The menu is creative Italian, with a build-your-own prix fixe format: three to six courses that you can mix and match at will. For me, chef Stefanelli created a tasting menu — with excellent wine pairings — that was delightful from the opening bread plate (bombolini filled with caciocavallo!) and the signature linguine aglio e olio with a house-made XO sauce (sounds odd but it was amazing) to the rabbit five ways and pistachio semifreddo for dessert (both gorgeous). A can’t-miss.