Travel + Leisure’s Editor in Chief Shares His Favorite Destinations of 2017
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to travel all over the world as part of my work, and the past year took me to a number of really great places. From China to Germany to Peru (and a few spots closer to home, too) I explored some of the world's most fascinating destinations, experiencing great meals, priceless art, and a few superlative hotels.
What I think all these favorites from my travels share is something that captures a sense of place — the true essence of a destination. Go from a blazing hot sauna to an ice-cold river at a spa in Quebec, have a meal cooked entirely over wood flame in Sweden, dig into the oeuvre of Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh, and you’ll see what I mean.
The Black Forest, Germany
I happen to love German cuisine, which is why I was so excited to go on a driving trip through the Black Forest. Because of its proximity to the French border, the region displays an intermingling of culinary traditions, with fantastic results. One highlight is a stop in Baiersbronn, a little town with a whole lot of Michelin stars. The restaurant at the Hotel Traube Tonbach (doubles from $339, entrées $74–$149), which sits on a hillside overlooking the Tonbach Valley, has three. Its chef, Torsten Michel, does magical things in the kitchen, including a sumptuous riff on bouillabaisse made with monkfish cooked in seaweed butter, spinach, tomatoes, and saffron.
Not far away is the Hotel Bareiss (doubles from $585, entrées $101– $115), a thoroughly German resort with its own excellent three-starred restaurant helmed by chef Claus-Peter Lumpp. You wouldn’t come to this region without visiting the lovely spa town of BadenBaden, where I stayed at the exquisite Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa (doubles from $464). If you like a traditional hotel, book a room in the main building; if you prefer something more modern, try the new Villa Stéphanie. Either way, don’t miss a treatment in the topnotch spa.
Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada
The Eastern Townships are a collection of rural communities about two hours’ drive from Montreal. I based myself at Manoir Hovey (doubles from $166), a 37-room Relais & Châteaux property in a turn-of-the-century estate on Lake Massawippi. I loved the ice fishing on the lake, the cozy fires to curl up beside, and the refined farm-to-table fare from Québécois chef Francis Wolf in Le Hatley Restaurant (prix fixe $60).
There is much to do in the area: visit Abbaye St.-Benoît-du-Lac, a working monastery where you can hear Gregorian chants; stop at Savon des Cantons for soaps and the adjoining Gourmet par Nature for jams, both made from local ingredients like sea buckthorn; tour the artisanal cheesemaker La Station de Compton; and alternate sessions in the saunas at Spa Nordic Station with icy dips in a nearby creek (packages from $36). All in all, it’s a wonderful spot for a long weekend of simple pleasures.
When I was a young boy, obsessed with travel but not yet a passport holder, I hung on the walls of my bedroom a number of posters depicting places in the world that had captured my imagination. Books, television and movies, and schoolwork had all fed me a steady diet of Europe, so it’s not surprising that places across the Atlantic (England, France, Denmark) featured prominently. But I had one major nod to Asia: Hong Kong. I can still see in my mind’s eye that image of the harbor, looking from Kowloon across to Central, all peaks and skyscrapers and junks and lights reflected in the water. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I always enjoy staying at the Peninsula Hong Kong (doubles from $507) when I visit today — to have that same view. I didn’t actually get to Hong Kong until 2003. I fell in love with it, and I go back whenever I can.
Paris is full of distinctive pleasures — check out our romp through the city’s best patisseries and boulangeries with star chef Yotam Ottolenghi — and when I visit, I am always reminded why it’s one of the most satisfying destinations on earth. I recently stayed at La Réserve — Hôtel & Spa (doubles from $1,269), voted the top hotel in town by T+L readers in the 2018 World’s Best Awards — an intimate, meticulously designed property that manages to be traditional in style but entirely unfussy in atmosphere, from the serene suites with Eiffel Tower views to the buzzy little bar downstairs.
Normally I’m all about discovering new things in Paris, but sometimes I decide to return to classic experiences I love: a perfect bistro dinner at L’Assiette (entrées $29–$33), in Montparnasse; picking up some beautiful shells at the natural-history shop Deyrolle and cookware at the famed kitchen emporium E. Dehillerin; and taking in the Cy Twombly show at the Centre Pompidou. One new (to me) find on a recent trip was the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. Even if you have no interest in hunting or nature, it’s worth stopping in for a collection that is as beautifully installed as it is refreshingly whimsical.
The hotels my husband and I stayed at in Peru were much more than places to rest our heads. On the Sacred Valley–Machu Picchu–Cuzco circuit, we checked in to a trio of terrific properties from Inkaterra — one of them, Hacienda Urubamba, is profiled in our March 2017 print issue and online. They all offer guests a range of compelling excursions, from hiking trips and farm visits to bird-watching and orchid-hunting, and they provide expert guides to help you make the most of those experiences.
At Lake Titicaca, we stayed at a lovely small retreat called Titilaka, where the cornerstone of any stay is an all-day boat trip to visit the people who live on the lake’s famous floating islands of reeds and to meet the traditional community of knitters and weavers on the island of Taquile. Throughout the trip I was struck by how much I liked the hotels as hotels, but what made me really love them was how central they were to my experience of the country. They connected me to people, places, and things and helped enrich my knowledge and understanding.
Among the other great experiences I had there was sailing with Aqua Expeditions (four days from $3,645 per person) on the Amazon. The Aria Amazon is a sleek, 32-passenger vessel of genuine comfort and service, and it makes one of the world’s most spectacular ecosystems accessible to guests who otherwise might never see it up close. Each morning and evening — sort of like a safari — we’d disembark from the ship onto smaller vessels and explore the river and its tributaries. The birdlife is unbelievably rich, there are villages to visit and piranhas to catch, and the trees are thick with wildlife, from sloths to snakes. One evening, on a group excursion out on the great river, as the sun set and we enjoyed a cocktail, our guides killed the engines and asked us to observe a moment of silence. And suddenly we became attuned to the magical thrum of life all around us: birds calling each other to roost, monkeys scurrying toward their sleeping spots, caimans resting silently in glassy reflections of the fading pink light.
I finally made it to Pittsburgh, a city we’ve been touting for a while as one of the coolest “new” cities in the U.S. It certainly lived up to the hype. I stayed at the Ace Hotel, housed in a former YMCA, which perfectly encapsulates the scene with its hopping bar, former gym transformed into a giant rec room for adults, and guest rooms done up in signature Ace style (doubles from $139). I had a couple of standout meals, including great takes on seasonal-local at The Vandal (entrées $13–$22) and perfect Spanish fare at Morcilla (tapas $5–$16). For art lovers there’s the fine permanent collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, the immersive installations at the Mattress Factory, and the inventively curated Andy Warhol Museum. The whole city brims with an infectious energy from young locals passionate about their chosen town and what they’re doing there.
I happened to be in Stockholm for Nobel Prize weekend, so it seemed appropriate to book the Grand Hôtel (doubles from $685), where all the honorees stay. The city is full of trendier hotels, but there’s something so lovely about this grande dame, which was sensitively renovated in 2015; I loved my room with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and French doors leading to a terrace overlooking the water.
I had a knockout meal at the Michelin-starred Ekstedt (tasting menus from $97), where electricity is used only for refrigeration and lighting, and all the food is prepared over flaming birch fires, yielding complex dishes that blend the sweet, the earthy, and the smoky. I love what the Swedes are doing with men’s wear, and I did a lot of shopping; there are many good shops for my fellow clotheshorses, but one you definitely shouldn’t miss is Rose & Born, which expresses the Swedish knack for creating interest out of a limited palette and interesting textures.
I couldn’t resist checking out the Oberoi Udaivilas (doubles from $590) during a business trip to India. Located in Udaipur, it claimed the coveted title of No. 1 Hotel in the World in T+L’s 2015 World’s Best Awards. I’ve stayed with Oberoi many times before, and I know well the appeal of its blend of jaw-dropping architecture and design, impeccable service, and thoughtful details — reasons why the company has also ranked among the Best Hotel Brands for the past several years. Udaivilas is absolutely in this mode, but I think what made it stand out to our readers is the particular magic of its lakeside setting.
I arrived by boat at night, to a gorgeous fantasy of a Moghul palace, and sat out on the terrace for dinner, with Rajasthani dancers and musicians performing against the backdrop of the glimmering lake and the lit-up City Palace beyond. To wake up in the morning and stroll onto my terrace with its private plunge pool facing that same view, framed by bougainvillea and bathed in sun, felt like the pinnacle of luxury. I never wanted to leave — and perhaps that’s what makes a No. 1.
I found myself with a free weekend during a China trip, so I hopped on a plane for Xi’an, a classic destination that had eluded me. The ancient Terracotta Army is justifiably famous; my guide from Imperial Tours arranged for me to be the very first to enter the site that day, and for a few blissful minutes we had the place all to ourselves. Another highlight: the Great Mosque, a beautiful complex that marries Islamic artistic and Chinese architectural styles, and tells a fascinating story of the multicultural history of this Silk Road town. I slept at the Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel (doubles from $224), which reopened in 2014 and manages to be both opulent—gleaming marble and crystal for days—and thoroughly comfortable.