The Hottest Travel Experiences of 2017

Bhutan Six Senses resort

Ready to cross the world off your wish list? Kendall Hill fuels the wanderlust with once-in-a-lifetime trips... okay, maybe twice if you’re lucky.

An all-new Louvre

Abu Dhabi 

The wait’s been longer than the Arabian Peninsula but France’s Louvre will finally open a museum in Abu Dhabi this year. Jean Nouvel’s drop-dead gorgeous design for the Louvre’s first foreign posting is a parasol of filigree concrete that floats above the Arabian Sea. Described by Nouvel as “a welcoming world [of] light and shadow, reflection and calm… an archipelago constructed on the sea”, the building is destined to be almost as big a drawcard as the art. The museum will feature 600 works, half from the Louvre’s permanent collection and the rest on loan from 13 institutions, including the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Musée d’Orsay and Château de Versailles. The 23 galleries in the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be curated chronologically; brace yourself for an art-history journey from a third-millennium BC “Bactrian princess” statuette to works by Gauguin, Picasso and Magritte.

Hottest travel experiences for 2017

50th Summer of Love

San Francisco

If there’s one thing worth celebrating this year, it’s peace, man. Fifty years ago, the Summer of Love landed in San Francisco when some 100,000 dreamers mobbed the Haight-Ashbury district to forge a new world order fuelled by flower power. That “worldwide spiritual awakening” ignited a (mostly) peaceful revolution of sit-ins and love-ins that evolved into numerous movements: anti-war, free love, women’s rights, gay rights, sexual rights, civil rights. It was a moment in time that left the world a better place. Throughout 2017, a number of events are being organised in San Francisco to relive the exuberance. Romantics can recapture the feeling at a commemorative Summer of Love concert (free, of course) in June in Golden Gate Park. There’s also the 40th Haight-Ashbury Street Fair in the same month and various exhibitions of archival photos and footage celebrating that seminal period. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

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Himalayan luxury


Bhutan will welcome its most opulent accommodation yet with the arrival of Six Senses in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Five ultra-glamorous lodges will open from July in the main valleys of Thimphu (the capital), Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang and Paro. Conceived by the king’s entrepreneurial brother-in-law, Sangay Wangchuk, each resort will combine stunning settings with astonishing design. The flagship Thimphu property, bordered by blue pines and apple orchards and facing a 52-metre golden buddha across the valley, captures Himalayan views all the way to Tibet on a clear day. Punakha is a sophisticated farmhouse set in rice terraces worked by villagers with ox-drawn ploughs; Gangtey riffs on a traditional birdwatching blind (all the better to view the rare black-necked cranes that migrate here for winter); Bumthang is set within a forest; and Paro rises from ancient ruins. Helicopter transfers optional.

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

Desert dreaming


Three hours’ drive from Delhi, the fortress of Bishangarh rises from Rajasthan’s desert like a mirage. Crowning a remote promontory, the 230-year-old fort will emerge from a seven-year renovation as one of India’s most evocative new hotels. Opening in February, Alila Fort Bishangarh will offer 59 suites with bay windows, day beds and wi-fi. There’s an oasis of bars and restaurants, a library and a spa, plus a pool terrace and kids’ club beneath the citadel. In addition to the fortress, with its turrets and two-metre-thick walls, the hotel owns the village at the base, where you can explore centuries-old havelis and meet the locals. Wish them happy birthday – India celebrates 70 years of independence in 2017. 

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

Amsterdam calling

London to Amsterdam

Today, about 30 years after Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand inked the agreement to build the Channel Tunnel, it continues to bring the United Kingdom and Europe ever closer – Brexit notwithstanding. Eurostar’s inaugural London-to-Amsterdam service is due to depart St Pancras Station late this year, extending the operator’s international rail network beyond France and Belgium for the first time. Flash new carriages – kitted out by Ferrari designer Pininfarina and compatible across the European high-speed train network – include creature comforts such as extendable seat cushions for the lanky and free wi-fi. While away the four-hour journey (via Rotterdam and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol) with inflight-style access to hundreds of hours of films, television shows, news and games, plus a real-time map to keep track of your progress on Europe’s most exhilarating new rail service.

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

Coastal playground


Tulum is so 2016. Trailblazing travellers looking for the next palm-fringed frontier should set their sights instead on Mexico’s Pacific Coast – specifically the 300-kilometre stretch south of San Blas known as Riviera Nayarit. High-rise Puerto Vallarta is fun for a night or two and the winter whale-watching on Banderas Bay is off the charts. But the real attractions here are the sleepy beach towns fringed by jungle and the Sierra Madre mountains, where sun, sea and surf encourage the sort of barefoot hedonism you thought died in the ’70s. First-timers should head to Sayulita, about an hour’s drive from Puerto Vallarta, and fill their days with surfing, swimming, hiking, dining (those fish tacos!), boutique-hopping and enjoying cool bars, new friends and laughter. Sunday sessions with live music on the beach in the nearby town of San Francisco are a joyful reminder that the best things in life are free.

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

New super-lodge

New Zealand

There’s a brand-new way to live it up like a billionaire and, conveniently, it’s just across the Ditch in New Zealand. A couple of months ago, Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov opened his five-suite super-lodge, Helena Bay, to the public. He has adorned the North Island beachfront property with his own art collection, fine Russian and Italian furnishings and a dazzling array of chandeliers. There’s a 25-metre heated outdoor pool with an infinity-edge waterfall and an outdoor table hewn from 3000-year-old kauri. You’ll also find a hard-to-beat on-site restaurant: a Kiwi outpost of the Michelin-starred Italian fine-diner Don Alfonso 1890. Chef Michele Martino brings a taste of the Sorrento Peninsula to the North Island with nightly six-course menus ranging from seared calamari stuffed with provolone to Wagyu tenderloin from Helena Bay’s own farm. Open to house guests only, it’s one of the Pacific’s most exclusive dining experiences. 

World-class cruising

Mediterranean Sea

The smartest way to see the Mediterranean this year will be with a suave Italian. Launching in April, Silver Muse is the newest and biggest flagship from pacesetting Italian-owned luxury cruise line Silversea. There’ll be no such thing as an ordinary cabin. All 596 passengers get an ocean-view suite, almost all with a verandah to savour the sights. Butlers are always on call, the stationery is personalised and the complimentary Champagne never runs dry. The ship’s eight restaurants include La Dame by Relais & Châteaux, a teppanyaki bar, a breezy poolside pizzeria and a bar and grill boasting the best steaks offshore. In April, Silver Muse sets sail from Monte Carlo on its maiden voyage then spends the rest of the northern summer swanning about the Med’s evocative ports. 

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

Island idyll


Until now, only the most intrepid travellers have dared to venture to Madagascar, one of the world’s most intriguing and impoverished nations. But it can’t be long before the jet set descends on Miavana, off the island’s north-east coast. The 14-villa estate opened in the final days of 2016 and is likely to be a magnet for the rich and famous from the outset. It was designed by the same team behind North Island luxury resort in the Seychelles, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent their honeymoon. Miavana’s villas come in one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations and all open straight onto an untouched white-sand beach. Your days can be as full or empty as you desire: catch a helicopter to the mainland and go lemur trekking; dive or snorkel the bountiful reefs; watch for whales and dolphins; or just hang by the pool with a cocktail and a front-row seat to the sunset. 

Hottest Travel Experiences for 2017

Party capital


This year’s biggest party will be in Canada and everyone’s invited. The Great White North celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation with a coast-to-coast-to-coast calendar of events. Highlights include an epic 150-day voyage from Toronto to British Columbia via the North-West Passage, the bumper New France Festival in Quebec and a one-off summer festival in Toronto. But really, it’s Ottawa’s time to shine. Headline happenings in the capital include Canada Scene, a huge program of 1000 artists and 150 events staged over 45 days in June and July – pitched as “a living portrait” of contemporary Canada. There will also be Ignite 150’s breathtaking stunts and Sky Lounge dinner parties suspended above the city. No wonder they’re being billed as the biggest celebrations the capital has ever seen.

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