Forbes Travel Guide unveils its 2016 Star Awards recipients on February 22. Visit www.forbestravelguide.com on Monday for the complete list of winners.
Generally speaking, a city or country finds its way onto travel publications’ must-visit list when a major event is planned, a host of new hotels open or a milestone anniversary is on the horizon. In Cuba’s case, of course, the reason it’s sitting atop so many tallies has nothing to do with any of that. The fact that the Caribbean island has opened its doors to American travelers for the first time since the early 1960s is the cause for so much excitement. And while we certainly understand the fuss over tobacco plantation tours and colonial architecture, until the country ups the luxury ante, we’ll be taking a wait-and-see approach with the nation. As for the 16 other places mentioned here, jump right in for Olympic competition, world-class art showings and other ready-made adventures.
After merging with neighboring Canyons Resort in November, Park City became the country’s largest ski resort. That means you’ll only need one ski pass to tackle double the terrain. Navigate the combined 7,300 acres with Waldorf Astoria Park City’s new Waldorf Ski With An Olympian Experience in which Olympian Nate Roberts leads you on a private all-day tour. Or try The St. Regis Deer Valley’s Ski Ambassador Program. The latest to join the superstar roster is Hannah Kearney, an Olympic gold medalist and the most decorated freestyle skier of all time.
But skiing isn’t Park City’s only draw. Five-Star Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley took over private country club Park Meadows in June to give hotel guests a place to golf. To mark the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, Montage Deer Valley expanded its Montage to Moab program (where a private flight takes you on a daylong excursion for mountain biking or hiking) to visit additional Utah park locations. Montage also offers a photo-themed excursion with landscape photographer Fatali. Then there’s the Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 21-31); Sundance Mountain Resort will be an official venue with four daily viewings in Robert Redford’s own Screening Room. Though we want to visit the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel to try its new Sundance ZipTour for an aerial view of Mount Timpanogos and the 2,100 feet of vertical drop — the most of any U.S. zip line. The hotel also plans to host a fall food and wine festival, which gives us yet another reason to visit this hot city.
Though the America’s Cup isn’t scheduled until June 2017, waves of excitement have already begun rippling around the island. Last fall’s Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series got interest going with fascinating races from teams in New Zealand, the United States and other places. When portions of the massive America’s Cup Village — a man-made, 11-acre attraction built on the water — are completed in late 2016, it will help keep up the boating bedlam. Team France headquartered at Elbow Beach, Bermuda during the World Series; once the hotel completes its re-envisioning over the next year, we fully expect more teams (smart travelers as well) to try to make the stellar resort their home for the Cup. Another savvy lodging option is Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa, a property only 13 miles from the racing start line that will host the celebrity-filled Bermuda Golf Classic (April 13-17) before it fully refurbishes rooms, turns Breezes into an all-weather eatery and adds a bar to the Tamarisk Restaurant later this year.
Through November, chapels around Rome and Vatican City (we won’t even begin talking about the streets and landmarks) will overflow with global visitors in town for the Extraordinary Jubilee, the nearly yearlong religious event consisting of papal audiences, festivities and other spiritual celebrations. The Vatican’s website is consistently updated with news and events surrounding the occasion — not that you’ll need an itinerary to see all of the excitement. Major hotel happenings (the iconic Hotel Eden unveils its new look in the fall), new restaurant openings (see the delicious details here) and a steady stream of restorations to iconic sights (the Trevi Fountain was revitalized last fall; the Spanish Steps are being tidied up this winter and spring) ensure that there will be plenty to see this year, even if you never catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.
Despite suffering horrific terrorist attacks in 2015, the City of Light is still one of the world’s best destinations. Take Musée National Picasso-Paris’ “¡Picasso!” The new exhibition celebrates the exceptional museum’s 30th anniversary with almost 900 works from the artist. Or try May’s “Monumenta” at the Grand Palais. The biennial exhibit allows a heralded contemporary artist to showcase large-scale installations. This year’s spotlight will be on avant-garde artist Huang Yong Ping, who will create an archipelago. A top reason to visit in 2016 is to catch the reopening of the iconic Ritz Paris. After an extensive three-year renovation (it closed in in 2012 for the first time since its 1898 opening), the Place Vendôme hotel will unveil a French garden with a retractable roof, opulent interiors and the world’s first Chanel spa. Ritz Paris was readying for a mid-March debut, but a Tuesday fire on the building’s seventh floor may set back the opening, a hotel source said. It will only be a temporary delay for the hotel and the indomitable city.
Back and better than ever after Hurricane Odile devastated the area in the fall of 2014, Los Cabos is experiencing a boon with new hotels, refreshed resorts (Las Ventanas al Paraíso; One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos Resort; Esperanza, An Auberge Resort ) and even new golf courses (including one by Tiger Woods, his first). The Cape, A Thompson Hotel debuted last summer a few miles east of Cabo San Lucas. The stylish modern-Mexican resort has a pool built into a natural rock formation, two spa cabanas and the area’s only rooftop lounge. Coming soon: VieVage Los Cabos, a luxury boutique property by Auberge Resorts.
With mesmerizing places like Bali, the more tropical sides of Asia always find their way onto travelers’ bucket lists. Often overlooked on these round-ups, Thailand refuses to play second fiddle to Singapore or anywhere else this year, not with Phuket more excited than ever for the start to the water-loving Songkran Festival (April 13-15); underrated Chiang Mai elbowing its way onto people’s travel plans with 700-year-old temples just minutes from contemporary accommodations; and vibrant capital city Bangkok constructing high-end addresses (2016’s Bangkok Edition, 2019’s Rosewood Bangkok) while ensuring that already-established ones (Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok) added fresh coats of luster.
Grand Canyon National Park
America’s National Parks turn 100 this year, so now is as good as time as any to finally make that trip to the Grand Canyon, probably the most recognizable (and grandiose) of the bunch. Book a whitewater rafting trip, hike from rim to rim or just take it all in from the breathtaking observation deck. To luxe up your trip, stay at the Four-Star Amangiri just over the Utah border and take a scenic helicopter ride to the canyon and back. Afterward, clean up and wind down at its world-class spa.
Music City may get overshadowed by — well — music, but it’s got a lot more going on lately than guitar riffs and late-night crooning. The city continues to rise as a foodie destination, attracting top chefs to the Music City Food and Wine festival, which will host its fourth annual weekend-long feast this August. (This is no budget hipster event — all-access passes were $500 at last year’s event). The new Riverfront Park was completed last summer and holds 10 acres of parkland, an amphitheater, gardens and the ultimate downtime essential — free WiFi. There’s no shortage of great hotels, with the venerable Five-Star The Hermitage Hotel leading the way, plus a pack of newbies by ultra-hip hospitality brands (Virgin, 21C, Thompson) coming soon.
Texas always seems to have something to brag about and this year the spotlight will be on San Antonio. Not only did UNESCO designated the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park a World Heritage Site (the U.S.’ first such site in 23 years), 2016 also marks the 180th anniversary of the Alamo. Another big anniversary? Fiesta, one of the country’s oldest festivals, will celebrate being around for 125 years; partake in parades, music and dance performances, an art fair, a flower show, a carnival and a whole lot more from April 14 to 24. And thanks to Hotel Emma, an industrial-chic foodie hotel that was once a brewery, you’ll have someplace cool to stay.
Taiwan’s cultural, political and technological center is also the World Design Capital this year, which means it’ll host a slew of design- and urban-planning-related events during 2016 before passing the torch to the next WDC city, Mexico City. Taipei is becoming known for its food and arts scene as well. In fact, a stunning new Taipei Performing Arts Centre building is expected to open this year, too. With regards to places to stay after all of the sightseeing, things couldn’t be better: Mandarin Oriental, Taipei just opened in May and is offering hard-to-pass-up packages (the Fantastic Taipei Getaway package consists of a room, breakfast and a complimentary third night) in the heart of the city; Grand Hyatt Taipei has updated its look with the renovated Café and lobby enhancements that are scheduled to be completed by early February.
Rio de Janeiro
All eyes will be on Rio as it hosts the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in August. This year, golf will make its first Olympic appearance since the 1904 games at a newly built course designed by American Gil Hanse. In between sporting events, jet over to the new Museum of Tomorrow, a stunning architectural feat designed by architect Santiago Calatrava that opened in December. Two new beachfront hotels are scheduled to debut before the Olympics — Trump Hotel Rio de Janeiro and Grand Hyatt Rio de Janeiro. But if you want to get away from the endlessly buzzy city and beach, book a room at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Hotel Santa Teresa, a charming former coffee plantation in the city’s more bohemian quarter.
Increasingly flush with first-rate attractions, Panama is set to join the ranks of top-notch destinations. It already boasts the Biomuseo, architect Frank Gehry’s sole Latin American work; Casco Viejo, the colorful old town that’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List; and Gamboa Rainforest Resort, a tropical outing that’s a half hour outside of the city. For hotels, it’s home to the seductive Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama (which has its own sky-high casino) and the recently rejuvenated InterContinental Miramar Panama. The Ritz-Carlton, Panama will join them later this year when it debuts in downtown Panama City. The 220-room hotel will be in Soho Panama, a luxury mall that opened in April 2015 with retailers like Chanel and Burberry.
For a get-away-from-it-all escape, jet off to Lanai, the private Hawaiian island that’s nine miles from Maui. The quiet 90,000-acre paradise is home to Four Seasons Resort Lana’i and Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele, which are being overhauled and will reopen February 1 and late 2016, respectively. The new rooms at Four Seasons Resort Lana’i take cues from the tropical surroundings, like artisan-produced Nepalese lokta paper wall panels edged by teak and zebra wood. The accommodations also will have top-of-the-line technology, such as 75-inch, platinum bezel LED TVs and iPad Airs. Watch out for new hotel activities: An après-ski-type golf event with music and tips on the driving range, horseback and UTV adventures and backcountry bike tours are in the works.
Although a business and political hub, Geneva offers ready escapes from the banal office buildings that dot its city center. Against the backdrop of the snow-tipped Alps and picturesque Lake Geneva, Switzerland’s second-largest city capitalizes on its natural beauty with outdoor events like the Bol d’Or Mirabaud, Europe’s largest inland sailing race with more 600 boats (June 10-12), and the Geneva Lake Festival, the country’s biggest summer gathering, which draws more than 2 million visitors (July 16-Aug. 9). Venture an hour outside of the city for Montreux Route Gourmande, a three-mile vineyard walk for food and wine tastings (Sept. 11). Looking for some culture? Grand Théâtre de Genève will christen the new wooden Opéra des Nations space with Handel’s Alcina in February. At the end of the year, another newcomer will arrive: Hotel De La Paix will transform into The Ritz Carlton, Hotel de la Paix Geneva and receive a refurbishment. The historic hotel will be the only Ritz-Carlton in the country.
Offering both vibrant cultural attractions and some of the best views of nature on the West Coast, Vancouver earns its keep as an outstanding destination. Explore the city and beyond with Scenic Rush’s Sea to Sky Experience, which puts you behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari F430 Spider, Audi R8 and Nissan GT-R (yes, you get to drive all four) for a scenic 50-mile journey. For more action, watch the World Rugby Sevens series (March) or participate in the inaugural Americas Masters Games (Aug. 26-Sept. 4). Don’t miss the amazing culinary scene, including a revitalized Chinatown and the December relaunch of beloved local chef Vikram Vij’s eponymous Indian restaurant in Cambie Village. Foodies are eagerly awaiting the yet-to-be-named eatery from chef David Hawksworth (of Four-Star Hawksworth) by the summer. Another surefire hot spot arrives with Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver. Debuting in the fall, the 616-foot twisting tower will unveil Drai’s, the city’s first pool bar/nightclub.
Like an antsy child on December 24, Abu Dhabi has waited as patiently as it possibly could for its moment on the global travel stage. With just a quick glance around the city’s forest of cranes, you can tell that its time is nearly upon us. Lavish 2016-opening hotel projects, Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Edition, are the source of some of the excitement, but the greater bit of elation has a slightly more artistic reasoning — the over-the-top Zayed National Museum and elaborate outposts of the Guggenheim and Louvre are well under way. When they open over the next 12 to 18 months, each could prove the gift that Abu Dhabi has long anticipated opening.