The word “luxury” has been overused to the point of becoming a terrible cliché in the travel world.
To my mind, a true luxury experience is much more about human connection, personalization, and authentic expression of place than it is about thread count, hand-holding, or high-end shampoos.
While attending the International Luxury Travel Market conference in Cannes this year, I asked professionals at leading high-end hotel groups to reveal their picks for the hottest destinations of 2016. Their responses ran the gamut, from grand cities and idyllic islands to tiny villages and natural escapes.
If you’re looking to indulge yourself in 2016, here are eight places to add to your list:
> Paris, France
According to Filip Boyen, CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which has 520 boutique properties across 80 countries, Paris has been the most searched destination on his company’s website over the past six months.
“The French people are moving forward [in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks] and are ready to give a warm welcome to those who wish to visit their city,” added Philippe Leboeuf of the Mandarin Oriental in Paris.
Leboeuf also mentioned revamped cultural offerings as a reason to visit the French capital now, such as Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton, which finally opened its doors in late 2014, the newly renovated (and expanded) Musée Picasso, and the Jean Nouvel-designed symphonic concert hall Philarmonie de Paris, which made its debut last winter.
Bali has long been at the top of many travel wish lists, but Boyen noted that travelers have been increasingly interested in visiting the more remote parts of the island, such as Amed in the far east and Lovina in north-central Bali. Near Lovina, Boyen was quick to point out a rejuvenating spa resort in his own network called Spa Village Resort Tembok Bali that he described as “a must-see.”
Jane Mackie of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts favors Bali’s more secluded and intimate eastern half. Five minutes from the Fairmont Sanur Beach Bali are Instagram-worthy local fishing boats and a little village that “aligns with the resort’s ideals of providing an authentic yet very luxurious experience,” she reports.
“When people want to [go on] retreat, they want to escape to a place as close to nature as possible,” says Frank Marrenbach, CEO of the Oetker Collection of “master hotels.” Contrary to what has occurred in some other island destinations, he says the tourism industry in the Seychelles has enabled the African archipelago’s natural environment to flourish. “This is not a pretend paradise,” he says. “It is a place where nature is every part of the experience.”
Marrenbach cited Fregate Island Private, an Oetker property with 16 sheltered villas made of local Balau wood, as a leading example. Guests interact with an ancient ecosystem on the privately owned island, including a large population of free-roaming Aldabra giant tortoises (about 2,200 of them) and many species of rare seabirds.
> Puglia, Italy
This region of Southern Italy, which touches the Ionian and Adriatic seas, is still “relatively unknown,” according to Terrie Hansen, head of marketing for luxury travel consortium Virtuoso. In contrast to the crowded freneticism of nearby Campania, Puglia “slows down the hectic pace of life, allowing visitors to breathe in the sights, scents, and tastes that Italy is known for,” she says.
> Sri Lanka
Improved infrastructure and new flights into capital city Colombo mean Sri Lanka will be hot in 2016.
And, according to Dilip Rajakarier, CEO of the Minor Hotel Group, it’s the island nation’s southern half that is poised to be the next big destination. “Most people think of Kandy and the Hill Country of [central] Sri Lanka with its many tea plantations,” he said, “but the southern coast is ruggedly beautiful and [virtually] untouched by tourism.”
The region boasts several ancient temples, along with national wildlife parks, prime surf beaches, and crystal-clear coastal waters where blue whales are often observed—all within driving distance of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, the hotel group’s latest addition.
> Arosa, Switzerland
While a popular vacation destination among the Swiss, the Schanfigg Valley, where Arosa is located, has been virtually unknown to outside travelers. But that’s changed since the Arosa Ski Resort, the town’s star attraction, was connected to nearby Lenzerheide by aerial tramway, creating a super-resort of sorts that boasts a combined 140 miles of pistes and—even better yet for me—improved access to alpine huts where schussers can take a break from the slopes over wine and cheese.
“The Urdenbahn cable car between the two [resorts] is fast and modern and fits 150 people,” said Corinne Denzler of the Tschuggen Hotel Group. “In a few minutes you are on the other side.”
For ski bunnies looking to up the luxury factor, she recommended the Tschuggen Grand, which offers cool Carlo Rampazzi-designed interiors, an incredible spa, a cozy basement restaurant, and its own Tschuggen Express that brings guests directly to the slopes.
> Kyoto, Japan
There are thousands of reasons to visit Kyoto. The beautiful city, located just a little over two hours away from Tokyo by bullet train, teems with ancient Buddhist temples and gardens, culinary delights, and colorful geishas. But 2016 will bring yet another reason to visit Japan’s imperial capital: The city will be hosting the G7 Summit in May.
“We expect a lot of renewed interest in travel to Kyoto and Japan in general,” said Sorya Gaulin of Four Seasons. That’s good, because the luxury hotel chain is unveiling a new property in the city’s historic Higashiyama-ku district later this spring.
The best thing about Morocco is its diversity. In addition to exploring the North African nation’s dynamic and ancient cities, visitors have the chance to hike in the Atlas Mountains, discover traditional Berber villages, and camp in traditional tents.
Despite its ancient roots, Morocco is no stranger to the cutting edge. An increasing number of international summits, fairs, and festivals—such as the massive pop concert Mawazine in Rabat, the International Film Festival in Marrakech, and the modern art exhibition Marrakech Biennale—are taking root in its largest cities.
Given Morocco’s growing appeal to international travelers, it’s no surprise that the centrally located imperial city of Marrakech has become a hot spot for many hotel chains: the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech opened its doors last October and the Oberoi Marrakech, sited 20 minutes south of the city center among citrus trees and olive groves, is set to debut later this year.