Where to go in 2015
Our resolution for the new year? Work less, travel more! And it’ll be an easy one to keep with this list of 2015’s hottest new destinations. After tapping our global network of more than 200 correspondents and engaging in some serious office debate, we present to you the 15 places that should be on every vacation wish list
More than a decade after an artsy, expat community began buying up and renovating Mérida’s wealth of colonial-era mansions, the fashion crowds are departing their daybeds in Tulum and finding a dose of winter sun three hours inland in this capital of the Yucatán state. Though home to almost 1,000,000 residents, the city feels relaxed and low-key, laid out in a walkable grid system that gives it the nickname the “Paris of Mexico.” Veterans know to skip the scorching summer and arrive in January and February, when temps hover in the 70s and there’s a near constant procession of festivals. Bed down in revamped townhouses in the centro Historico like Mansion Merida on the Park and Coqui Coqui Merida, then plan on daytrips to local cenotes, the ruins at Chichén Itzá (two hours away) and the charming town of Valladolid.
More than 90,000 Americans legally traveled to Cuba in 2012 and 2013 on educational “person-to-person” cultural exchanges, but that number will soar in 2015 as Obama announces plans to ease travel restrictions, permit the use of debit and credit cards and establish a US embassy on the island. Go now before the tourism influx for everything from beaching along the Varadero peninsula to hiking adventures in the Zapata Peninsula National Park and cross-island bike treks from Havana to Trinidad. For foodies, the relaxed travel measures are sure to accelerate the trend for privately owned restaurants (the paladares) that have been spicing up the notoriously poor state-run eateries. Plus, award-winning chefs Andoni Luis Aduriz (of San Sebastian’s Mugaritz) and Enrique Olvera (of NYC’s Cosme) have already announced plans to open a restaurant together in Havana soon.
The largest of the ABC islands, sandwiched between the raucous cruise destination of Aruba and diver’s paradise of Bonaire, Curaçao will see a spike in visitors in 2015 thanks to new twice-weekly JetBlue flights from NYC and weekly flights from Montreal on Air Canada launching in January. Under Dutch rule until 2011, but just 44 miles off the Venezuelan coast, this lesser explored Caribbean island has an intoxicating mix of Dutch, Caribbean and South American cultures, plus the ensuing muddle of cuisines and music best experienced at local “jump off” outdoor dance parties. In addition to the established beach resorts near Willemstad, upscale ACOYA Hotel Suites and Villas opened at the tail end of 2014 and there are rumors of a new Hard Rock hotel by 2017. Plus, the island is one of the more LGBT friendly in the Caribbean, voted the 2nd most popular beach destination in Out Magazine’s 2014 travel awards.
The opening of the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo launched Costa Rica into the luxury travel stratosphere, and Nicaragua looks ready to follow in its footsteps into the Central American spotlight. Surfers should go now to experience the still little-known surf towns of Pavones and gritty Dominical down south, while nature lovers should proceed directly to the unspoiled Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. Granada is an unmissable stop for its Spanish Colonial architecture, a looming Mombacho Volcano backdrop and access to Lake Nicaragua. Horse-drawn taxis are a reliable mode of transport here — hail one for exploring the cobblestone streets, leafy Parque Colón and old mansions and secret courtyards that are open to the public. For long stays, mix in-town digs at Colonial Condo Hotel Xalteva with island time at Jicaro Island Ecolodge on Lake Nicaragua.
Phuket, Goa and the Maldives have all had their day in the sun. The hottest Asian beach destination for 2015 will be Boracay in the Philippines. Less than an hour’s flight from the capital of Manila, this miniscule island is just four miles long and a mile wide in parts, but packs a punch with endless white sand beaches, world-class dive sites, raucous Phuket-style beach bars on White Beach and kitesurfing hotspots on the east coast’s Bulabog Beach. This enclave retains a relaxed island-time vibe, but will get an infusion of luxury living by the end of 2015 with the winter opening of the 168-room Aqua Boracay by Yoo, followed by the sprawling Boracay Newcoast resort, which, though in its early stages, will eventually redevelop 14% of the island and include a Savoy hotel.
For an Asian city break to satisfy foodies, design aficionados, sybarites, and hipsters, skip Bangkok and make for the rapidly changing Taipei. The Taiwanese capital is gearing up to be the World Design Capital in 2016, so the next 12 months will see an infusion of design-led city initiatives including the opening of the Rem Koolhaas–designed Taipei Performing Arts Center. Mandarin Oriental opened its first hotel in the city last May, and, for arts lovers, there’s the new Humble House hotel in the heart of newly hip Xinyi on the west side of the city. Marriott hotels will also make its mark on the city in June 2015, with the opening of a 320-room property beside the Keelung River. And getting to Taipei from the states gets easier in 2015, as Eva Air launches a new non-stop route from Houston in July.
Safari in India
After Frozen fever in 2014, hotel bookings in Norway jumped 37%. India’s exclusive safari reserves should be making similar preparations ahead of Disney’s October 2015 release of their star-studded new Jungle Book movie with Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley and Idris Elba. Though Mowgli’s fictional forest was in the central provinces, real Indian safari country is in Rajasthan around the Gir Forest, Ranthambore National Park and Dera Amer countryside. Adventure specialists Abercrombie & Kent are a step ahead of the crowds with a new 15-day tour launching in 2015 dubbed “India: Lions, Tigers and the Taj Mahal.” The bucket-list tour goes in search of Asiatic lions and rare Bengal tigers, and includes an elephant ride, a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal and a stay at the storied Rambagh Palace.
Sun Valley, Idaho
For powderhounds, the big news of the 2015/2016 season is Park City, which was snagged by Vail Resorts for $50 million in a bid to overhaul the whole resort and eventually connect it to Canyons, the largest ski area in Utah. But it’s smaller, less flashy Sun Valley in Idaho that will be turning heads by the close of this season. Beloved Sun Valley Lodge is closed until mid-June 2015 for a top-to-toe revamp of all guestrooms and construction of a 20,000-square-foot spa and outdoor swimming pool with a café, while the $53 million, 155,000-square-foot Auberge Resorts: Sun Valley breaks ground in May. And, in a bid to attract a younger crowd to the region, Aspen-favorite Limelight Hotel is in talks to open a 105-room outpost, their first property beyond the Roaring Fork Valley.
The booming hotel scene that’s transforming the lay of the land in Miami will continue unabated into 2015. South Beach gets two new additions: Washington Park Hotel, a conversion of four Art Deco buildings into a 181-room property, and the beachfront 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach, which is accepting reservations from March 10. But it's Mid-Beach that comes into its own this year, as Ian Schrager’s Edition hotel settles into its new digs on Collins Ave and 30th Street after opening in October, and Buenos Aires export Faena begins the unveiling of mega complex, Faena House, which will include a residential tower, restaurants, an arts center, park and marina. The Brickell food scene also gets an infusion of South American flavors in 2015 as Arjun Waney (of London’s Zuma, La Petite Maison and Roka) opens Peruvian restaurant, Coya, early in the year, and Colombian chef Juan Manuel Barrientos unveils his long awaited modern Colombian eatery in January.
The transformation of downtown Cincinnati into the city’s central arts and entertainment hub was kick started by the opening of the Aronoff Center for the Arts in 1995. As the trailblazing institution celebrates its 20th anniversary, the surrounding area known as the Backstage District is today a destination unto itself, with the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Shakespeare Co. and 21C Museum Hotel cementing the neighborhood’s artsy appeal. Nearby sister restaurants Nada, Sotto and Boca, and bars Igby’s and the Righteous Room, cater to the young crowds that will only swell with the conversion of the four-mile-long Oasis trail into a bike and pedestrian path between Downtown and the Lunken airport. More than a decade in the works, it will be one of the final stretches of a bike trail connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Istanbul has topped the cool kids’ travel wish list in recent years thanks to a glut of new hotels (Edition, Shangri-La, Raffles and Vault Karaköy) and two much-anticipated openings in 2015: the Mondrian Istanbul in the Old City and Soho House’s largest club to date in the Beyoğlu district. The increase in visitors is also impacting Turkey’s most popular beach break, Bodrum, as US travelers discover the stunning Turkish Riviera. Popular with vacationing Istanbul families since the 1980s, and a moneyed Euro crowd each summer, this cosmopolitan resort town is responding to the new arrivals with a flock of new hotels, including 2014's Mandarin Oriental and Viceroy, Nikki Beach and Swissotel by the end of 2015.
Despite being located more than 3,000 miles away and having absolutely no confirmed cases of ebola, Kenya and Tanzania suffered up to a 70% decline in safari bookings for 2014 and 2015. The World Health Organization has insisted that it’s perfectly safe to travel to the region, and camps usually booked up years in advance now have availability. So we say this is the best time to make your safari dreams a reality, especially with a spate of new camps coming online. Book a stay on the very site where Out of Africa was filmed 30 years ago with the June 2015 opening of Kenya’s Angama Mara, which will perch 1,000 feet up on an escarpment above the Great Rift Valley. Or discover the region’s greatest secret, Tanzania's Ruaha National Park, which has just a dozen game lodges in almost 8,000 square miles of dusty plains, riverine forest and acacia woodlands. Nomad Tanzania will debut their renovated Kigelia camp there in 2015 with rumors of a permanent camp to come in 2016. Head to Zanzibar afterwards to check out the spice island's new Park Hyatt, opening in Stone Town in March.
Twenty-two years after the first Jurassic Park movie, the franchise will release a blockbuster new installment in June with Kauai’s spectacular north shore once again standing in for the fictional Isla Nublar. But that cinematic emerald coastline isn’t the only reason to visit this corner of paradise. The smallest and most untouched of the four major Hawaiian islands, the Garden Isle is a champion of the farm-to-fork movement, with food trucks like Trucking Delicious spotlighting hyper local ingredients from a new location in Kilauea and farm-dinner experts Outstanding in the Field using Kauai Kunana Farm for their 2014 “restaurant without walls.” At the other end of the spectrum, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Kauai Grill at the St. Regis Princeville Resort hosts seasonal farm-to-table tasting dinners.
For a region of historic chàteaux and upscale wineries, Bordeaux has a surprisingly youthful energy and evolving culinary scene. North of the city center, the Chartrons neighborhood is the destination for fashion, home and antiques boutiques, while Bassins à Flot is emerging as the city’s hippest ‘hood with art spaces like the trailblazing Le Garage Morderne and Les Vivres de l’Art, and the new oenophile destination Musee du Vin opening in 2016. For foodies, Rouge Terrasse is a must-visit new restaurant atop the winery of Chateau La Dominique near St. Emilion, but it’s Joël Robuchon and Bernard Magrez’s just-opened La Grande Maison that will be the most buzzed about new addition in 2015. A showstopper of a restaurant-hotel, designer Frédérique Fournier oversaw the transformation of the 19th-century mansion and six bedrooms, while Robuchon’s team of 30 chefs are at the helm of the fine dining restaurant and more casual eatery, L’Olivier.
Pilsen, Czech Republic
Best known for the namesake beer that was developed here in the mid-19th century, the Czech Republic’s fourth largest city will go through a serious rebranding in 2015 as it kicks off a year as the European Capital of Culture. Shared with Mons in Belgium, the city’s planning 50 big cultural events and over 600 other arts-focused activities throughout the year, from circus acts and light festivals to 70th anniversary celebrations to mark the end of WWII and the transformation of Pilsen’s characteristic factories into vast art spaces. Between the special events, make time for a tour of the 14th-century underground tunnels, a stop in the eight-acre main square to admire the 13th-century Gothic architecture and, naturally, the one-hour guided tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Prague is just 90 minutes away by train, so add on a stay here in a Baroque icon like the Mamaison Hotel Pachtuv Palace or hip Emblem Hotel in the Stare Mesto quarter.