In 2015, our team traveled to five continents, planned trips to all seven, scouted city guides from Rio to Reykjavik, got a sneak peek at new hotels across the globe, and shared travel tales from Guatemala, China, New Orleans, Bermuda, Montana, Grand Cayman and beyond. As we close our passports on this very happy (and hectic!) year of travel, we’re already planning our next adventures. Read on for the destinations topping our travel wish list in 2016.
Palm Springs, California
Good news for sun-seeking east coasters, JetBlue is launching a new non-stop service from New York’s JFK airport to Palm Springs from January 14. The seasonal service will run five times a week until May 1 — perfectly timed to capture the crowds flocking to Coachella music fest from April 15 - 24. Once there, splurge on a stay at the recently revamped, L’Horizon, with its El Buli–alum chef and designer interiors by Steve Hermann. Alternatively, book now to score opening rates and rooms at the much buzzed about Arrive hotel, a tech-forward new design sleep from Facebook’s sixth employee.
Martinique, French West Indies
Still little visited by North American travelers, the pretty, rugged island of Martinique is getting its moment in the spotlight in 2016. American Airlines announced four new direct flights from Miami in summer 2015, and Norwegian Airlines started a non-stop service from NYC, Boston and D.C. on December 3. The island’s only five-star resort, Cap Est Lagoon & Spa, is the pick for luxury-seekers, with just 50 standalone suites dotted along a private stretch of white sand beach, but for an alternative to the Relais & Chateaux polish, we like Hotel Plein Soleil and La Suite Villa. Know that the big cruise season kicks off in November and peaks around the holidays, and early February is the time to go to join the raucous, island-wide carnival.
The Dude Ranch 2.0: Mustang Monument, Nevada
Not a newbie, but one that should be on your radar in 2016. Mustang Monument is a philanthropic equine venture that’s rescued more than 650 wild mustangs to date on over 800 square miles of Nevada desert. The seasonal (June 1st - September 30th) eco-resort supports the rehabilitation program and lets guests live out cowboy fantasies in plush 300-square-foot teepees. This is Ralph Lauren meets the Nevada wilderness. New for the 2016 season is the California Camp Out experience, a chance to get even farther off the grid in luxe, refitted California Trail wagons in the remote Goshute Valley. Along the same trail that the original pioneers made their journey west to California, you’ll eat meals cooked in cowboy cauldrons on a campfire and experience a star-studded sky untouched by any ambient light.
Occasionally cast as Tulum's sleepy inland cousin, Mérida is in fact the capital of Yucatán state and home to over 1,000,000 permanent residents. Undiscovered it aint, but there is something of a treasure trove vibe, from the colonial-era architecture (both crumbling and artfully resorted) to the walkable grid layout that lets you stumble on quiet plazas or, in January and February, carnival events. The city's two most popular hotels, Coqui Coqui Merida and Mansion Mérida on the Park are well located in the centro historico, but the room to get in 2016 will be at the soon-to-open Chablé. Thirty minutes outside the city in the rainforest, the resort will offer all villa, suite and hacienda accommodations, a regionally-focused restaurant, and the world's largest tequila collection. And, spa lovers take note, Chablé will be home to the world's first wellness center built inside a private cenote — the underground cave network revered by the Mayans.
America’s National Parks
Described as “America’s best idea” by novelist Wallace Stegner, the National Parks Service turns 100 in 2016, making this the perfect year to start your hiking, trekking, rafting and camping crawl to the 58 national parks. Centennial events kicked off in December 2015 and continue through all four seasons, with highlights like the Hike 100 Challenge, Volcano Awareness Month in Hawaii, Junior Ranger programs, and talks on life changing moments in the Grand Canyon by three travel writers.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
With a new Eurostar service from London launching later this year, plus thriving arts and foodie scenes, the Netherland's second largest city looks ready to step out of Amsterdam's shadow in 2016. Top of the agenda for first-time visitors should be stops at culture centers Kunsthal Rotterdam and Museum Rotterdam, while architecture buffs should head straight to Piet Blom's Overblaak Development to snap pics of the city's signature pencil-shaped tower and collection of cubed apartment buildings on stilts. For food lovers, it takes some careful planning to sample all of Rotterdam's culinary staples, including frites of the organic, hand-cut variety in the hip Pannekoekstraat neighborhood, stroopwafels from the Markthal Rotterdam, and a Michelin-star feast at chef François Geurd's FG Food Labs restaurant.
In comparison to big brother Louisville, Lexington treats visitors to a quieter, more compact slice of Kentucky culture, with its walkable historic center, horse parks, drive-distance bourbon distilleries, and, from April 15, serious design digs courtesy of 21C Hotels. The art-focused hotel chain will open its fifth property (and second in Kentucky) in the city's original skyscraper, the Fayette National Bank Building, with 88 rooms, a 7,000-square-foot art gallery, new restaurant, and a bourbon-focused bar and lounge. Bourbon fan or not, you can't go to Lexington without touring some of region's best and biggest distilleries; Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve are both a 30-minute drive away, while Town Branch is a local favorite. For horse lovers, plan visits to the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park, the Thoroughbred Center, and Keeneland Race Course.
The Eternal City is a spectacle in any season, but 2016 will be a standout since Pope Francis declared it a Jubilee of Mercy, an event that sees millions of pilgrims travel to the churches of the Vatican and Rome to receive indulgences, the highest form of forgiveness. (The last Jubilee of Mercy was in 2000 and attracted over 25 million people.) But if you're not going to atone for your sins, make the trip to see the fruits of the Colosseum's $18.5 million renovation or the 17-month restoration of the Trevi Fountain. This year's room to snag is at the 11-room Corner townhouse, a part hotel, part bistro, part speakeasy in the Aventine district.
San Antonio, Texas
Where interior design studio Roman & Williams goes, we follow, which, in 2016, means a trip to San Antonio to check out the husband-and-wife team's first Texas venture, Hotel Emma. Opened in September 2015 in a former brewhouse along the city’s namesake river, hotel design junkies will check in for the 146 flawlessly styled bedrooms outfitted with Frette linens, Malin+Goetz toiletries, and custom Guayabera robes by Dos Carolina, or to admire the buffalo-leather sofas and glass-blown chandeliers. Foodies, meanwhile, will get their fix at the sure-to-be-hotspot Supper restaurant from chef John Brand, while scene seekers can join the cool kids beside the rooftop pool. Beyond the hotel, city trippers should explore the revitalized 15-mile-long River Walk, now a hive of cool restaurants and bars, or explore the nearby Pearl enclave, with its shops, eateries, boutiques and popular farmers market. Photos below from Hotel Emma.
Also On Our Radar
Marrakech, Morocco. We'll take any excuse to go back to Morocco, but especially for the opening of the new Oberoi Marrakech in late spring. Around 20 minutes from the city center, the sprawling resort has views across the Atlas Mountains, plus 77 vast villas with private pools (real pools, no plunging here), three restaurants and a spa set on quiet island on a lake within the resort's manicured grounds.
Shima, Japan. Good news for Aman junkies, the brand will open its first onsen resort, Amanemu, in Shima, Japan in March, then promptly close to accommodate the G7. Not a bad debut! A new urban resort from Aman is in the works in Shanghai for 2017.
Lake Como, Italy. Fans of St. Barth's Le Sereno hotel will be pleased to hear that a sister hotel, Il Sereno, opens on Lake Como (within hollering distance of Mr. Clooney) in June. And while many Lake Como hotels have a traditional style, Il Sereno will unveil a sleek, modern style, with floor-to-ceiling windows in all 30 rooms, plus a private beach.
Oahu, HI. With the top-to-toe renovation of the Four Seasons Oahu slated for completion by early spring, a new flock of travelers will discover this uncrowded slice of the North Shore, which benefits from all the direct flights into Honolulu, with none of the Waikiki crowds.