The Best Places to Travel in 2016
These are the 16 buzziest destinations you need to know this year, including one of Thailand's most blinged-out beaches, Australia's next great foodie haven and Papua New Guinea's luxury lakeside retreat.
Published on Jan 14, 2016
A lush stroke across India's Malbar Coast, Kerala's landscapes are pure art. By Christopher Kucway.
A house boat chugs through the bucolic backwaters of Kerala. Karen Su/Getty Images.
I DON'T THINK anyone actually told me to get lost, but I was. On purpose. I opted to go native and hopped on what is essentially a floating bus through the tranquil backwaters of Kerala. There I toured for the morning and where I ended up, I had no clue. It was a village not on any guidebook map, my lunch options down to the lone restaurant in the hardscrabble spot. But the thali was excellent, almost as good as the few hours spent watching school kids make their way to class and adults transport the necessities of daily living—that's how I thought of the man with a branch laden with ripening bananas—as human vehicles in perhaps the calmest, cleanest rush hour you'll ever encounter.
Kerala's backwaters zigzag through lush green forests unlike anywhere else in the world. Beyond that, if you're a proponent of travel as a window onto how others live, a day or three spent here is a great classroom. This is India, so you are forced to slow down to the local pace. Mobile phone reception is spotty, the sights intriguing.
In 2016, Kochi, the historic center of this state, will host the third Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the country's influential contemporary art event. We've rounded up the ideal art-centric itinerary for your time in Kochi and from canals and waterways to murals and canvases, Kerala is one stunning exhibit.
HERE'S HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF KOCHI'S CULTURAL SCENE WHILE YOU'RE IN KERALA.
The winter event runs from December until March 2017, and will be curated by Sudarshan Shetty, known for his site-specific installations. The exhibits will include works from up-and-coming Indian artists, as well as international big guns—Anish Kapoor participated in 2014.
The Biennial. Dheeraj Thakur/Courtesy Kochi Biennale Foundation.
The biennial has breathed life into the city's galleries. Must-visits include the Aspinwall House, David Hall, Kashi Art Gallery, Moidu's Heritage and Pepper House. And contemporary art has spilled over into the streets: graffiti-inspired murals sit alongside landmarks like the Paradesi Synagogue.
The redesigned Trinity is an eight-room guesthouse with a modern aesthetic behind its historic façade. Inside you'll find colorful furniture and lithographs by modernist master M.F. Husain, considered the godfather of contemporary Indian art. — DEEPANJANA PAL
A new luxury eco-lodge opens Lake Murray, in Papua New Guinea, to ecotourists.
One of Lake Murray's monster catches. Ian Lloyd Neubauer.
IN THE CIMMERIAN GREEN WATERS of Lake Murray—a colossal 2,000-square-kilometer lagoon bracing the border with Indonesian-controlled West Papua—live monsters both real and imagined: man-eating saltwater crocodiles; a Nessie-like creature said to be a relative of the theropod dinosaur family; and Niugini black bass, the strongest kilo-for-kilo freshwater fish on Earth and Holy Grail of anglers in the Southern Hemisphere. Yet until recently the only way to see Papua New Guinea's largest lake was as a guest of the reclusive canoe-borne hunter-gatherer tribes that live on its shores. Enter Trans Niugini Tours, an award-winning ecotourism company that runs six luxury lodges in the highlands and a fleet of light aircraft, buses and speedboats. The firm's newest property, Lake Murray Lodge, is 100 percent solar-powered and set on an island in the middle of the lake. There's a plantation-style clubhouse with wraparound decking; 12 stilt-leg cabins with en-suite private balconies; and a commercial kitchen where local women, who until recently hadn't tasted nor even seen foreign food, prepare steaks, fried rice, garden salads and chocolate cake for hungry fisherman whose days are spent hunting black bass on the lake. Bird-watchers should take note too, for Lake Murray is home to more than half of the country's spectacular avifauna, including hornbills, eagles and the fabled birds of paradise. – IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER
SUN-WIZENED SURFERS HAVE BEEN RIDING THE WAVES OFF THE ISLAND'S SOUTHWESTERN COAST FOR DECADES. But with a crop of Australia-inflected, eclectic establishments designed to appeal to a relaxed crowd, it's recently become favored for more than just its breaks. The hip Frii Bali Echo Beach provides a welcome antidote to the island's mainstream resorts with its simple rooms and Balinese accents. Guests can try paddleboarding, water yoga or muay Thai—if they're not too busy lounging on beanbags around the two pools. There's also a group of expat-run restaurants geared to the active: Milk & Madu specializes in fresh juices and woodfired pizzas, and the concrete-clad Crate café does hearty smoothies and feta-tempeh wraps. Old Man's surf spot is the best place to watch the sunset and have an ice-cold Bintang beer. After dark, a line of surfboard-laden motorbikes leads to Deus, a restaurant, bar, music venue and art gallery that's the cultural heart of Canggu. For the most action, go in May or October 2016, when Deus hosts two major surf competitions, with pros Harrison Roach and Zye Norris scheduled to compete. — LESLIE PATRICK
MAD ABOUT MUSEUMS
The recent opening of the National Gallery makes this the perfect time to plan a museum-hopping weekend in bustling Singapore.
Peranakan Museum. Courtesy of Peranakan Museum.
FRIDAY | Get an overview of Singapore's past at the country's oldest museum, the National Museum of Singapore (nationalmuseum.sg; admission S$10). Take a five-minute walk to the quaint Peranakan Museum to find out more about early Chinese settlers who married with Malays in this region, a community known as the Peranakans.
SATURDAY | National Gallery Singapore, the newest and grandest museum here deserves a day-long visit to tour the world's largest collection of modern art from Southeast Asia. There's no shortage of fine dining choices on site, but we recommend National Kitchen By Violet Oon for its servings of hearty local dishes.
SUNDAY | Venture west to check out the three sauropod dinosaur fossils and tons of other cool specimens at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Back in town, visit lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands and its variety of exhibitions on art, science, design and technology. — MELANIE LEE
LADY OF THE LAKE
The classic Chinese retreat of Hangzhou goes upscale.
A restaurant at the Azure Qiantang. Courtesy of Azure Qiantang.
FOR MORE THAN A MILLENNIUM, artists, traders and explorers have been drawn to Hangzhou's vast West Lake. Thanks to the manufacturing and tech industries (Alibaba's headquarters are in Hangzhou), the city is one of China's wealthiest. The airport now accepts private-jet landings, and as Hangzhou's residents have become increasingly sophisticated, its hotels and restaurants have followed suit. The most notable newcomer is the riverside Azure Qiantang, a Luxury Collection hotel designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon that makes liberal use of its eponymous blue. Later this year (2016), the 417-room Midtown Shangri-La Hangzhou, the group's second property in the city, will open near West Lake. The downtown food scene is no less refined: Mercato Piccolo (1 Wulin Square; +86 571 8190 5656), from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, serves amazing house-made ricotta with strawberry. Coming soon is Wujie, a branch of Shanghai's celebrated vegetarian restaurant. Two hours away in Xinfeng Village is the new Hidden House, a hideaway with picturesque pathways on which to stroll through a bamboo forest. — CRYSTYL MO
TANZANIA'S NATIONAL PARKS
A SAFARI TRIP THROUGH TANZANIA'S MORE REMOTE PARKS USED TO MEAN STAYING IN LOW-KEY CAMPS. That's about to change, as Asilia will open the first truly luxurious lodge in Ruaha National Park, a seldom-visited area teeming with wildlife like elephants, leopards and lions. Set on a hill overlooking a savanna with baobab trees, it will offer guided walks and wildlife drives—all without another vehicle in sight.
It is still possible to have privacy in the popular Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the new breed of high-end tented camps. Two upcoming options: Asilia's Highlands, opening in March 2016 on the slopes of the Olmoti Volcano, will have seven glass-fronted geodesic tents, and in June, Nomad's eco-friendly Entamanu Ngorongoro is set to open eight tents—with views both into the crater and out over the Serengeti.— JANE BROUGHTON
Taipei is blossoming into an architectonic arcadia.
Taipei on display at the Dadaocheng Wharf. Alberto Buzzola.
TAIWAN'S CAPITAL IS EMERGING as one of Asia's most dynamic design and architecture hubs. The country was once famous for realizing electronic components for the biggest names in the world's tech industries. But more recently, the capital's creative class has been channeling its talents to more visceral effect. Among the prominent building sites dotting the city is the much-anticipated Taipei Performing Arts Center by OMA. Meanwhile, city fathers invested a lot of time, money and energy into their successful bid to be crowned World Design Capital for 2016. While that award was earned largely due to an emphasis on a design-led approach to urban planning, there are easier ways to sample the current febrile creative climate in the city. Take Songshan Cultural Park, once home to a tobacco factory and now a showcase for design and cross-disciplinary events, or Art Yard in Dadaocheng, a shophouse craft shop/café notable for its beautiful ceramics including its own brand Hakka Blue. With tried-and-true hotels such as Mandarin Oriental Taipei and W Taipei providing flash digs from which to explore, there's never been a better time to have designs on the city. — DUNCAN FORGAN
New resorts are giving this Philippine island fresh pull.
Tarsier Botanika, Bohol. Courtesy of Tarsier Botanika.
WHITE-SAND BEACHES, tropical countryside, colonial-era churches and wildlife galore: it's no wonder that the official tagline of the province is, Bohol has it all! This underrated tourism destination has seen a steady rise in development over the past two years. Unlike most islands in the Philippines that offer just the opposite ends of the accommodation spectrum—über luxe or budget—Bohol is special in its organic growth in value-for-money boutique resorts, which promise that warm Visayan hospitality and menus that feature the freshest catch of the day. In 2016, Tarsier Botanika will set the standard for charming waterfront boutiques. Surrounded by verdant gardens, a narrow pathway opens up to a stunning cliffside with panoramic views of the ocean. Created by Nicolas and Patricia Moussempes, their restaurant offers exquisitely executed world cuisine, an extensive wine list and genuinely friendly service. Built in the style of northern Philippine Ifugao huts, the 14 barefoot-luxury villas, some of which have their own private pool, are set to open the first quarter of 2016. You can get a massage at their spa, snorkel the clear blue waters out front, or head up to their sister property Tarsier Equestria for pony trail rides and dressage classes. Or you can relax and sit back with a sunset cocktail in their open-air lounge. — STEPHANIE ZUBIRI
ON THE HORIZON
A new airport will make the fascinating South Atlantic island of St. Helena much easier to reach.
Jamestown, the capital of St. Helena. Kent Kobersteen/Getty Images.
FOR THE TINY NUMBER of history and nature buffs who have made it to St. Helena, Napoleon's final port of exile, much of the appeal was the British territory's ultra-remote location, almost 3,200 kilometers from South Africa. The only way to get to the capital, Jamestown, population 640, was five days aboard the last working Royal Mail ship from Cape Town. But in February 2016, the opening of St. Helena Airport, on the Prosperous Bay Plain—where you can spot endangered wirebirds—will cut journey time to five hours from Johannesburg. A new generation of adventurers will discover sea turtles and whales while snorkeling in Rupert's Bay and traverse the dramatic Diana's Peak. In the island's misty hills, the Longwood House museum is a reminder of Napoleon's life on the island. A boutique hotel is in the works, but for now stay at the five-room Farm Lodge, a 17th-century plantation house where the décor and home cooking are from a bygone era—like the island itself. — EMILY MATHIESON
WITH NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS AND JUST ONE AIRPORT RUNWAY, LANAI IS THE ANTI-OAHU. And in June 2015, one of Hawaii's quietest islands got even quieter when its owner, Larry Ellison, shut down both its Four Seasons resorts for renovations—leaving only the 11-room Hotel Lanai, in Lanai City, open to guests. That's all set to change in 2016, with the highly anticipated March launch of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. The property (formerly the Four Seasons Manele Bay) will have new restaurants, including chef Nobu Matsuhisa's, two pools, and 217 rooms decorated with woodcuts by local artist Dietrich Varez. Thankfully, the most important things will remain the same: the prime location—near a marine preserve—and the five-star views. — STEPHANIE WU
Koh Yao Noi, with its private villas and quiet coasts, may be the perfect Thai island for travelers who want the whole beach.
Courtesy of Ani Villas
THE POWDERY PARADISE OF KOH YAO NOI has managed to dodge the rough love of high-traffic tourism that has harangued its neighbors, Phuket and Krabi. Its natty nook in Phang Nga Bay dishes up views so stunning it's hard to believe the horizon wasn't photoshopped. Pearly limestone karsts rise out of the cobalt depths with ancient authority, and all the picturesque pinpoint islands and snorkeling spots, like Koh Hong and James Bond Island, are at close reach. The few hoteliers lean on the island's intimate charm to offer secluded accommodations like the rustic tree-house style Koyao Island, where you can opt for a tented lodge on 200 meters of private beach, or Six Senses Yao Noi where personal gardens in some of the most fetching villas lead from your infinity pool directly onto the beach. If that's still not private-estate enough, Ani Villas, which just opened last month, may fit the bill. It is all or nothing at this 10-room beachfront property that only books one group at a time, so you'll have the two master suites, four pool villas with ocean views, four family suites with private living rooms, a bar, a waterslide, a 33-meter swimming pool, a spa, a yoga pavilion, a fitness center and a dining sala all to yourself. — MERRITT GURLEY
AUSTRALIA'S CAPE DRIVE
Margaret River, the latest gourmet enclave, is just over three hours from Perth.
Kangaroos lead the way down the cape trail. Courtesy of Walk Into Luxury.
BORDERED BY THE INDIAN OCEAN to the west and dotted with forests. Here, more than 60 vineyards thrive in what closely resembles a maritime Mediterranean climate and produce some 15 percent of the country's premium wines. At Cullen, which has an excellent restaurant, the best bet is the Diana Madeline Bordeaux-style blend. Leeuwin serves freshwater crayfish and grass-fed beef and lamb, which pair well with the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon. Stay at Cape Lodge, a plush boutique hotel set in 13 hectares of woodland. Its lakeside restaurant has a new chef, Michael Elfwing, previously of England's Fat Duck. Also essential: a trip to the Bahen & Co. (bahenchocolate.com) chocolate factory, where former winemaker Josh Bahen creates a house blend that is 70 percent cacao and sweetened with organic sugar, along with a spectacular version with chili and salt. — GRAHAM BOYNTON
ASBURY PARK, NEW JERSEY
IN THE SONG "MY CITY OF RUINS," WRITTEN IN 2000, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN described Asbury Park as a city of boarded-up windows and empty streets. A battering by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 didn't help. But the Jersey Shore town, 90 minutes south of New York City, has started to recover, led by its gay and live-music scenes. Visitors to Asbury's boardwalk can still have their fortunes told at Madam Marie's Temple of Knowledge but now they'll also find clothing and jewelry at the Market at Fifth Avenue, sushi and tacos at Langosta Lounge, and surfboards and skateboards at Lightly Salted. A short walk from the beach, Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten serves almost 100 varieties of beer, and famous venues like the Stone Pony—a Springsteen haunt—are still packed. The Empress Hotel on the oceanfront is the place to stay, at least until the 110-room Asbury opens this year. The first new hotel in the city in 55 years is part of a multimillion-dollar plan to revive a 1.5-kilometer stretch of beachfront. — DAVID SHAFTEL
Diplomatic stability means that Iran's history and beauty are accessible again.
Si-o-Seh Bridge in Esfahan. Friedrich Schmidt/Getty Images.
WITH 19 UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES and a history of empire going back to 1000 B.C., Iran was a major destination before the revolution of 1979. Now intrepid travelers are rediscovering the vibrant, surprisingly cosmopolitan capital of Tehran; the gorgeous architecture and Great Bazaar of Esfahan; the mosques of Kashan, the retreat of Safavid kings; and the extraordinary gardens of Shiraz. There's plenty to celebrate about modern Iranian culture, too: the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by the shah in 1977, holds an impressive collection of Western art. Also in Tehran, the nonprofit art center Sazmanab is a showcase for emerging talent. Since the tourist visa availability is in flux, the best way to visit is with an operator—U.K.-based Exodus and Canada-based G Adventures offer comprehensive trips. — SEAN ROCHA
THE NEXT BERLIN
Frankfurt is taking a cue from its cooler sister, with lively restaurants and cocktail lounges.
The dining room at Stanley Diamond. Steve Herud.
MANY THINK OF Frankfurt as a city of straitlaced bankers and nondescript towers. But over the past few years, Germany's business capital has loosened up. The city's tastemakers are opening hidden spots, many of them in Bahnhofsviertel, the red-light district next to the main train station that is starting to gentrify. There you'll find Club Michel, a supper club on the second floor of an office building, where a rotating roster of chefs includes a soba-noodle-making expert. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the brothers behind Maxie Eisen, a hybrid of French bistro, which has dishes like beet risotto and almond-nougat crème brûlée. Not far away are two chic places for after-dinner drinks, Kinly Bar and the Parlour. The only way to see it all is to spend a night or two. The place to stay: the futuristic Roomers, a Design Hotel with looming black doors, burlesque-inspired rooms, and a domed rooftop spa. — GISELA WILLIAMS
A boom in design and dining is putting the spotlight on the city of Lille, an hour north of Paris.
A modern art museum LaM. Courtesy of LaM.
DO | Look for city-sponsored indoor and outdoor art exhibitions and the Modigliani retrospective at the modern art museum LaM. At Rue du Faubourg des Postes, shop at ethical fashion label Sainte Courtisane, and jeweler Constance L, two designers backed by the city.
STAY | The five-star Clarance Hotel Lille has earned attention for its 18th-century bones dressed up with contemporary furnishings. All 19 rooms and suites are named after Charles Baudelaire's poems, and chef Nicolas Pourcheresse, who trained with Alain Passard, helms the restaurant, La Table.
EAT | Lille's old town has specialty coffee shops like Caféine Coffee, craft-beer dens like Les Bières de Célestin and neo-bistros like Bloempot, where Florent Ladeyn serves Flemish dishes such as duck tartare. — LINDSEY TRAMUTA
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