While weekend getaways to regional destinations allow one to relax with the tried and true, it is travel to the unfamiliar that inspires and provokes thought. Here, luxury travel agency Scott Dunn and resort operators share their recommendations and insights for 2020.
A stay in the desert
Where: Six Senses Shaharut Arava Valley, Negev Desert, Israel
What: The resort sits on a cliff in the Negev Desert, a destination that covers more than half of Israel, with a rich cultural heritage. Its villas are built using local rocks, and the landscaping features cacti and indigenous desert blooms. The 58 suites and villas meld with the desert topography, and open onto vast unbounded views of the terrain. Due to open in spring next year.
Why: Although it’s a historical site (Negev is mentioned in the Bible), the desert setting lacks for nothing in delivering an unique R&R experience. A slew of activities from overnight camel camping to extreme sports, hiking, jeep safaris and wine tours are available. Expect beautiful sunsets and starry skies above the boundless dunes for a restful vacation, and feast on fare prepared using centuries-old sand cooking techniques.
Float in a cocoon
Where: Arctic Bath Hotel and Spa, Lulea, Swedish Lapland, Sweden
What: The Arctic Bath is encased in a striking timber structure that floats on Lule River in summer, and freezes into the river in winter. Guests will be cocooned in an intimate space of only six floating cabins and another six on land. Inspired by the old practice of transporting felled logs by floating them downriver, the minimalist design by architects Bertil Harstrom and Johan Kauppi was undertaken with near-zero environmental impact. Due to open in February next year.
Why: At the centre of the circular structure is an open-air space that promises a refreshing experience: cold water baths under the mesmerising lights of the aurora borealis. The wellness rituals here have an Arctic slant, and invite guests to alternate between cold and hot water baths, and saunas for its revitalising benefits. The spa also goes beyond the traditional to offer crystal healing sessions. Even if you’re not a spa-goer, hotel guests are assured of both summer and winter itineraries, as it’s open all year round.
At home with history
Where: Tsingpu Tulou Retreat Taxia village, Fujian province, China
What: The retreat is tucked in a corner of south-eastern China, in the 700-year-old Taxia village which has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Comprising five tulou structures, the Tsingpu earthen buildings are but a handful built by the Hakka centuries ago in this mountainous region – in fact, three of them hark back to the Qing dynasty. The fascinating structures acted as both home and fortress, and the preserved historical facades give guests a sense of walking back into the past.
Why: The stylish interiors showcase traditional craftsmanship, but the true appeal lies in an immersive experience in Hakka culture, such as the food (try the local beers), handicraft workshops or a trip to the iconic Tianluokeng Tulou Cluster. Pick bamboo shoots in the hills, make citrus tea, learn about feng shui – amid a setting that will be featured in the live-action remake of Mulan to be released next year.
Do right in Africa
Caroline Burke is general manager at luxury safari operator Singita, and head of business development in Asia. A collection of 15 properties across six African regions, the award-winning conservation brand upholds partnerships with non-profit organisations that protect African wildlife and support the local community. Its 2007 initiative, the Singita Community Culinary School, grooms a careful selection of local students to become internationally qualified commis chefs.
What do you hope to see more of in the ultra-luxe community?
People travelling to Africa for the right reasons – because they are interested in Africa and the story behind what we do. It’s not just about getting great pictures, but about connecting with the place. Africa should have a special place in your heart by the time you leave.
What goes on behind the scenes that we don’t see? Sitting in the hammocks, looking at the stars while enjoying some local gin and tonic is a hell of an experience! We surprise people with that – being in the middle of nowhere, just two hammocks and a bar. It’s really magical. We’re not really about material things. For us, it’s about creating moments.
New travel trends? Family connections. The ultra-luxe community wants to be alone with their family without being disturbed. It’s all about intuitive service – meaning don’t interrupt me when I don’t want to be disturbed. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that.
Miki Masuyama is head of sales (Asia Pacific) at the Oetker Collection of ultra- luxury hotels and fully-staffed private estates across Europe, the latter including historical castles and dreamy manors. Its hotels, like the timeless Hotel du Cap-Eden- Roc in France, are hot spots for ultimate celebrity parties, shares Masuyama. But so are Oetker’s beautiful estates: The tranquil Glen Affric (pictured), a Victorian hunting lodge in the verdant Scottish Highlands, hosts notable figures of high society, including royal in-law James Middleton.
What is Oetker’s most popular destination?
I’d say the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is our most legendary destination for its famed parties and such. Hublot even paid tribute to this beloved Cap d’Antibes property in France with the limited Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph Eden Roc, available only at the hotel.
Any behind-the-scenes stories?
Will Smith often stays with us. Once on Valentine’s Day, or his wife’s birthday, he asked our housekeeper to prepare a pathway of rose petals in their suite. We thought, wow, that’s great! But sometimes, the opposite happens. Once, a certain gentleman’s wife and daughter arrived at the hotel before him. We wanted to prepare a connecting room anticipating their reunion, but he told us it wasn’t necessary. The next morning, we found out he had a mistress staying nearby.
To do in 2020
Put these activities on your bucket list.
Go sledding in Lapland
Off-grid locations like Inari in Finland is a great launch pad for experiencing the culture of the Sami people. The municipality of Inari stretches across northern Finland, with the village 300km north of the Arctic Circle. Go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the pristine winter wilderness, or see the land from a whole different perspective, literally, by going husky-sledding. If you’ve ever seen huskies panting in our sweltering tropical weather, you’ll be delighted to see their exuberance as they run in their natural habitat.
Dine in the Caucasus
The Caucasus is the new epicurean destination for next year. This mountainous region is situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and is culturally diverse, with that diversity exhibited in their food and drink. Visit the Kakheti region in Georgia to sample the wines (the very first in the world were said to be produced here), relish the rare black caviar of Azerbaijan’s Baku, and sample Armenia’s lavash – a soft unleavened flatbread that made it to Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, as an expression of Armenian culture.