With an increasing number of high-end travelers heading down under, Australia is upping its luxury quotient with new posh hotels plus top cultural and gastronomic offerings. On my recent visit I met many American holidaymakers who were happy return visitors. Lower airline prices along with Australia’s most extraordinary offerings make this the perfect time to go.
Aer Lingus’ well priced flights to Dublin and great stopover options to other European cities was the impetus for my Ireland/Scotland itinerary. The service onboard Aer Lingus was exemplary; business cabins feature spacious seats that become comfy lie-flat beds, tasty cuisine and fine wine. The carrier offers direct service to their Dublin hub from major US cities including JFK, Newark, Boston, Washington Chicago, Hartford, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles and starting September 1, Miami. My Aer Lingus flights from Dublin connecting to Edinburgh and Glasgow were short and seamless. www.aerlingus.com
With Sri Lanka’s recent tourism boom, a slew of new luxury hotel openings have created an even bigger draw for high-end travelers. Wondrous archeological ruins, palm fringed golden beaches, lush tea plantations, flavorful food, elephant and leopard safaris plus the sweet, friendly people who mainly practice Hinduism and Buddhism, make this teardrop shaped island nation south of
Estonia, the size of New Hampshire and Maryland combined, with 1,500 islands along the Baltic Sea and half the country covered in forest, is truly unique. Estonians are both creative and techie; Skype was developed here. While this may be the least religious country in the world, most people regard themselves as spiritual and believe spirits inhabit the trees. Modern but traditional with a richly diverse landscape, the planet’s cleanest air, gastronomic cuisine plus a vibrant art scene, this Baltic Beauty is fast becoming the new ‘must see’ destination.
Iceland is surely the new ‘it’ destination. This unique country near the Arctic Circle offers majestic glaciers, bubbling hot springs, active volcanoes, spectacular waterfalls, otherworldly terrain and gastronomic cuisine. Not to mention the Northern Lights. If you think you’re too busy to get away, you can enjoy the ultimate 3-day weekend with a little over 5 hour flight from the East Coast on Icelandair. Hike a glacier, luxuriate in an outdoor thermal lagoon and be back to work by Monday. Having just returned from an Iceland jaunt I can report that it exceeded my very high expectations.
Mendocino County - Nature’s Unspoiled Beauty
For those seeking to connect with nature’s beauty, California’s lesser known Northern Coast boasts dramatic cliffs, quirky beaches and breathtaking vistas. The Inn at Newport Ranch opened late 2015 in Fort Bragg, set over 2,000 acres of coastal land with cattle pastures, verdant forests, meandering trails and panoramic views, is adding cachet to this off the beaten path locale.
Northern Thailand, with its many treasures, is growing in popularity as a luxury destination with both first time and return visitors. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai, located in the lush Mae Rim Valley just 20 miles north of the city, true to the brand is an exemplar of style, comfort and elegance. It’s ideal for couples, families and friends.
Flamenco, gypsies, tapas: Andalusia captures the essence of what we think of as Spanish, and so much more. This enchanting region on Spain’s southern coast boasts remarkable cuisine, art and architecture. The magnificent landmarks from the 8th-15th centuries when it was under Moorish rule, such as Malaga’s Alcazaba, Seville’s Alcázar and Granada’s Alhambra, are sights to behold! Today, wine and culinary tourism are some of Andalusia’s main attractions.
FOUR SEASONS LANDAA GIRAAVARU
Although many choose to relax in the Maldives after traveling to nearby India or Sri Lanka, I had wondered if the destination was worthy of a visit on its own. The moment I touched down at the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru in the Baa Atoll, a 44 acre UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, after my 40 minute seaplane from Malé and took in the utter gorgeousness my answer was unequivocally - Yes. Think a lush tropical island with crystalline turquoise water, sugary sand beaches, coral reefs and a spectacular spa delightfully isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It’s ideal for couples, friends and families alike with activities aplenty for all.
The Festival del Sole, recently renamed Festival Napa Valley, is held every summer in California’s gorgeous Napa Valley -- a dazzling showcase of great food, fine wine and top cultural performances. A chic and fun crowd, clad in fashions that Anna Wintour would approve, make this the most happening party around. The festival runs for 10 days, July 15 - 24 this year, and attracts a wide array of talented artists and interesting people from near and far. Some of the luminaries who have graced the festival’s stages include opera super star Renee Fleming, Tony award winner Audra Mc Donald and jazz great Chris Botti. Throughout the event the major valley wineries host lunches and dinners at various places in Napa. At these soirees regulars get to catch up and socialize with friends they initially met at the festival. “It’s like a summer camp for adults,” said one festival aficionado.