1. SRI LANKA
ANCIENT CULTURES & INDIGENOUS WILDLIFE
In the Indian Ocean, off the southeast coast of India, sits the island of Sri Lanka. Its multi-cultural heritage, infused with Southeast Asian influences, gives this country a rich diversity of customs and traditions. It is said that evidence of some of the earliest humans on earth have been found here, and the country hosts one of the oldest civilizations on record. A mix of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim, Sri Lanka has been shaped, over the centuries, by a number of external forces, Indian, Thai, Moorish, Malay and British among them. The ancient archaeology will fascinate the history lover, while the Indo- global cuisine will tantalize the the taste buds of even the most ardent foodie.
This tiny island is a powerhouse when it comes to the variety of flora and fauna; it is the most densely bio-diverse country in Asia. Visitors can spot unique animals, including Sri Lankan leopards, which are native to the island, Asian elephants, sloth bears and wild boars. Birding enthusiasts will revel in the remarkable wealth of species that fill the air with their song. On the coast—all 1,585 kilometres of it—get into the swim of things in the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean. Inland, rivers and rainforests give way to waterfalls. A tropical paradise far from the madding crowds, Sri Lanka is a destination that will wrap you in its intricate beauty.
NATURAL WONDERS, RAINFORESTS & SOFT ADVENTURE
Central American by its location, English-speaking due to its British colonial past and Caribbean in its nature, Belize is an undiscovered gem on the isthmus that stretches south from Mexican border to hot-weather favourite Costa Rica and on-the-rise Panama. Despite the English, the Spanish influence also remains intact here, as does the ancient Mayan culture, one of the earliest known civilizations in the Americas. In fact, Belize is home to a number of ruins, including one of the best-preserved Mayan pyramids, found at Caracol.
When the American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola discovered Belize, he was looking for a retreat. But his experience of being enveloped in nature so lush and so remote led him to create Blancaneaux Lodge hotel. Located inland in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, it’s a hideaway he felt he could share with like-minded travellers. Within the surrounding jungles live some of the world’s rarest and near extinct animal species. For those yearning to be closer to the open water, Coppola has built another property, Turtle Inn, on a narrow peninsula reaching out into the Caribbean Sea. And just off the country’s coast sits Belize’s barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site comprised of a series of tiny coral islands, or cayes, along these crystalline waters. This diver’s paradise is home to rich marine life, matched only by the teeming wildlife inhabiting the country’s interior forests. Natural wonders, indeed.
3. BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
OLD WORLD CHARM & EUROPEAN HOSPITALITY
Reflected in the waters of the storied Danube, Bratislava takes on a sparkling new sheen. Long overshadowed by her well-heeled Central European sisters, Vienna, Prague and Budapest, Bratislava is now having a moment in the spotlight. The cobblestones ring with the sounds of the daily commute, and walking here is the best way to get around. In many parts, it’s the only way.
History, particularly that of the Second World War and the time the country spent behind the Iron Curtain, looms large here. Yet the mainly pedestrian old town is alive and well, with a well-honed European café culture, vibrant medieval squares and the legendary Bratislava Castle. The city’s botanical garden provides inspiration for the green-thumb traveller, with more than 5,000 species of plants and a spectacular rose garden where one can inhale the perfume of 150 hybrid varieties.
The city hugs the edges of the Little Carpathian mountains, while just on its outskirts, miles of vineyards can be found, with grapes at the ready to be plucked and juiced. Hiking and biking are easy modes of transportation and exploration, and river cruising along this stretch of the Danube provides a unique view of the city and the imposing Bratislava Castle, which sits perched on a hill, like a king overlooking his domain. Automobile enthusiasts might take a tour in a classic Skoda—the car for the masses manufactured in the former Czechoslovakia—or visit Volkswagen Slovakia. Take one of the company’s SUVs out for an off-road spin. It will be sure to get the adrenaline going!
4. HAVANA, CUBA
THROWBACK GLAMOUR, MUSIC & DANCE
There’s a reason Havana has been immortalized in song, in script and on the screen (think the Copacabana, Ernest Hemingway, Our Man in Havana and The Buena Vista Social Club). In the post-war/pre-cold war/pre-revolutionary era of the last century, Havana was the hotspot. Music, a mash-up of Afro-Jazz, tinged with Spanish undertones gave way to Salsa dancing—all the rage with the monied set and Hollywood glitterati. You can still take lessons today at some of the dance schools, or just spend a few nights observing and partaking with the joyful locals—all of whom seem to know how to dance—in some of the famous nightclubs in the capital. This is a place where some of the world has yet to visit. And now is the time, before an influx of travellers changes this favoured Canadian getaway forever.
A stroll along the city’s malecón, or promenade, which hugs the sea, is a perfect spot for people-watching. The breeze is light and constant, straight off the crystal blue of the Caribbean.
In town, vintage cars drive the avenues while local artists are setting up shop in colonial buildings long abandoned by the revolution. Cocktail culture is strong here, and suits the sunny climes: Daiquiris—a favourite of Mr. Hemingway—and the ever-popular and refreshing Mojito, are always on the menu at hip and happening bars and hotels, with alcohol, or without. Take your pick! Cuba libre, indeed.
5. SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE & CAFÉ CULTURE
An easy ramble up the cobblestones of the New World’s oldest boulevard leads to the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the Americas’ oldest cathedral. Still standing proudly, it was built in the first half of the 1500s in honour of St. Mary of the Incarnation. It is at once breathtakingly gothic and medieval and at the same time, regal. The structure is a cornerstone of colonial Santo Domingo, and its own cornerstone was placed by Diego Columbus, son of the great explorer Christopher. The cathedral sits in Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, which is surrounded in a walled, fortress-like neighbourhood of architecture from the 1500s. Rumour has it that there may still be remains of Christopher buried deep in the cathedral. A mystique lingers more than 500 years later.
Not far is the Plaza de Espana, where the Alcazar de Colon palace throws its imposing gaze over the square. The palace was once home to Diego and his entourage, and where the Columbus family set up a makeshift court in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
But en route, there are tiny counter-style cafés and colourful artists’ shops worth exploring. Roasting and sipping coffee are also art forms here; do not miss a cup if you enjoy a beautifully balanced brew. It’s as intoxicating as the music that wafts over the air from these little hot spots, where daily life can be observed and friendly conversation can take place with locals. Walk the footsteps of Columbus. Once on the Plaza de Espana, take a seat at one of the many cafés and bars that line this grey-and-white-paved outdoor meeting place, soak up a little sunshine and take in the scene.
6. ST. GEORGE, GRENADA
OLD WORLD CHARM MEETS CARIBBEAN SPICE
The combination of French sophistication and English ingenuity have helped maintain its original city boundaries, where both the Catholic Church, built in 1818, and the Anglican Church, built in 1825, still stand as monuments to human endeavour. Unique, fish-scale patterned roofs decorate houses, and much of the original Georgian architecture has been maintained or lovingly restored. It is a seamless mix of picturesque Caribbean with the allure of the Old World. The city stretches its arms out to sea, welcoming seafaring visitors while hugging the coast with its sparkling horseshoe-shaped harbour, said to be one of the most beautiful in all of the West Indies. Divers will delight in the underwater sculpture park, where you can swim among the art and the marine life. Foodies will revel in the variety of spices and chocolate. It’s the sweet life.
7. VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
A RECONNECTION WITH LAND & SEA
On Canada’s western edge sits a different kind of island. It is here that Queen Victoria has her namesake city, the capital. It is here to where we retreat. It is also here where a most spectacular place sits.
Perched at the water’s edge, like a queen sitting on her throne, facing ever westward, as if daring her most loyal yet rambunctious subject to lap at her feet yet entertain her with his every weathered move. The queen, in this case, is Tofino’s The Wickaninnish Inn. Her subject, the mighty Pacific. This award-winning member of the revered Relais & Chateaux network of, well, simply gorgeous places to hang your hat, is a beacon of rest and relaxation and a front-row seat to some of nature’s most magnificent moods. Stormwatchers gather at the inn to take in the sea’s showy personality; the crashing waves, the surfers braving them, all while swirling pods of orca can be seen in the distance.
But the ocean is not the inn’s only muse. Chesterman Beach calls to the combers in all of us. The rainforest, ancient and resplendent with such giants as the Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, begs for a mind-cleansing forest bathing walk. And the town of Tofino is about as laid back as a vacation spot should be. Back at the inn, emersion of the Pacific Northwest comes naturally. The cuisine is inspired by B.C.’s rich bounty, from straight-from-the-sea seafood to farm-fresh organic (and did we mention the wines? The list is among the best in B.C.), to the inn’s Ancient Cedars spa, with treatments that take their cues from the rustic elements that envelop the property, and our bodies. The sea air, the mesmerizing beat of the ocean surf, and the warm welcome from our hosts at The Wickaninnish will soon have us lulled into a peaceful slumber. No matter. Tomorrow we will be greeted by more. And the ocean will be waiting.
8. MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
REJUVENATION & EXPLORATION IN THE RED CITY
When some of us think of Marrakech, we think of swaying palms moving with a breeze laced with the scent of oranges. Silvery leaves of olive trees glisten in the desert sun. The backdrop of the Atlas Mountains do their best to throw some shade, while proudly maintaining their snowy caps. It may seem cliche, but here in Northern Africa, the oasis that is the Fairmont Royal Palm is real. It is removed from the city’s hustle and bustle, but not quite remote. The medina and marketplace, the pulse of Marrakech, is just 20 minutes away. Stroll among the spices and the fabrics and the foods cooking on the grill, and immerse yourself in the Red City’s daily life.
At the end of the day, retreat to the resort. Surround yourself in nature. Take a dip in the generous-sized swimming pool, taste local and global cuisine prepared by top chefs or practice your golf swing before hitting the links the next day. In fact, 2018 marked the first year the Fairmont Royal Palm hosted an internationally ranked Pro Am golf tournament.The beauty is that the property is also a conduit to all that Morocco can deliver as a destination. The sights, the traditions and the culture of the country and of the Red City itself are all easily navigated with a hotel-arranged guide. The hotel serves as an easy introduction to the warmth and welcoming nature of the people and their unique brand of hospitality.
Marrakech’s museums and galleries will satiate art and history lovers, while a day at the Medina or a stroll perusing ingredients at Fairmont’s organic farm may inspire a recipe for a cooking class at the hotel that will whet the culinary traveller’s appetite for food and adventure. Children, too, can learn about Moroccan art, food and culture through activities lead by friendly locals with a creative knack for sharing stories, in their own designated kids club. There’s nowhere quite like Morocco; not another like Marrakech. The imperial city glimmers in the desert heat, inviting a closer look.
9. JAIPUR, INDIA
HOSPITALITY FIT FOR A MAHARAJA
The Pink City. Home to maharajas’ palaces, grand fortresses, lush gardens and serene temples. This is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, where Mughal and Rajput architecture meet. Stand in awe at the entrance of the Hawa Mahal, known as the Palace of the Winds, and built from the pink sandstone that some say inspired the city’s nickname. Spend an afternoon exploring the markets and bazaars of Jaipur and discover some of the sparkle behind this city: the craftsmanship of the jewellery designers for which Jaipur is also famous—as well as textiles, carpets and other traditional handicrafts. At the City Palace, built by the founder of Jaipur and still home to the last ruling royal family, many sections have been graciously opened to visits by the public. The ceilings feature wonderfully preserved paintings; the museum showcases royal costumes, while the Maharani’s palace houses a remarkable collection of weaponry.
Later, find yourself in another kind of palace in the centre of it all: The Raj Palace, a member of Small Luxury Hotels. Here, the walls have a regal history, too. Housed in a former maharaja’s palace, the hotel has been restored to reflect its glorious roots. Here, you’ll live in this history, with the intricately painted walls and golden-hued halls resplendent with original artworks and artifacts that shed light on the city’s and its citizens’ past. A dip in the pool surrounded by sculptures, fountains and gardens will help cool things off. Then stroll the lawns through courtyards and delicately arched arcades in the footsteps of the maharaja. A traditional tea in the afternoon in the Royal Lounge will provide fortification for more exploring. This time, head to the hotel’s museum, where 18th– and 19th-century antiques and crockery are on display.
Jaipur’s theme colour, pink, is said to be the colour of hospitality. In the late 1800s, when the then Prince of Wales scheduled a visit to Jaipur, the maharaja had the entire city painted pink. No doubt, the Prince of Wales blushed at the sight. Definitely, fit for a prince.
From the bright lights of Tokyo to the zen of Kyoto, Japan is a fascinating study in contrasts and continuity. One of the most enduring on Earth, the Japanese culture is imbued with propriety, aesthetics and respect. Ancestral traditions are passed down from generation to generation, the art of peaceful zen wellness, of porcelain and paper making, even the art of sushi. Everything is for beauty, for the art of perfection and presentation. The meticulously lacquered walls of the temples of Kyoto reflect the sun; bright reds, oranges and golds only rival those found in some of the most beautiful and verdant gardens in the world, where one can truly be one with nature in extraordinarily cared-for surroundings. Experience the world of the Geisha, their music and their makeup. Hike the foothills around Mount Fuji, Japan’s indomitable peak, which pierces the horizon like a snow-tipped arrow. And get lost in Tokyo, among its skyscrapers and the noodle bars. Visit the Imperial Palace, where one of the world’s most fascinating monarchies still hold court, make peace at a Buddhist temple and finish with a satisfying sip of sake. Kanpai!