What’s in the stars for travelers

If you’re not on vacation in January, all I can say is you should be.

A tropical locale, perhaps, where the cocktails are cool and a jazz quartet plays mellow sounds at sunset on a dreamy terrace, lights twinkling along the curve of a bay. 

The next best thing to being on vacation is booking one, and January is the month to do so with an eye to what’s new. While sustainability, responsibility and low (or no) carbon footprint are still buzzwords, these key concepts don’t preclude luxury. In fact they go with it, hand in glove. 

Ulivo Suite at Borgo Santo Pietro. Courtesy Borgo Santo Pietro.

National Geographic Travel’s tailor-made tours cover 80 destinations on seven continents. The company excels at small-ship ocean trips, river cruises and domestic and overseas summer trips for middle and high school students while also running 58 lodges in stunning locations around the world. If you’ve got the time and the cash, an $80,000 around-the-world-in-24 days trip by private jet might be just the thing. “Sustainable tourism practices and the natural language of the location” are National Geographic’s primary aims and, what’s more, 27 percent of the proceeds of everything it does — including the cost of your vacation — goes back into its work in the field. nationalgeographic.com

Getting there, though, is only half the fun. The other half is staying there. The Washington, D.C.-headquartered Preferred Hotels will add no fewer than 13 new-build properties to its collection in 2018, including the scrumptious Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina, Montage in Los Cabos, Mexico (joining Montage’s California hotels in Beverly Hills and Laguna Beach) and the Bobby — upping the luxury quotient in Nashville, Tennessee. Another gorgeous new hotel, Pestana Amsterdam Riverside, located in a former Town Hall, may be reason alone for a visit to the city of canals, bicycles and more-or-less legal pot — along with great art, of course. preferredhotels.com

Coming soon, too, from a hotel group whose ethos is wellness, are five new luxury Six Senses lodges across distant, exotic Bhutan. Yes, the emphasis may be on health and well-being, but, as the Six Senses people put it, you’re perfectly welcome to eat a cheeseburger with extra fries if that’s what you fancy. Another Six Senses property will open shortly in a magnificent setting — Shaharut, in Israel’s Negev desert — while  stressed-out, world-weary New Yorkers can look forward to Six Senses Manhattan, slated for 2019, which promises to be a unique urban spa in our own backyard. sixsenses.com

Meanwhile, on the hip Spanish isle of Ibiza and right where you want to be, on Talamanca bay — which is to say close to the yachts but away from the masses — the new Nobu Ibiza Bay is the last word in chilled and laidback cool, but not so cool it doesn’t have an amazing kids club. nobuhotels.com

Also in the Balearic islands,  Meliá  — the 60-year-old hotel chain with 375 hotels in 43 countries — will be updating all its properties there this year, as well as opening what promises to be a stunner of a hotel in the Modernista (and predominantly gay in summer) resort town of Sitges, just south of Barcelona. The hotel group also has a cracker of a new hotel in the historic heart of Madrid, the Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques, located in a palace that was the former home of the dukes of Granada de Ega and Villahermosa. melia.com

In other news from Madrid, Mandarin Oriental has taken over the legendary Ritz but promises a sensitive refurbishment respecting the hotel’s remarkable history.

Pool at Nobu Ibiza Bay. Courtesy Nobu Hotels.

We move on to Italy’s Tuscan countryside near Siena, where Claus and Jeanette Thottrup’s Borgo Santo Pietro is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Bought as a ruin, this 100-acre, 20-room property (including two suites with their own swimming pools), is paradise, with glorious public spaces and gardens, not to mention painting classes, a cooking school, a free-range farm, a dairy (featuring seven kinds of Pecorino made in house), beehives for honey and a skin care lab. There’s even a church onsite dating from the 13th century, San Galgano, so you can get married there.

And if all of this isn’t enough, or indeed is too much, Santo Pietro has just launched a yacht, the Satori. With a crew of eight or nine and accommodating up to 10 people in five cabins, the Satori sails the Mediterranean Sea from the Italian Riviera all the way around the heel of Italy to Croatia, and boasts a 300-bin wine cellar among its many other luxuries. 

“If you don’t need to bring along the full complement of guests,” Jeanette Thottrup suggests, “let us equip one of the cabins as a spa, so you and your guests can have daily treatments.” Well, why not? borgosantopietro.com

Wellness, too, is a thing at Capella Hotels, where signature Auriga Spa treatments are based on the phases of the moon.  The theme will continue at the new Capella in Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali. The Capella there will be an ultra-luxurious tented camp designed as a fully immersive rainforest experience, entered through its very own rice paddy with activities, including mud Pilates and jungle boot camp. Capella is inaugurating new properties, too, in Shanghai and Bangkok, where collaborations with chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Mauro Colagreco respectively will make these hotels seriously upscale dining destinations in their own right. capellahotels.com


Le Bar, Capella Shanghai. Courtesy Capella Hotel Group.

Niccolo — a hotel collection within the Marco Polo group — is another name that should be on your radar. These futuristic hotels are springing up in prime locations all over China, with Chengdu and Chongqing already open and Changsha and Suzhou coming shortly. And, opening this month, Niccolo’s Norman Foster-designed Murray Hotel in Hong Kong will up the ante for splendor in the former British colony, already home to some of the world’s most luxurious and iconic hostelries. marcopolohotels.com

Finally, prepare for The Chatwal, arriving in 2019. Already established in Times Square, this Indian-American company will offer activities as diverse as Ayurvedic massage and fly fishing, with a restaurant by Alain Ducasse, no less, in the new Chatwal Lodge in Bethel, New York. True luxury on the doorstep and with no carbon footprint — surely a win-win situation in the luxury travel stakes. thechatwalny.com

SUPPORTING – AND REDISCOVERING – THE CARIBBEAN

Tourism is the lifeblood of the Caribbean region and, by visiting its stunning islands, we can make a difference.

Despite the shocking lack of help from the federal government, Puerto Ricans are doing an incredible job rebuilding their hurricane-devastated island. Please go and spend your money at the gorgeous Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, or the Ritz-Carlton San Juan, both reopening Oct. 1. Indeed, go and spend your money anywhere in Puerto Rico. (Other hotels and resorts are already back in operation.)

Elsewhere, the island of St. Barts was decimated by Hurricane Irma, but hoteliers have been working hard to recover. Le Toiny (letoiny.com), Eden Rock (oetkercollection.com) and Cheval Blanc Isle de France St. Barth (chevalblanc.com), the island’s most upper-crust hotels, expect to reopen for business when the season starts in October with a new property, Le Carl Gustaf, from the distinguished French group, Barrière (lucienbarriere.com), also slated to open around the same time. Dedicated and talented hoteliers like these show the world that the hospitality industry does not take adversity lying down. Sure, luxury has its price, but I would rather three nights at a hotel run with passion and savoir faire than a week somewhere cookie-cutter and mediocre. 

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