As they say in baseball, it ain't over till it's over — and it seems like Covid will throw us a few more curve balls before this game is called. When it comes to travel, all we can do in 2022 is plan, plan to change plans, and embrace spontaneity. The trends of going slower, staying longer, and exploring close to home will hopefully become traditions. Here are a few more ideas we're enthusiastic about.
Train Travel Over Plane Travel
It's romantic. It's nostalgic. It's more intentional and more immersive than today's airline experience. Thousands of miles of tracks traverse some of the most scenic parts of Europe, a happy vestige of the continent's 19th-century Railroad Era. Starting this summer, the new Belgium- and Netherlands-based European Sleeper, in partnership with Czech Regio Jet, will roll out night route sleeper trains with free WiFi and cute coffee offerings while connecting passengers to Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Dresden — arriving in Prague in time for breakfast. State railways in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are also adding new sleeper trains to the roster, citing that climate change plus the pandemic have made travelers more receptive to land travel, to say nothing for the fact that some routes are faster by track than by air.
Belmond's European trains rival their hotels for luxury, design, service, and gastronomy. Multi-day trips through Scotland on The Royal Scotsman include built-in breaks for wild swimming. The beautifully restored British Pullman will appeal to foodies with culinary excursions with England's best chefs (a traveling magician entertains between courses) and to cineastes who ride in the carriage designed by train-obsessive Wes Andersen. Belmond also operates three-day journeys between Bangkok and Singapore on its Eastern & Oriental Express.
And 2022 is only the beginning. 2023 will see the return of the iconic Orient Express (now owned by Accor) and La Dolce Vita, a partnership with Ferrovie dello Stato and Arsenale S.p.A. Six trains will take travelers across fourteen regions in Italy; international routes will connect Rome's Termini Station with Paris, Istanbul, and Split. France recently invested millions into its state-run rail system, and the new Midnight Trains will launch connections from Paris to Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Berlin, Rome, and Lisbon (to name a few) in 2024.
Impressive Corporate Responsibility
It's an excellent development that giant, multinational hotel companies are investing in and focusing on the hotels within their portfolio that are doing their part to make the world a better place. Preferred Hotel Group, in partnership with ecotourism pioneer and sustainability expert Costas Christ, formed Beyond Green to promote hotels, resorts, and lodges that have proven to be a force for good through their community, cultural, and and environmental initiatives. Among these hospitality leaders are Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Isla Secas in Panama, and Xigera Safari Lodge in Botswana. Small Luxury Hotels of the World's Considerate Collection highlights 33 "actively sustainable luxury hotels" that also espouse the aforementioned pillars and are environmentally conscious, cultural custodians, and community minded. Examples include chic hotel Ca' Di Dio, (one of our Best New Hotels of 2021), which pulls water from the Venetian lagoon to power its heating and cooling systems and collaborates with Rio Terà Social Cooperative of Venice to sell accessories fabricated from recycled PVC and made by female inmates from the Venice prison. Another in the collection is Forestis, a wellness hotel in the Dolomite Mountains that runs entirely on energy. They planted two trees for every one they cut during construction and used the felled timber for furniture. The chef sources produce from local farms, and it gets delivered in reusable wood boxes. Beyond Green and Considerate Collection hotels all conform to rigorous United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and both companies send anonymous testers to the hotels periodically to ensure compliance.
During the pandemic, IHG (Intercontinental Hotels) launched the Vignette Collection of hotels that promote a humanitarian cause and are "connected by a shared vision – travel can benefit local people and places." The individual hotels — no cookie-cutter corporate branding here — include Hotel X in Brisbane, Australia, Dona Filipa Hotel in Portugal and Grand Hotel Wien in Austria. Youth empowerment is a strong theme, and IHG partnered with Junior Achievement Worldwide to help develop the next generation of hospitality professionals.
We look forward to other multinational hotel companies launching their own responsible collections soon. (We're looking at you, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Accor, Design Hotels...) Until then, Beyond Green, Considerate Collection, and Vignette Collection are excellent resources for making better hotel decisions.
The Caribbean experienced a one-two punch with its beating by Category 5 Hurricane Irma in 2017 followed by Covid close in its wake in 2020 (and beyond). We recently returned from a trip to the British Virgin Islands, the volcanic archipelago of nearly 60 islands adjacent to Puerto Rico, and were happy to find a spirit and beauty as vibrant as ever. Protocols are strict (PCR test 72-hours prior to arrival for vaccinated travelers and stricter quarantine for the un-vaccinated). Ideal trade winds and only two airports make sailing the preferred mode of transportation among the islands (as well as an easy form of social distancing). Several outfitters rent catamarans for extended day trips (onboard captain optional). Days are spent savoring slow, immersive cruises across crystal-clear waters and exploring large stretches of coral reefs, with relief from lethally delicious Pain Killer cocktails at the beach-shack bars that appear the moment you couldn't imagine the day getting any better. Pristine beauty aside, the BVIs are rebuilding in a notably conscious way, redirecting tourism to local-led eco tours and bringing a focus back to its culinary roots — menus are simplified to renew the local flavors and traditions of the islanders who love to share what's in their backyard.
This one is not about a particular destination so much as a mindset. Early in Covid's vaccination days, we heard stories about the over-65 set engaging in revenge travel. Postponed brides and groups have adopted the same mentality, eking out weddings of all sizes and shapes according the protocols of the day. Travelers are looking to make up for lost time, booking longer, most expensive trips than ever before. Regions that have been largely closed off to the world, like Japan, are planning to re-open later in the year. Flight searches have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, but things have been steadily on the rise. Expect incremental movements (like loosening restrictions) rather that opening floodgates.
Historically speaking, national health crises cause cities to make big changes in areas like sanitation and planning. We are already experiencing a major shift in our relationships with the office and the commute — neither will ever be the same. After all the devastation to retail and hospitality, we are happy to hear stories about new openings and rising hotel occupancy levels. While pandemic ping-ponging continues, restaurants, theaters, and other venues will continue reorganizing, expanding their enterprises, and toughing it out. See: Paris Is Back! Here's What's New and Amazing and Unmissable for new hotels, restaurants, and museum shows and The Reboot — What's New in NYC for the latest and greatest in galleries, shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, and hotels that have been rolling out over the last year. Despite what haters say, cities are not going to the birds.
We recently spent a weekend in in the French Alps at Le Coucou, a terrifically charming hotel that’s part of Maisons Pariente. The collection of family-run hotels in France’s best holiday destinations, including Provence, Saint-Tropez, and Paris, are a partnership between father Patrick Pariente (co-founder of the fashion brand Naf-Naf) and daughters Leslie Kouhana (who oversees real estate and development) and Kimberley Pariente (identity and marketing). Let the multinational hotel chains grab headlines with their consolidations and quarterly earnings calls. The more interesting forces in the hotel industry are these family-run mini-empires with a handful, maybe a dozen, hotels, all born from passion and vision and sustained by an all-in-the-family ethos.
Other great family-run hotel companies include Rocco Forte Hotels, where Sir Rocco (himself the son of another great hotelier) is chairman, deputy chair and sister Olga Polizzi runs design, daughter Lydia oversees food and beverage, daughter Irene focuses on wellness, and son Charles looks after development. The Wirth family have run Hassler Roma for four generations, along with a handful of hotels in Tuscany and Umbria. Marisa Melpignano opened Masseria San Domenico in 1996 (thus pioneering the masseria trend in Puglia) so her Roman friends had a place to stay when they visited. Her son Aldo in turn launched Borgo Egnazia in 2010, the preferred bolthole of celebs and giltterati, and is managing director of all the San Domenico hotels and the yacht. The Royal Portfolio was born when Liz and Phil Biden converted their family homes into hotels, and today’s expanded collection is overseen by son Matthew, while daughter Ali runs the foundation and its many impressive environmental, educational, and community projects. Kanava Hotels and Resorts began in a similar way, when Kalia Konstantinidou and Antonis Eliopoulos converted their family’s Santorini vineyard into their first of eight Greek properties — not to be confused with the six Canaves Oia hotels and villas in Santorini overseen by the super lovely Markos Chaidemenos. Of course, family-run hotels can be found closer to our home in the USA: After a career in fashion, third-generation hotelier Sarah Eustis runs Main Street Hospitality Hotels in New England from her grandmother’s old office.
Travelers are putting one foot in front of the other for walking vacations, self-guided and led-group tours, all over the world. This was a growing trend even before the pandemic; many outfitters in popular walking destinations like the UK, Italy, and Spain have been reporting an explosion of inquiries and bookings since 2018. It's a great, deliberate way to commune with the surroundings, as well as the people who live in them. Canada's new Island Walk traverses 700 scenic kilometers of Prince Edward Island. Designed as a 32-day hike that spans the island from North Cape and East Point, it can also be done in smaller chunks past beaches and small towns, with lots of stops for fresh seafood along the way. Adventure awaits on the other side of the world along the Trans Bhutan Trail. For centuries until the 1960s, the trail was the only way that pilgrims, armies, citizens, and traders could connect across the mountainous country. During the pandemic, the trail was restored with a focus on sustainability and now runs 250 breathtaking miles from Haa in the west to Trashigang in the east.
Talent on the Rise
In spring 2021, the esteemed Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris announced that just-as-esteemed chef Alain Ducasse would no longer operate his eponymous three-Michelin-star restaurant when his contract ended in June. Instead, Jean Imbert would be given the toque of honor. The young-ish chef has 21 fewer Michelin stars than Ducasse, but arrives with other — let's call them more contemporary — honors (a Top Chef win and the title of GQ Chef of the Year in 2019) and a goal of creating a menu that infuses classic French cuisine with a modern touch. (Our friend at the hotel told us he had high hopes Imbert would create one of the city's best bistros at the hotel — truly terrific bistros being surprisingly hard to find in Paris, of all places.) You can imagine le scandale this sparked among elite French gastronomic circles. No one is arguing that Ducasse didn't earn his 21 Michelin stars — the fruits of which diners can still enjoy at his 34 restaurants around the world — but we applaud the hotel’s decision to use their established platform and power to pass the baton to an up-and-coming talent. We hope other grand hotels follow this example the next time they consider adding another Nobu or Vongerichten restaurant to their offerings. And it goes without say that we extra hope those new talents include more women and BIPOC stars.
Back Down Under
This may be wish fulfillment at its best, but we're manifesting out travel dreams, right? Well then: We can't wait to get back to Australia, which has done an outstanding job of keeping Covid at bay by keeping everyone else out, too. But we're hearing whispers that the country will reopen to foreign travelers sometime in the first half of the year, and that's just in time to make it for Vivid Sydney, the immersive city-wide festival of lights that runs from May 27 until June 18 and turns just about everything in town — Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Botanic Gardens, Sydney Opera House, and boring old office buildings — into a brilliant canvas come sundown. Need a place to stay? We're partial to The Old Clare, which is built in two heritage buildings in the cool Chippendale neighborhood, theatrical QT Sydney in the center of the CBD, and Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, a lively harbor beach bolthole designed by local star Sibella Court. You've made it this far, so stick around a while. While in New South Wales, head into the Blue Mountains just a few hours outside the city for a gorgeous nature break, the pinnacle of which will be stargazing and safaris at night and horseback rides in the morning at the incredible Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley. Or hop on a plane and head down in Tasmania (Tassie in localspeak) for a host of indoor and outdoor adventures. Like a three-night walkabout along the Aboriginal-owned and -operated Wukalina Walk. Or a choo-choo ride back in time and through the western wilderness aboard West Coast Wilderness Railway, following old mining routes that are more than a century old. Past and present also meet at MONA, The Museum of Old and New Art, where you'll see great work in the revamped galleries and sip high tea in the Ladies Lounge. When it's all done, you can reflect on your great travels in a bath under the stars on Lake St. Clair at Pumphouse Point.