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Travelers are sophisticated consumers. Looking for the perfect destinations to whet appetites, both literally with culinary/thirst-quenchers and figuratively with heart pumping activities or romantic getaways, vacationers seek unique experiences at fine resorts and luxury destinations. Our seasoned Luxury Travel Writer, Priscilla Pilon has scoured the world to bring you her current top picks by category. Bon Voyage!
ECO FRIENDLY DESTINATION – Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Gansbaai, South Africa
Grootbos, designated as one of National Geographics’ Unique Lodges of the World, is a virtual utopia where five-star accommodations coexist with nature in an eco-paradise.
The all-suite rooms and villa have private porches, spectacular luxurious bathrooms, and canopy beds overlooking acres of gorgeous King Protea plants. Its blooms are the national flower of South Africa.
The Grootbos Foundation is an award-winning non-profit organization committed to responsible tourism and transforming communities. On property, local women attend the Food Production and Life Skills College and grow food at the Siyakhula Farm producing organic fruits and vegetables, free range chickens, and honey from the beehives set in the beauty of the fynbos (distinctive type of vegetation only found in the southern tip of Africa).
The cuisine at Grootbos is the freshest possible with mostly locally sourced products. Since the chefs use the produce grown on the property, we could literally taste the wholesomeness in every bite. Each meal was a true gourmet farm-to-table experience. The homemade honey ice cream with honeycomb cookie was simply out of this world.
Grootbos is nestled inside the best area to see the “Marine Big 5” – whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins. The list of resort activities is brimming with exciting outdoor adventures for people of all ages.
SPA DESTINATION – Lake Austin Spa Resort, Austin, Texas
Petit bungalows with private front porches on the quiet river set the mood for a relaxing getaway. The green and blue palettes in the rooms match the peace and tranquility found outdoors.
Healthy food options are served at every meal where portions are not Texas-sized, rather spa-sized. Menu items list caloric intake to facilitate making better choices. Chef Stephane Beaucamp teaches guests how to cook replacing sugary, fattening ingredients with more healthy alternatives. The more calories saved, the more wine can be justified with dinner.
The outdoor activity center hosts daily water excursions or for those who wish to exercise on their own. Hydro bikes and paddleboards are fun choices. There are indoor exercise classes and instruction for those who prefer a more rigorous regime.
A huge indoor lap pool under the roof of an old barn adds to the Texan charm. Next to the indoor pool is an outdoor version with cabanas and lounge chairs tucked in amongst the native wild flowers.
Inside the spa, treatment rooms are spacious and have a heavenly scent that relaxes the mind and body before the actual treatment begins. The waiting area boasts a large fireplace with lounge chairs and comfy blankets to cozy up in while waiting for your turn in heaven. Treatment options range in a variety of traditional massage techniques to the latest, most technologically advanced procedures.
GOLF DESTINATION – Gleneagles, Perthshire, Scotland
This legendary Gleneagles Hotel and Resort boasts three championship golf courses on the private estate and recently played host to the 2014 Ryder Cup at their Jack Nicklaus designed PGA Centenary Course. The hundred year-old King’s Course and natural beauty Queen’s Course are walking-only courses that have inspired many to play the rounds of their lives or to curse the day they picked up a club. Either way, everyone enjoys the 19th hole at the jazz themed bar, tasting one of the 120 single malt whiskies on offer.
The hotel itself is a throwback to a bygone era where style and grace ruled the day. Modern amenities such as the spa and family play rooms have made their way into the castle but formality and tradition remain in the décor and activities presented – falconry, tennis, shooting, equestrian school, fishing, off-road driving and gundog school.
GAY DESTINATION – Quebec City, Canada
While gay cruises and pride parades are often the focus of LGBT travel by many in the industry, the overall desire for a unique travel experience in a destination that is LGBT-friendly is often the priority for today’s LGBT travelers. Quebec City makes for an ideal destination with the rich history, charming cobblestone streets and friendly gay scene.
Beyond the everyday reasons to visit Quebec City to savor the culture and history, there are also a number of international events throughout the year that make this a must-visit destination. The Festival d’Eté de Québec is every July; the Carnaval de Quebec transforms this city during January and February; and the Fête Arc-en-ciel is a favorite for LGBT travelers celebrating this “rainbow festival” each September.
WINE DESTINATION – Bordeaux, France
Travelers can be in the vibrant, unique city of Bordeaux, the world’s wine industry capital, in less than four hours from Paris’ Montparnasse train station or in just over an hour by plane from the airport Orly.
Wine tasting is the best part about Bordeaux, however, history buffs will be enamored with the evolution of the villages surrounding the vineyards and lineage of the winemakers. Each Chateau is a study in architecture, interior design and botany. And, as in most of France, gastronomy is also a high priority for the Bordelais people.
Both wine tasting and Michelin-star cuisine can be found at a former 17th Century Monastery, now Hotel Château Cordeillan Bages in Pauillac. Perfectly situated next to one of the area’s famous wineries, Lynch-Bages it is a wonderful property to base out of to explore the riches of the region.
CULINARY DESTINATION – Lyon, France
Lyon has 18 Michelin-star restaurants (14 one-star, 3 two-star and 1 three-star) and it is no wonder. “Chef of the Century” Paul Bocuse hails from Lyon. Chef Bocuse is known worldwide as the father of modern French cuisine. His philosophy of using organic and less caloric ingredients has become the international standard for gastronomic restaurants.
The Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon acts as the premiere training ground for hospitality and culinary arts management in Europe. Students train under professionals who speak to the overall approach of focusing on, “the relationship between people and food.” They teach with three guiding principles, “health and wellness; flavor and enjoyment; economics and management.” The teaching restaurant is open to the public and foodies are encouraged to take a bit of knowledge back home by attending bespoke cooking classes at The Institute.
Visitors to this UNESCO World Heritage city can eat and drink their way through their holiday tasting classic French dishes, modern twists on old favorites and international delights at the indoor Food Halls.
HONEYMOON DESTINATION – Relais & Châteaux Imanta Resort, Punta de Mita, Mexico.
Imanta offers unparalleled luxury and seclusion in Punta de Mita, Mexico. The décor is minimalist chic with clean lines and perfect use of negative space, but still has everything honeymooners need, including fluffy bathrobes, gigantic soaking tubs, and outdoor hot tubs with incredible views of the pristine beaches below. Ocean front casas with large infinity pools have exclusive access to an open-air kitchen, dining room and lounge area that overlooks the pool and vista below.
Even when the resort is full, it feels like you have the place to yourself. Built into the hillside and staggered, the stunning architecture allows guests to take advantage of the views but maintain complete privacy.
The Relais & Châteaux brand prides itself on its cuisine. Food served beachside or on the airy patio is to be savored. Local market fish and wholesome ingredients help make authentic Mexican dishes especially notable.
HOLISTIC DESTINATION – Hotel Das Graseck, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Accessible only via reserved gondola, Hotel Das Graseck is a holistic resort in the mountains committed to wellness and relaxation. All-suite, modern alpine rooms are tranquil, zen-like retreats with spectacular views and soothing sounds from the bubbling brook below.
Within the hotel, medical specialists, physiotherapists, dentists and sports scientists see guests in specially designed treatment rooms with picture windows facing the grand views for health assessments and preventive health counseling.
Mind, body and soul therapies include innovative spa treatments, wholefood meals and nature walks. Programs are customized for individual health needs. But lest you think it is all work and no play, in warmer months there is an outdoor fire pit and beer garden where folks enjoy clean mountain air while sipping on their favorite libation.
SKIING DESTINATION – Zermatt, Switzerland
Zermatt is a city of only six thousand full-time residents who are allowed to own cars, but they may not be driven above ground in the city proper. Most guests arrive via train into the heart of the village. Upscale Hotel Mont Cervin Palace treats guests like royalty collecting them from the station in bright red horse-drawn carriages and delivers them to the historic hotel in less than five minutes.
Hiking and skiing are two of the most popular activities in Zermatt. The town has four different access points up the mountain with a system of trains, gondolas and lifts that take adventure seekers to the Gornergrat in no time. Charming gourmet bistros like the 17th century rustic chalet family run Zum See, lie in the hamlets in the lower valleys and local favorite restaurants like the one at Hotel Cervo have killer views of The Matterhorn.
Elegant hotels, unpretentious people, sporty activities, creative cuisine and wide-open slopes make it an ideal international ski destination.
SAFARI DESTINATION – Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa
The Shamwari Group is a pioneer in the wildlife conservation network but also provides first class hospitality in a variety of different accommodations to suit upscale traveler safari needs.
The Shamwari Game Reserve lodges are spread out ensuring that no area is crowded even at the peak season. Family-friendly colonial bush experience Sarilli Lodge overlooks Bushmans River. The Edwardian Long Lee Manor is great for large groups and has spa treatment rooms. Bayethe Lodge is a tented paradise with secluded views of the African bush. Eagles Crag Lodge is a romantic group of individual suites with private plunge pools and views of the rocky mountain cliffs.
While the accommodations are impressive, the real thrill is going on twice daily safari drives in open-air vehicles with enthusiastic expert rangers who provide an awe-inspiring, life-changing experience. All the Big Five (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros) are represented and are the true stars of the safari experience.
Their mantra is “Conserving a Vanishing Way of Life.” Guests are encouraged to visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries that promote education about treating wildlife humanely and the preservation of endangered species.