Soak Up Some Culture
A slew of luxury hotels opened in anticipation of the summer Olympics, so there are plenty of beautiful new places to lay your head. The Thompson Hotel brand opened Belgraves (from $350; thompsonhotels.com), a posh new property a stone’s throw from Sloane Square and its namesake Belgravia neighborhood. Here, the thread counts are high, and luxury bath products are provided by the ecofriendly REN Clean Skincare. More eclectic in design, but just as luxury-minded, is the new Ampersand Hotel (from $550 for the honeymoon package, which includes in-room massages and a Champagne breakfast; ampersandhotel.com), located in the heart of South Kensington. The property is just a stroll away from cultural landmarks like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. Have a boozy brunch at The Hackney Pearl (thehackneypearl.com), browse the stores in the Kensal Rise area, and book a treatment at the Sanderson Hotel’s Agua Spa. Don’t leave town before grabbing a cocktail at the club-of-the-moment Loulou’s (5hertfordstreet.co.uk).
Back in the roaring twenties, the port city of Shanghai was dubbed the Paris of the East. Now, it stands decidedly on its own as a capital of the future. Much like Tokyo, this energetic metropolis is a carnival of consumerism. Though it’s growing at a dizzying pace, it is still possible to divvy your visit between the old and the new, both of which have their special charms. Check in at the Kerry Hotel (from $510; shangri-la.com/kerry), home to one of the city’s largest hotel pools and an award-winning spa. Book an ancient Wudang Wushu–inspired massage, influenced by Chinese martial arts. See art from ancient times (Shanghai Museum) and modern (the Rockbund Art Museum); shop in the many boutiques at the renovated Bund waterfront or in the meandering alleys of Tai Kang Lu. Follow the locals to the bustling food stands of the outdoor market on Xiangyang Road, wander the exquisite Ming Dynasty–era Yu Garden, then choose from a myriad of teas at the refined Song Fang Maison de Thé. In the evening, dine at the chic Table No. 1 restaurant in The Waterhouse at South Bund (tableno-1.com), then enjoy after-dinner cocktails at Kartel in Shanghai’s French Concession area. For a break from the urban offerings, take a day trip to Nan Xiang (about 40 minutes by subway from the city center), the birthplace of the famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Sample them at Guyi Garden restaurant, then walk off lunch in the manicured gardens nearby. Or spend a few nights at Naked Stables (from $240; nakedretreats.cn), a serene, ecofriendly retreat in the lush bamboo mountains two and a half hours outside Shanghai. If wedding planning has stretched you to the limit, definitely come here to relax and recharge.
Put Your Toes in the Sand
For those in search of complete beachbound seclusion (no matter what the cost), head directly to Cambodia. Specifically Song Saa Private Island ($1,340 to $1,595, per night; songsaa.com), a stunning, isolated resort that’s part of Cambodia’s Koh Rong archipelago. It’s the country’s first private-island resort, which means that the cerulean waters and white powder sand are pretty much all yours. Song Saa, which, fittingly enough, means sweethearts in Khmer, is actually two adjoining islands connected by a footbridge. Guests of the resort are picked up at the airport in the capital Phnom Penh in a BMW5 or helicopter and whisked off to Sihanoukville (a three-and-a-half-hour drive). There, you’ll board a luxury speedboat for a 40-minute trip to Song Saa, where each of the 27 villas has a private pool and an outdoor and indoor shower (could there be a better antidote to jetlag than an alfresco shower?). Spend your days water-logged—island-hop on a sailboat, kayak in the ocean, or snorkel with the resident marine biologist to spot dugongs, turtles, and seahorses.
As far as beach idylls go, it’s hard to find anything more picture-perfect than St. Lucia. The second largest of the Caribbean’s Windward Islands, St. Lucia is a breathtaking expanse of crystalline blue water set against a backdrop of endless sky and jade-colored mountain peaks. Book a room at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat (from $350; thehotelchocolat.com), nestled between the rainforest and the sea, facing the Twin Piton mountains (each of the luxe rooms features open-sky twin showers so you and your spouse can bathe with a view). Take a “boucaneer” boat ride to explore nearby coral reefs and look for false orcas, pilot whales, and the famous leatherback turtles that inhabit local waters (some say the best time to spot them is between March and August). Snorkle the waters around Anse Cochon or Anse Chastanet, climb the Gros Piton peak to enjoy incredible summit views, or experience nature’s own spa treatment at Sulphur Springs. Most importantly, discover how Hotel Chocolat earned its name with the so-called tree-to-bar experience, where you can make your own chocolate, from cocoa pod to the (crucial) tasting.
While Bogotá has staked its claim as a burgeoning international capital of cool, ardent beachcombers find the country’s generous coastlines a major draw. Start your seaside exploration in the far north on Santa Marta island on the Caribbean coast. Book one of the rustic tropical rooms (think mosquito-netted beds, colorful murals and mosaics, and open-air bathrooms) at Playa Koralia (from $115 per night, per person, meals included; koralia.com), a low-key retreat sandwiched between a serene virgin seashore and lush rainforests. Soak in the Pozos Sagrados, sacred pools known for their therapeutic benefits, go tubing down the nearby Don Diego river, and look for howler monkeys along the way. Hike through the Sierras to the little-known Enchanted Lagoon, and spend time in nearby Tayrona National Park with its immaculate soft-sand beaches. Then head to Cartagena, a fashionable oceanside destination with a Miami-esque feel. Check into the Karmairi Hotel Spa (from $325 per night, honeymoon packages available; karmairi.com), a petite beachfront property outside the walled city (translation: away from the tourist crowds). Spend your days swimming in the sea or lounging poolside, and be sure to book a couple’s spa treatment (particularly one that uses Colombian coffee). You’ve earned it.
Wander the Coast (or Countryside)
With a labyrinth of cave dwellings dating back to the Paleolithic period, picturesque ancient hilltop cities, and stunning stretches of coastline overlooking the Ionian Sea, it feels as if time has stood still in Basilicata. That this region, nestled along the arch of Italy’s boot, is not well known outside the country only adds to its mystique. Director Francis Ford Coppola recently opened his fifth luxury property, Palazzo Margherita (from $530; palazzomargherita.com), in his grandfather’s hometown of Bernalda. The lavishly converted nineteenth-century palace has only nine spacious rooms—one suite features hand-painted frescoes, a clawfoot tub, and a Juliette balcony overlooking the manicured gardens below (it was inspired by Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, who wed at the hotel last year). Or really step back in time at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita ($130 to $885; sextantio.it), where Italo-Swedish hotelier Daniele Kihlgren has transformed actual caves into a rustic, yet elegant, hotel. Stay in Suite 13, which has a sprawling bathroom complete with fireplace and views of the River Gravina. Spend nights sipping local wines in the property’s eerily beautiful deconsecrated church and days strolling the nearby white-sand beaches or countryside. Explore the old and new in Matera, where you can tour the Sassi (eighth-century cave dwellings, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the MUSMA contemporary sculpture museum. Basilicata is also home to the Pollino National Park, Italy’s largest natural park, and the abandoned medieval village of Craco.
While the cities of Lisbon, Porto, and Guimarães (designated 2012’s Capital of Culture by the European Union) have all become big tourist draws, Portugal’s countryside and postcard-perfect Southern coastline are equally destination-worthy. An hour outside Lisbon is the Imani Country House (from $170; imani.pt), a quiet retreat ensconced in the temperate (330 days of sunshine yearly) wine-producing Alentejo region. Learn about the eponymous local varietal (the property boasts its own wine school), lounge by one of the pools, or visit the historical landmarks nearby: the ancient city of Évora, the castle of Monsaraz, and the Almendres Cromlech, a megalithic complex.
With the Atacama Desert in the north, the natural wonders of Patagonia in the south, and the majestic Andes mountains running its length, this sliver of a country that piggybacks Argentina is a mecca for adventure-seekers. Stay at the Refugia Lodge on the Chiloé Archipelago (from $530, all-inclusive; refugia.cl). The hotel opened in September with only a dozen rooms, each with Pacific Ocean views and Jacuzzis. Kayak around the Chauques Islands, hike the rugged coastline or the majestic native forests, and admire the island’s famous centuries-old wooden churches, declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. Meander even further south toward the most remote part of Patagonia, a beautiful region of glaciers, fjords, and snow-capped mountains. The Singular hotel (from $350; thesingular.com) recently opened in an industrial-style building on the shores of the Last Hope Sound. Trek in and around the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park: Explore the centuries-old Milodon Cave, marvel at the granite monoliths of the Paine Towers, and scale the mountain to take in the Grey Glacier and the staggering scenery from the Condor and Salto Grande viewpoints. Then, rejuvenate with a mineral-therapy treatment of indigenous herbs and glacial water at the hotel’s spa.
Though it doesn’t get as much attention as neighboring South Africa, this sparsely-populated southwestern African nation is a place of astonishing beauty. Home to one of the world’s oldest deserts and the largest private nature reserve in southern Africa, Namibia is an enormous expanse of sandy dunes and mountain peaks on the Atlantic Ocean coast with a diverse array of wildlife. Stay at the recently renovated And Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (from $430 per person, all-inclusive; andbeyond.com), a haven located in the NamibRand Nature Reserve near the towering Sossusvlei sand dunes. Each of the reserve’s ten exquisitely designed villas has a private veranda ideal for star-gazing (the night sky here is so legendary that the hotel has a resident astronomer for guests). Spend the days exploring the immense natural landscape: Go on a guided safari drive to see zebras, cheetahs, and leopards; explore the dunes on foot or in an all-terrain vehicle; and book a private scenic flight along the mysterious Skeleton Coast for a bird’s-eye view of the multihued sand dunes. Conclude your desert adventure by visiting the Namibian capital Windhoek. Stay at the Olive Exclusive (from $255; the olive-namibia.com), where each suite is inspired by a region of the country and features a private plunge pool and outdoor daybeds.
While the onset of the revolution early last year brought serious political and economic strife to Egypt, intrepid travelers find that there are still many reasons to visit the North African country. Fly into Cairo to tour the famous Giza pyramids, then make your way to some of the country’s less-traveled regions. Among the draws are the beautiful desert oases in the far west and the palm-lined Nile riverbanks of the serene south, which the locals call Upper Egypt. Check into one of the 138 gorgeously opulent rooms at the Hotel Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan (from $280; sofitel-legend.com). This recently renovated respite opened by the adventurer Thomas Cook in 1899 has long attracted illustrious visitors, such as Dame Agatha Christie (she penned Death on the Nile here), actor Omar Sharif, and Sir Winston Churchill. For an expert tour of ancient ruins, the hotel can arrange overnight trips with an Egyptologist to the temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu. Or head to the Siwa Oasis, a mystical area of salt lakes and jagged-rock formations, famous for being the location of the Oracle of Amon. Book a traditional Siwan room, constructed with salt rock and palms, at Adrère Amellal (from $605; adrereamellal.net), an ecolodge tucked in the base of the White Mountain. There’s plenty to do here: Ride horseback through olive groves, go for a swim in the natural spring-fed pool or Lake Siwa, and visit the Petrified Forest and Great Sand Sea.