Stuck for a special gift for your animal-lover lover? Your art aficionado? Music buff or theater devotee? How about a snow leopard expedition for your adventure seeker? Think about giving the uniquely personal gift that keeps giving: the gift of a travel experience. The holidays is a time of wish fulfillment, so what better gift that tapping into that bucket list. Here are some ideas for the gift of getting away, no matter the time of year:
For the Animal-Lover
Winner: andBeyond Pangolin Adventure
Pangolins are mini (and adorable) dinosaur-like mammals. While not commonly known in the U.S., these native African anteaters are covered in keratin scales, which are highly valuable to poachers, making them the most trafficked mammal in the world. The species used to roam freely in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, but have been locally extinct for decades. andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve has committed to reintroducing the species to the area, and there are already three thriving in their new environment. Conservation-minded travelers can have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with these elusive creatures with andBeyond’s Pangolin Conservation Experience and assist in replacing tags and monitoring behavior. Rates from $3,504 per group (up to six people).
Runner-Up: Nayara’s Sloth Sanctuary
Ever wonder what it would be like to sleep all day? And all night? Of course you have. Humans are naturally lazy. But not as lazy as sloths. The slowest mammal on earth loves to hang around in Cecropia trees. Spot them in the wild at the new Nayara Tented Camp in Costa Rica, which opens December 20. As a part of Nayara’s commitment to reforestation, the acres surrounding the resort are being replanted with thousands of trees, including the Cecropia trees, so that the sloths can continue to thrive. Take a slow, leisurely stroll around the property to see these fabulous animals in in-action. Rates start from $1,200 per night.
For the Art Aficionado
Winner: La Reserve Paris
Mona-who? Been there, done that. The latest must-see at the Louvre celebrates much more than the Instagram overloaded Mona Lisa. Open through February 24, the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition honors the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance man’s death. Though almost sold out, guests of La Réserve Paris can skip the line by booking the Leonardo da Vinci package, including two VIP fast-track tickets to the exhibition and da Vinci inspired cocktails at Le Bar. Package rates start at $1,330.
Runner-Up: Belmond La Residencia
It’s P-art-y time in Mallorca! Deia, the hillside village on the island’s northwest coast, is an artsy town welcoming painters, sculptors and writers for inspiration. Among Mallorca’s most famous former residents is Joan Miró, and Belmond La Residencia is home to the largest exhibition of his paintings in a hotel anywhere in the world. Thirty-three of his original artworks will be on display in Café Miró, the hotel’s bistro, until September 2020. The hotel lawn is also one of Spain’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, and it features Tete (1975), a Miró bronze head. After taking in the art, enjoy Belmond La Residencia’s “Tea with Miró,” which is inspired by the artist’s signature use of bold colors and abstract line drawings. The tea is served on an exclusive tea set made of La Cartujade Sevilla porcelain with a design based on Miró’s 1952 work, Sans titre. The setwill be available for purchase in the on-site boutique. Rates start at $470 per night.
Fore! The Golfer
Winner: Belmond Royal Scotsman
Hit the links with Belmond Royal Scotsman as the train travels through the heart of the Highlands from tee time to tee time. Golf enthusiasts can customize the two- to seven-night journeys by adding rounds at Scotland’s renowned courses such as Gleneagles, Royal Donorch Golf Club, Castle Stuart Golf Links and Kingbarns Golf Links. A veritable ‘country house on wheels,’ the Royal Scotsman will also make stops at local distilleries including Strathisla Distillery, the oldest working distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Journeys start at $3,158 per person for the two-night Taste of the Highlands itinerary.
Enjoy a golf experience fit for a king at Ireland’s Dromoland Castle. Set on a 450-acre estate, the 15-century castle’s parkland course is the perfect place to hone golf skills. Take a lesson at The Academy, the on-site golf school helmed by a resident PGA pro. What’s more, Dromoland can coordinate private transfers and tee times at Ireland’s famed links courses, including nearby Lahinch, Ballybunion, Tralee and the new Adare Manor. Rates start at $355 per night.
For the Adventure Seeker
Winner: andBeyond Snow Leopard Expedition
Known as ‘Little Tibet’ or the ‘Roof of the World’, the mountainous region of Ladakh is situated on the northern border of India and is home to the snow-capped Himalayas, cobalt lakes and an abundance of wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard. The species, listed as ‘vulnerable’ and rare to find, lives in this high-altitude cold desert environment and can be seen during winter months. Conservation-minded, experiential safari outfitter andBeyond offers travelers the opportunity to explore this wilderness with the region’s most experienced guides, offering the rare opportunity to meet a snow leopard, if luck strikes. The 12-day Snow Leopard Expedition sets off in small group set-departures in January, February and March 2020. Rates start from $6,891 per person, including a $200 donation to the Snow Leopard Conservancy.
Runner-Up: Ponant Emblematic Antarctica Cruise
Journey to the ends of the earth, but make it luxury. Swap icicles in your eyelashes for a champagne toast on an Antarctic iceberg with Ponant, the leader in polar cruising. Each trip to the southernmost continent challenges adventure seekers with the trip through the Drake Passage – the 600-mile stretch of ocean between South America and the Antarctic peninsula that boasts some of the roughest seas in the world. Keep an ear out as the captain will often stop and redirect the ship to point out passing whales, Gentoo and Adelie penguins, and crabeater seals. Once in Antarctica, expedition guides and naturalists will lead daily Zodiac excursions with visits to research stations and former whaling stations. Rates start from $13,310 per person for the 11-day / 10-night Emblematic Antarctica journey.
For the Theater Goer
Winner: Chatwal, New York
Do you like your theater with a little side of murder mystery? If so, you’ve come to the right place – The Chatwal, New York. Designed in 1905 by iconic American architect Stanford White – who was famously killed by his mistress’s husband atop Madison Square Garden – The Chatwal was once home to the prestigious Lambs, America’s first professional theatrical club. The Chatwal continues to play homage to its history as the epicenter of Broadway. A dedicated theater concierge can offer access to the most sought-after shows; and guests can enjoy a pre-theater dinner at Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club at The Chatwal. Rates start at $595 per night based on double occupancy.
Theater buffs visiting The Westbury in Dublin can explore the history of Ireland’s stage with the complimentary Theatre Walking Tour every Thursday morning. The 90-minute stroll begins in the vibrant Georgian Quarter and brings guests to key sites around the city, including a behind-the-scenes look at the famed Abbey Theatre, which has nurtured the talents of Irish playwrights like William Butler Yeats. The tour also includes a lesson on ancient Irish storytelling at the Setanta Wall, and a look at the drama-inspired artwork within the National Gallery. Rates start at $277 per night.
For the Movie Buff
The 25th James Bond movie, which will mark Daniel Craig’s final appearance as 007, is heading back to Jamaica. In celebration of the April 2020 release, movie buffs can retrace the island life of Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming. The author was a former British intelligence officer and discovered Jamaica during a WWII mission in 1942. Four years later, he purchased 15 acres of under-developed tropical land and named it GoldenEye to pay homage to his naval operation that first brought him to the island. He resided at GoldenEye every January and February for more than two decades and wrote a new Bond novel each winter for a total of 14 books. His beachfront bungalow, which is now called The Fleming Villa with five bedrooms, is part of the 52-acre GoldenEye resort. Fleming’s writing desk and sunken garden where he would entertain the likes of Noël Coward and Katherine Hepburn are available for guests to enjoy. Rates start at $6,365 per night.
Runner-Up: Park Hyatt Tokyo
Guests of Park Hyatt Tokyo can channel Bill Murray while sipping on a whisky flight in the hotel’s 52nd floor New York Bar. Famed as the location of Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, the bar’s signature L.I.T cocktail with Japanese sake and peach liqueur can be enjoyed to the soundtrack of live jazz while overlooking the sparkling city skyline. Rates start at $600 per night.
For the Romantic Beach Bum
Winner: Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
“Love Island” – not just a reality show, but something that could actually be your reality. Give the gift of an ultimate couples’ vacation in the Maldives. When it debuted in July, Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi became the first luxury resort to open near the capital of Malé in the last decade. The journey to tranquility begins with a yacht ride from the airport to the resort. The 122 accommodations include 39 beach villas, each of which features a swimming pool and a private alcove on the beach with an outdoor hammock and two sunbeds. Surround yourself with sand and surf on a nearby sandbar, available for a wine pairing dinner or a yoga class. Rates start at $1,700 per night.
Runner-Up: Belmond Cap Juluca
Set on the white sands of Anguilla’s Maundays Bay, known as one of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, each room at Belmond Cap Juluca has its own private slice of sand complete with a dedicated beach butler. Guests of the newly renovated property can soak in the Caribbean sun and sway to live calypso and reggae at the Cap Shack, a laid-back beach bar with a vintage ’80s food truck serving up everything from fish tacos to rum punches and poke bowls. Rates start from $725 per night.
For the #InstagramFamous Friend
Winner: Dalloway Terrace
Off to Europe for the festive season? Why not hit two countries in one – visitors to The Bloomsbury in London will be treated to a Merry Swissmas celebration. The hotel’s heated, al fresco restaurant, Dalloway Terrace, has launched a collaboration with the alpine resort town of Gstaad. Stroll from Regent’s Park into snow-dusted pine garlands and frosty foliage. Gstaad’s Swiss traditions overwhelm the terrace, with bespoke “Scherenschnitte” (Swiss paper cuttings) on display around the restaurant. Guests can warm up with Foxford woolen blankets and warming cocktails like an alpine toddy – a hot toddy with a chamomile twist. Cocktails are delivered to the table with a Retro Viewer that allows guests to gaze upon the picturesque mountains of Gstaad between sips. Afternoon tea starts at $50 per person.
Runner-Up: Almanac Rooftop
360-degree views of Barcelona, check. Instagrammable décor, check. Craft cocktails, check. Almanac Barcelona’s Azimuth rooftop bar is open year-round, beckoning guests with its coral-hued, cocoon-like lounges and cozy blankets during the mild winter months. The city is known for its gin and tonics, with the clear liquid and fizzy bubbles the perfect accessory for an Instagrammable rooftop view. Almanac’s signature ‘Dealer’s Choice’ cocktail is elevated with dry sherry from Jerez, grapefruit bitters and artisanal tonic water. Rates start from $287 per night.
For the Foodie Focused
Winner: Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum in Napa
Give the gift of the CIA. No, not that CIA – the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa Valley is the perfect place for travelers to the region to become immersed in the local food culture, with daily cooking classes and tastings from local wineries. Newly opened at the CIA, the Chuck Williams Culinary Art Museum features the 4,000-piece personal culinary collection – including rare special cookware, bread baking and culinary tools, appliances, and tableware – of the Williams-Sonoma founder. Admission to the museum is free. Class and tasting pricing varies with rates starting at $30.
Runner-Up: Shou Sugi Ban House
Get a taste for the flavors that put Noma in Copenhagen on the map! Chef Mads Refslund, formerly of the world’s best restaurant, now directs the food and beverage program at wabi sabi-inspired wellness retreat and destination spa Shou Sugi Ban House in the Hamptons. The plant-based menu is inspired by Nordic, Japanese and New England cuisines. Located in Water Mill, New York, adjacent to the Parrish Art Museum, the 13-room property incorporates many forms of wellness in its multi-day retreats, which include spa and healing arts treatments, workshops, meditation and movement. Rates start at $550 per person.
P.S. Don’t forget the most important carry-on items when traveling: chocolate and a face mask. La Maison du Chocolat’s Bars Unhinged ($14) are the perfect plane-size snack (think mini deconstructed chocolate bars). Guinot’s Newhite Instant Brightening Mask ($77, set of seven) is a travel-size sheet mask that removes those post-flight dark circles and creates a glow in 10 quick minutes.
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