Robb Report Australia

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The top 21 places to travel in 2018

Every year, Robb Report circles the globe to uncover the up-and-coming destinations that will make for a year of amazing travel. This year will be one for the books, with new over-the-top adventures from Iceland to Antarctica, spectacular hotel openings from Cambodia to Napa Valley, and must-see events from Buenos Aires to South Korea. Whether your wanderlust has you craving a new city experience, a stunning island escape, or a safari getaway unlike any other, these 21 destinations are sure to keep you travelling in style all year long.

Napa Valley

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It may sound foolish to call Napa Valley lucky. The revered wine country seemed anything but in October, when wildfires ravaged more than 200,000 acres in Northern California, claiming thousands of homes and dozens of lives. But when the flames were finally doused and the smoke at last cleared, the valley floor, as if by some divine intervention, remained virtually untouched. Though surrounded by seared slopes and scorched trees, Napa itself — along with its scenic vineyards and glamorous resorts — appeared, however implausibly, as picturesque as ever.

Luck aside, Napa Valley has the resilience of its dedicated citizens and first responders to thank for its good fortune. A passionate committee of leaders, vintners, and luminaries, including everyone from chef Thomas Keller to designer Ken Fulk, banded together to support the people and places affected by the fires. Now the illustrious valley has but one message for the world: We’re back — and with a host of new reasons to visit.

On the culinary front, the talk of the valley is, not surprisingly, Thomas Keller, whose Michelin three-star French Laundry recently debuted a sleek revamp by the Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta. But there are plenty of new arrivals demanding attention too, from Christopher Kostow’s elevated-casual Charter Oak to Chris Cosentino’s refined Acacia House. Adding to the momentum is Harlan, whose elegant new Promontory is the revered wine-making family’s first endeavor to offer public tastings.

Hot hotel happenings are in abundance as well. Las Alcobas Napa Valley, a Luxury Collection Hotel, is the brightest new spot in the valley, with 68 spacious oak-filled guest rooms and suites (all with private terraces). Yountville’s Vintage House is basking in the glow of a recent renovation that brings a French-country-house vibe to its 80 bungalow-style rooms. The notable debuts will continue into this year, with Four Seasons Resort and Private Residences Napa Valley unveiling 20 homes — and eventually a neighboring hotel — among the vineyards of Calistoga’s Silverado Trail.

Buenos Aires

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Move over Miami — the Americas have a new art-world darling. This year, Buenos Aires is claiming the cultural spotlight as the first host of Art Basel Cities, a new global initiative from the giants behind the world’s biggest art fairs that will spotlight the Argentinean capital’s local arts scenes.

The multiyear partnership kicked off in November with the launch of the Art Basel Cities House, a venue set among the galleries and cafés of the chic Retiro district that will host events and workshops throughout 2018. The art cognoscenti are already marking their calendars for September, when Art Basel Cities will host a weeklong program directed by curator Cecilia Alemani of High Line Art in New York. The event will highlight more than 80 galleries across Buenos Aires, as well as emerging art and design districts like La Boca and Barracas.

Adding to the events are expansion projects throughout the city, the largest of which is a US$200 ($A251) million port improvement that aims to turn Buenos Aires into South America’s premier cruising hub. Next door, Puerto Madero is gentrifying with the Alvear Icon, a slick new hotel created by the owners of the city’s grande dame, Alvear Palace. And in Barrio Norte, the new 113-room MGallery by Sofitel is opening this summer between two 18th-century structures, embodying the city’s heady mix of old and new.

Lake Lucerne

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Something big has been brewing above Lake Lucerne. Nine years and more than US$500 ($A628) million in the making, Bürgenstock Resort — the historic Swiss hideaway that once lured the likes of Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn — has been reborn as a sprawling lakefront complex unlike anything Europe has ever seen. This spring, a grand event will celebrate the full-scale opening of the 148-acre project, which comprises four hotels, 12 restaurants and bars, a nine-hole golf course, private residences, and a state-of-the-art wellness center.

Among the options at Bürgenstock are the 19th-century Palace Hotel, which has been restored and renovated to its former glory; the gleaming Bürgenstock Hotel, whose 102 contemporary rooms and suites are dressed in Arana marble and American walnut; and the just-opened Waldhotel, which features one of Switzerland’s most comprehensive medical spas, with wide-ranging programs that span from preventive medicine to post-op recovery. For active types, Bürgenstock also offers championship tennis courts, a curling rink, seven helipads, a private lido, and 70 km of hiking and biking trails.

St. Barts

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St. Barts was shaping up to have a landmark 2017. New hotels were opening up left and right, giving long-established favorites like Eden Rock and Isle de France some friendly competition. The St. Barth Gourmet Festival was preparing for another impressive year, with an all-star chef lineup that would be presided over by Paris’s Eric Frechon. And next-generation restaurants like Guy Martin’s Aux Amis and Saint-Tropez offshoot Shellona were breathing new life into the island’s culinary scene. Then Irma happened. The Category 5 hurricane made landfall on the French Caribbean isle last September, wreaking havoc on its most beloved haunts and hideaways.

But St. Barts is banking on a victorious comeback in 2018. With most shops and restaurants already open for business and many of the top villa rentals currently taking reservations, the island’s glitzy nautical events — including March’s Bucket Regatta and April’s Les Voiles de Saint Barth — will go on as planned. Colombier newcomer Villa Marie Saint-Barth and Hotel Christoper St. Barth will reopen their doors in time for both events. More progress will come this summer, when Grand Cul-de-Sac’s Le Guanahani will unveil an upgraded look. The biggest openings, however, will come at the end of the year, when Hotel Le Toiny relaunches with eight new villas (each with its own private pool) and the hilltop Hôtel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf makes its highly anticipated debut with an outpost of France’s Le Fouquet’s restaurant and a Biologique Recherche spa. In true St. Barts style, every opening is sure to be a fashionable fête.

Antarctica

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Don’t fear the Drake Passage. The notorious stretch of sea that lies between the tip of South America and Antarctica is as legendary as it is mercurial — treacherous one day, smooth as glass the next — but a necessary evil for those who wish to see the Southern Continent. This year, however, new ships are taking travellers across the Drake in so much style, a little tussle with the waves might just go unnoticed.

Taking Antarctic adventures to new heights — and depths — is the 200-passenger Scenic Eclipse, which will debut in August with two helicopters, a seven-passenger submarine, and 12 custom Zodiacs for polar exploration, as well as onboard luxuries like a spa, an indoor swimming pool, and butler service. Meanwhile, Silversea’s new Silver Cloud Expedition is making waves of its own with a 1-to-1 crew-to-passenger ratio and a Relais & Châteaux restaurant. Also launching this year are French cruise line Ponant’s first two ice-class Explorers ships, Le Champlain and Le Laperouse, both of which will feature underwater lounges that immerse passengers in the views — and sounds — of the surrounding waters.

For those who wish to bypass the Drake altogether, a pair of new private-jet journeys is bringing travelers to the seventh continent by way of the sky. Naya Traveller’s high-flying adventure takes guests on an 8-day itinerary that includes stops in the South Pole and the emperor-penguin-filled Atka Bay, and overnight accommodations in luxe igloos. And for a quickie touchdown amid the White Desert, book Natural World Safaris’ One Day Antarctica Adventure charter, which jets travellers in for 8 hours of exploration among the continent’s epic landscapes.

Cambodia

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No visit to Cambodia would be complete without a trip to Angkor Wat, but this year you’ll want to venture farther into the country than ever before, from its remote rain forests to its isolated islands. The Koh Rong archipelago has earned its Cambodian Riviera nickname for its recent influx of luxury beach resorts, the newest of which are the Six Senses Krabey Island — a 40-villa retreat set to debut in August on a 30-acre private isle — and Alila Villas Koh Russey, opening later this year with 50 pavilions and 13 private residences. On the mainland, Cardamom National Park will be the rain-forest home of hospitality designer extraordinaire Bill Bensley’s Shinta Mani Wild, an ambitious and utterly over-the-top safari-style camp with 16 tents implausibly perched over a kilometre-long stretch of river and waterfalls. There’s news in the cities, too: Rosewood Phnom Penh will debut early this year in a glistening tower above the Mekong River, and for a luxurious option on your Angkor Wat stop, Bensley’s new Shinta Mani Angkor features 10 villas, each with its own private pool and garden.

New Orleans

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The Big Easy is turning 300 this year, and it’s celebrating in appropriately big style. The Southern Creole city — which was founded in 1718 by the French-Canadian explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville — will honour its Tricentennial with a year’s worth of events, openings, and citywide improvements, from a much-needed makeover of Bourbon Street and a US$100 ($A125) million riverfront revitalisation to the debut of the Sazerac House, a museum devoted entirely to the locally revered cocktail.

Celebrate by checking into the recently reopened Pontchartrain Hotel, the Garden District’s circa-1927 grande dame that has been reborn as an elegant blend of old NOLA and new luxury with restored Charles Reinike murals and antique furnishings. The local culinary scene is heating up, too, with Top Chef Nina Compton’s Caribbean-eclectic Compère Lapin and James Beard Award finalist Isaac Toups’s Cajun-fusion Toups South leading a smart revival in elevated dining. And keeping the tricentennial party going well into the future are two major developments: The Louis Armstrong International Airport’s US$917 million ($A1.15 billion) César Pelli–designed terminal and, across town, a Four Seasons hotel and residences that will revitalise the city’s former World Trade Center complex.

Rwanda

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Until recently, Rwanda wasn’t on many must-see safari lists. But this year, the beautiful country with a heartbreaking past is bursting onto the African travel scene with a trio of new luxury lodges — the first of which is Wilderness’s innovative Bisate Lodge — and a fresh approach to the safari experience.

Mexico City

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This year, Mexico City becomes the first destination in the Americas to be named the World Design Capital. The honor is not to be taken lightly: The yearlong event will not only draw world-class exhibitions and innovators, but will also cement the Mexican capital’s standing as a mecca for the arts.

The 2018 program will focus on socially responsible design, with an emphasis on creating more livable, international cities. Utterly international — if not always livable — Mexico City has given the design faithful plenty to hold dear in the last few years, with contemporary museums like the avant-garde Museo Jumex and fairs like Zona Maco adding to the long-revered local scene established by such institutions as Casa Luis Barragán and Casa Azul. Design is also part of the package at hotels like Las Alcobas Mexico City — a Yabu Pushelberg creation that will debut a host of renovations later this year — and Hotel Habita (hotelhabita.com), a sleek boutique in upscale Polanco. Even the culinary scene comes with a touch of the inventive, whether it’s “living mole” at Enrique Olvera’s recent revival of Pujol or mezcal cocktails topped with ants at Fifty Mils, the new speakeasy-style bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City.

South Korea

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South Korea may not be the Korea on your mind these days — but it should be. Next month, the country will claim the world spotlight as the host of the 23rd Olympic Winter Games. In preparation, the sleepy northern ski town of Pyeongchang has reinvented itself, spending US$10 ($A12.5) billion on futuristic new sporting venues and sleek hotels, including the 238-room InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort and the nearby Richard Meier–designed Seamarq. A new high-speed rail line linking the mountain retreat tothe capital city of Seoul in less than an hour is also making it easy to access the games with a side of après-culture. But the reasons to visit South Korea won’t end with the last medal ceremony: This year also marks the debut of Jeju Shinhwa World, an expansive resort development on idyllic Jeju Island that will eventually be home to luxury residences, entertainment venues, and a new Four Seasons resort.

Shanghai

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Is there ever a quiet moment in Shanghai? China’s fabulously frenetic metropolis seems to be in a perpetual state of advancement, and this year it’s firing on all cylinders. From the leafy boulevards of the French Concession to the towering skyscrapers of Pudong, it seems every corner of this captivating city has something new for travellers.

Iceland

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You may know Iceland best for its volcanoes, glaciers, and geysers, but this year the country is cultivating a more cosmopolitan side. No longer a mere pit stop en route to the sky-dancing Northern Lights or brooding ice caves, Reykjavík is becoming an attraction in its own right.

Visitors to the Icelandic capital can choose from sleek new properties including the Sandhotel — a 52-room boutique with an eclectic style that fits somewhere between Scandinavian cool, Danish hygge, and Art Deco chic — and the exclusive Tower Suites, a collection of eight high-design accommodations decorated with furnishings by Tom Dixon, Fritz Hansen, and Moooi. Later this year, the Reykjavik Edition will debut, claiming a coveted location next to the sparkling glass Harpa Concert Hall.

A craft-cocktail scene has also taken hold in Reykjavík, with establishments like Apotek and Loftið leading a spirited revolution. And come spring, the forefather of New Nordic cuisine, René Redzepi, will open a pop-up of his legendary Noma in the city.

Of course, Iceland remains first and foremost the Land of Ice and Fire, and new offerings among the country’s many natural wonders are elevating the great outdoors as well. Set to open in April, the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland will bring an upscale experience to the well-known geothermal hot springs of Grindavík, with 62 modern suites and a subterranean spa. Most intriguing of all is the exclusive-use Eldar Lodge, a hidden-away gem nestled among the geysers of south Iceland, featuring six suites, a private chef, a wine cellar, a helipad, and two geothermal baths.

Toronto

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Canada was the talk of the travel scene last year, when the country honored its 150th anniversary with 365 days of celebrations from coast to coast. But in Toronto, the party is just getting started. This spring, the Ontario capital’s well-established cultural scene will expand anew with the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto Canada, a 5,100-square-metre institution set within a long-abandoned industrial building in the burgeoning Junction Triangle. Phase one of the city’s ambitious Bentway — an urban-park project combining art and exhibition space across seven neighborhoods — is also slated for completion this year. And come September, when T-Dot is flooded with celebs and cinephiles for the annual Toronto International Film Festival, three new hotels will be open for business: the 44-story Bisha Hotel, with its glamorous design and rooftop pool; the sprawling Hotel X (hotelxtoronto.com), an “urban resort” leading downtown’s lakefront expansion; and the Kimpton Hotel Toronto, set in the heart of upscale Yorkville.

Hamburg

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Forget about edgy Berlin and beer-loving Munich — Hamburg is the German city to see in 2018. For evidence that this northern port city is on the rise, look no further than the Elbphilharmonie, the striking Herzog & de Meuron–designed concert hall that opened last year on the Elbe River. After countless delays and controversial budget increases, the sail-shaped venue is finally making good on its promise to put Hamburg on Europe’s modern cultural map, presenting dozens of sold-out performances in the months since it opened.

But the Elphi, as locals refer to it, isn’t Hamburg’s only modern marvel. The late Zaha Hadid designed the city’s newly completed River Promenade, a rippling walkway that winds along the Elbe, connecting many of the city’s restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. Just north along the sparkling Alster Lake, the Fontenay Hamburg — scheduled to open this month—is being heralded as Germany’s most anticipated hotel debut in recent memory, for both its spellbinding architecture and its top-notch amenities, including a 1,000-square-metre La Mer spa and a restaurant by the Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Speinle. Also new to the hotel scene, the Sir Nikolai opened in June, bringing a stylish vibe of its own — think bohemian chandeliers and Art Deco bar carts — to one of the city’s oldest canals.

Valletta

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Though it looks more like a Game of Thrones setting than a modern cultural hub, Valletta is Europe’s of-the-moment destination for 2018. The Maltese capital — whose winding 16th-century streets have indeed served as the backdrop for several of the HBO series’s scenes — has been named the European Capital of Culture 2018. The smallest city yet to earn the distinction, Valletta is no doubt deserving: The UNESCO World Heritage site is a seamless combination of old and new, its baroque churches and Renaissance piazzas balanced by modern masterpieces like Renzo Piano’s Valletta City Gate and the soon-to-open MUŻA museum.

The city, along with select locations throughout Malta, will host more than 140 projects and 400 events over the next 12 months, including February’s Carnival, April’s Design and Technology Expo, and June’s Valletta Film Festival and Malta International Arts Festival.

Making way for the influx of visitors this year are a number of new high-design hotels, the most impressive of which is the historic Phoenicia, which reopened last year after a renovation by hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray. Elsewhere, the city’s baroque mansions are being converted into stylish boutique properties, including the eight-suite Casa Ellul and the ornate Palazzo Consiglia. Not to be outdone, Valletta’s longstanding luxury stalwart the Corinthia Palace Hotel recently unveiled a collection of new Signature Suites with private terraces overlooking the city.

Israel

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Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have long been considered Israel’s two poles: The former is embedded in its past, while the latter is hurtling toward its future. For 2018, however, the country’s major cities are trading places.

In Jerusalem, new hotels and emerging events are encouraging a savvy breed of pilgrims to look beyond its sacred sites. Just steps from HaTachana — a former railway turned trendy shopping and dining space — the new Orient Jerusalem is offering a chic boutique alternative to the city’s staid luxury hotels. Nearby, an Ottoman-era villa has been converted into Villa Brown, another fashionable property with its finger on the city’s modern pulse. That pulse will be racing in June, when the annual Jerusalem Design Week brings some of the world’s top creatives to the City of David.

In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, the city’s contemporary streak is taking a retro turn. In the revitalised port neighborhood of Jaffa, the new W Tel Aviv – Jaffa (starwoodhotels.com) will soon open within a former 19th-century convent and hospital. Nearby, the Setai Tel Aviv has claimed its own ancient abode in a carefully restored 13th-century structure set along the rugged Jaffa coast. Farther north, Dizengoff Square is getting the throwback treatment as well, with a meticulous restoration that will bring the Bauhaus landmark back to its beginnings as the city’s social hub.

Botswana

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Botswana’s abundant wildlife, private reserves, and stable political system have helped make the southern African country an eminently popular — and excessively expensive — safari destination. Now, new lodgings are bringing the country’s level of accommodation up to that of the on-the-ground experience, leaving no doubt that Botswana is Africa’s safari spot to beat.

Leading the charge is Great Plains Conservation’s Duba Plains, where a five-suite camp and an elegant two-bedroom residence opened last spring in a 77,000-acre private reserve rich with lions, Cape buffalo, and elephants. Luxury adventure at its best, the Okavango Delta escape complements Great Plains’ Zarafa, a five-suite retreat in the Selinda Reserve whose 2008 debut helped set Botswana on its upward spiral of exclusivity.

Another standard-bearer in southern Africa, Wilderness Safaris opened the eight-suite Qorokwe camp in the southeastern Okavango Delta in December. The company is also in the process of renovating its Mombo and Little Mombo camps — once considered Botswana’s definitive safari lodges — and reopening them in March in a prime location in the Okavango’s Moremi Game Reserve. Elsewhere in the Okavango, the outfitter andBeyond reopened its Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp last June, Belmond renovated its renowned Eagle Island Lodge, and Sanctuary Retreats reopened its Sanctuary Chief’s Camp with the new 620-square-metres — and as much as US$12,000 ($A15,070)-per-night—Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite.

Newport

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The 13th Volvo Ocean Race will crisscross four oceans, six continents, and 83,340 kilometre before it reaches its final destination in the Hague this June. But the legendary around-the-world sailing competition will make only one North American stop, and that’s in the sailing mecca of Newport, R.I. For 2 weeks in May, the tony New England town will become ground zero for the seafaring extravaganza, playing host to the end of leg eight (a 10,556-kilometre journey originating in Itajaí, Brazil) and the beginning of leg nine (a transatlantic stretch culminating in Cardiff, Wales). In between, visitors to Newport’s race village can watch in-port practice sprints between the world’s most skilled sailors. For the best port views, stay at the new Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina on Goat Island, just opposite the race village.

St. Kitts

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The buzz around St. Kitts’s Christophe Harbour has waxed and waned for years. The 2,500-acre development has been promising since 2014 to turn its West Indies home into the Caribbean’s newest hot spot. That finally might happen this year, as the harbor at last reaches a critical mass thanks to recent debuts including a marina village and the Park Hyatt St. Kitts. The former is home to 25 berths (including a handful that can accommodate superyachts up to 76 metres), as well as new boutiques, galleries, and a beachside bar. The latter, which opened in November on a golden stretch of Banana Bay, brings to the island the Caribbean’s first Miraval Life in Balance Spa. There’s more to come this year, with a Tom Fazio–designed golf course, dozens of million-dollar villas and residences, and the 1,020-square-metres Customs House (a VIP port of entry for the yachting crowd that will include a fitness centre, lounge, and marina operations post), all ensuring that the St. Kitts buzz swells well into 2019.

Marrakech

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Marrakech doesn’t need a Bilbao effect — but it might get one anyway. The Moroccan city, which was already a hit for its enchanting medina and colorful Jardin Majorelle, welcomed in October the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, a 3,995-square-metre museum devoted entirely to the work of the fashion icon for whom it’s named. Located just a few steps from the Majorelle — Saint Laurent’s former estate that recently renovated its Berber Museum and Villa Oasis (the residence he shared with his partner in life and business, Pierre Bergé) — the ochre-coloured institution showcases thousands of sketches and couture designs. The new museum is sure to send the fashion set flocking to Marrakech, where they will have no shortage of places to stay, including the new Oberoi, Marrakech, slated for a spring debut, and the forthcoming Grace Marrakech.

Russia

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Current events aside, Russia is rife with reasons for a visit this year. As host of both the 2018 FIFA World Cup and an annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, the nation is working hard to remind travellers of the intrigue and appeal that lie beyond the heated headlines.

“Russia has been investing heavily in tourism, infrastructure, and renovations, spending a lot of time and money to get it ready for visitors,” says Jaclyn Sienna India, founder of the luxury outfitter Sienna Charles, which offers bespoke trips to the country. For U.S. travellers attending the World Cup, India notes that Russia’s typically involved entry process will become markedly easier — the country is waiving its visa requirements for attendees of the sporting event who visit between June 14 and July 15. Beyond that, booking with an in-the-know expert who has on-the-ground connections is imperative. Sienna Charles can organise such VIP experiences as after-hours museum and gallery tours, dinners in private palaces, exclusive visits to traditional bathhouses, and, of course, tickets to this year’s sporting events.

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