The World’s 19 Top Luxury Beach Destinations in 2016
Likely at the top of every culture seeker’s it-list, Cuba’s hotter than ever because of the loosening of travel constraints. And ironically it is not the lifting of these travel constraints that encouraged travelers to visit, but it is the impetus for them to rush there before the rest of the world invades. Not to worry, as Cuba will not replace other Caribbean islands any time soon, but rather join cultural destinations in Colombia and Peru.
Vietnam and the Mekong River
Vietnam has finally come of age with a new crop of luxury hotels that have opened up this region to the luxury traveler. The introduction of the over-the-top boutique Aqua Expeditions Mekong ship sails through the rural countryside of Vietnam and Cambodia for an up-close look of life in Southeast Asia virtually untouched by outside influences. This, combined with new hotels like Amanoi, the refreshed Park Hyatt Saigon, the legendary Metropole in Hanoi, and other notable resorts like the Nam Hai, make Vietnam both a cultural and a resort destination of choice in Asia.
Like with Cuba, visitors are clamoring for access to Myanmar (Burma) to witness this incredible destination before it is altered by modernity. Ships like the fabulous Belmond Orcaella or the Road to Mandalay can still whisk you to magical places like Bagan and to unmarked villages along the Irrawaddy River where souvenir shops don’t exist. Guests stop in rural, remote areas peppered with exotic golden pagodas and warm, wonderful people who rarely see western tourists.
This fascinating (and close!) frontier has recently opened up with new uber-luxe outfitters like Luxury Adventures and Luxe Iceland that can sweep you over an active volcano by helicopter in the morning then drive you via 4x4 to an extraterrestrial moonscape for a picnic lunch served on the very best china, ending the day in the sparkling Blue Lagoon. Cool new boutique lodges like the Ion and the Hotel Borg now cater to upscale adventure enthusiasts who don’t want to sacrifice their marble bathrooms or hot stone massages for unique experiences.
Luxury goes exploring as the Galapagos welcomes the first true luxury options ever to grace the islands where Darwin realized his theory of evolution. Pikaia Lodge promises African-style luxury with haute cuisine, stunning accommodations and daily “game” experiences by land or by sea on one of their private luxury yachts. Guests can choose to be more active by hiking volcanoes and mountain biking or more explore passively by observing wildlife from the comfort of a Zodiac. Meanwhile, for traditionalists, Silversea opens up a new era in luxury cruising along these heavily regulated islands, with its new expedition ship that fuses the creature comforts of Silversea Cruises with the academic insight and sense of adventure of a classic expedition ship.
This Swedish city is the new Capital of Cool. With a bustling art scene, virtually unlimited nightlife, and restaurants that have foodies crossing the channel to sample, Stockholm is totally in the now. And while the Grand Hôtel stands stately as ever, a slew of new luxury hotels has opened to welcome luxe party enthusiasts, notably the Et Hem, the Lydmar Hotel and the Nobis Hotel. And while art and architecture dominate this once traditional city, luxury explorers are apt to journey further afield to places like the fabulous Treehotel in Lule River Valley (by the Arctic Circle) or even the famous Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi.
Inspired by Frozen, new luxury outfitters, acclaimed restaurants, and avant-garde haunts, Norway is going prime time. Luxury cruises do the fjords well and of course Adventures by Disney has staked its claim with an amazing Frozen-inspired exploration through Norway that usually sells out the day it opens for sale. Companies like Norwegian Adventures compensate for the country’s lack of remote luxury lodges. Think tricked-out tents with heating, feather down comforters, and full working bathrooms, gourmet chefs, and of course a personal masseuse -- in the middle of the epic Northern wilderness.
Colombia is happening, and you will find Cartagena to be one of the cleanest, chicest, freshest, and most fun cities you have ever been to. Shops buzz like New York’s Soho circa 1990, with local designers and artists delivering anything from accessories to contour dresses you just can’t resist (and just won’t find anywhere else). Restaurants are fun and fabulous while nightlife rocks until dawn. It’s no wonder the likes of Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons are flocking here to join the already stately Sofitel Santa Clara and a host of other memorable riad-style boutique properties like the Tscherassi, brainchild of native designer Silvia Tscherassi.
A new crop of boutique luxury lodges is opening up Australia to luxe exploration like we've seen in Africa and New Zealand. Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania will blow you away with its striking manta ray design set amidst dramatic mountain scenery. Meanwhile, it doesn’t get better than Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, where a daily ritual includes having breakfast with a family of kangaroos. The newly refreshed Lizard Island just emerged from a $100 million renovation as did the One&Only Hayman Island, both perfect basecamps from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Back in Sydney, the newly refashioned Park Hyatt Sydney is the choicest place to stay in town, with postcard-perfect views on the Sydney Opera House, harbor, and famous bridge. Even the tourist Gold Coast gets a makeover with the fabulous new Halcyon House Hotel just outside the commercial bustle with a whimsical, homey feeling of staying by a friend’s coastal villa. It is the new Australia and it is hot!
This is not your hedonist’s escape any more. Ibiza has matured, and with new restaurants like Cipriani and upscale hotels like Destino Pacha Ibiza, this classic Spanish resort is ready for its new close-up. Luxury revelers can choose from a $18,000/night private island resort just five minutes from the party scene or one of many serviced luxury villas. Bottles of Crystal go for $10,000/a pop at prime VIP tables overlooking the world’s best DJs. Trendy beach clubs rival Saint-Tropez’s best while mega-yachts horde slips by the dozen. There is no question that Ibiza is hot, hot, hot!
The beach towns of Puglia, situated in the boot of the Italian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea, have been Italian favorites for centuries. Now, Americans looking for a relaxing and authentic Italian coastal experience are getting wise to this largely undiscovered region. New luxury resorts like Borgo Egnazia deliver contemporary creature comforts (and attract uber-cool events like the wedding of Justin Timberlake) amidst ancient port towns and traditional trattorias serving simply perfect seafood and other local specialties.
This hot area is really maturing. In Montenegro, exciting additions include the jewel-like Aman Sveti Stefan, the new Regent at the sparkling, just opened Porto Montenegro, and the much-anticipated One&Only Portonovi. In Croatia, Hvar’s nightlife and beach clubs continue to draw an upscale international crowd while Dubrovnik’s new boutique hotels like the Villa Dubrovnik cater to a luxury elite used to the Italian hospitality and comforts just across the Adriatic.
With &Beyond and Singita opening luxury lodges this year, Mozambique is prime for luxury travel adventurers. Unlike other game experiences, Mozambique offers game viewing by the beach, allowing you to do your Big-5 game drives in the morning and evening while surfing, diving or just chillaxing on the beach during the day.
Be on the lookout for new lodges in Sarawak, the new Orion cruise, and Gaya Island Resort this year, opening the most bio-diverse environment in the world to luxury explorers. Indeed, Borneo’s reefs offer more species than even Australia’s Great Barrier. Finally, who could pass up an opportunity to get up close and personal to this country’s native orangutans?
The Maldives take the beach dream to another level with palatial overwater villas and private island resorts sitting on lively coral reefs bursting with color and sea life. Pristine white sand beaches will spoil you for life as will the level of luxury at new resorts like LVMH’s new 45-room Cheval Blanc or the exclusive Velaa Island with its world championship golf course. For sports enthusiasts, One&Only Reethi Rah has everything from rock climbing to a full on football stadium while the Four Seasons Landaa Giraaviru is ideal for families looking for a more laid-back beach experience. Honeymooners will revel in the romantic Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, with the largest overwater villas in the Maldives.
Miami continues to roll, attracting the world’s elite to its sandy beaches, world-class shops, sizzling nightlife, buzzing gastronomic bastions and of course its sophisticated art scene. This year, the greatly anticipated Faena Miami is sure to change the landscape of the Miami art world and create a new center for art enthusiasts, trendsetters and the luxury elite. In general, Miami is ablaze with fresh exhibitions, festivals, restaurants, and venues, as it continues to reinvent and remain relevant on the world scene.
Marbella is undergoing a renaissance and once again hailing back luxury travelers who once made this elegant seaside town, nestled between the sea and the mountains, a commune for the Who’s Who. The recent head-to-toe renovation of the Marbella Club and sister hotel Puente Romano along with the revitalization of luxury shops and boulevards by the Puerto Banús yacht harbor, have made Marbella fun and elegant again. Beach clubs are abuzz as top DJs fly across from the Balerics to Marbella’s nightclubs that go until sunrise. Close by, those seeing more solitude bask in the amazing Finca Cortesin, a 5-year-old dreamy beach resort with what are probably’s Spain’s best spa and service.
Eco-adventurers are taking a closer look at Belize this year as new luxury lodges like Belcampo open with a focus on memorable cuisine and others like Ka’Ana and Chaa Creek join the ranks of Blancaneaux, focusing on unique eco-experiences that immerse you in Belize’s virgin jungles and white sand beaches.
Less than an hour from Venice, the beautiful beaches of Slovenia are catering to an international elite enjoying wide sandy beaches with a blend of Italian and Slovenian cultures and cuisine. Slovenia boasts one of Europe’s most sophisticated infrastructures, enabling guests to sit by the sea in the morning before hiking by majestic mountain lakes in the afternoon.