The Five Places That Stole My Heart in 2016
For a lot of people, 2016 was the kind of year that warranted a lot of getting away. So it’s no surprise that for me, a professional jet-setter, most of the year’s highlights were far away from home. Here are the five places that stole my travel-editing heart over the last 12 months—some classic, some new, but all ones you should consider for yourself, too.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
I’d long overlooked Cabo as a nightlife hub that was way farther from New York than low-slung Tulum. But I’m officially a convert to what’s really one of the great resort destinations on earth, second only to such places as Phuket or the South Pacific. Truth is, Cabo has some of the most compelling farm-to-table projects in Mexico, a ubiquitous knack for fried fish tacos, and—since they were all redone right after Hurricane Odile struck in 2014—one of the highest concentrations of gleaming, new five-star resorts under the sun. Pile on Cabo’s natural splendor (stunning rock formations, cliffside beaches, whale watching, waterfalls, you name it) and its propensity for excellent swim-up bars, and you’ll find a place where it’s hard to complain about anything.
Recreate my trip: Plan a long weekend in Cabo as a respite to cold winter temps. That’s when you’ll have the best chance at spotting mama and baby whales in the Sea of Cortez. Angle for a stay at One & Only Palmilla, where you’re waited on hand-and-foot in unparalleled fashion, or Auberge’s Esperanza, for more of a romantic honeymoon vibe.
My husband and I first visited Morocco as freshly-minted college grads—we spent less than $70 per night on accommodations that reliably took our breath away (not just because we were starry-eyed and unaccustomed to luxury). It’s been one of our favorite trips.
Nearly a decade later, Marrakesh was every bit as spectacular as my memory had made it out to be, though this time, I saw it a little differently. First was the fact that I inadvertently arrived in time for Eid, a feasting holiday that involves the public slaughter of many, many sheep. I missed the bloodbath but saw plenty of the lead-up and spent several days chatting with taxi drivers and shop keepers about their celebrations—a fascinating way to connect with locals. I tried my first hammam, which I’d been loathe to do the first time around, since my then-boyfriend and I would have had to split up. (A friend described it to me as a gleeful regression to childhood, where you’re being scrubbed like a baby at bath time. She hit the nail on its head.) And I made my best purchase of the year: a multi-colored, hand-woven rug from a collective in the Rif Mountains, which I found with the help of my local guide, Mohammad. The upgraded hotels were just icing on the cake.
Recreate my trip: The jaw-dropping resorts outside the old city may be tempting, but be sure to spend most of your trip in the medina itself. I loved my stay at the city’s grand dame, La Mamounia, right outside the Djemaa El Fna—it’s the epitome of an urban resort. Then, if you want to soak up some sun and escape the city’s frenetic pulse, decamp to the palatial Mandarin Oriental, or better yet, head up to the Atlas Mountains for a taste of the Kasbah life.
Machu Picchu, Peru
My drive for visiting under-explored places took me to Ecuador’s cloud forest and the coffee farms of Brazil long before I set sights on Machu Picchu, but the wait was worth it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve seen hundreds of the exact same photos of this iconic world wonder—in the flesh it still leaves you breathless. Plus, the photos don’t show you that dozens of llamas still live in the Lost City of the Incas full-time, which I found terribly entertaining.
Recreate my trip: With so many incredible hikes in the Sacred Valley area, there’s no need to join the crowds on the full-blown Inca Trail. Instead, take the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes and plan to get your park entry scanned by noon. That way, you’ll miss the morning crowds but still have time to walk the grounds twice—for photos in both midday and afternoon light.
Counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’d never wanted to go to Paris more than I did in the wake of last year’s terrorism attacks. Tourism was plummeting and planning a trip felt like more than just a springtime indulgence; it was also my version of showing solidarity. Since tourism is still struggling to rebound in the City of Light, let me twist your arm to do the same: The croissants at Sebastien Gaudard will change your life, neo-bistros such as Clown Bar will make you feel like a (very well fed) local, and the city’s most illustrious hotels are all ready to impress. To wit: the Ritz Paris came back online shortly after my visit, Rosewood’s legendary Crillon will reopen this summer after a years-long renovation, and the Peninsula, where I stayed, has just been given palace designation. And what’s more inspiring than this view of the Eiffel Tower surrounded by purple blooms?
Recreate my trip: Even if you’re not sleeping in the 16th arrondissement, it’s worth going out of your way to hit Le Patisserie Cyril Lignac, where I ate the best sandwiches I think I’ve ever tasted; they’re made with top-notch charcuterie and fresh-from-the-oven baguettes. Take them to the Jardins du Trocadéro to get the view shown above, and then pay a visit to the grande dame of cheesemaking, Marie Anne Cantin, for a follow-up picnic in the 7th.
The San Juan Islands, Washington
This little chain of islands off Washington’s northwest coast had something of a mythical appeal to me. Everyone I knew who had been there was taken by their beauty and bounty, but the islands seemed like places that simply had to speak for themselves. “You just have to go,” people would constantly say. So I did. As the ferry crawled from the port town of Anacortes to tinier-than-tiny Lopez Island, the land masses grew increasingly verdant and became draped in swooping clouds, as if we were sailing into a dream. Ultimately we landed somewhere straight out of the 1960s: a place where you can get burgers in red plastic baskets and ice cream from old-timey windows before hiking to a private beach cove with your free-loving Ph.D. neighbors.
Recreate my trip: Sorry, dear readers, this one’s all mine. Sure, you can bypass Lopez for Lummi Island, where the acclaimed Willows Inn awaits. But I’d highly advise bypassing the traditional hotel. Instead, befriend someone with relatives in the San Juans—ideally ones with access to kayaks, which you can use to visit sea lions and fish for Dungeness crab. Then round up a group you love and go, en masse, for a back-to-basics getaway you’ll never forget.