It’s a New Year, and the surging passion for travel that exploded after pandemic restrictions eased shows no sign of slowing. Travel seems to be on everyone’s minds and the question is not whether to take a trip, but rather where to go. Travel has always had cycles of changing trends, and with some long popular spots now overcrowded and overpriced, and other emerging destinations easier to get to than ever, with great new lodging and attractions, some new options are emerging as potential big winners for 2023 leisure travel. These are my personal observations and recommendations.
Mallorca, Spain: Hardly undiscovered, Mallorca has long been uber-popular with Europeans, and it’s huge international airport is the second busiest in Spain – ahead of much more talked about Barcelona. Yet for some reason, the island paradise in the Mediterranean has stubbornly remained off the radar of Americans until recently, with the exception of avid cyclists (and hikers), as it is known as one of the world’s top bike destinations, and is served by all the top U.S. cycling and hiking tour operators, including Backroads, DuVine, Butterfield & Robinson, and it is especially popular with the discerning clientele of luxury bespoke active travel specialist Gray & Co. It was Gray & Co. owner Cari Gray who finally convinced me I had to visit in 2022, and I am thrilled that I did.
Last year United launched the first ever non-stop from the U.S. to Mallorca, it’s an easy one-stop through any European gateway, and once you get there you will find incredible nature, vibrant beach resorts, amazing Spanish cuisine, and the capital of Palma, a shockingly large “undiscovered” city. It’s one of the best one-size-fits all destinations, that can please everyone from the endurance athlete (excellent hiking as well as cycling) to the golfer to the sedentary beach lover. Traditionally, many of the island’s countless charming and luxury hotels have been independent, many in “Fincas,” restored medieval farmhouses, and a savvy travel agent could direct you to a dozen top shelf luxury hotels you have never heard of. But recently many big-name luxury brands have moved in – with several more on the way. There is everything from St. Regis to Luxury Collection to Belmond, there are multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, Mandarin Oriental and Virgin are on the way, Four Seasons is rumored, and Mallorca is hot, hot, hot, and deservedly so.
Australia: I remember when Australia used to be at the top of many travelers’ “Bucket Lists,” and always seemed so big and so far away that it was a “someday I will go there” type of fantasy. After falling off the hot list and enduring a particularly hard pandemic shut down, reinvigorated travelers have realized that the world is smaller and more manageable and long-haul flights more doable. Americans are also (finally) taking longer vacations, and all these things have helped Australia come back into prominence. Its size and diversity mean you can’t tackle the whole thing on one trip, but it makes it another place that can appeal to any kind of traveler, from food and wine fanatics to Scuba divers to cultural explorers. It’s also the best links golf destination outside the British Isles.
Turkey (Türkiye): The nation we’ve long known as Turkey has officially switched away from the Anglicized version of its name and is now known internationally as Türkiye, but no matter what you call it, you’ll find one of the best deals in international travel. I recently wrote about the amazing value proposition Turkey offers, and as a huge country that has very diverse geography, nature and weather, straddling two continents, Europe and Asia, with tons of history, major attractions, great hotels and great cuisine, Turkey is continuing to attract those who want an exotic vacation and affordable luxury.
It is also very easy to get to from the U.S. and easy to get around once you are there, thanks to Turkish Airlines, which flies to more destinations than any airline in the world, including non-stops from more than a dozen North American gateways. Turkish is consistently one of the world’s best quality carriers in both economy and business, but also one of the best values in the sky, and now has a brand new, award-winning, state of the art hub airport in Istanbul. From colorful markets to exotic UNESCO World Heritage Site landscapes to ancient ruins, from one of the world’s most vibrant big cities to modern beach and golf resorts, all spanning exotic European and Asian cultures, the appeals are endless. If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, Turkey is for you. You can read a lot more here.
Bhutan: Bhutan has become the new hotspot for the very well-traveled who have been all over the globe and seek something different. The only Buddhist nation on earth, Bhutan has carved out a unique leisure niche, combining outdoor activities in the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas, with luxury, requiring tourists to meet minimum daily spending requirements, pay a daily tourism tax, and catering mainly to top tier luxury boutique hotels. The operators you will find here, many with multiple locations, is a Who’s Who of elite hospitality, including Aman, COMO, Taj, Six Senses and newcomers like African luxury safari specialist &Beyond, opening this year. Bhutan also attracts scheduled trips from white glove tour operators such as Butterfield & Robinson, Backroads and Red Savannah. In addition to new hotel openings, the country just debuted one of the world’s most important hiking gems, the Trans-Bhutan Trail, running the entire length of the nation. Read more about this new development here.
Fiji: For some travelers, the only dream vacation that will do is one set on tropical islands, and Fiji is emerging as top contender, especially since Bali has suffered greatly from over tourism, overbuilding, overcrowding, and most recently from extremely restrictive new Indonesian laws that make the entire country suddenly unattractive – or unacceptable – to many travelers. Fiji, on the other hand, is famously welcoming and friendly and has a wealth of all-inclusive luxury private island resorts that while upscale, are often much more affordable than competitors such as the Maldives, making it another attainable high-end escape. There are daily non-stops from Los Angeles and San Francisco on Fiji Airways, so it is easier to reach than many far flung island locales, and has some of the very best diving, fishing and beaches on earth. Read more about what makes Fiji such an attractive tropical choice here.