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14 of the best travel destinations for 2020

14 of the best travel destinations for 2020

GETTY IMAGESARMENIA’S CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS

Whether they’re having a noteworthy luxury hotel boom or celebrating a historical anniversary year or capitalising on their natural bounty, these are the 14 cities and countries to put in your crosshairs right now

Armenia
The Caucasus has been on the up for the past couple of years, with visitor numbers to Georgia booming. Yet neighbouring Armenia has been somewhat overlooked – until now. This charming country has much to offer. Its food scene – a heaving panoply of honey-drenched baklava, pillowy manti dumplings and wheelbarrow loads of lavash bread – is up there with Tbilisi’s, and pretty Yerevan is bursting with bookshop cafés (such as the unpretentious ArtBridge Bookstore Café) and traditional restaurants that look like Old Master paintings (Dolmama on Pushkin Street serves Armenian lamb shank and baby red spotted trout, as well as the hearty dolmas it’s named after). The country was the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD, and its mountain crags are home to some of the world’s earliest churches. But there’s more to Armenia than its ecclesiastical flourishes. The recently waymarked Transcaucasian Trail offers lung-pinching hiking (including a part ascension of the towering Mount Ararat) and work will continue throughout 2020 to complete the network of world-class trails running through Dilijan National Park, the Gegham Mountains and Vayots Dzor. If you want to lead the way, join a guided supporters’ trek in 2020 to test the trails. In the meantime, adrenalin fiends can make do with mountain biking and zip lining between the snow-capped mountains. Armenia’s grape industry is becoming increasingly well-oiled, too – unsurprising, given that what are believed to be the world’s oldest-known traces of grapemaking have been found at the 6,000-year-old Areni-1 archaeological site in the south. Areni – with its modern, award-winning vineyards – is emerging as one of the most exciting new grape regions in the world (Armenian whites typically offer notes of tropical and stone fruit, while the Vayots Dzor Areni Noir has a spicy bouquet with cherry notes). The Van Ardi grapery is currently building places to stay here overlooking the vines, scheduled for completion in 2020. In lush Vayots Dzor, the country’s first grape route has been established, and will soon compete with South Africa and New Zealand for the coins of adventurous oenophiles after more unusual tasting experiences. – Lizzie Pook


SIX SENSES BHUTAN IN THIMPHU

Bhutan
At a time in human history when things can seem bleak – devastating bushfires from Australia to Brazil, melting icecaps, a refugee crisis, geopolitical conflicts, a global economic slump – the need for an escape to a gentler, kinder world is more pressing than ever. Bhutan, with happiness as a key measure of its success – where other countries focus on GDP, they prioritise GNH (gross national happiness) – is that idyllic retreat. A haven of peace, mindfulness, wellness, spirituality, natural beauty and sustainability (it’s 100 per cent carbon neutral) the country serves as an example of how leaders can make the important things count. That’s not to say the material side of things are entirely missing. Eco-luxe and wellness big-hitter Six Senses opened four of five lodges across the country last year, with its fifth scheduled in the first half of 2020. Luxury is not lacking yet mindfulness permeates throughout the experience. The same can be said of the recently opened Spirit Sanctuary in Paro, an all-inclusive boutique property with tailor-made wellness at its heart. Also in Paro, the National Museum of Bhutan just reopened after a long restoration following a 2011 earthquake – a must-do to get a sense of the history and treasures of Bhutan. Hiking scenic trails, visiting monasteries and meditating amid nature are de rigueur when visiting, but perhaps what is less known is that Bhutan’s F&B scene has stepped up, too – it even has its own Japanese ramen shop. Craft breweries have been popping up over the past few years, and last year a Californian entrepreneur began planting a vineyard in the hopes of soon bottling some Bhutanese grape – the Bhutan Wine Company is even hosting two small luxury tour groups this year, in spring for planting and in autumn for the first harvest. – Rhea SaranWhere to travel in February 2020: The best places to visit from the UAEREAD MORE

Egypt
If you visited Egypt after 2011 you’ll know its tourism industry was badly hit by the fallout of the removal of two presidents. In 2016, the homeland of some of the world’s finest ancient treasures had fewer visitors than the Met Museum in New York or the British Museum. All that is quickly changing – Egypt is hot, hot, hot for 2020 with plenty that’s old to rediscover and an abundance of new to amaze and delight. The most obvious attraction will be the opening of the long-overdue Grand Egyptian Museum, anticipated toward the end of the year. The AED 3.7 billion glass-and-stone building on the edge of the pyramid plateau in Giza will be the world’s largest archaeological museum and its vast multi-level, multi-media space will showcase the best of Egypt’s antiquities including, for the first time, all of Tutankhamun’s 5,000-plus treasures. Among the other monuments that have been opened or re-opened, the spectacular Tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings and the interior of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, the oldest of Egypt’s many pyramids, stand out. But there is more to Egypt than monuments and Nile cruises. Cairo’s art scene is buzzing, with new galleries and cultural centres. New top-end hotels are underway throughout the country including the June 2020 opening of the much-anticipated St. Regis Cairo; Sharm el Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, is once again welcoming international flights; and there are new walking trails with local guides in Sinai and the Eastern Desert. All in all, the country’s poised for a comeback. – Anthony Sattin

Galway, Ireland
This year, Ireland’s effervescent west-coast city throws its arms open wide to the world as the 2020 European Capital of Culture. The bohemian city spent 2019 testing new community heritage and arts projects, such as pop-up culture cafés and funambulism (tightrope-walking) workshops. But the best is yet to come this year, with some terrific events being rolled out across Galway’s pubs, hubs and beaches, including new artworks by David Best (of Burning Man fame) and a series of intimate readings of Homer’s Odyssey (using Emily Wilson’s English translation, the first by a woman) on Galway’s blustery beaches. Margaret Atwood will also take part in the city’s International Women’s Day celebrations in March. Galway’s designation as a 2018 European Region of Gastronomy has already cemented it as a fizzing foodie hub. The brilliantly beardy JP McMahon is its most high-profile chef, earning the city its first Michelin star in 2012. The ambitiously modern Loam has joined McMahon’s 24-cover Aniar as one of only two Michelin-starred joints in the city, but it’s what’s happening away from the notebooks of the Michelin inspectors that’s most exciting. Galway is home to the world’s longest-running oyster festival (66 years of shucking so far), which also sees the World Oyster Opening Championships whip up competitive fervour among shellfish enthusiasts. You’ll find local Dooncastle and Flaggy Shore oysters (as well as natural grape and exquisite seaweed shortbread) served up at McMahon’s latest terroir-based opening, Tartare. And in nearby Burren, 40 minutes from the city, a raft of local producers are bolstering Galway’s gourmet credentials with a focus on fish-smoking, cheese-making and small-batch brewing. Unsurprisingly, the city – which is also a mid-point stop along the 2,550km Wild Atlantic Way driving route – will welcome a clutch of new hotel openings in 2020. The most promising of which looks to be the Dean Galway, a sister hotel to the moody, Brooklyn-feel Dean Dublin, on the spot of an old dry cleaners in Bohermore. – LP


MAKING MATCHA TEA AT AMAN KYOTO

Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto is an effortless blend of past and present. Its futuristic railway station purrs like a well-oiled engine, while beyond the modern shopping complexes and glassy hotels you’ll find tranquil karesansui rock gardens and centuries-old Shinto shrines. The city received a new influx of visitors, many first-timers, at the tail end of 2019, as Japan hosted the Rugby World Cup (the first time the tournament had ever been held in Asia) as inquisitive fans explored beyond the designated stadium cities. Of course Japan will also be hosting “the big one” – the 2020 Olympic Games, and hoteliers in Kyoto are ramping up their rooms to account for the crowds. Hotel Fauchon, the second hotel from the Parisian delicatessen brand, will open next year in the central Shimogyo-ku district packed with busy izakaya pubs and the feudal-era Shosei-en Garden. The cool Ace Hotel has also singled out Kyoto for its next Asian outpost, set to launch in spring 2020. The building has been designed by world-renowned architect Kengo Kuma, who also drew up the architectural plans for Tokyo’s New National Stadium, which will be used in the 2020 Games. Adding to the roster of slick new offerings are the Park Hyatt Kyoto in the Higashiyama hills, which opened at the end of October 2019 with 70 rooms and encompasses a restored Edo-era teahouse and Japanese garden; and Aman Kyoto, launched in November as the group’s third Japanese offering, comes with ryokan-inspired accommodation, onsen bathing and Kyoto-style cooking using local produce. – LP


THE BEACH AT SVETI STEFAN

Montenegro
The past few years have seen a growing interest in the southern Slavic countries – Game Of Thrones sky-rocketed Croatia’s popularity, but even Slovenia, Serbia and Bosnia have begun to see their share of intrepid travellers searching for somewhere that’s still under the radar. Increasingly on the radar is Montenegro, with its sparkling-blue Adriatic coastline and luxury investments. Since tony yacht marina Porto Montenegro was finished in 2009, luxury development has been on the up in this small yet dramatically beautiful country, named historically by the Venetians for the black mountains framing the backdrop to its sun-kissed beaches. The dreamy Aman Sveti Stefan opened about a decade ago, across 80 acres encompassing the private islet of Sveti Stefan and the Villa Milocer on the mainland. But it’s the recent slew of new properties that really have our attention trained firmly on Montenegro. On Trašte Bay along the Luštica peninsula, in 2018 The Chedi Luštica Bay introduced 111 rooms and suites with access to a private beach, and last summer Ānanti Montenegro brought eight private villas and 14 sea-facing suites to a resort that includes residential units in the untouched inlet of Rezevici. Even more exciting is what’s up next: One&Only Portonovi lands in spring 2020 along Boka Bay with Venetian-inspired architecture and an Espace Chenot wellness centre, while Nikki Beach Resort & Spa has plans to open in the bay of Budva with a jetty of its own, three beaches and a beach club. – RS


STARS AT NIGHT IN NAMIBIA

Namibia
We dream of space flight. It’s the final frontier. When you’ve adventured around the globe, where else? Yet while we wait with collective bated breath for Branson and Musk to get their civilian programmes off the ground, the fact is it’s a miniscule number of people who will get to call themselves space travellers – at least for a long time. But there are other ways to explore space, right here on Earth. Some years ago, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) began awarding the (very few) places left on the planet with minimal light pollution as Dark Sky Sanctuaries. In 2012, NamibRand Nature Reserve in Namibia earned this honour – the first in Africa; indeed the !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park on the border of South Africa and Botswana, awarded in 2019, is only the second on the continent. And with the growing trend of travellers seeking out elusive dark-sky tourism, NamibRand is on its way to getting a whole lot more attention. Unlike the Kalahari Heritage Park – which is home to one 12-key lodge, with impressive roots in the local community – Namibia already has a handful of luxury spaces to set one’s head down in. Wolwedans Dunes Lodge sits atop a plateau with 360-degree views, and canvas tents can be opened up to reveal starry night skies. AndBeyond’s Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is the area’s pinnacle of luxury with a walk-in grape cellar and an observatory with an expert astronomer and a powerful telescope to take in that inky, star-studded canopy. And opening in March 2020 is Kwessi Dunes, which will have 12 canvas-and-thatch chalets, each with an attached “star-gazer” room from which to enjoy the Dark Sky Reserve. Who needs rockets? – RS


THE BOURSE DE COMMERCE IN PARIS

Paris, France
Bien sûr, Paris never really went away, but a volley of slick new openings looks set to draw a fresh crowd to the City of Light. A collective breath is still being held for the opening of J K Place Rive Gauche, which was scheduled to swing open its doors in summer 2019 but is still delayed. Meanwhile, eyes are firmly focussed on this year’s other openings. First up: Bulgari Hotel Paris, designed by Parisian architects Valode & Pistre (also charged with overhauling the design of the Gare du Nord) will grace the gleaming paving stones of the Triangle d’Or. The seventh Bulgari outpost will have a spa and pool, a restaurant with a contemporary Italian menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito and a leafy courtyard garden. The first half of 2020 will also see the new Cheval Blanc Paris throw open its doors on the banks of the Seine. The hotel will be housed in the old Art Deco La Samaritaine building, once a grand department store selling designer goods to chic shoppers. A garden terrace above the building’s famous glass rooftop and a restaurant overseen by three-Michelin-starred chef Arnaud Donckele will undoubtedly draw in a cool crowd. On top of that, 2020 will see France’s first Kimpton hotel open in the Opéra district; outré designer Philippe Starck will oversee a new MGallery by Sofitel; and there’s a new Soho House offering in the works, too. Meanwhile, billionaire art collector François Pinault has been ploughing his cash into the development of an ambitious new art space housed in the historic Bourse de Commerce (the former stock exchange) near the Louvre. The new modern art museum has been designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, while the sweeping circular panoramic painting lining the building’s giant dome, depicting global trade in the late 19th century, has been fastidiously restored as part of the project. – LP


CUISINE AT ZAHAV IN PHILADELPHIA

Philadelphia, USA
Sandwiched between NYC and DC, Philadelphia is like the East Coast’s overlooked middle child. But those that have passed it by are missing out: the endless array of food at Reading Terminal Market, swanky Rittenhouse Square’s shops and park, mural-covered walls (some 3,600 include the only in-situ Keith Haring in America) and an overall insouciant attitude of being itself that has, over the past couple decades, seen it gradually evolve into a place that’s now nabbing more attention. More than the sum of its cheesesteaks, Philly’s restaurant scene turned toward sophistication when restaurateur Stephen Starr launched his first hit, Continental, in 1995. The city has since produced an embarrassment of dining riches, including Zahav, 2019’s best restaurant in the US per James Beard and the best pizza in the country, according to Bon Appétit, at Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown – a neighbourhood worth lingering in after your slice. An erstwhile home to fishermen, the current crowd is more hip, populating an influx of yoga studios, coffee bars and the newly opened Lokal boutique hotel. Elsewhere, Center City has its own new hotel to brag about – a Four Seasons opened in the lofty heights of the Comcast Center last summer with views not for the acrophobic. Following that was the rebirth of the city’s dreary Gallery Mall as the bright and airy Fashion District with shops, a bowling alley and a candy museum that hopes to reinvigorate the Market East area. Right now, Philadelphia is the jawn (Philly for, well, anything). – Laurel Munshower

Plymouth, England
The waterfront city of Plymouth is starting to shrug off its (unwarranted) rough-around-the-edges rep. The arrival of restaurants from high-profile chefs such as Mitch Tonks and Marco Pierre White, as well a multimillion-dirham waterfront regeneration project, mean this once-tired seaside city is beginning to look ship-shape again. In the old port you’ll find pretty Elizabethan gardens, contemporary art galleries and waterfront cafés spilling out across the cobbles (Plymouth has the largest concentration of cobbled streets in Britain). There’s history in these harbours, and 2020 marks a landmark year for the city which, for centuries has had its fortunes shaped by the sea. On September 6, 1620 the square-rigged Mayflower set sail from Plymouth on its voyage to the New World (or as we now know it, the United States of America) in search of a life of religious freedom. More than 30 million US citizens – including several US presidents, reams of writers and poets and celebrities including Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe – can trace their roots back to one of the 102 passengers and 30 crew who made the epic journey. Plymouth is marking the 400-year anniversary with a programme of more than 100 events, including a festival of light-based art installations scattered across the city, and This Land, a theatre production performed by locals and members of the Native American Wampanoag tribe. Another big happening for 2020 will be the opening of The Box, a cultural attraction on a grand scale developed on the site of the former Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. The new building will house the city’s most important heritage collections on one site, including archive TV and film footage, vintage photography and art both historical and contemporary. Plymouth’s ancient quays are getting their buzz back. – LP8 top tips for solo female travelREAD MORE

Qingdao, China
Qingdao on China’s Yellow Sea coast is a place of exhilarating contrasts, where historic German buildings (remnants of its occupation in the late 19th century) rub up against dazzlingly modern sculptural art. Fresh sea air keeps coastal Qingdao cool while inland cities swelter during the hot summer months. Thankfully, the ubiquitous hometown hops Tsingtao is also on tap to keep parched throats at bay. The mish-mash of architecture – from its concession-era old town mansions to its resplendent red-roofed hillside villas – sets it apart from some of China’s comparatively soulless, glass-and-blue-tiled industrial hubs. The green city also frequently tops lists for liveability, with its leafy parks, well-trodden boardwalks and alluring hiking trails in the Laoshan Scenic Area to the east of the city, which wind through mist-cloaked granite peaks and bubbling spring water pools (Taoist priests once declared this place the home of immortal beings and sacred waters). But Qingdao is about to get even more green with the arrival of the new China Eden Project in 2020, the first of its kind outside the UK. The project – designed in collaboration with London-based Grimshaw Architects, also behind the Eden Project in Cornwall – is being constructed on a large sweep of reclaimed and environmentally damaged land at the confluence of two rivers, which was originally used for salt production and prawn farming. The eco-attraction is set to be themed around water (apt as the city itself is surrounded by sea on three sides), and will have the world’s highest indoor waterfall at its centre, plunging from 51m up, the same height as Niagara Falls. – LP

Rwanda
Just over 25 years ago Rwanda experienced one of its darkest periods in history, the 1994 genocide. It’s important to acknowledge that fact – not only because it’s politically correct to, but also because it highlights just how extraordinary Rwanda’s transformation has been in a mere quarter century. Today, the mountainous country is the poster-child for economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, is largely safe and clean, and has positioned itself as a low-footprint luxury travel destination. Clearly that positioning is working: over the past year and a half, One&Only opened two high-end wilderness properties – Nyungwe House and Gorilla’s Nest – and Singita landed with the eco-luxe Kwitonga Lodge (inaugurated by the country’s president, Paul Kagame, showing just how important tourism is to Rwanda’s plans). Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Ellen DeGeneres vociferously – and financially – joined the mountain gorilla conservation effort in the country last year. The endangered gorillas are certainly the strongest draw for bucket-list-chasing travellers with cash to spare (the entry permit to the national park comes in at a hefty AED 5,500 per person – 10 per cent of which is reinvested into local communities and villages – and only 80 permits a day are given to protect the animals’ well-being) yet there’s plenty more to stay for. Wildlife enthusiasts can further sate their nature thirst with treks to see golden monkeys (also in Volcanoes National Park) or chimpanzees (in Nyungwe Forest), or even the Big Five – in recent years black rhinos and lions have been reintroduced. Between wilderness visits, Kigali has grown into a capital city with much to offer, starting with the heartstring-tugging Genocide Memorial as well as the Rwanda Art Museum and the Inema Arts Center for contemporary art. Consciously sourced Rwandan coffee is on tap at Question Coffee and Baso Pâtissier, the brainchild of part-Rwandan Bruno Basomingera, serves freshly made breads, pastries and breakfast.
All signs that Rwanda is headed toward a brighter future. – RS


SIDI BOU SAÏD IN TUNIS

Tunisia
A decade after the revolution that nullified Tunisia’s tourism appeal, a promising stability in recent years has led countries like France, Germany and the UK to lift their travel advisories. The Tunis-Carthage International Airport launched the country’s first Duty Free and the first eight months of 2019 saw over six million tourists welcomed – a 46 per cent increase on the previous year. It’s a heartening sign and all the more reason to visit this year, doing your bit to help boost the tourism economy while getting in before the sights are inundated. With the tourists come new hotels, starting with the launch of the beachfront Four Seasons Hotel Tunis in the chic Gammarth suburb, near the Santorini-without-the-crowds-feeling Sidi Bou Saïd neighbourhood and the ancient site of Carthage. From this distinctly Mediterranean start you need fly only about an hour inland to the gateway of the Sahara to be immersed in Berber heritage. Here, oasis town Tozeur sits on the fringes of the Chott el Djerid salt flat, with vast swathes of date palms and a quiet old medina whose façades are decorated with eye-catching geometric brickwork that’s unique to the region. Its natural beauty and potential to attract affluent adventure travellers – hot-air ballooning, desert safaris and horse-riding – caught the attention of Anantara, which opened a resort in December last year, soon to be followed by The Residence by Cenizaro in nearby Douz later this year. The brand has plans for two more properties in the next three years – clearly, Tunisia is ready for a revival. – LM5 reasons to add Japan to your 2020 travel bucket listREAD MORE

Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan has a varied, rich and stellar culinary tradition. People in Taiwan have long known that, but perhaps the good word hadn’t spread quite so far and clear as it did in 2018 when the Michelin Guide arrived and bestowed its coveted stars for the first time on about two dozen restaurants in capital city Taipei (plus Bib Gourmand mentions for several street-food gems). The culinary landscape here is shaped by myriad influences including that of indigenous tribes, mainland Chinese ethnicities and 50 years of Japanese occupation, and the list reflects this diversity: restaurants like Mountain and Sea House Restaurant celebrate traditional Taiwanese fare, modern temples to cuisine like MUME use local ingredients interpreted through a Western lens, Sushi Nomura showcases star-level counter-side omakase sushi and sashimi menus, and the only three-star spot on the list is Cantonese. But it’s not all fine-dining – in fact, the heart of Taiwanese food traditions are found at the many night markets and street-side noodle shops. This is where you’ll find the best oyster omelettes and fried chicken cutlets, slurp-worthy bowls of beef noodles and sweet-salty pork rice – washed down with milky bubble tea. And lest we forget, one of the greatest international dumpling success stories is Taiwanese: Din Tai Fung originated here before spreading across the world as far and wide as Dubai and New York. There’s more to Taipei than its culinary cred, of course – the temples, the national parks, the art museums, the boutique shopping – but the fact that it’s now gained international recognition for being among Asia’s most delicious cities makes the time to go nigh – before getting reservations becomes a matter of booking many months in advance. – RS

Entries by Lizze Pook originally ran at cntraveller.com

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