Best Stays of 2016

by adam on February 14, 2017

I stayed at 67 properties in 2016 (including two apartment rentals, one ship, and one klotok boat). Of those, seven were superb stays, eleven were excellent, and another 15 were noteworthy. To be clear, all of these properties are places I would rebook in a heartbeat. For this list, I did not factor in budget, style, geographic variety, or newness to create a well-rounded geographic distribution like most travel publications do. These are just my straight-up favorite stays of 2016, each offering a memorable night, exemplary service, incredible views, access to sites, and/or quality cuisine. As always, there were numerous luxury properties that did not make this list.
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The top category ***Sublime are stays that were transformative, memorable, and superb but also helped emphasize the region or neighborhood which added to my travel experience. They are not necessarily 5-star palaces and luxury lodges, but instead a diverse mix of properties ranging from $75/night to $900/night. These stays are rare, and the joy I experience during them is part of what makes them so good. (Or is it vice versa?). They are destination-worthy places, and worth traveling long distances for. Each of these eight properties are unique and cannot be replicated anywhere else.
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The **Excellent category are stays that were outstanding and memorable and would merit repeat visits. These stays also elicited joy and unexpected pleasure in unexpected places and emphasize unique ambiance and an outstanding staff. These are all places I would recommend to other travelers, and worth going out of the way for.
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The *Noteworthy category is by no means a loser. It also reflects my top stays of 2016 but includes properties that lacked a consistency with quality or service or were subject to other minor flaws that detracted from the overall experience. I don’t mean that they didn’t have the right bath amenities or conference rooms, because I don’t care about that stuff. But as with the food category, all it takes is one off key note to transform the sublime to the so-so. Nevertheless, these hotels should be on the radar of travelers, I recommend with some reservations.
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These are not listed in any particular order. Below the list is the entire index of 67 properties I stayed at in 2016, arranged in chronological order of when I stayed at them.
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7 Superb Stays of 2016
Amanjiwo Java, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
from $900 night
Amanjiwo has been on my wish list for years and a three-night stay here in March 2016 with my husband did not disappoint. Designed by Ed Tuttle, the property mirrors the symmetry of Borobudur that it gazes upon. For those who don’t know, Borobudur is a Javanese temple that’s the most significant Buddhist site in the world. Our first morning we set out to explore it at dawn, and witness its quiet, ghostly mists rising from the surrounding coconut trees and rice paddies before other tourists arrive. Aman properties are especially good at providing guests access to places like this, and always one of the highlights of any Aman stay. But unbelievable as it sounds, the crescent-shaped Amanjiwo is just as impressive as Borobudur. Its modern, understated symmetry could only be the work of architect Tuttle, who designed the property’s spherical monolith to echo the celestial architecture of Borobudur itself, which it gazes at like a sister temple across the Kedu Plains. One of the things I love most about the Amans is that there are seldom any signs on the properties. The spaces are built intuitively (and sometimes counter intuitively) so that guests can discover their way through them, which is part of the art of staying at an Aman. This is a major contributing factor to what separates them from other big luxury brands and the reason I’ll always remain an Aman junkie. In the belly of the property is a labyrinth of high limestone walls dripping with violet trumpet vine. It lead us to our airy villa, where we lounged in the private pool listening to the chorus of birds in the bamboo forest along the lush Progo River. I could be anywhere in the tropics, but the afternoon call to prayer calibrates our location, and I drift into oblivion under my shade-giving sala by the pool before getting ready for a quiet dinner by candlelight in the stone rotunda’s open-air dining room.
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Casa Bonay, Barcelona, Spain
from $90 night
Like many travelers, I’ve been to Barcelona a few times, but on my most recent visit in April 2016, it felt like the city was entering an especially exciting period. The economic collapse of 2008 saw many of Barcelona’s young people leave to take jobs overseas, but many are returning for the city’s indisputable quality of life (sunny weather, excellent food, amazing art and architecture), and they’re bringing new international ideas with them. “They always come back,” Says Ines Miró-Sans, founder of the new hotel Casa Bonay which opened in March 2016, and is housed in an old neoclassical casa on the edge of the city’s L’Eixample neighborhood, not far from the bohemian neighborhood of Gràcia. Ines lived in Palm Springs and NYC working at the Ace Hotel and several other hospitality brands before coming back to Barc to imbue her gorgeous new property with a warm mix of international touches like Shanghai-inspired wallpaper, a cold press juice bar inspired by Angelino juice culture, and Moroccan rugs and yakswool throws from Central Asia. For hospitality and hotel junkies, Ines is definitely a person to watch and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
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B&B I Cappanni di Raggio, Sant’Agata Feltria, Apennines, Italy
from $75/night
Sometimes what makes a stay so outstanding is it unexpectedness. My husband and I made a booking at the rustic B+B I Cappanni located on the “Via di Dante” atop a woodsy mountain pass in the Apennines for his birthday in June. To be honest, we only stayed there so that we could experience a notable truffle restaurant in town. But the B&B and its humble breakfast proved infinitely better than the truffle restaurant. The rustic stone cottage sat on a ridge filled with birdsong overlooking a peaceful, pristine Italian valley pregnant with summer. Flowers were in full boom—wild orchids, lilies, carnations, wild rose and juniper. It was the kind of floral Italian bounty one dreams of. Wood strawberries and were in season too, so a walk in the woods behind the properties garden turned into an afternoon of foraging. If that weren’t enough, the display of nighttime fireflies along the B+B’s roadside was a bioluminescent spectacle unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. A knock on our door in the morning revealed the olive-skinned owner standing there gesturing that breakfast was ready. He invited us into the rustico’s main kitchen, where it’s served. There, on a red and white checker clothed table, was an epic breakfast spread: homemade almond apple cake, blackberry and fig jam, fresh cherries, a truffle-flecked fromage di fosso (a local cave-aged cheese often made by individual families) plates of smoked ham and salumi, and a big platter stacked with tomato bruchetta. He also offered us piping hot coffee prepared from a mokka pot. Every dish was prepared by our Italian host, who barely spoke English, and had painstakingly renovated the rustico himself. Anyone looking for an affordable nature break in the mountains would be hard pressed to find a better spot than this.
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Marselis Hotel, Aarhus, Denmark
from $140/night
After a long day of travel and reporting on a BBC archeology story on Danish Bog Bodies in September, I arrived at my hotel in Aarhus at about 7:30pm, and ordered the room service dinner. Sitting in a spacious oceanfront room and having your dinner delivered is one of the finer luxuries of being a 40-something and not feeling like you have to pillage every town you visit. Perched on a quiet beach on a stretch of sandy Jutland Coast with rooms overlooking the tranquil Kattegat Sea, the mid-century Marselis Hotel’s airy sunlit rooms and spacious terraces were perfect for catching a few afternoon rays but also surrounded by thickly forested hiking trails, within walking distance of the excellent museums like the breathtaking new Moesgaard Museum that juts from the ground like a piece of archeological evidence and is home to one of the best exhibits on Iron Age Europe. The staff were kind, but not doting, the furnishings were old but not shabby, and the the hotel had a timelessness and a positive energy about it.
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Seaside Boarding House, Lyme Bay, Dorset, England
from $225/night
The whitewashed and meticulously restored Seaside Boarding House is a ocean cliff-perched charmer with spacious breezy rooms with big soft beds and clawfoot tubs, both in earshot of crashing waves and crying gulls. Its twee restaurant serves up modern comfort classics like double baked cheese soufflé and fish soup rouille, while the bar, vintage wallpapered library, and sunny front porch are great spots to nurse a Dark N’ Stormy. We spent three gloriously sunny Indian summer days here in September and were taken especially good care of by its excellent proprietresses, who gave us tips on which pubs to visit and which to avoid and generally pay special attention to making sure everything was just right, from the avocado toast to the placement of the engraved silver marmalade pots. Food and designed minded visitors looking for the perfect seashore getaway will feel right at ease here.
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Hiogiso, Shima, Japan
from $130/night including meals
One night was not enough. My husband and I spent a single night at this under-the-radar ryokan in November and fell hard for the place. The family-owned property is hidden down a long woodsy road on the outskirts of Shima and pressed up against the water with views that don’t disappoint. For onsen lovers, it’s hard to beat. The “hinoki” (cypress) onsen overlook the harbor and have a handmade feel to them, as does everything on this property. There is a small garden with a hand hewn ping pong table and a lounge fireplace with a gorgeous carved mantle and drift wood pieces that capture the spirit of Ise Peninsula’s simple but slightly rugged landscape. The food was excellent too—nabe in paper bowl with chicken and shrimp, fresh oysters, lotus root, dry sake, fragrant and rich chowanmushi, sashimi, scallops, and crispy light tempura. The owner, who used to work for Mikimoto Pearls, took us for a cruise on his boat with his shibu inu named Madeline, where we watched a orange and pink sunset fill up the sky over Shima National Park, with islands running off in the distance to where larger mountains overlapped one another like an ancient Chinese painting.
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Nishimuruya Honkan, Kinosaki Onsen, Japan
from $650/night including meals
Good hotel food is a rarity. So are two excellent meals back to back. Both of those feats were accomplished with aplomb during our one night November stay at this superb ryokan in Kinosaki, a small onsen town on Honshu’s Southwest coast. Nishimuraya is one of the best ryokan I’ve ever stayed at, in the same league as Hiiragiya in Kyoto, which I stayed at last year and which made multiple Best of 2015 lists. Here, there are two different properties, an old ryokan and a modern hotel and both are excellent. But the Honkan property was slightly better because of its spacious tatami mat rooms, Japanese garden views, and service like no other. Our server Yumiko spoke perfect English, was hard working, charming and three dimensional all at once. And the food was a knock out. The crab kaiseki dinner at Nishimuraya Honkan Ryokan came with tofu sunroot, wasabi oroshi, smoked duck, charcoal crab, and warm sake with a crab leg in it. Breakfast at both properties also outstanding, especially the tamago onsen, an egg soft boiled in the onsen thermal water. Ralph ordered the western breakfast at the Honkan and it came with its own electric toaster oven! Such are the extremes that the staff will go to ensure you’re meal is extraordinary, which it most definitely was.
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11 Excellent Stays
Sheraton Miyako, Tokyo, Japan
from $150/night
Underrated Tokyo hotel in a quiet residential Tokyo neighborhood with excellent Japanese restaurant, superb western restaurant (California Café), and a hidden 16th century garden. Ask for one of the refurbed rooms with a garden view.
Hotel Bellavista, Mennagio, Lake Como, Italy
from $120/night.
Beautiful grand old waterfront hotel with nothing between your balcony and Lake Como. We loved the balcony and its tranquil view so much, we ordered pizza in and ate it there.
8 days from $1,899
I’m not a cruise person, but Viking’s striking new ships are a cut above standard cruise liners. Eames chairs, Frank Gehry cross-check furniture, a mosaic-lined infinity pool and a full-service spa with a snow grotto, bubbly thermal bath, and cavernous steam room are a few of the perks. Other bonuses include 24/7 free room service and an excellent library stocked with explorer titles and rare out of print books. Gloriously, no kids under 18 are allowed and free wifi throughout the ship. Free wine and beer, too. But rooms are a highlight, too, with high quality bedding, large comfortable beds and sliding doors that open to private balconies.
Hotel Staubbach, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
from $120/night
Views of gushing Staubach Waterfall, one of 72 in the Lauterbrunnen valley, from our wrap around balcony made this stat worth double what we paid. The service downstairs was especially friendly and informative. People often think Switzerland is too expensive, and while food costs can run high, there are dozens of great small hotels like this run by folks who will stop at nothing to make sure you are taken good care of. The scenic valley  is also the inspiration for J.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell, the elvish wonderland in The Lord of The Rings,’  and is every bit as inspiring. A 3-4 hour hike from Mürren was an excellent way to enjoy the area’s various vantages.
from $150/night including meals and excursions
My two night January stay at this 2,000-acre eco-lodge was an eye opening journey to the world of Cloud forests colobri (hummingbirds). The lodge’s tree-house-like perch on a misty ridge is probably the best place to see hummingbirds in all of Ecuador, mostly at its dozen-plus feeders. The property is also renown for its excellent ten kilometer network of trails, on which I saw squawky mountain-toucans, snake-sized earth worms, and learned about epiphytes and the differences between bromeliads and orchids.  I planted myself on the bench outside the library and photographed the hummer rush hour one late afternoon—the busiest time at the feeders—and saw no less than 40 different species of birds, including colorful, big name non-hummingbirds like the masked trogon, toucan barbet, lemon-rumped tanager, and cinnamon flycatcher. Hummingbirds are the most popular and I saw the buzzing bee-like purple throated woodstar, the booted racket-tail with its forked blue tail and white furry legs, and the glorious violet-tailed sylph, with its incredibly long turquoise tail that elegantly rolls through the air during feeder visits. This is Ecuador’s most committed eco-lodge. It’s complex of rooms have super comfortable beds, spacious heated rooms, and flush toilets.
from $670/night
I spent three nights at this gorgeous property in October and felt so at home during the entire stay. The landmark building is planted at the end of Budapest’s Chain Bridge with views of the copper-hued Buda Castle and the Danube. The former Art Nouveau palace features wrought-iron gates and peacock stained glass windows and is full of palatial grandeur. The 1906 gem was designed by Art Nouveau architect Zsigmond Quittner. Its 179 rooms offer a contemporary style, many with river views, while a 12-metre lap pool, a Clarins spa and a gym occupy the top floor while the ground-floor café, restaurant and bar have a cosmopolitan buzz all their own. But it’s always the service that’s a standout at Four Seasons. The staff are warm and three dimensional and treat guests like humans.
The View, Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland
from $800/night
Located on a ridge overlooking Lugano, a city in Switzerland’s Italian speaking canton about 20 minutes from Lake Como. The hotel opened in September 2015 but I stayed in February 2016. It’s situated on a hill overlooking Lake Lugano and the surrounding Alps. The “stack of white cubes” is uber modern and on par with an Aman design, but with an Italian flair. 18 spacious rooms, including two suites, are designed in the style of a yacht, with teak furnishings chosen by architect Alessandro Gallon and each with a spacious balcony overlooking the lake. Rooms are filled with great touches like custom made 100% cashmere bathrobes and throws, Ortigia bath products, a complimentary minibar stocked with Eataly snacks and high end tea, coffee, whisky and gin, and a choice of satin, linen or cotton bedding, 24-hour room service, and deep soaking tubs. The hotel regularly arranges private jet shopping excursions to Paris and Milano, helicopter tours, boat excursions on Lake Lugano and Lake Como but shorter excursions were more in my budget, like the fleet of complimentary electric cars and e-bikes.
Gumaya Tower Hotel, Semarang, Java, Indonesia,
from $60/night
This is probably the cheapest 5-start hotel I’ve ever stayed in, which to be frank, is the reason it’s on my list. The building is the tallest in Semarang, a businessy port city on Java’s north coast. The lobby is grand and the extensive breakfast buffet featuring a variety of cuisines is a knockout. I stayed here for one night en route to Borneo in March, and unfortunately, I was sick on arrival so didn’t get a chance to enjoy the hotel as much as I should have. But when you’re sick in a foreign land, an occupational hazard of my job, it’s comforting to have a place like this to bunk down and sweat it out for the night.
Amankila, Bali, Indonesia
from $1,200/night
This property also made my Excellent Meals list. Amankila on Bali’s lesser visited eastern coast is a perfect antidote to bustling Ubud. Another Ed Tuttle masterpiece, the resort is built into a former coconut plantation on an unfathomably steep mountain slope. Here, Tuttle pays homage to Eastern Bali’s Karangasem Palaces with a three-tier pool, inspired by terraced rice paddies, that spills down the mountain. At the base is a private beach overlooking the Lombok Strait and lorded over by lanky, elegant coconut palms. Pampering reaches new heights here as the beach staff nurture me with pińa coladas, soft shell crab tacos and fish burgers in between sets of body boarding and kayaking. After a hearty dose of salt water and sun, I’m whisked by electric cart back up the mountain to my villa, where I cool off in my private infinity pool.
Nishimuruya Shogetsutei, Kinosaki Onsen, Japan
rooms from $345
This Nishimuruya, the hotel annex property, is no shrinking violet to its sister Nishimiruya Honkan. The hotel has an excellent English speaking staff and several onsen baths in which to soak, including themed private baths for couples that overlook the evergreen forests of Mount Kuruhi, spacious in room onsen and hinoki ofuro soaking tubs, and an onsen for hotel guests. The food was also outstanding.
rooms from $190
This splashy old hotel, refurbed in 2016, is perched atop a woodsy hill on Shima’s roughhewn Rias Coast, hosted the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in spring 2016, and is full of stories that may never go beyond its walls. At first glance, it may look like a faceless megaresort, but its walls are lovingly decorated with generations of Japanese artists, its restaurants churn out consistently excellent cuisine, both western and Japanese, and its views of Ago Bay and its woodsy surroundings are breathtaking.
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13 Noteworthy Stays

1. Alpenroyal, Val Gardena, Sud Tirol, Italy

2. Amandari, Bali, Indonesia

3. Alila Ulu Watu, Bali, Indonesia

4. Rondon Ridge, Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea

5. Margot House, Barcelona, Spain

6. Amerigo 1936, Savigno, Italy

7. Hotel Gammel Skovriddergaard, Silkeborg, Denmark

8. Hotel Ameron, Hamburg, Germany

9. Boringdon Hall, Devon, England

10. Pax Montana, Flüeli-Ranft, Switzerland

11. Seminar and Wellness Hotel, Stoos, Switzerland

12. Amanemu, Shima, Japan

13. Risveglio, Tokyo, Japan

The Full List

 

1. Inca Real, Cuenca, Ecuador

2. Bellavista Lodge, Mindo, Ecuador

3. Sisakuna Lodge, Mindo, Ecuador

4. Alpenroyal Sud Tirol, Italy

5. Baglioni, Milano, Italy

6. Nira Alpina, Engadine, Switzerland

7. Suvretta House, St Moritz, Switzerland

8. Hotel&SPA Internazionale, Bellizona, Switzerland

9. The View, Lugano, Switzerland

10. Chalet Stella Alpina, Bedretto, Ticino, Switzerland

11. Amanjiwo, Java, Indonesia

12. Gumaya Tower Hotel, Semarang, Java, Indonesia

13. Deluxe Klotok Riverboat I , Tanjung Putting, Boreno, Indonesia

14. Alila Ulu Watu, Bali, Indonesia

15. Amanwana, Moyo Island, Indonesia

16. Amandari, Bali, Indonesia

17. Amankila, Bali, Indonesia

18. Rondon Ridge, Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea

19. Ambua Lodge, Tari, PNG

20. Kawawari Lodge, Sepik River, PNG

21. Hotel du Musee Gare, Mulhouse, France

22. Casa Bonay, Barcelona, Spain

23. Margot House, Barcelona, Spain

24. Viking Sea, Paris to Bergen

25. Radisson Blu, Bergen, Norway

26. Gjáargarður, Gjógv, Faroe Islands

27. Hotel Forayar, Faroe Islands

28. Torshavn Hotel, Faroe Islands

29. Hotel Staubbach, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

30. Albergo Ristaurante, Sensole Lago di Iseo, Monteisolo

31. Hotel Torino, Parma, Italy

32. Amerigo 1936, Savigno, Italy

33. B&B I Cappanni di Raggio, Italy

34. Albergo Degli Affreshi, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy

35. NH Collection, Rome, Italy

36. Seminar and Wellness Hotel, Stoos, Switzerland

37. Bertazzi B&B, Ticino, Switzerland

38. Dobra Vila, Soca Valley, Slovenia

39. Nebesa, Soca Valley, Slovenia

40. Seminar and Wellness, Stoos (again)

41. Golzernsee Gasthaus, Golzern, Canton Uri, Switzerland

42. Hotel Bellavista, Mennagio, Como, Italy

43. Hotel Callier, Gruyere, Switzerland

44. Marselis Hotel, Aarhus, Denmark

45. Hotel Gammel Skovriddergaard, Silkeborg, Denmark

46. Cabinn, Aarhus, Denmark

47. Benen-Diken-Hof, Keitum, Sylt, Germany

48. Hotel Ameron, Hamburg, Germany

49. London Kensington House, London, England

50. Boringdon Hall, Devon, England

51. Seaside Boarding House, Dorset, England

52. Pax Montana, Flueli, Switzerland

53. Aria Budapest, Budapest, Hungary

54. Four Seasons, Budapest, Hungary

55. Viking Sea, Venice to Athens

56. Hotel Corona D’oro, Bologna, Italy

57. Palace Maria Luigi, Parma, Italy

58. Sheraton Miyako, Tokyo, Japan

59. Karuizawa Prince Hotel, Karuizawa, Japan

60. Shima Kanko, Shima, Japan

61. Amanoshima, Toba, Japan

62. Amanemu, Shima, Japan

63. Hiogiso, Shima, Japan

64. Nishimuruya Shogetsutei, Kinosaki, Japan

65. Nishimuruya Honkan, Kinosaki

66. Risveglio, Tokyo, Japan

67. Hotel Menini, Milan, Italy

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Noteworthy Meals of 2016: Part 2

by adam on January 8, 2017

I love writing about my favorite meals of the year and 2016 was a great year of food for me. The last few years I’ve started keeping a journal of my excellent meals, and because I seek them out, the list become longer every year. So this year, I’m organizing my best meals into three categories. Think of it as my own Michelin rip off.

But first, let me say this to those who think I don’t edit: there were several high end, notable, Michelin starred restaurants that did not make it onto my list. I don’t chase stars, I seek out good food. Like most of you, I probably ate about 1,150 meals in 2016. I’d estimate that I ate out about 450 meals in 2016 including breakfasts, airline meals, business lunches, snacks, etc). Of those, 70 meals made this list. 12 were ***Sublime. 28 were **Excellent and another 30 were *Noteworthy.

The top category ***Sublime are meals that were transformative, unique, memorable, and Proustian. Dishes that challenged my palette and expressed an essential regional flavor. They are not necessarily Michelin-stared places and do not necessarily focus on especially talented chefs, but instead embody meals that are perfectly expressed in a variety of ways, from ambiance to quality of food to integrity of flavors. These meals are rare, and the joy I experience during them is part of what makes the food so good. (Or is it vice versa?).  The meals are destination-worthy and worth traveling long distances for.

The **Excellent category are meals that were outstanding and memorable and would merit a second visit. These meals also elicited joy and unexpected pleasure in unexpected places (a hospital and airport are on this list) and feature quality food and outstanding cooking. These are all places I would heartily recommend to other food loving friends, and worth going out of the way for.

The *Noteworthy category is by no means a loser. It also reflects my top meals of 2016 but includes meals that lacked a consistency with quality or service or were subject to other minor flaws that detracted from the overall experience. I don’t mean that they didn’t have the right glassware or that there were smudges on the linen, because I don’t care about that stuff. But all it takes is one off ingredient or a waiter’s grumpy attitude to transform the sublime to the so-so. Nevertheless, these restaurants should be on the radar of food lovers, but might need to work out a few kinks. I enthusiastically recommend, but with some reservations.

Other food favorites from 2016 include markets, bakeries, bars, snacks, and native foods that were especially good at the source.

As with all my lists, these meals and restaurants are not listed in any particular order.

 

12 Sublime Meals of 2016

1. Etika, Torshavn, Faroe Island
meals from $35
Etika is the Faroe Islands’ first sushi restaurant and it’s located in a glassy building in the center of the Island’s capital, Tórshavn. I ate here in May and it was the best sashimi I had in 2016 (which says a lot since I spent two weeks in Japan the same year.) The restaurant’s lacquered tangerine walls and sun-flooded dining room are a far stretch from authentic Japanese. But its tender porbeagle, cod, and langoustine sashimi were some of the best I’ve had anywhere, each expressing a flavor as pure as the surrounding sea. Food from the Faroes has a purity that’s evident in every bite, mostly because its waters and meadows have been minimally tampered with by humankind. Langoustine from Faroes is described as one of the purist flavors in the New Nordic Food Manifesto and the cold sweet flavors of the langoustine at Etika are no exception.
2. Amerigo dal 1934, Savigno, Italy
meals from $32
This is the kind of Italian trattoria my husband and I dream of—an untouched interior, and not widely known to Michelin-checking food rovers (though it does have one Michelin star). Its warm, Italian (but English-speaking) owners Marina Malavasi and Alberto Bettini can be seen running the establishment day to day in the picturesque Emile Romagna town of Savigno know for absolutely nothing—its very appeal. We ate here twice. The last meal was a TKO and started with an amuse bouche of chickpea puree followed by a bottle of cold chardonnay, a plate of cold smoked char with green tomatoes and truffled beef tartare—ideal for the sweltering hot June evening we visited. Less ideal, but worthy of the sweat it induced were a plate of Taglitele Bolognese Ragu with a cool crisp raw onion atop it and a torteli gratin which arrived from the wood fired oven with the béchamel sauce still bubbling. Cod with mayo and potatoes and pork three ways with gratin onion cake were other memorable dishes. But the undisputed highlight was the homemade fiori di latte gelato topped with a swirl of Aceto Balsamico, a sublime way to end any meal.
3. B&B I Cappanni di Raggio, Sant’Agata Feltria, Apennines, Italy
breakfast free with stay 
Sometimes what makes a meal so outstanding is it unexpectedness. My husband and I made a booking at B+B I Cappanni located on the “Via di Dante” atop a woodsy mountain pass in the Apennines for his birthday in June. To be honest, we only stayed there so that we could experience a notable truffle restaurant in town. But the B&B’s humble breakfast proved infinitely better than the truffle restaurant. A knock on our door in the morning revealed the olive-skinned owner standing there gesturing that breakfast was ready. He invited us into the rustico’s main kitchen, where it’s served. There, on a red and white checker clothed table, was one of biggest breakfast spreads I’ve seen: homemade almond apple cake, blackberry and fig jam, fresh cherries, a truffle-flecked fromage di fosso (a local cave-aged cheese usually made by individual families instead of professional cheese-makers) plates of smoked ham and salumi, and a big platter stacked with tomato bruchetta. He also offered us piping hot coffee prepared from a mokka pot. Every dish was prepared by our Italian host, who barely spoke English, and had painstakingly renovated the rustico himself. Don’t miss the display of nighttime fireflies along the B+B’s roadside in June and July.
4. Olevm, Montefalco, Umbria
meals from $25
As I get older, I find myself returning to same restaurants, a habit I eschewed in my younger days. But when you find good food, don’t let go of it! I first dined here in autumn 2015 and added it to my Best of 2015 list that year. I loved it so much I came back with my husband in June 2016. The house specialty at the tidy, unassuming  food shop turned eatery is olive oil, and it comes to the table in a variety of ways, including an Umbrian olive oil sampler with fresh baked breads, an excellent antipasto mixto with artichokes, tomatoes and mushrooms drowning in various golden puddles of EVOO and fragrant soups swirled with the zesty jade-colored elixir. The chicken in Sagrantino sauce is a rich savory take on the local Sagrantino wine, but the sweet, slow cooked eggplant parmesan is not to be missed, wrapped in a thick coat of sweet tomato sauce and topped with cheese. Of course, everything tasted better washed down with a bottle of trademark Grecheto, a local white wine that was a nice alternative to the heavy tanniny Sagrantino we’d been guzzling. Located in the heart of Montefalco, locals head to the restaurant’s quiet and creaky upstairs dining room, while tourists often take over the sunny terrace.
5. Engel, Walchwil, Lake Zug, Switzerland
meals from $35
I complain a lot about Swiss food. The cheese is wonderful—the best I’ve had anywhere. But meat in Swiss German-speaking Switzerland is always low on flavor and usually either breaded, smothered in cream, or minced into wurst (sausage). It’s almost always overcooked and dry and usually served with soggy overcooked vegetables or frozen French fries. Finding a good steak is rare (pun intended). But one meat dish that consistently stands out in Switzerland is poulet im chörbli, which in Swiss German means ‘chicken in a basket’ and is considered low-brow, road food. Restaurants serving it will often place a large cartoony chicken out front to indicate its prominence on the menu. I’ve tried poulet im chörbli at about 10 different places across Central Switzerland (where it’s most popular). It’s almost always a better alternative to the creamed veals, greasy cheese and pork laden rösti dishes, and wurst salads, a revolting Germanic invention that’s more wurst than salad, pun intended again. The poulet im chörbli is a marinated half chicken fried in oil, (unbreaded) which yields a crispy skin and usually served with a creamy sauce that comes in three different spice ranges, extra scharf being the spiciest. The one I ate in October at the wood-paneled stubli Engel is extraordinary— the best I’ve had so far and impressed Ralph and my visiting New York City friend too. It’s tender, not overcooked, with crispy skin, extra scharf sauce that’s tangy, rich and spicy. Atop the accompanying salad was the word “Engel” written in balsamico and a silver gravy boat filled with a creamy homemade French dressing with just the right amount of mustard. A rosé paired excellently with the light meat, as did the red wine, a Blauburgunder from the region.
6. Marselis Hotel, Room Service, Aarhus, Denmark
meals from $40
Because it’s terrible for the environment, I don’t order steak as much as I used to. But I still treat myself from time to time, usually as a reward. After a long day of travel and reporting on a BBC archeology story on Danish Bog Bodies in September, I arrived at my hotel in Aarhus at about 7:30pm, too late to go back into town for dinner. So I ordered room service, which I seldom do. And what a delight! Prime rib steak cooked to pink-centered perfection, a side of creamy, flavorful béarnaise sauce, fluffy crisp steak fries, and a fresh green dressed salad served in a Weck jar. There’s nothing revolutionary about room service steak. But this meal stood out because of execution. It’s one thing to create amazing food, but nailing comfort classics takes a special skill. The staff even offered to waive the $10 delivery charge if I went downstairs to retrieve the trayed meal myself, which I of course did.
7. La Piazetta del Gusto, Nonantola, Italy
meals from $25
This is another unassuming Italian joint, located in the village of Nonantola, just outside Modena. The polpette (small meatballs) came dressed in a silky parmesan sauce, and Passatelli (a rustic pasta made with breadcrumbs and eggs) arrived in a variety of forms including one with artichoke and another with prosciutto. Sides includes char-grilled radicchio drizzled with olive oil and dabbed with inky splots of aceto balsamico, and fluffy polenta cakes studded with mushroom and parmesan. The meal was fortified with rich Lambruscos like a Sorbara and a Scurone Sgrassaporco followed by a glass of dark and nutty noccino. If you’re lucky, the charismatic owner Massimo will greet your table as he did mine this past November, chatting us up in a mix of English and Italian.
8. I don’t make a habit of attending press events, as I often find them useless time-killers. But the press launch of the 2017 Michelin Guide to Italy in Parma was not only worthwhile but incredibly delicious. It was also heartening to see so many Michelin noted cooks— men and women, young and old (and even a few non Italians)— take to the stage for the event. Seeing the older chefs welcome and congratulate the new guard exemplified the best of Italian food cooperation. Better yet, several starred chefs offed up their creations to the jam-packed press event. Delectable dishes included lemon vanilla risotto, creamed gnochetti with mushrooms and culatello and snails in green sauce. But one was a standout: Bomba con bolliyo di pancetta, senape e lattuga. The fluffy pork bun sandwich turned out to be from a Michelin three starred chef Niko Romito who melded Asian and Italian cuisines perfectly for this tasty bun, which was by far the tastiest thing at the event and had throngs of food journalists queuing until they ran out. I haven’t been to Niko’s Ristorante Reale, in Abbruzo, located in the middle of the boot, about 2-hours drive respectively from Napoli and Roma, but I intend to add it to my list.
9. Shima Kanko Hotel, Hamayu, Shima, Japan
breakfasts included with stay
I never expect breakfast to wow me. But when it does, it’s news. Breakfast in Japan is one of the most laborious meals of the day and the variety of plates that greet you are a wonderful way to awaken your palette and other senses. If a hotel offers a Japanese breakfast or the Western buffet, always chose the Japanese breakfast, as I did during my stay at the Shima Kanko Hotel, which hosted the G7 leaders in spring 2016. The Japanese breakfast is located on the third floor of the Bay Suites Hotel, the property’s new annex. My breakfast spread barely fit into the photo. It included a rolled Japanese omelet, a fried tofu ball, simmered turnip, a bowl of tiny baby sardines with their eyes sparkling, (yes it’s slightly weird), a red pepper miso and seaweed served in a wood box with a hot charcoal under it gently toasting it. My dinners at Shima Kanka’s Teppanyaki Grill and French Restaurant were outstanding also and both are included below.
10. Edokin Izakaya, Toba, Japan
meals from $20
My best meals in Japan are often at Izakaya, Japanese pubs, and this hidden charmer emphasizing local sake and tofu was no exception. I accidently discovered it while walking from my hotel in search of place to eat one rainy November night in Toba, a small city in Mie Prefecture 3 hours from Tokyo. As usual, I entered hesitantly, not knowing if they would have an English menu. But I was relieved and joy-struck when the kind, non-English speaking waitress went to the kitchen and came back with a hand written English translation of the entire 7 page menu (not including the sake), a rarity in Japan. I settled into my bar seat with an iced sweet potato shochu and communicated my needs by pointing kindly and smiling to the waitress, while additional questions were handled by Google Translate. Every dish she brought back was perfect. Highlights included the izakaya’s signature dish, a bowl of fried tofu in a sake, mirin and soy sauce and topped with scallions and bonito flakes and julienned seaweed. Chicken wings were sweet, sticky and crisp, grilled chicken skewers were tangy with flecks of citrusy yuzu, Ise Udon was especially thick and fragrant and topped with an egg, and the never-ending selection of sake helped wash it all down. Because of language and cultural barriers, Japan can be the most difficult place to eat as a traveler, but the payoff is especially rewarding when you go off piste and explore the unknown.
11. Amanemu, Shima, Japan
meals from $100 
The architecturally aesthetic Aman Resorts known for their exorbitant rates and 1%er guests are not typically beloved for their food, but it seems as if the brand is turning that reputation around. The cuisine at one their newest properties, Amanemu, in Shima, Japan is excellent. Dinner during my stay (for a magazine assignment) was a Sukiyaki made tableside by a local woman known for her savvy Sukiyaki skills. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) She dropped a piece of beef fat in a hot copper pot before gently deposited marbled slices of Matsusaka beef (a Japanese beef considered better than Kobe) followed by three types of mushrooms (enoki, kikurage, and shitake), a square hunk of charred walnut tofu, and slices of turnip, carrot, tomato and green onion before adding the exquisite soup base of sake, mirin sugar and soy (a base for just about every sauce in Japan). Two raw eggs in a bowl were given to dip the beef into. It was rich and sublime and a must for any food lover. The Ise Udon was another highlight, made in a dark black daishi and soy sauce instead of a broth and filled with thick wheat Udon noodles, topped with a tempura shrimp, fish cake and green onions and a raw egg. A bottle of 2012 Koshu Mitsaka Japanese Wine was the perfect accompaniment to the meal. The Koshu grape was brought to Japan over a thousand years ago and came directly from Georgia, where wine originated. Like all things in Japan, Japanese wine is excellent and is constantly being perfected. The Japanese breakfast the next morning was equally outstanding with the usual rolled eggs, grilled fish, baby clam studded miso soup and more.
12. Nishimuraya Hotel, Kinosaki Onsen, Japan
meals included with stay
Good hotel food is a rarity. So are two excellent meals back to back. Both of those feats were accomplished with aplomb at this renown ryokan in Kinosaki, a small onsen town on Honshu’s Southwest coast. A special Matsusake beef dinner served in-room, in accordance with local ryokan tradition, was the standout. First of all, Nishimuraya is one of the best ryokan I’ve ever stayed at, in the same league as Hiiragiya in Kyoto, which I stayed at last year and which made multiple Best Of 2015 lists. Here, there are two different properties, an old ryokan and a modern hotel and both are excellent. Our server Yumiko spoke perfect English, and was hard working and charming and three dimensional all at once. And the food was a knock out. The Tajima beef kaiseki dinner included beef served with Matsuba pine needle, a silky orange yam chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard), mushroom and mitsuba leaf, shiromi sashimi, and Tajima beef in a variety of ways including grilled ishiyaki, konyasai nikomi stew, tajima beef aburi roast beef, shabu shabu, and raw beef sobora sushi. Each new dish was served a new saki, served in its own bowl of ice with an accompanying seasonal flower or plant. 24. A crab kaiseki dinner at Nishimuraya Honkan Ryokan came with tofu sunroot, wasabi oroshi, smoked duck, charcoal crab, and warm sake with a crab leg in it. Breakfast at both properties also outstanding, especially the tamago onsen, an egg soft boiled in the onsen thermal water. My husband Ralph ordered the western breakfast at the Honkan and it came with an electric toaster oven!

 

28 Excellent Meals of 2016

 

1. Urko, Quito, Ecuador
Ecuadorian meats go haute at this modernist new restaurant in Quito.
Highlights: Sautéed beef medallions in smoked banana sauce, naranjilla and black beer ice cream, slow poached eggs, Andean potatoes.
2. Ristorante L’Ciamin, Selva, Val Gardena, Sud Tirol, Italy
Lively everyday tavern in Sud Tirol’s ski town of Val Gardena.
Highlights: Fluffy puffy speck knudel and crispy speck topped pizza.
3. Fienile Monte, Passo Sella, Canazei, Sud Tirol, Italy
Skiers take a snowplow up the mountain for this special Alpine dinner party.
Highlights: Excellent appertivo with truffled honey, shrimp, beef on grissini, tuna crudo, fried cheese, and lambrusco. T-bone steak with béarnaise sauce, chateaubriand, crispy roast potatoes unusual red wines unique to Sud Tirol, corn soup.
4. Ryoshi, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Went twice to this relaxed Japanese garden restaurant during my 4 night stay in Ubud. It was that good.
Highlights: Yakiniku (grilled beef), pork katsu, tuna sashimi, salty sukiyaki, tempura, soba noodles, followed by a Balinese rosé.
5. Straits Food Village, Changi Airport, Singapore
Yes, an airport food court made my list. It’s rare to have a bad meal in Singapore, and even the airport offers up incredible flavors.
Highlights: Singapore dry noodles (noodles with duck and fresh chilis), vegetable and pork dumplings, #7J on the automated system.
6. Quadro, Hirslanden Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland
Hospital Food too!? Yep. This destination worthy restaurant inside the hospital draws a lot of doctors, nurses, and patient’s family members.
Highlights: Mouselline soup, vitello tonato, and a glass of petite arvine.
7. Spisekroken, Bergen, Norway
This hidden gem of a restaurant in Bergen packs in the flavor emphasizing local Scandinavian ingredients.
Highlights: Trout and Salmon in lemon butter, artichoke cream soup, grilled lamb, shaved beets.
8. Trattoria Da Danillo, Rome, Italy
A haughty bearded server at this small restaurant told us which wines were for men and which for women, while tourists snapped food photos with their phones.
Highlights: Mozzeralla with anchovies, polpette in cream sauce, spaghetti carbonara with saffron and zucchini, Grechete wine, pasta Amatriciana, side of chicory.
9. Hosteria Grappolo d’Oro, Rome, Italy
Great atmosphere with mostly Romans at this bustling Slow Food restaurant in Rome’s Campo Dei Fiori.
Highlights: Antipasto Misto, fried meat balls, eggplant parmasean, baccalao, parmagiana, buratta with crackers, Insalata spinaci with walnuts, pears and cheese.
10. Vyta, Rome, Bologna, Milan, and Venice, Italy
This small boulangerie, cafeteria and espresso chain at Italian train stations has kept me especially well fed while traveling across Italy on the highspeed frecciarossa trains.
Highlights: Roast beef on croissant with cucumbers and cheese, pizza calabria, croissant with mozzarella basil and tomatoes, sfoglietele, ricotta stuffed cake, truffled cheese and mortadella pannini.
11. Seminar and Wellness Hotel, Stoos, Switzerland
So good, I ate at this four-star Alpine hotel restaurant twice during my two separate stays. Excellent Swiss wine selection and a surprisingly great choice of fish, from see & sea.
Highlights: Char and pasta, heaping green salad, Petite Arvine, Amuse Bouche fried mushrooms.
12. La Faura, Cavagnago, Ticino, Switzerland
Small family run restaurant hidden atop the mountain in Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian speaking canton.
Highlights: minestrone soup fortified with pesto sauce, vegetable lasagna with zucchini and a jug of hearty Ticinese Merlot.
13. Hiša Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia
The female chef at this family run restaurant was featured on the Netflix series Chef’s Table, and rightly so.
Highlights: Slovenian wines, beef and native grass platter, marble trout with chestnuts and bayleaf; watermelon, rhubarb and langoustines, Summer couliflower ravioli; walnut meringue; mountain rabbit that wants to become a Mexican chicken.
14. Restaurant Le Chalet Gruyeres, Gruyeres, Switzerland
Watch out for the falling apples at the outdoor terrace of this charming fondue stubli.
Highlights: Moitié-Moitié Fondue, excellent heaping salads, Swiss wines.
15. Street Food Market, Aarhus, Denmark
New street food market in former Aarhus bus station has touches of elegance and anarchy.
Highlights: Flaeskesteg sandwiches, tacos, pulled duck sandwich, pizza, cocktails
Excellent Japanese breakfast at this hidden charmer of a hotel in an offbeat Tokyo neighborhood.
Highlights: Chowanmushi, grilled fish, miso soup
17. Yamabuki Teppanyaki at Shima Kanko Hotel, Shima, Japan
Highlights: Japanese wines, grilled ise ebi lobster, grilled Matsusaka beef, grilled abalone
18. La Mer the Classic at Shima Kanko Hotel, Shima, Japan
Bonito macaroon, Ise lobster cream soup, grilled abalone with sea lettuce sauce,
sauteed Ise lobster with Port wine sauce, Yonezawa Mochi Laley risotto,
Matsusaka beef tenderloin with Ise green tea and Miyagawa wasabi,
Chateau Mercian Japanese Chardonnay
19. Ifuu, Izakaya, Tokyo, Japan
Excellent Izakaya in the Nakameguro neighborhood of Tokyo
Highlights: sea urchin rice, chicken wrapped asparagus, skewers, sashimi,
20. Satoumi An, Shima, Japan
Female Ama divers on the Ise Peninsula forage for a variety of seafood, including oysters and scallops. I visited two Ama Huts in Ise Peninsula, but Satoumi An was by far the better of the two.
Highlights: Grilled lobster, barracuda, scallops on the halfshell, grilled squid with mayo and Shichi-mi tōgarashi, homemade rice cracker.
21. Hiogiso, Shima, Japan
Excellent under the radar ryokan dripping with handmade cypress carpentry, great onsen and super friendly staff and a shibu inu named Madeline.
Highlights: nabe in paper with chicken and shrimp, fresh oysters, lotus root, sake, chowanmushi, sashimi, scallops, tempura
22. Menbakaichidai, Kyoto, Japan
Tiny Ramen counter in Kyoto where chef lights ramen on fire.
Highlights: Fire Ramen, karage,
23. Orizuru, Kinosaki, Japan
Small cozy sushi restaurant in heart of Kinosaki Onsen town serving excellent sushi.
Highlights: Sushi, sashimi, crab
24. El Tombon de San Marc, Milan, Italy
Bottle stuffed Art Deco restaurant in Milan’s Brera district.
Highlights: Spaghetti Pomodoro, risotto, soup
Wonderfully homey and charming cheese restaurant on Milan’s Navigli canals.
Highlights: Spaghetti with peccorino and walnuts, truffled sheep’s cheese on cracker bread, artichoke salad.
26. La Toscana di Tony, Milan, Italy
Owners Tony and Angelo run the Tuscan style restaurant on Piazzale Lavater.
Highlights: Steak, pork on raddicihio with honey and truffle, artichoke salad
27. Walserhuus, Sertig, Davos, Switzerland
Family owned stubli at end of a road in a Graubunden valley near base of Mittaghorn
Highlights: Capuns, Pizzokel
28. Amankila, Bali, Indonesia
Upgraded beach food classics at the Ed Tuttle designed masterpiece resort.
Highlights: Pińa coladas, soft shell crab tacos, fish burgers

 

 

30 Noteworthy Restaurants of 2016 

1. Pristiva Lepena, Triglav National Park, Slovenia
2. Anchor Inn, Seatowne, Dorset, England
3. Samphire Bush, Plymouth, Devon, England
4. Café Diogenes, Athens, Greece
5. Borgo 20, Parma, Italy
6. Konoba Stomorica, Zadar, Croatia
7. En Plo, Corfu, Greece
8. Kotaro, Tokyo, Japan
9. Auberge au Vieux, Mulhouse, France
10. Can Kanji, Barcelona, Spain
11. Taminrindo, Barcelona, Spain
12. Ochsen, Brunnen, Switzerland
14. Boringdon Hall, Plympton, Devon, England
15. Seaside Boarding House, Burton Bradstock, Dorset, England
17. Asakasa View Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
18. Rondon Ridge, Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea
19. Dobra Vila, Bovec, Slovenia
20. Tokyo Tapas, Viadukt, Zurich, Switzerland
21. Brasserie Louis Takeaway, Zurich, Switzerland
22. Zum Guten Gluck, Zurich, Switzerland
23. Chez Nhan, Zurich, Switzerland
24. Jura Blick, Zurich, Switzerland
25. Cocorone, Montefalco, Italy
26. Monte Caruso, Rome, Italy
27. Tratoria Delle Telle, Poretta Terme, Italy
28. Albergo Ristorante Sensole, Sensole on Monteisola, Italy
29. Trattoria Tribunale, Parma, Italy
30. Costes Downtown, Budapest, Hungary

 

2016 Markets, Bakeries, Bars, Gelatarias, Snacks, Cafés, and Foods at the Source
Bakeries
Il Fornaio Bakery, Campo Dei Fiori, Rome, Italy
Il Forno dei Navigli Bakery, Navigli, Milan, Italy
Butter Bretzel at Stadelmann Bakery, Zurich, Switzerland
Café and Takeaway
Sfoglitelle and peach gelato at il Pergolino, Vidiciatico, Italy
Pastry at Mordi e Fuggi, Foligno, Italy
Auguszt, Budapest, Hungary
Baccanale Take Away, Campo Dei Fiori, Rome, Italy
Filleto Bacalao (fried cod filet) at Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara, Rome, Italy
Espresso, Bar Trovellesi, Assisi, Italy
Pavé, Milan, Italy
Gelataria
Gelataria Vitti, Rome, Italy
Lobster Gelatto at Akafuko, Oharaimachi, Ise, Japan
Zabione and Ricotta Gelato at Remondini, Modena, Italy
Bars
Buža II, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Bar Luce, Milan, Italy
Bond, Milan, Italy
Bar Basso, Milan, Italy
Kronenhalle Bar, Zurich, Switzerland
Le Raymond Bar, Zurich, Switzerland
Koleves Bar at Four Seasons Budapest, Hungary
Markets
Quadralatero Market, Bologna, Italy
Zurich Street Food Market, Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich Christmas Market, Zurich, Switzerland
Takashimaya, Tokyo, Japan
Don Quixote, Tokyo, Japan
Globus Delicatessa, Zurich, Switzerland
Great Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary
Belvárosi Piac, Budapest, Hungary
Fish Market, Bergen, Norway
Outdoor Market, Silkeborg, Denmark
Peck, Milan, Italy
Mt Hagen Market, Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea
Mercat de la Concepcio, Barcelona, Spain
Tokyo Station
Kyoto Station
Hamburg Hauptbahnoff
Milano Centrale
Foods at the Source:
Pacari Chocolate, Quito, Ecuador
Naranjilla, Quito, Ecuador
Squarquerone in Citte Castello, Italy
Parmesan, Parma, Italy
Aceto Balsamico, Modena, Italy
Engadine Nusstorte, Engadine Valley, Switzerland
Prosciutto, Parma, Italy
Sagrantino Wine, Montefalco, Italy
Lasagna, Emila Romagna, Italy
Lambrusco, Bologna, Italy
Gruyere, Gruyere, Switzerland
Olive oil, Umbria, Italy
Aperol Spritz, Milan, Italy
Sweet Potatoes, Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea
Ale, Devon, England
Ghoulash, Budapest, Hungary
Gjetost, Bergen, Norway
Sashimi, Japan
Ramen, Japan
Udon, Japan
Tonkatsu, Japan

 

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Ok, self promotion doesn’t get lower than this. But who cares. Are you looking for some weekend reads and travel ideas this chilly weekend. Here’s a selection of my favorite excerpts from my 14 favorites travel stories, all written by me. Some are even funny. Travel more in 2017! And enjoy!

  1. Departures.com, How Viking Changed Cruises

Sea had several hidden nooks for reading and escaping other people (another rarity on cruise-ships), and I spent a gloriously quiet evening alone in the best of them: the Explorers’ Lounge library, a highlight for any intrepid traveler. I sank into a leather sofa thumbing through a gold-embossed copy of Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen, scanned Livingstone’s Missionary Correspondence, 1841-1856, and perused the hefty three-pound, 715-page behemoth The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garr. The library’s acquisition of out-of-print facsimile reproductions, newly released titles, and preservation of century-old first editions shows an inspiring dedication to the spirit of exploration. I spent a lot of time in the Explorers’ Lounge while the ship crossed the North Sea from the Thames Estuary to Bergen, lavishing a nautical comfort the authors couldn’t possibly dream of—and reveling in what is surely a new and very comfortable age of exploration.

  1. Silverkris, Singapore Air’s Inflight Magazine, Ski Niseko, Japan

Often called the St Moritz of Japan, Niseko embodies Japanese ski culture: bowls of fortifying ramen in between runs, steamy apres-ski onsen and its own snow-capped mountain that’s as perfectly symmetrical as any view of Mount Fuji rendered by iconic Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. But the reality is Niseko is perhaps about as Japanese as St Moritz is Swiss. Ski destinations – cosmopolitan by nature – seldom represent the countries they’re located in, and Niseko is no exception. The town, on the island of Hokkaido, is nothing like the rest of Japan. Its bulky Brutalist architecture is more aligned with neighbouring Russian and Chinese Soviet design than it is with the graceful ancient Edo style that punctuates much of Japan. It’s fitting, since Niseko is closer as the crow flies to Russia and China than it is to Tokyo. Most of Hokkaido’s ancient traditions come from the indigenous Ainu, who settled in Hokkaido around 18,000BC and resisted Japanese occupation for millennia.

  1. New York Times, Street Food Market in Aarhus

Mexican food is a consistent letdown in Europe, but times are changing — the Mexican Donkey served authentic tacos with tomatillo salsa verde, complex mole without dairy, pink pickled onions and rustic wheat tortillas. To maintain momentum, I swung by Dash for an old-fashioned. Desserts at Nord Gourmet included rugbrodscrunch, a rock-hard rye biscotti that surely keeps Danish dentists in business, and a buttery rhubarb crumble.

  1. Wall Street Journal, Le Corbusier Roadtrip in France and Switzerland

A 70-mile drive south from La Chaux-de-Fonds led to France’s woodsy Vosges Mountains. There, in Ronchamp, is Notre Dame du Haut chapel, considered Le Corbusier’s masterpiece, atop a hill covered in holly and wild roses. By turns alien and primitive, Notre Dame du Haut, built in 1955 of bulging whitewashed concrete and a wildly sloping roof, looks like a rare mushroom that mysteriously sprouted overnight. Inside, the building reveals calculated detail: bullet-hole windows letting in dusky light, unadorned cement staircases, pews made of African wood, a white Burgundy stone altar and stained-glass painted by Le Corbusier himself. I spent an hour wandering around as nuns and collared men met for prayers, and visiting architects from Asia and Europe admired the 27 irregular windows on the chapel’s southern wall. Frank Gehry once confessed to crying every time he visited.

  1. Endless Vacation, Eat Japan

Nothing delivers “Old Japan” better than Kyoto’s ryokan, where ornate multicourse kaiseki meals are still served privately in-room to overnight guests. Hiiragiya is a standout. The 28-room, sixth- generation inn features dishes such as simmered razor clams with bamboo shoots, yuba (tofu skin) dumplings, cod roe miso and urchin omelets, all served on handcrafted Kiyomizu ceramics and elegant lacquerware in your tatami- mat room, where shoji (papered screens) and fusuma (sliding doors) transport you to another era.

  1. BBC Travel, 2,000 Year Old Cold Case: Danish Bog Bodies

Ravn and I drove 10km west to the unmarked Harald’s Bog, where Haraldskær Woman was discovered. Like the bogs I’d seen from the train, it was covered in bright green duckweed and surrounded by a dense thicket of trees, under which crooked purple mushrooms and bright red berries burst with color in pockets of sunlight. There’s something magical and otherworldly about these bogs, and it’s easy to see why they were once chosen as sacrificial sites – and why they maintain an inexplicable magnetic pull today.

  1. New York Times, Bites: Fermented Foods Restaurant Raest in Faroe Islands

The restaurant itself is in Torshavn, the capital, on the main island of Streymoy, in a creaky 400-year-old house that makes Ingmar Bergman sets look Baroque. The narrow dining room’s floors, walls and ceilings are built of salvaged driftwood. Communal tables seat 27 and are made from the reclaimed Douglas pine of an old schooner’s mast. A Delft stove once fueled by blubber oil sits in the corner. It’s a reminder that Scandinavian minimalism was never a choice in these islands — it was a necessity.

  1. New York Times, Check in: Kameha Grand, Zurich

To call the 245-room business hotel a train wreck is an insult to wrecked trains. The Dutch designer Marcel Wanders’s overwrought décor has Swiss and Hawaiian motifs competing against one another — a cowbell lamp here, a lei there. Ukulele music, fondue pots, flocked floral wallpaper and mounted antlers all mingle together in an attempt to be Swiss by way of Maui.

  1. Eat The World, Travel & Leisure SE Asia

With chefs and brewers, vintners and culinarians moving around the world and experimenting with local flavors and ingredients, food has become less of a one-way ticket and more of a round-trip voyage.

  1.  Bombardier Experience, Is Bhutan Really Happy?

While interested in exploring this uniquely Bhutanese claim to fame, I confess to a streak of skepticism. It’s not that I don’t believe Bhutan is happy but, rather, I question whether a country can quantify happiness. And frankly, I’m also here to experience some serious short-term pleasure: a stay at five different Aman properties, each with its own flavor and mix of mile-high modernism, tranquil spas and, in some, traditional hot stone baths (a mixture of river water and wormwood touted for its medicinal properties). After all, the ancient name for Bhutan is The Land of Medicinal Herbs and its traditional medicine stretches back to seventh-century Tibet, with elements borrowed from ancient Indian Ayurvedic techniques. Surely, this too is a source of its happiness.

  1. Islands Magazine, Venice’s Hidden Lagoon Islands

On THE WATER-TAXI RIDE FROM Venice’s Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia, a storm is building on the horizon. The boat skids over the canals, blurring past Gothic arched windows and ornamental bridges before emptying out into the vast, open wetlands of the lagoon. The driver points to the inky sky and shouts over the engine, “Acqua alta!” It means “high water” in Italian, but it’s the Venetian term for the especially high tides that affect the lagoon from September to May. Tellingly, it’s also interchangeable with the local word for storm. Water, as every Venetian knows, is ubiquitous here: It’s under you, around you and, in this case, even over you.

  1. Wall Street Journal, The Overlooked Florida Keys

GOLDEN RULE number one in the Sunshine State: Older is often better. Take, for example, the Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. Built in 1912 as a railroad causeway, it’s now a fishing (and cycling) pier spanning the turquoise water of the Moser Channel. Running parallel is the new Seven Mile Bridge, completed in 1982 and part of the Overseas Highway that leads to the terminus of Florida’s island chain, rollicking Key West.

  1. Travel & Leisure South East Asia,  Yaeyama Islands, Japan

The next 10 blissful days were filled with easy-going excursions around the island. At Ibaruma Sabichi, we trudged through beachfront caves dripping with salty stalactites and encountered Buddhist shell shrines watched over by ruddy kingfishers, bright crimson birds perched on Sakishima- suou trees.

  1. BBC Travel, Night With Dead in Koya-san, Japan

In a mausoleum at the end of the cemetery, he’s offered ritualistic meals twice a day where he remains in eternal meditation concentrating on liberating all beings. Or as we say in the west: dead.

 

 

 

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Noteworthy Meals of 2016: Part 1

by adam on January 5, 2017

Noteworthy Meals of 2016: Part 1
Food as Source of Social Change and the Importance of Complaining

For a travel writer, there are a surprising number of travel-related things I’m terrible at—foreign languages, reading maps, relaxing on beaches, and enduring other tourists. But I know how to do one thing exceptionally well: eat. I not only eat well, I’m a pretty good cook. Most important, I know how to identify good food. Eating has become the single most important part of my life over the years and it’s one of joys that’s gotten me through the dark days of 2016.

Food has the power and capacity to help people better understand foreign cultures. Do you love Trump’s idea of a Mexican-American wall, but you still love tacos and margaritas? Think about that for a minute. A love of a nation’s food is the entryway to understanding its people. It’s a portal to compassion and empathy.

Back in the late 1980s when I was 17, I remember going to my first Thai restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida, close to where I grew up. It was called Songkran and it occupied a shuttered Taco Bell with its trademark quasi Mission architecture and neo-colonial arches. But inside were fountains strewn with Buddhas, potted bamboo, portraits of the Thai King, and walls painted saffron.

Unlike many of my American friends who grew up eating meatloaf and mac ‘n’cheese, we ate relatively well at home because my father was a former chef and culinary school graduate while my mom was a health food nut. But we ate like WASPY New England transplants with a very limited range of Franco-Anglo flavors—fish sautéed in butter, steaks and roast beefs, chowder, chicken, and the occasional Italian dish. Our spice game was weak. A tin of paprika circa 1976 lasted my entire childhood. We ate out a lot too, and by age 15 I was pretty familiar with Mexican, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Swiss, German and Indian food, but those cuisines were definitely not prepared on the avocado Kenmore range back at 70 Alberta Avenue in Ponce Inlet where we lived. Once for Christmas in 1989, we ditched our normal chowder tradition for stuffed shells (pasta shells filled with ricotta and topped with marinara sauce) thinking we were renegades encountering the exotic!

My Jewish/Puerto Rican friend Alicia was a much more adventurous eater, and had a real love of Mexican, Hungarian, and several other cuisines that never made it to the Graham kitchen. When we were old enough to drive, Alicia suggested we go to Songkran, and my first whiff of Thai food was a revelation. A Thai iced tea—perfect for the humid Florida climate—kicked it all off. The woody flavor of the tea combined with the sweet richness of condensed milk was a wake up call to my WASPY western palette. Next came a papaya salad—tangy, slender and tender slices of sweet and spicy all at once. I’d tasted fresh papaya growing in my neighbors’ gardens, but never imagined it like this. The salad was followed by a pot of fragrant Tom Yum Gum, with the heady scent of lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal and bolstered with delicious knotty nuggets of shrimp to absorb the chili’s heat. And finally, a beef green curry, the most complex of Thai dishes, with more lime and galangal, but also flecks of green chilis, shallots, basil, cilantro and a symphony of earthy flavors I’d never imagined. Bursts of lime paired with the creaminess of the coconut milk, laced with the heat of the chili, and contrasted by the unctuousness and leathery strips of beef was so different from anything I’d ever encountered. All of it was ladled atop a bed of fragrant Jasmine rice. Green curry was profoundly intoxicating to me and remains a favorite to this day.

The Grahams were not at all a racist or hateful family. We were quite liberal and very tolerant. Unlike some of my friends, we were not religious at all so we were especially open to all cultures and religions (until we were judged by them.) We had close Italian, Swedish, Korean, Costa Rican, Puerto Rican, and Greek friends. They were Catholic, Jewish, Hindu and Baptist. Still, as a white family we subconsciously valued Western European foods and cultures more than Eastern, African, or Latin ones. We ate Chinese and Japanese food occasionally, but as a kid I had zero desire to actually go to Asia, a sentiment my parents—who had only traveled to Europe—shared.

After Songkran, a tiny curiosity for Thailand began to grow inside of me. My meal there gave me new talking points and discussion material for a foreign country. I began to look it up in my worn atlas. I became interested in its royal history, its mountains and islands and its religions and customs. I began to see Thailand as a three dimensional place. That curiosity blossomed and eventually took me to Thailand, ironically enough with Alicia multiple times. I didn’t realize it then, but Songkran helped me love Thailand. Food transformed the way I felt about a place, about the world.

As we enter 2017, I’m reminded of the importance of food and its capacity to make us grow and evolve. It’s important to remember, while we begin our descent into the long dark tunnel of 2017, that prejudice is not always overt. Sometimes its dormant and is quietly passed down from generation to generation without it ever once being discussed or even realized. Sometimes, silence is more damaging than hate. I hope in 2017, more Americans can open their hearts and minds via their stomachs.

The flip side of this story is something else I’m reminded of. As an immigrant living in another country, I often hear the phrase, “If you don’t like things here, leave.” It’s such a nasty notion and one too easily uttered by folks who feel defensive of their homeland. The not-so-subtle message of this is that if you move to another country (or even another region within the same country), you must be eternally grateful. Complaining is for locals only. But complaining, or kvetching as New Yorkers are fond of calling it, is not only important, it’s vital. Without complaints, the world would be a boring place and Americans would be eating meatloaf and McDonalds, not green curry and papaya salad, and Europeans wouldn’t have coffee, pasta, chocolate, tomatoes or potatoes—all foods that come from other parts of the world. Complaining has helped us discover new foods. It helps us evolve as cultures. It pushes us to change and grow. So I want to remind all expats and immigrants that you should never stop complaining! It’s important that the world not only tolerate different perspectives, but help find solutions too.

En Guete, Bon App, and Itadakimas!

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8 Favorite Destinations of 2016

by adam on December 28, 2016

Below are my 8 favorite destinations of 2016 in no particular order.

  1. Cueñca, Ecuador: For New Years, 2015/2016, my anthropologist friend and I spent 3-nights in the colonial city in the Austro (Southern Andes). The city is known for its 16th-century churches—Iglesia de El Sagrario and Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción are highlights. But also known for its colorful indigenous markets and increasing amount of ex-pat retirees. But Cueñca’s unloved modernist architecture is not to be overlooked, and styles that pay homage to Le Corbusier, Brutalism and various whimsical mid-century flairs reflect the city’s 20th century boom when roads first linked it other parts of the country. Cuenca also offers a close connection to nature and a relaxed quality of life, neither of which I experienced in bustling and sprawling Quito. The tranquil Tomebamba River flows right through the city center, and its green riverbanks make a great place to sit in the sun and reflect on Andean life. Stay tuned for my forthcoming Hummingbird Journey in the WSJ.
  1. Emilia-Romagna, Italy: The more I explore the boot—my southern neighbor—the more I adore it. Emilia-Romagna left a big impression on me this year. To eat here in Italy’s pantry is to experience the heart of Italian food. This oft overlooked northeastern region stretches from the earthy and untouristed Apennine Mountains to the mega beaches of Rimini. Between them is one of Italy’s biggest food producing valleys. It’s also home to Parma, Bologna, Ravenna and Modena which produce Parmesan cheese, Po Delta Rice, Modena Balsamic Vinegar, Lambrusco, Parma ham, prosciutto, and lesser known foods like Borgataro mushrooms, culatello, and Mantua melon. But getting off the path in Emilia-Romagna was equally rewarding. The villages of Savigno and the peaceful mountain town of Sant’Agata Feltria are great places to understand Italy a bit deeper, with nary “grazie-ing” tourist in sight.
  1. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland: My hiking trips across my adopted homeland of Switzerland are some of my most rewarding, because time spent in the Alps gives me a clarity and a calmness that is needed more than ever. My one night in Lauterbrunnen really delivered the quintessential alpine experience. The scenic village sits in a valley bed who mossy, rocky ledges are laced with waterfalls both grandiose and tinkling. The village was the inspiration for J.R. Tolkien’s Rivendell, the elvish wonderland in The Lord of The Rings,’ and is every bit as inspiring. A 3-4 hour hike from Mürren was an excellent way to enjoy the area various vantages.
  1. Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea Highlands: My 10 days in PNG was exhilarating. It’s home to the nicest people I’ve ever met anywhere. There are no McDonalds, no Starbucks, no KFCs. At least none that I saw. In fact there were no recognizable brands anywhere. PNG is home to 700 cultures and 838 languages. Bio-geeks will go ballistic over the 3,000 species of orchids, and 708 bird species, 43 of them elaborate birds-of-paradise. See my Papua New Guinea stories in National Geographic and T+L SE Asia.
  1. Barcelona, Spain: Like many travelers, I’ve been to Barcelona a few times, but on my four night visit in April it felt like the city was entering an especially exciting period. The economic collapse of 2008 saw many of Barcelona’s young people leave to take jobs overseas, but many are returning for the city’s indisputable quality of life (sunny weather, excellent food, amazing art and architecture), and they’re bringing new international ideas with them. Barcelona, and particularly the neighborhood of Gràcia, is teeming with happy youthful energy, third wave coffee spots, and exciting new restaurants like Catalan-Japanese, and Vietnamese tapas.
  1. Faroe Islands: Cast adrift in the mighty swells of the wild North Atlantic, this forlorn 779 piece smattering of islands, islets, and skerries has all the antiquity and modernity of its Danish motherland, yet the autonomous, verdant green islands rest in the Norwegian Sea halfway between Scotland and Iceland. I spent five nights on the islands in May, in awe of the rigged, treeless landscape, the waterfall-laced mountains that plunge thousands of meters to craggy fjords below. The islands are also home to a rich avifauna that’s nothing short of an seabird lover’s mecca. They include puffins, skuas, guillemots, fulmars who make good use of the Gulf Stream warmed waters and fill the air with their rich haunting cries that add a melancholic element to the already lonely landscape. Read my Faroe Islands story in the NYT, National Geographic and Cadillac Magazine.
  1. Aarhus, Denmark: Copenhagen gets the ink, but Denmark’s second city Aarhus, is not to be overlooked. The lively university hub is home to 319,000 residents, but dominated by students. It’s situated on the Jutland Coast of Denmark and has been designated a 2017 European Cultural Capital, while surrounding Central Denmark has been awarded the European Region of Gastronomy 2017. To see it now is to witness a city undergoing a complete transformation, as new street food markets, light rail links, living libraries, refurbed hotels, and value-forward restaurants have altered the mechanical workings of a Danish city. But Aarhus’ makeover has been in the works for the past several years. In 2009 it announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2030, and has stayed on track since, despite several impressive new developments every year. The city has been relying on 70+ new green technologies to meet the reductions and assesses its growth every year, including by shifting from coal to biomass in local heat production, using co-generators, solar and wind power, promising to become a new model in old Europe. You can read about my Aarhus stories on BBC Travel and New York Times and a forthcoming story in National Geographic Travel.
  1. Kinosaki Onsen, Japan:I spent two nights in the 8th century onsen town located on the Sea of Japan in Japan’s under-visited Hyogo Prefecture in Kansai Region. The willow lined Otani-gawa River that runs through the town is the source of the thermal waters that feed the town’s various baths. Evenings see visitors klip klop through town wearing yukata (Japanese robes) and geta (wooden sandals) hopping from onsen to onsen. Legend says that Kinosaki was founded in the 8th century by Dochi-shonin, a Buddhist saint. Today town is also known for its delicacies like crab, sake, and its excellent ryokan, some of the best in all of Japan.

 

Runners Up:

  1. Tokyo, Japan Greener and quiter than you think.
  2. Dubrovnik, Croatia Walk the medieval wall in the morning
  3. Soca Valley, Slovenia Glittering rivers and pristine Alps.
  4. Southwest England (Devon and Dorset) Sunny England with beaches, cliffs, and moors
  5. Assisi, Italy Home of St. Francis is spiritual even for atheists
  6. Stoos, Switzerland Quiet Swiss Alps in a nutshell and close to Zurich
  7. Gruyere, Switzerland Eat fondue in a fortified medieval castle town
  8. Sud Tirol, Italy Excellent food and skiing, in bald mountains of German-speaking Italy
  9. Vejle, Denmark Underrated gem hidden in Denmark’s hills

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Destinations I Visited In 2016:

by adam on December 28, 2016

As a reminder, nearly all my trips are work related, so don’t go getting any ideas that I’m some rich playboy slurping down poolside piña coladas at every stop (though I admit, I love a good piña colada). In 2016, I visited 21 countries, an increase of seven countries from 2015. Three were new countries for me: San Marino, The Faroe Islands, and Papua New Guinea. Since countries have so many destinations within them which vary place to place, I try not to generalize what individual nations are like. My 22 favorite destinations of 2016 (in a forthcoming post) come from only 9 of the countries I’ve visited.

What makes a destination a favorite for me is its ability to remove me from my everyday and drop me into a totally new reality. After the US election in November, I fell into a state of low-grade rage and despair, and it took a two-week trip to Japan to remind me that life goes on. What draws us to places is deeply personal and subterranean and we needn’t agree on what they are. A close friend is drawn to the chaotic and colorful like Bombay and Nepal. Another visits untouched taboo destinations like North Korea and Saudi Arabia, two countries we often mindlessly vilify. Most travelers stick to tried-and-true destinations like Amalfi, Mykonos, and Paris. That’s fine, but I’m a big advocate of visiting lesser-known places. Regardless of wherever you go, it’s important to remain opened minded. English theologian and writer G.K. Chesterton once said : “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

All Destinations I Visited in 2016

In 2016 I traveled to 87 destinations in 21 countries.

  1. Ecuador. I spent nearly three weeks touring the equatorial country in December 2016/January 2017 basing myself at a friend’s place in Quito and making small trips to Baeza, Cuenca, Mindo, Riobamba, Quilotoa, and Pappalacta.
  1. Italy: I made six different visits to Italy this year including a 3-night winter ski trip with friends to Dolomites/Sud Tirol then directly onto a long weekend in Brescia and Milano. A 12-day summer roadtrip took me and my husband from Lake Como to Rome with stops in Lago di Iseo, Emila Romagna (Parma, Modena, Savigno, the Apennines, Rimini, Ravenna, Sant’Agata Feltria), Perugia (Citta di Castello), Le Marche (Urbino), Umbria, (Montefalco and Assisi. ) A spontaneous 3-hour drive to Lake Como and Mennagio was a nice break in September. In October, a 5-hour train journey to Venice led me to a week-long Adriatic and Mediterranean cruise. Another 6-hour train trip to Bologna and Parma in November brought me to the launch of the 2017 Michelin Guide to Italy. I’ll make one more train trip to Milano with a visiting friend in late December.
  1. Switzerland: My 2016 trips across der Schweiz included a 3-night ski trip to Engadine with a visiting friend. Two trips brought me to Ticino (one in January including stays in Lugano, Bedretto and Bellinzona, and the second a hiking trip in July with visits to more remote pockets like Faido and Cavagnago). I also had three different summer hiking trips to Stoos, and a few overnight trips to destinations like Lauterbrunnen, Golzernsee, and Gruyeres. Other day trips took me to the Furcha, Klausen, St. Gothard, and Grimsel Passes, the Silber Woods, Altdorf, Vierwaldstattersee (Lake Lucerne), Rigibad, Einsedelen, and various other hikes and excursions in Cantons Uri, Obwalden, and Schweiz. I live in Zurich.
  1. Germany: I made two separate trips to Deutschland this year, a day trip/ grocery run/ baden visit to Konstanz in February, and a 5-night stay in Sylt and Hamburg in September.
  1. Indonesia: My husband and I made a two-week trip to Indonesia in March/April with stays in Java, Bali, and Moyo and a 2-night stay on a Klotok boat in Borneo.
  1. Papua New Guinea: My 10-night trip to Papua New Guinea included 7-nights in the PNG Highlands (Tari and Mt. Hagen) followed by 2-nights on the steamy Sepik River.
  1. Spain: I took the overnight train for a 4-night visit to Barcelona in April.
  1. France: I made four visits to France in 2016, including an unexpected overnight in Mulhouse in April, two separate day trips to Paris by train in the spring, and a brief stop in Le Havre to board a ship.
  1. UK: I visited England twice in 2016: A port stop in Greenwich in April, followed by a 5-night September trip to London, Stonehenge, Dartmoor, and various villages in Devon and Dorset.
  1. Norway: I had a full day and overnight in Bergen in April, after disembarking a cruise.
  1. Faroes: I spent 6-nights on the Faroe Islands in May.
  1. Slovenia: I made two trips to Slovenia in 2016: A roadtrip to the Soca Valley with a friend in July and a day trip to a port-of-call in Koper while on a cruise.
  1. Denmark: I made a 4-night visit to Denmark by train in September with overnights in Vejle, Aarhus, and Silkeborg.
  1. Hungary: I flew to Budapest for a five-night trip in October.
  1. Croatia: Technically, I made four trips to Croatia in 2016, but in reality I never slept on land there. In July, an overnight train from Zurich to Zagreb allowed for a brief afternoon stroll through the capital city with a friend before and after a roadtrip to Slovenia, while brief ports-of-call day-trips in November brought me to Zadar and Dubrovnik.
  1. Montenegro: I visited Kotor for a day in November as a port of call.
  1. Greece: I made day four different day trips on four different days to destinations in Greece: Corfu, Santorini, Katakolon (Olympia), Athens in November.
  1. Japan: I made a 2-week trip to Japan in November/December with 4-nights in Tokyo, 1-night in Karuizawa, 6-nights in Ise Peninsula (Shima and Toba), an express lunch in Kyoto, and 2-nights in Kinosaki Onsen.
  1. Austria En route to Süd Tirol, my husband I drove through Austria and stopped for lunch in Völs.
  1. Liechtenstein We also drove through Vaduz, Liechtenstein on the same trip.
  1. San Marino During our Italian roadtrip, we drove through San Marino.

*I never count airport layovers as visiting a place, so I’m not making an exception here. I’ll only make a footnote mention of my layover in Singapore because it produced one of my best meals of 2016.

 

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2016 Year End Report: Kill Your Bucket List

by adam on December 28, 2016

2016! This year the world took a turn to the dark side that’s left many in a state of whiplash. Politics and global events turned 2016 into a depressing catastrophe we’ve only begun to wrap our heads around. Orlando, Istanbul, Nice, Brussels and Berlin saw terrorist attacks unimaginable ten years ago. And the deaths of several beloved creative forces have deepened the losses—Edward Albee, Umberto Eco, Elie Wiesel, Prince, Harper Lee, Bill Cunningham, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher to name a few. Americans put their trust into the hands of an inexperienced egomaniacal despot, Brits have filed for an unrequited divorce from their European allies, and human suffering and humanitarian crises continue to reach new lows in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Somalia. Racism, bigotry and hate are on the rise. If that weren’t enough, environmental issues continue to deteriorate and some experts estimate that up to 2/3 of the world’s current species could go extinct as soon as 2020, with lion, elephant, rhino, giraffe facing challenges to their existences we haven’t seen before. Anyone looking to support a charitable cause in 2017 will have no shortage of options.

Even for the most chipper of Pollyannas, it’s difficult to remain positive in the face of such hopelessness. For the rest of us “snowflakes,” the struggle to manage anger, depression, fear and despair is very real. Many are struggling to find ways to be vocal and pro-active but still preserve sanity, focus, and maintain functioning relationships with family members who’ve exhibited a lust (or worse, an apathy) for the new hatred and fear. Doing so will be the ultimate challenge of 2017.

But what does this all mean for travelers? And can a travel writer like me contribute to a better world. If so, how?

For starters, I think it’s important for everyone to speak out more often and ask uncomfortable questions. Journalists—even lifestyle journalists like me—need to write more frankly in 2017. We need to examine the owners, shareholders, and landlords of hotels, and restaurants more often. We need to #boycottbetter on large and small scales. And we also need to advocate for minorities in our stories, because governments may not. Small steps can make big changes, even when working against oppressive systems.

I’ll start my own frankness by saying that American travelers should get used to the idea of foreign strangers asking them why Donald Trump won. Since Trump started making the headlines, I’ve been inundated with questions from foreign strangers during my travels. Some are innocuous queries like “Why do Americans like him?” which I was asked in Japan, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea this past year, while others had more blasting critiques like “Why are Americans so stupid?” a question I’m constantly asked across Europe. Constantly! It’s not easy answering this question, because I’m put on the defense, but I now ask myself the same question daily.

Why are Americans so stupid?

Maybe a less caustic question is why are we Americans unable to see the world from a more global perspective? Why don’t we care what the word thinks? Why don’t we play well with others? And where is the line between American bashing and criticizing a prodigal, bully country that needs to be frequently reminded that it’s not the only nation on the planet?

I have some ideas.

One of the first things my husband Ralph said to me the morning after the election was “All Americans should be required to live abroad for a period.” Impractical as the idea is, I’ve been unable to shake it. According to U.S. State Department Statistics, it’s estimated that only 46% of Americans have passports. That’s a low figure compared to the UK, where 95% of the population have passports. What does this say about us Americans? Does it suggest a apathy towards the world? An ignorance of globalism? An innate American arrogance? Um, yes it does. I feel strongly that travel is both a privilege and a duty. It doesn’t matter how big the United States is and how worthwhile its tourism sights and national parks are, 56% of Americans have, by inaction, given a big middle finger to the rest of the world. 56% of Americans don’t feel the need to see anything beyond their borders, so why should the world care about them? Yet these same Americans insist they are living in the best damn country in the world—the land of the free and home of the brave, the greatest nation on earth. (More on that later.)

The dawn of Trump suggests that American fear has replaced American curiosity and the consequences of that may be long-lasting and interfere with solid alliances we’ve built over the course of the last few centuries. Would more Americans getting passports solve the world’s complex problems? Of course not, but it would be a good step toward rekindling a curiosity of the world and transforming fear and vitriol to understanding and tolerance.

The viral xenophobia that’s spreading—not just in the USA but all around the world—is pretty shocking to us travelers. We see the world’s differences as its greatest asset. If more people engaged with the world, perhaps it would be a more understanding place. Americans not playing along is a big, noticeable missing link. And by engage, I don’t mean go to taco Tuesdays at your local Tex-Mex joint or wash down tacos with margaritas at the poolside bar with other Americans at the W Hotel on Punta de Mita. I mean eat tacos in Mexico prepared by a Mexican for other Mexicans! Food’s capacity to open our minds to other cultures is gravely under utilized. How can you hate Mexicans and Muslims if you love tacos and falafel? (More on that in an upcoming post on my favorite meals of 2016.)

Now is a critical time for American travelers to get out there and experience different cultures and other perspectives. Traveling is the opposite of nationalism, the antithesis of chauvinism. An act of travel is an act of tolerance. It is kryptonite to bigotry. As Huck Finn writer Mark Twain said in his book Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So is America the best country in the world? Dictators like Trump say it is as a tool to manufacture a new breed of nostalgia-based fear and hate. But even Obama and Hillary and numerous left wing politicians say it frequently. There’s this false notion that America is the most free or most diverse nation on the planet. It’s neither. It’s 2016 freedom of press ranking is #41 out of 181 ranked countries, it’s literacy rate is #7 in the world, and it’s only the world’s 85th most diverse country trailing far behind more culturally pluralistic countries like Peru, Somalia, Singapore, and Switzerland which has double the foreigners per capita than the United States. We need to remember that America is not the world’s only melting pot. And saying America is the best country in the world is at best, an insulting, lazy lie.

We Americans are so deeply chauvinist, we don’t even know it. (Many don’t even know what that word means.) America is not the best country in the world. It never was and never will be. There is no such thing as a best country or best city in the world. What utter garbage to think that. The planet is made up of about 196-plus countries, thousands of cultures and languages, hundreds of cities, each uniquely different from the next in uncountable ways. It’s great to be personally drawn to one country or place, but to claim one is better than another is absurd, and frankly sort of lame. To claim it’s better because it’s the only country you know is downright ignorant.

But never fear America, you’re still number one at a few things: You’re home to the highest population of severely obese people in the world. Your ranking of domestic gun-related violence is at the top of the list. And you’re #1 in energy consumption per person.

America, I challenge you to get off your ass and go see the world. Slap down $110 for a passport and go visit the countries you keep claiming are inferior to you. I bet you will find more things you love about them instead of things that support your idea that America is better. Enjoy the differences, embrace the unknown, try a dish you’ve never heard of, attempt speaking a foreign language, and visit a holy or sacred site that does not represent your own religion. This world is here for everyone, and we should all enjoy and take care of it together. Stop filling up your bucket list. Kill your bucket list, and fill it anew.

Inevitably there were be a chorus of readers who will counter that traveling is too expensive. That’s also not true. It’s never been cheaper to fly overseas. Roundtrip airfare to South America or Europe from several U.S. gateways runs as low as $350! I’ve not seen it cheaper than I have in 2016. Airbnb.com makes it possible to rent out your own house and pick up some extra cash while you’re gone. Europe is filled with decent hotels for under $75/night. Ditto for the rest of the world. Couchsurfing.com is free. So too are monasteries, convents, farm stays and other volunteers vacation options. Still need more money? Sell something on eBay.com Pick up an Uber.com shift. Get out there. What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to go see the world. If you’re not seeing the world, how do you know you’re the best?

So without further ado, here is a list of my own destination highlights of 2016 and several forthcoming posts about my favorite hotels (starting at $60/per night), meals (including a hospital and an airport), train rides and flights of 2016. And because sometimes traveling is a big pain in the ass, I’ve also created a list of my biggest travel pet peeves. I hope it inspires a few readers to get out there, and love the great big world, instead of living in the very un-United States of Fear.

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Best Restaurant Meals of 2015

by adam on March 4, 2016

Best Restaurant Meals of 2015

I have a special box in my desk where I keep sentimental keepsakes. In it is a folder of memorable menus I keep. This past year, the folder became so overstuffed that I had to remove it and give it its own box. That, in a nutshell, sums up my food experiences of 2015.

I’ve never had as many excellent restaurant meals as I did in 2015. It was an especially good year of especially good food for me. This is mostly due to the length of time I spent in Japan and Italy, two of my favorite’s foodie cultures and both of which offer a high quality of food to everyone, regardless of budget or cost.

What makes a great restaurant to me is not just the food (which of course must be tasty and preferably highlight simple locally sourced ingredients), but a certain rustic, cozy charm. Michelin truffles and foie is nice, but gets old fast. And often times, but not always, value. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating—good food should not be a luxury. It should be available cheaply to everyone in the world.

This list started with 79 truly excellent restaurant meals, which I whittled down to 37, but cutting any more would be criminal. A huge thank you to all the excellent and hardworking farmers, purveyors, chefs, sommeliers, and waitstaff who helped me eat so well in 2015. The list is arranged in chronological order, not a ranking.

Bon appetite! —Adam

1. Reto Mathis’s La Marmite, Corvaglia, St. Moritz, Switzerland
Standout dishes: Scottish oysters, Ossetra caviar pillows, truffled flammeküeche
See my write-up in Departures

2. Nijo Market, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
grilled scallop, uni, hairy crab soup

3. Dai San Zaka, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Crab croquette, steak in sugar and mirin, uni, Hokkaido white wine, highball,

4. Sushi Den, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan
donbori with uni, crab, sushi

5. Hiiragiya, Kyoto, Japan
razor clam, simmered bamboo shoot, yuba dumpling, cod roe miso, urchin omelet
See my write-up on my blog

6. Gyu-kaku Maranouchi, Tokyo, Japan
grilled wagyu beef, tongue, liver
See my write up in Departures

7. Pizzeria Da Isa Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
eggplant pizza, margarita pizza
See my write up in Departures and Four Seasons Magazine

8. Nakame no Teppen, Itzakaya, Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
cod roe gratin, charred pumpkin, sliced squid
See my write up in Four Seasons Magazine and Departures

9. Fukurou, French Robata, Nakame, Tokyo, Japan
wagyu beef, tuna, oysters, char-grilled lobster tail turned bisque, Japanese chardonnay
See my write up in Four Seasons Magazine

10.  Aji no Yohei, Takayama, Japan
Hide beef sukiyaki, egg custard, sake

11. Menbakaichidai, Kyoto, Japan
fire ramen
Read my review on Tastemade

12. Sushi Sasaki, Toyama, Japan
beni-zuwaigani (red queen crab), shiroebi (white shrimp) nigri, sake reserve
Read my review on BBC Travel

13. Uobaka, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
fresh squid, sushi, fish
Read my review on Departures

14. Em Sherif, Dubai, UAE
hummus, baba ganoush, fatoush, labneh

15. La Latteria di San Marco, Milano, Italy
spaghetti with basil, tomato sauce and butter, ziti with eggplant and Ticino cheese

16. Fioraio Bianchi Caffe, Milano, Italy
corkscrew pasta with swordfish, and eggplant, guitar string pasta with roe

17. Masseria Degli Ulive, Noto, Sicily, Italy
eggplant mellazana, paparadelle pork ragu, Sicilian white wine

18. Appolina, Ortigia, Sicily, Italy
Set fish dinner with sardines, oysters, red shrimp, Sicilian white wine

19. Au Bois de la Biche, Charquement, Jura, France
foie gras, steak with morels in Béarnaise sauce

20. Auberge le Savagnin, Goumois, France
salade de payes, oeuf cocotte with mushrooms

21. Au Cheval Blanc, Ferrette, France
chochrute garni, steak tartare,

22. Aux 2 Coqs, Belfort, France
chevré chaud salade, foie gras with fruit and gingerbread

23. Naciente, Pollenca Port, Mallorca, Spain
grilled sausage, green beans with bacon, stuffed mushrooms, aioli with bread
Read my review on Trip Advisor

24. Cellar la Parra, Pollenca Port, Mallorca, Spain
wild suckling boar, garlicky aioli with frites, soprosada with eggs, roast chicken,
Read my review on Trip Advisor

25. Hotel D’Alibert, Minerva, France
cassoulet, red wines

26. Le Cap, Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, France
lobster club, fish soup, salade Nicoise
Read my review at Four Seasons Magazine

27. Cocorone, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy
pork ribs, melted cheese with walnuts and honey, roasted artichoke, sagrantino wine

28. Olevm, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy
Olive Oil, truffled cheese, sagrantino wine

29. Teatro del Locando, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy
Smoked scarmoza with truffles, eggplant flan, sagrantino wine

30. Scottadito Osteria Tagliavento, Bevagne, Umbria, Italy
steak, charcuterie, sagrantino wine

31. Zuggerberg, Zug, Switzerland
apple cider and bacon fondue
Read my write-up in GHM Journeys

32. Ivan Ramen, New York City, USA
Double garlic pork ramen,

33. Mission Chinese, New York City, USA
green tea noodles, lamb rib tips, Szechuan pastrami, tartare in lettuce cups

34. Leon’s, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Oysters Rockefeller, fried oysters lettuce wrap

35. Pubbelly Sushi, Miami, USA
fried rock shrimp

36. Drunken Dragon, Miami, Florida, USA
brisket, kimchee carbonara

37. Cultivar, Santa Teresa, Rio, Brazil
açaí, pão de queijo

Runners Up

Coop, Nakeme, Tokyo, Japan
Sobadokurofukuon, Noboribetsu, Japan
Hashidaya, Nakame, Tokyo, Japan
Tsuru Ni Tachibana Punk rock Kaiseki in Nakano, Tokyo, Japan
Numazu Uogashizushi, Maranouchi, Tokyo, Japan
Sushino Midori, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
Chikuha, Kamakura, Japan
Katsuretsuan, Kamakura, Japan
Yakushi-no-yu Honjin, Okuhida, Japan
Shiyoa Diner, Naoshima, Japan
Ebisu Ramen, Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan
Yarabo, Taketomi, Japan
Tofuno Higa, Ishigaki, Japan
Mengate, Ishigaki, Japan
Da Vittorio, Lago di Iseo Italy
Duo Colombe, Lagi Di Iseo Italy
Almyra, Ognina, Sicily, Italy
Auberge de la Halle, Gruyeres, Switzerland
Les Cappucin Hotel, Belfort, France
Auberge du Cour de la Côte, Canton Vaud, Switzerland
Au Sauvage, Old Fribourg, Switzerland
Lo Vostock, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
Sirani, Brescia, Italy
Nobu, Doha, Qatar
Palace Hotel Breakfast, Tokyo, Japan
Wadakura, Palace Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
Horohoro Sanso, Date, Japan
Hoshinoya, Takatomi, Okinawa, Japan
La Foresta, Montisola, Lago da Iseo, Italy
Dijon Market, Dijon, France
Hotel Le Corbusier, Marseille, France
Tremail, Collioure, France
Ambrosia Restaurant, Mallorca, Spain
Hotel Poste, Sedrun, Switzerland
Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
L’atelier Cuisine, Canet-en-Rouissollon, France
Venissa, Mazzorbo, Italy
Le Gato Nero, Burrano, Italy
Buvette les Invouettes, Charmey, Gruyère, Fribourg, Switzerland
Au Coeur de la Côte, Vinzel, Canton Vaud, Switzerland
Katsu Place in Nakame, Tokyo, Japan

La Parrillada de Fausto, Riobamba, Ecuador

Itzakaya Haru, Tokyo, Japan

Itzakaya Irohazushi, Tokyo, Japan

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My Best Hotel Stays of 2015

by adam on February 2, 2016

In 2015 I stayed at 80 hotels. But only the ten properties stood out. Nobody paid me to write about these hotels. I did not factor in budget, style or geographic variety to create the list. These are my straight-up favorite hotels (and one rental) of 2015 that offered a truly excellent stay. The properties range from $120 per night to $667 per night. Below them are 17 honorable mentions which were also great stays. And below that is the entire list of 80 hotels I stayed at arranged in chronological order of when I stayed at them.

 

My Ten Best

1.Hiiragiya, Kyoto, Japan

This is best property I’ve stayed at, ever. Kyoto’s 28-room, sixth generation family owned ryokan dates back to 1818 and is everything a hotel should be and so very much more. The attention to detail is painfully correct. The sublimely perfect breakfast and elaborate kaiseki dinner are served on handcrafted Kiyomizu ceramics and elegant lacquerware. It’s served to you in your tatami mat floored room by fluent English speaking staff member, a rarity in Japan. No two rooms here are alike. Features include folding screens made of painted gold leaf or handmade paper, lacquered bathrooms, reed ceilings, antique writing boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl, hand-carved transoms, papered shoji windows and sliding fusuma doors. The courtyard adjacent to my room had a private garden where I watched warblers gently eating berries form a shrub. But what really struck me during my two-night stay in April was the ryokan’s ability to relax a fussy, ADD traveler like me. After one-hour in my room, I was instantly subdued. Hiirigiya is right in the middle of the city, but I felt miles away from it. That’s an art form not easily pulled off but I wish more properties would follow suit. Rooms from $275

2. Hoanib Camp, Wilderness Safari, Namibia

Wilderness Safaris is not just the leader of conservation-based safaris in Africa, but one of the most environmentally friendly hospitality companies in the world. Perhaps, the most. Their portfolio of stylish camps range from basic to luxurious but all have a bona fide emphasis on conservation, like their Desert Rhino Camp which is run in close partnership with the Save The Rhino Trust. In 2014, they opened the Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp which I’d also argue is Africa’s best tented luxury camp. It’s located near the Skeleton Coast in the Namib Desert and shares a facility with dedicated researchers studying desert-adapted elephant and lion. This is research guests are encouraged to partake in, bringing citizen science to a whole new level. During my four nights stay in September I saw both lions and elephants, and also shaggy brown hyenas, cheetah, giraffe, and a staggering variety of plant life like quiver trees, elephant trunks succulents, and Namib Hoodia flowers and birdlife like colorful bee eaters and lilac breasted rollers. But it’s Hoanib’s three dimensional guides—the best in Africa—which push this camp over the top and help guests understand the full picture of African conservation. I learned more about wildlife than I did on the six previous safaris combined. Wilderness is a model both for safari camps and other hospitality brands, and I hope other hospitality brands follow suit. Rooms from $430

3. Alila, Jabal Akhdar, Oman

Traditionally, the rugged neighbor of the United Arab Emirates has been a place to go to escape luxury, not discover it. But the Sultanate has recently experienced a sandstorm of upgrades especially in the cool, windswept Jebal Akhdar (Green Mountain) region—long inaccessible due to a lack of roads. Here, the new cliff-perched, LEED-certified Alila sits atop Oman’s remote and rusty 2,000-meter high Saiq plateau, where the wind seems to speak poetry and the mountains record it in their cavernous valleys and lofty peaks. Guests are taken on half-day hikes to those same peaks and valleys to find wadis, bright cactus flowers, Egyptian vultures, and Arabian mountain gazelles. The resort itself is built in ophiolite rock and uses traditional Omani Design like pendulous copper incense lanterns and fort-like doorways, handmade pottery from Bahla, and aflaj water irrigation system. It terrace restaurant, Juniper serves up crunch Fatoush Salads, smoky moutabel and vegetable tajine and takes advantage of the hotel’s proximity to Oman’s Fruit Bowl where local dates, pomegranates, peaches and other fruits are grown. The spa emphasizes local ingredients too like juniper berry, frankincense and smoked damask rose water from the nearby ancient capital of Nizwa. But during my four-night stay in spring 2016, my favorite spot turned out to be the resort’s infinity pool edged up against a cliff and offering views of the remote Hajar Mountain valley below. Watch out Aman. Alila is a brand to watch! Rooms from $400

4. Villa Lo Scoglio, Fontane Bianche, Sicily, Italy

This is the only rental property on the list and it was such I had such an incredible 5-night stay in it in June, that I just had to include it. Wish Sicily, an agency specializing in Sicilian villa rentals, has the exclusive on this 1960s villa designed by its former live-in architect. It’s perched atop a promontory surrounded by sparkling turquoise seas and boasts (yes, I said boasts!) seven different verandas to watch it from, one for each day of the week. From it is a private bougainvillea and succulent lined path to the heaving turquoise Med, where you can plunge a tranquil underwater world of colorful fish and urchins (Scoglio) the namesake of the villa and harvested by local divers. The villa’s interior is a midcentury time capsule— Bright poppy Caltagirone ceramics, candy-striped sofas, and a spacious tiled kitchen lent it a certain Liz and Dick era panache. Local highlights nearby included Syracuse, the Vendicari Nature Reserve, the fascinating caves and rock formations at Cava d’Ispica and the baroque Noto, but we found ourselves wanting to go back to the villa early every day because it was so lovely and its own bit of authentic Sicily. Rooms from $150

5. Beach Village Nosoko, Ishigaki, Japan

We stayed on Ishigaki, the southernmost island in Japan’s Okinawa archipelago, for a blustery week in March 2015 and loved the tiny 4-room motel more and more every day. Set back from the ocean, but connected to it via a short path meant we could go on evening or early morning beach walks but more importantly that we could see, hear, and smell, taste and feel the ocean from our deck and stargaze and moon watch at night. The inside was basic, with a kitchenette, and washing machine, and TV. But what made the hotel stay a winner were the kind, intuitive owners, a couple from Tokyo who relocated to Ishigaki. They repeatedly went out of their way to help us enjoy our stay and offered local tips of where to eat and visit, and more importantly, they looked out for us. When it started to rain, the owner removed our clothes from the line so they wouldn’t get wet, they let us know when other guests were checking in, and they gave us a few gift bags of local brown sugar when we left. For an extra $5, guests can use their handy bbq service, which is a pre-stuffed grill with coal, ignited ahead of time and then removed when you’re done with it. Japan is full of cheap luxuries like this, but this was one of our favorites and it made our stay and an otherwise budget motel feel like a luxurious splurge. Rooms from $120

6. Palace Hotel Tokyo, Japan

This iconic hotel opened in 2014 after a multimillion dollar, three-year restoration. Located in Tokyo’s busy Marunouchi district, the 290-room structure has cocoon-like balconies that allow you to lord over the moats of the Imperial Palace and the perfectly symmetrical Mt Fuji in your bathrobe and slippers. Like the other PHT in this city of 28 million, (Park Hyatt Tokyo) this grand Tokyo hotel that rises 20 some odd stories into the sky has a design culture all its own: avocado carpets, pink spring pastels, and a delicate refined touch to every single things inside. During my three nights stay in February, the breakfast—blueberry vinoisseries, salmon Benedict, and truffled eggs—was not only a highlight and one of the best in Tokyo, but a power breakfast scene unlike anything I’ve seen. Dressing up for breakfast is imperative. Rooms from $400

7. Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan

I’ve stayed at this legendary hotel housed on the upper floors of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Kenzo Tange’s Shinjuku Park Tower three differnt times now, and never tire of it. The exterior may look stark, but a whoosh up the elevators bring you to a rarefied world unlike anywhere I’ve been. The room’s lush turquoise interiors and deep baths designed lovingly by John Morford are still my absolute favorite. But during my 3-night stay in March, I also feel in love again with the meticulously trained staff, the violet and yuzu bath salts the deeply relaxing penthouse spa, and its thermal baths, the skylight lit rooftop pool, the in-lobby art library guests must walk through to access the rooms, the backlit inroom minibars stocked with Hibiki whisky, the beef at New York Grille, the pianist at the bar, the smokers, the couples, the porters and the views of the neon canyon of Shinjuku below make this one of the world’s plushest sky-scraping properties. It’s one of my all time favorite hotels in the world, and it’s never once slipped in service during my three stays over the last five years. And I don’t expect it ever will. Such is the power of PHT. Rooms from $421

8. Otjimbondona, Windhoek, Namibia

The newly opened Otjimbondona, an hour southeast of Namibia’s capital Windhoek, is one of the country’s most stylish new retreats with four villas, each with a private plunge pool overlooking a network of walking trails snaking through the rust red Kalahari sands and camelthorn trees with swings hanging from them. The stylish new resort is owned by a local Namibian couple who know the area’s wildlife inside and out and can take guests out in impromptu safaris. I only stayed for one night in September 2015 which was not enough time to enjoy its charms, but I especially enjoyed its large bathtub, it’s plunge pools, the birdlife around the property and the sundowners during an electric orange and pink sunset at the property’s deckside lounge. Rooms from $667

9. Smyth Hotel, NYC, USA

Located in Tribeca, this dapper 100-room hotel, a member of Thompson Hotels, won me over immediately during a three-night stay in November. Gachot Studios designed the antithesis of NYC’s trendy hotels who seem to force their coolness on you (Ace, NoMad and the Standard) bringing a breath of fresh adult sophistication that made the other New York City hotels seem like a whiney teenager. Leather-lined walls, 1960’s Danish furnishings and understated, clean rooms that deliver a “less is more” feeling that you want in a hotel. Rooms from $295

10. Filario, Lake Como, Italy

New hotels directly on Lake Como are rare, so this modernist newcomer that opened in April 2015 is a welcome addition. The 21-room, six-story mini-tower is owned by a local Italian family and a member of Design Hotels. Rather than highlight Hollywood glamour like other Lake Como properties, Filario emphasizes the region’s natural appeal offering guests outdoor activities like kayaking, SUPing (both complimentary), nighttime fishing and vineyard hikes. What’s more, it’s got a private beach (another Lake Como rarity), an infinity pool, and spacious and understated rooms with balconies offering arresting views which I was lucky to experience during a September rainstorm for 1-night this past fall. Interiors were conceived by Milan-based Alessandro Agrati who used custom furniture like minimalist canopy beds and sea-green sofas made by local craftsmen in nearby Cantù, known for its Italian design and artisanship. Rooms from $350

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Sofitel, Philadelphia, USA
  2. Four Seasons Dubai, UAE
  3. Rivalgo, Lago Di Iseo, Sulzano, Italy
  4. Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, France
  5. Spectator, Charleston, SC, USA
  6. Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, Grimselpass, Switzerland
  7. Novotel, Mainz, Germany
  8. Nira Alpina, Silvaplana, Switzerland
  9. Badrutt’s Palace, St. Moritz, Switzerland
  10. Aman, Tokyo, Japan
  11. Couvente de la Tourette, Lyon, France
  12. Shukubo Temple Lodging Sekisho-in, Koyasan, Japan
  13. Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan
  14. Hoshinoya, Ishagaki, Japan
  15. Hotel Inca Real, Cuenca, Ecuador
  16. Pines and Palms, Islamorada, Florida Keys, USA
  17. Termas Papallacta, Papallacta, Ecuador

The Contenders: (Hotels I stayed at in 2015)

  1. Nira Alpina, Switzerland
  2. Badrutt’s Palace, St Moritz, Switzerland
  3. Gstaad Palace, Gstaad, Switzerland
  4. Palace Hotel, Tokyo, Japan
  5. Vessel Inn, Sapporo, Japan
  6. Kimamaya, Niseko, Japan
  7. Park Hotel Miyabitei, Noboribetsu, Japan
  8. Horohoro Sanso, Date, Japan
  9. Green Leaf, Niseko, Japan
  10. Grand Hyatt, Tokyo, Japan
  11. Park Hyatt Tokyo, Japan
  12. Airbnb Apartment 1, Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
  13. Uozu Manten Hotel Ekimae, Toyama, Japan
  14. Okuhinda, Yakushi no yu Honjin Onsen, Takayama, Japan
  15. Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan
  16. Airbnb Apartment 2 Nakameguro, Tokyo, Japan
  17. Hiiragiya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan
  18. Shukubo Temple Lodging Sekisho-in, Koyasan, Japan
  19. Apa Hotel Osaka, Japan
  20. Hoshinoya, Takatomi, Okinawa, Japan
  21. Beach Village Nosoko, Ishigaki, Japan
  22. Aman, Tokyo, Japan
  23. Aqua Dome, Tirol, Austria
  24. Hotel Adlers, Innsbruck, Austria
  25. Anantara Banana Island, Doha, Qatar
  26. Four Seasons, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  27. Alila, Jabal Akhdar, Oman
  28. Four Seasons, Doha, Qatar
  29. Novotel, Mainz, Germany
  30. Hotel Am Weißen Turm, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
  31. Hotel Bellevue Traben-Trarbach, Germany
  32. Gallia Excelsior, Milano, Italy
  33. Rivalgo, Lago Di Iseo, Sulzano, Italy
  34. Villa Lo Scoglio, Fontane Bianche, Sicily, Italy
  35. Le Peu Gerard, Les Breuleux, Jura, Switzerland
  36. Hotel Cappucin, Belfort, France
  37. Fluela Pass Ospiz Hotel, Fluela Pass, Switzerland
  38. Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, Grimselpass, Switzerland
  39. Kameha Grand, Zurich, Switzerland
  40. Vertigo Hotel, Dijon, France
  41. Zenitude, Besançon, France
  42. Best Western, Besançon, France
  43. Hotel Au Sauvage, Fribourg, Switzerland
  44. Hotel Londres, Brig, Switzerland
  45. Kemmeriboden, Emmental, Switzerland
  46. Hotel Lueg in Kaltacker, Emmental, Switzerland
  47. Hotel Capri, Mallorca, Spain
  48. Couvente de la Tourette, Lyon, France
  49. Hotel Le Corbusier, Marseille, France
  50. Marguerite du Chai, Peyriac-Minervois, France
  51. Hotel Fregate, Collioure, France
  52. Hotel Les Elmes, Banyuls-Sur-Mer, France
  53. Four Seasons Cap Ferrat, Cap Ferrat, France
  54. Filario, Lezzeno, Lake Como, Italy
  55. Hotel Poste, Sedrun, Switzerland
  56. Venissa, Mazzorbo, Venice, Italy
  57. JW Marriott Venice, Isola delle Rose, Venice, Italy
  58. Villa Pam Buffetti, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy
  59. Castelfalfi, Tuscany, Italy
  60. Otjimbondona, Kalahari, Windhoek, Namibia
  61. Hoanib Camp Wilderness Safari, Hoanib, Namibia
  62. Four Seasons Johannesburg, South Africa
  63. Linkwasha Wilderness Safari, Linkwasha, Zimbabwe
  64. Smyth Hotel, New York City, United States
  65. Dream Hotel Downtown, New York City, United States
  66. Sofitel, Philadelphia, United States
  67. Econolodge, Staunton, Virginia, United States
  68. Spectator, Charleston, South Carolina, United States
  69. Westin, Jekyll Island, Georgia, United States
  70. East Winds Rental, Ponce Inlet, Florida, United States
  71. The Betsy, South Beach, Florida, United States
  72. Pines and Palms, Islamorada, Florida Keys, United States
  73. Americas Copacabana, Rio, Brazil
  74. Pousada Caramanchao, Bonito, Brazil
  75. Pousada Xaraes, Pantanal, Brazil
  76. International Hotel Bristol, Sao Paolo, Brazil
  77. Pappalacta Termal, Pappalacta, Ecuador
  78. Black Sheep Lodge, Quilotoa, Ecuador
  79. Hotel Zeus, Riobamba, Ecuador
  80. Hotel Inca Real, Cuenca, Ecuador

 

 

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My 16 Favorite Destinations of 2015

by adam on January 18, 2016

2015 was one of my best years of traveling. I visited fewer new countries and focused instead on revisiting destinations I already love like Italy, Japan and Namibia. It paid off. Overall I visited 16 countries, listed below. But only three of those were new countries for me (Qatar, Zimbabwe, and Brazil.)

Over the course of the year, I stayed at 80 hotels, (ranked in a forthcoming post) which run the gamut from uber-budget at $45/night to total luxury at $1,200 per night. Of the 80, only 11 stood out above the rest. 10 were abysmal for various reasons.

More than anything, 2015 was a year of food for me and a weight gain of 15-20 lbs is annoying proof of that. I had more truly excellent meals in 2015 (listed in a forthcoming post) than I have in previous years, with the lion’s share of them being in Japan and Italy, but also outstanding meals in France, Dubai, Switzerland, Spain, and Brazil. A road trip down the east coast of the U.S. provided stellar eats in New York City, Miami, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Countries I visited in 2015

  1. Switzerland
  2. Japan
  3. Austria
  4. Qatar
  5. United Arab Emirates
  6. Oman
  7. Germany
  8. Italy + Sicily
  9. France
  10. Spain + Mallorca
  11. Namibia
  12. South Africa
  13. Zimbabwe
  14. USA
  15. Brazil
  16. Ecuador

Favorite Places of 2015:

I didn’t bother ranking favorite countries since countries harbor many destinations that vary greatly place to place. While I visited 16 countries in 2015, my 16 favorite destinations come from only 9 of those countries. What makes a destination a favorite for me is its ability to get me out of my head and bring me into a totally new reality. One common denominator of these destinations is that they are all doing their own thing. They don’t copy other destinations or force things like uninspired Thursday night gallery hops or Asian-style night markets. The have an organic connection to the landscape and its people. All of my favorite destinations seem to be doing their own thing, a reminder that it’s a big world and each destination can do something entirely different to draw visitors. Tourism professionals need not look to their neighbors to find ideas and spend millions on lame tourism campaigns that nobody cares about. They should look inward, be more innovative, and support young and fresh new ideas of the locals already living in a place.

Here are my personal favorite 16 destinations of 2015, in no particular order. These are all places I’ve traveled to this past year and would go back again next year, and the year after and again and again and again.

  1. Tokyo, Japan: If one more travel writer uses the Blade Runner term to describe Tokyo, I’m going to lose it. The 28-million strong city—the world’s largest by far— has more parks, gardens, quiet green spaces and earthy, organic, deliciously prepared food than any other city I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot of cities. Can we please retire this unfit descriptor and start looking at Tokyo as a urban model instead of a futuristic freak? The city also has some of the world’s best hotels (see my forthcoming list of Best Hotels of 2015) and restaurants (see forthcoming Best Meals of 2015 List).
  1. Charleston, SC: When South Carolina’s capital Columbia finally lowered the confederate flag in 2015, it ushered itself into a new, long-delayed era of Low Country equality. Charleston was built and defined by the riches of slavery, but it doesn’t have to remain a slave to its past. And it doesn’t. The vibe of this sun-kissed, palm-studded, forward-thinking hub on the coast of Carolina low country is positively charming. The people are so southern they sound British. The antebellum architecture is marvelous. The cuisine—oysters and grits—is incredible.
  1. Sicily, Italy: By turns broken and graceful, the windswept and sun-baked Mediterranean island of Sicily is everything you thought it would be and more. Sophia Patrillo on every corner. Gelato sandwiches for breakfast. Pork and pasta married and divorced and married again. Gesturing and glances you won’t get anywhere else. Sicily is like the rest of Italy but with the volume turned up and the hubcaps stolen. To experience its urban grit and ancient mountains is to step back in time and experience an Italy that no longer exists.
  1. Koyasan, Japan: Mindful travelers who visit Koyasan come on the funicular train for one thing: to bunk with monks at the town’s 54 some odd shukubo, traditional temples that double as B&Bs for visitors who want a chance spend serious meditation time with masters. Most stays include vegetarian meals and morning and evening meditation sessions with the monks. The ancient mountain top town is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a Buddhist sect dating to 805AD. But what I found most exciting was the eerie, misty and mossy 2-kilometer long Okunoin cemetery, Japan’s biggest, and home to over 200,000 graves of Buddhist monks, dating to at least 800AD and nestled in a woody forest with incredibly long pine and oak trees.
  1. Canton Fribourg, Switzerland: Gruyere Cheese was Switzerland’s first luxury product and the Swiss began exporting it as far back as 900AD. It’s easy to see why the tasty curds remain such a popular export when you taste a fresh hunk at the source at Canton Fribourg’s magnificent Gruyere Castle, just one reason to visit this tiny underrated canton. But it’s the canton’s capital city of Fribourg, half Swiss German speaking and half French speaking, that is the real culinary highlight not to mention the birthplace of fondue. It’s also home to a thousand other Swiss dishes most Swiss have never even heard of. En guete and bon appetite!
  1. Mindo, Ecuador: The Andes run straight down the center of Ecuador and on both sides lie the dense, cool, green, fog-choked cloud forests, a vertical bird, fern, and flora rich habitat that does not exist in the US or Europe. Here, orchids, bromeliads, sequined hummingbirds, shy ocelots and bold croaking toucans watch each other in the foggy mists and time seems to move as slowly as the clouds form. There’s no place better to experience it than Mindo, a small town teeming with eco lodges and bird-friendly guides that is sure to please nature loving travelers.
  1. Ishigaki, Japan: A Japanese island jungle? Yes ma’am! The subtropical southern Okinawan Island of Japan, the southernmost island in the country, is replete with thick misty rainforests, glass-bottom boats, Hawaiian shirts, taco rice, hidden white sand beaches and brilliantly turquoise water ideal for snorkeling. Don’t leave without trying Ishigaki beef, just as good as another Wagyu beef like Kobe or Hokkaido, from locally raised island cattle.
  1. Jabal Akhdar Mountains, Oman: There’s a reason Oman has the Mid-East’s only smiling sultan. Imagine the Swiss Alps, parched and sun baked. That’s what you’ll find in Oman’s rusty, dusty eco-friendly Jabal Akhdar mountains, part of the Al Hajar mountain range, that are only now beginning to be developed. While several hotel chains are moving in, so are new roads and a new infrastructure that promises to highlight the region for generations to come.
  1. Naoshima, Japan: Ancient Japanese traditions meld with contemporary art on this tiny Seto Sea island, home to numerous world class museums, architecture and dozens of ongoing blue-chip art installations that draw visitors from London to L.A. The best part is that it the art experience on the island is built to be balanced with nature, something you won’t find at Art Basel in NYC’s galleries or any other of the other Art Islands that have cropped in recent years. So do as Japanese do, come for the art, but let the nature wash over you.
  1. Lago Da Iseo, Italy: This is Italy’s Anti-Como. While its true that the small Northern Italian lake has an island on it that’s a universe unto its own, the lake itself is the real gem and will be home to Christo’s next big art project—his first since New York City’s The Gates— which will connect the island to the mainland in a series of yellow floating bridges and will run for only two weeks this June. It’s also where chic Riva Boats are made and home to some of Italy’s best sparkling wines.
  1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The Economist predicts that Brazil will epically fail in 2016, but I give the city high marks for staying true to what it is: a subdued, tropical, urban environment that has given birth to Samba, Bosa Nova, Burle Marx, Oscar Niemeyer, Havaianas, and Açai. How many other cities have given so much beauty to the world? Rio is a study of multiculturalism for the world and it’s bled of cultures and ethnicities is sexy, warm and gives me hope that we can all live together on this planet.
  1. Umbria, Italy: The road to my loving Italy was slow and meandering. Milano helped me admire Italy. Napoli helped me smile at it. But Umbria is what ultimately captured my heart. To many, not much is happening in Umbria. There are no opulent Florence-style villas, no major museums, no throngs of tourists. This is precisely why one should go. The day-to-day eating and sleeping and dolce far nienete is what makes Umbria such a perfect Italian gem. Its wine—red, tanniny Sagrantino—is the healthiest wine in the world too.
  1. Namib Desert, Namibia: Africa’s hope for conservation can be found in the parched, dusty, rusty deserts of Namibia. If animals like the elephant, cheetah and lion can adapt to the conditions of the Namib desert than hotels can adapt to Wilderness Safari’s strict conservation policies that every single hotel chain should be doing, (but none are.) Namibia is an example of one country’s ecological success and a reminder of the rest of the world’s ecological shortcomings.
  1. Bonito, Brazil: If floating down a crystal clear river while watching fish in the water below you and birds in the canopy above you sounds like a dream, than make way for Bonito. Another eco-contender, beautiful, bodacious and biologically-friendly Bontio is filled with sparkling natural limestone pools and rivers where travelers are forbidden from wearing sunscreen in the water. Here, the rule of look don’t touch is strictly enforced, a standard the rest of the world should follow.
  1. Mallorca, Spain: The Germans call it Putzfrau’s Insel. (The Maid’s Island.) And yes, the Chardonnay-tanked Brits and Teutonic trash who repeatedly vacation there are absolutely terrifying. Still, I absolutely adore Mallorca and the spaciousness of the Maid’s Island make it easy to avoid the unsavory. There are so many hidden beaches where the island’s red rocks plunge into the turquoise Med. There are also legions of excellent restaurants. The aioli alone is reason enough to go. But it’s the islands’ Aragonian landspace that pulls me into its grip every time I go.
  1. Lake Como, Italy: I love Como in the winter when its gray and shuttered. I love Como in the spring when its birds are wildflowers are electric. I love Como in the summer when its tourists eat gelato. And I love Como in the autumn when its hillsides bear the brunt of Alpine thunderstorms and strike back in a blaze of orange, yellow and red. The Y-shaped lake was Milano’s 15th century playground and it still gives a performance worthy of aristocrats.

Next up: Best Hotel Stays of 2015

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