Fairfielders, it’s time to think big. Whether you’re in a vacation rut or need a compelling excuse to put more ink in your passport, it’s time to shake things up. These destinations-in-demand promise great food, mind-blowing sights, family-friendly adventure…and even some celebrity spotting.* Oh, the stories you’ll tell when you come home.
*Don’t forget to send us a postcard!
Argentina: Buenos Aires & Iguazú Falls
Have you noticed lately that everyone and their Pilates instructor are venturing to Argentina? Clearly they got the memo: Buenos Aires is having a red-hot moment. From its old-world architecture to its tango dancing halls to its legendary steak and wine, this passionate city has a Euro-Latino flavor like no other.
You can’t go wrong at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires’ La Recoleta district, where a modern tower meets a Belle Epoque mansion with a lovely Roman-style pool. If kids are in tow, the concierge will go the extra mile by helping you customize a family-friendly itinerary. Take a boat tour of the El Tigre region, known as the Venice of South America, shop in Palermo Soho, visit MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) for a Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fix and take in a milonga (tango night—remember the steps for the dance floor back home). Hit the fun and lively La Cabrera for dinner and order bife de lomo (filet mignon), provelta (fried cheese), and for dessert, panqueques de dulce de leche (translation: heaven).
When you’ve toured, shopped, feasted and danced yourselves into oblivion, hop a short flight to Iguazú Falls (psst: pronounce the z as an s). Check into the award-winning Iguazú Grand, which is offering a fifty-percent discount on a second room for up to two kids under twelve. It’s just ten minutes from Iguazú Falls, one of the new natural wonders of the world, with 270-plus jaw-dropping waterfalls. After all that Malbec, a little fresh air will do you good.
Mexico: Riviera Maya
Hugging Mexico’s sparkling Caribbean coast, the Riviera Maya is Cancun’s posh cousin, fronting the second largest coral reef in the world. Just a half-hour ride from Cancun’s airport after an easy nonstop flight out of Westchester, you could be lounging on this luxurious enclave’s alabaster beaches by noon.
With warm-yet-modern architecture and top-notch service (everyone knows your name in a matter of minutes), the Rosewood Mayakoba is a standout. Built around a mangrove lagoon stretching into the ocean, the resort’s 800–plus-square-foot suites have private plunge pools and limestone outdoor showers (best bet: the overwater lagoon suites). Its restaurants, tequila library and in-room dining win raves, but if inventive regional cooking is what you’re after, score a second-floor table at Yaxche, one of Chef Mario Batali’s most-beloved eateries, on bustling Quinta Avenita.
While you could easily enjoy a week without leaving the resort, the Mayan ruins in nearby Xcaret are a must-see for history buffs. Further away in the town of Chichén Itzá, the Pyramid of Kukulkan, a massive structure displaying the Mayan calendar, predicts the end of the world to be 12/21/12. The town is a two-hour-plus drive from the hotel, so make the trek early in the day. Back at your villa, when the clock strikes midnight and (gasp!) the apocalypse doesn’t happen as the Mayans predicted, you can toast another day in paradise with a Blue Agave margarita.
South Africa: Cape Town & Kruger National Park
Got game? There are two types of people in this world: Those who have gone on safari and those who should. In Kruger National Park, South Africa, it’s all about seeing “the big five”: lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephants. Game viewing is best in the dry winter months (July and August), so book accordingly and early—you might be looking at 2013.
Begin your trip by flying into Cape Town for two to three days, followed by a quick flight (prepare for teeny twelve-seater planes) to Kruger National Park. Fifteen minutes from Cape Town and nestled into a cliff with views of the sea, the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa is a haute adult option offering treks to Table Mountain and boutique vineyard hopping in the Winelands region. Families seeking convenience will find it at the centrally located Cape Grace hotel. Kids will love visiting nearby Boulders Beach and its posse of miniature penguins.
Five-star options abound for safari camps, whether you’re packing up the whole family or traveling as an intimate duo. Catering to the latter, MalaMala is a prime pick for couples and groups of adults with well-appointed camps that give new meaning to the term “glamping.” Londolozi is known for its spacious, family-friendly accommodations in upscale pavilions. (Varty Camp and Founders Camp allow children four years and older.) Wherever you stay, ask for Bobotie, a meat pie with Dutch and Indonesian flavors that is served with fresh chutney. You’ll spend years trying to recreate it when you’re back home.
If you’ve convinced yourself that ordering tapas at a local restaurant or watching Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona qualifies as “getting in your Spanish culture,” it’s time to pack up your Tumi bags and vamos to Gaudí-town.
While Barcelona may be synonymous with Ambien-defying, late-night dining and sangria that flows like water, the city is a surprisingly engaging locale for families. Those who don’t nurse a hangover by sleeping the day away will find a fun assortment of parks (Gaudí’s Park Guëll walking tour is a must), an Olympic stadium, the interactive science museum CosmoCaixa, and for those willing to make the ninety-minute trek, the Dali museum in neighboring Figueres.
Bed down at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, a sleek-to-the-nth-degree hotel with a pool that provides a cool escape during steamy summer months. Don’t miss the Mediterranean-facing duplex spa on the top floor—you may never want to come down.
Since you can’t get through a trip—much less a day—without taking in some tapas, be sure to nibble on patatas bravas at the hip and haute Comerc24. Gastronomic temple Mercat de la Boqueria off Las Ramblas is ideal for an afternoon snack. For a decadent breakfast, try suizo, a thick hot chocolate topped with obscene amounts of whipped cream from La Pallaresa. Foodies will miss out on culinary superstar El Bulli, which temporarily shuttered its doors for 2012–13, but can come close to greatness at Botafumeíro, a favorite of Barcelonista Gwyneth Paltrow.
California: Santa Barbara
You know it’s where the stars go to relax on the weekend and that a little movie called Sideways put it on the map. What you may not realize is that this upscale beach town has a hopping arts scene, a gorgeous Old Mission and what was one of Julia Child’s favorite restaurants.
You’ll feel like a pampered celebrity escaping the masses when you check into your plush cottage at the San Ysidro Ranch, an idyllic stone and clapboard resort that was Jackie and JFK’s chosen honeymoon haven. Set in the picturesque town of Montecito, it’s a five-minute drive from Butterfly Beach, a quiet stretch of sand that’s perfect for strolling after enjoying an omelette at Jeannine’s Bakery on nearby Coast Village Road. When lunchtime rolls around, walk-ins-only seafood institution Brophy Brothers in Santa Barbara Harbor and La Super-Rica Taqueria are worth the wait (order a #16 and you’ll understand why Julia was a fan). Lucky’s and Pane e Vino are “it” spots for dinner—you might spot Montecito locals Oprah, Rob Lowe and Jeff Bridges noshing a few tables over.
Between bites, pop over to the historic Santa Barbara Mission, site of the I Madonnari Street Painting Festival, a kids’ favorite. Be on the lookout for dolphins and sea lions from Stearns Wharf or go giraffe and gorilla spotting at the Santa Barbara Zoo. For a wine country experience on par with Napa or Sonoma, head to Sunstone Vineyards and Winery, just thirty miles away in Santa Ynez Valley.
New Zealand: Queenstown/Auckland
With a spectacular landscape, famously friendly people and adrenaline-rush activities, Down Under promises an over-the-top experience wrapped in a laid-back vibe.
A smart bet is to fly direct into Auckland, New Zealand, and take a one-way flight to Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island. Queenstown is a haven for oenophiles and extreme-sports-lovers alike (bungee jumping was born here). If you’re thinking “less extreme, equally exhilarating,” opt for tandem paragliding following a breathtaking ride on the Skyline Gondola, believed to be the steepest lift in the southern hemisphere. Afterward, kick up your feet in your room at Blanket Bay, a luxury lodge on Lake Wakatipu, and reward your valor the next day by swirling and sipping along the Queenstown wine trail.
Continue the adventure in Sydney with the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, in which you’ll scale the inner structure of the Sydney Bridge, the widest single-span bridge in the world. (You are harnessed in the whole time, and kids over ten are welcome.) The Park Hyatt Sydney, which reopened in February after extensive renovations, makes a plush home base with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour. On New Year’s Eve, you’ll be among the first in the world to ring in 2013, and from your balcony, you’ll have a prime view of fireworks exploding from the bridge you just scaled.
Iceland is fast becoming a prime destination for those in search of natural beauty on steroids: fjords, spouting geysers, active volcanoes, magical lakes and total tranquility. But don’t let the wide-open space fool you—Reykjavik proper is a modern, cosmopolitan city that comes alive at night.
Believe it or not, it’ll take roughly the same amount of time to jet to Iceland as Los Angeles, and with almost twenty-four hours of sunlight a day during summer (dubbed “midnight sun”), you won’t even need a spray tan. For couples eager to combine active day trips with a hopping nightlife scene, Hotel 101 in downtown Reykjavik epitomizes Icelandic chic, with its clean lines, minimalist décor and avant-garde art collection. Families and nature lovers are better off at Hotel Rangá in South Iceland. Saddle up on Icelandic horses, enjoy an under-water massage at the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, or just gaze out your front door at the world-famous volcano, Mount Hekla.
If you can’t get to Iceland during summer, there’s a silver lining: NASA scientists predict that in winter 2012, Iceland will enjoy the brightest aurora borealis display in fifty years. If you can’t see it from Hotel Ranga, book a northern lights tour and ask for Borkur, who will get you close to the source via super jeep. Or check out Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, while you sip the icy handcrafted vodka you cleverly picked up duty-free from Reyka, the country’s first and only distillery.
Italy: Venice, Verona & Lake Como
There’s a reason why Italy is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world—yes, it’s the carbs. The breathtaking architecture and gorgeous scenery aren’t half bad, either. Whether you’re traveling with couples or as a family, a relaxed itinerary of region hopping makes for a richer experience.
Begin in Venice, so your kids can brag that they saw a sinking city to their great-grandchildren. (Hint: Avoid booking in August and you’ll sidestep tourist mobs in Piazza San Marco and the steamy “canal smell.”) Across the Grand Canal, the Hotel Cipriani is an opulent option with an Olympic-size pool and is just a private water taxi away from a fizzy Bellini at the legendary Harry’s Bar. Take a public water bus, or vaporetto, to Murano and reserve a glass-blowing demo at Mazzega, one of the island’s top glass makers.
Drive an hour and a half west on the A4 to Verona to experience Romeo and Juliet under the stars in a 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater—the 2012 Verona Opera Festival is in full swing in June and July—and stay at Hotel Due Torri. Cap your stay further north in Lake Como at the stunning Villa d’Este, and try not to choke on your carpaccio when you spot George Clooney, a Lake Como local, at The Grill. If you make one reservation your entire trip, book lunch at the unforgettable Locanda dell’Isola Comancina, on a private island in the middle of the lake.
Sometimes, a classic R&R vacation just won’t cut it—you’re craving culture and a 180-degree jolt from American life—and that’s when Vietnam deserves a second look. The city of Hanoi, which translates to “city in the bend of the river,” is so packed with cultural offerings that by your second day you’ll be asking, “Starbucks, who?”
Wander out of your elegant hotel, the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi in the colonial chic French Quarter, and you’ll be seduced by street markets with embroidered sheets that give Pratesi a run for its money. For a hands-on food experience, the Sofitel organizes a tour of the local produce markets, followed by a cooking demonstration and lunch. If you’re craving a more casual meal on the go, “safe” street food abounds, such as the obsession-forming Pho, a blend of handmade noodles, steaming broth, vegetables and meat. After eagerly slurping your noodles, take the kids to a traditional water puppet show in the afternoon. For a real treat, embark on a two-day Halong Bay cruise aboard Halong Ginger, a traditional Vietnamese junk boat. (Relax, it is anything but junky.)
If you’re looking for another travel thrill, make like Bergman and Bacall and take the Orient Express overnight. You’ll wind through beautiful rice paddies until you reach the four-star luxury hotel Victoria Sapa, which overlooks Ta Phin village. Make your way into town to browse the markets and meet the gentle tribespeople behind the handicrafts, donning smiles and brightly colored clothing.