Many travelers are less familiar with the city’s myriad draws, beyond the Alamo. Which is a shame, says Virtuoso travel advisor Peter Herff II, because “it’s undoubtedly the best city in Texas!”
As a fifth-generation San Antonian, Herff readily extols its many virtues, from the popular River Walk – which now spans 15 cypress-lined miles along the San Antonio River – to the Pearl District, an old warehouse neighborhood transformed with upscale shops and restaurants.
In 2018, San Antonio celebrates its 300th anniversary. Tricentennial activities are planned throughout the year, including a week full of events and entertainment from May 1 through 6. That’s on top of the city’s annual Fiesta San Antonio (April 19 through 29), the “party with a purpose” that raises funds for community projects.
Look for special anniversary exhibits at the family-friendly Witte Museum (3801 Broadway Street) and the San Antonio Museum of Art (200 W. Jones Avenue), the former Lone Star Brewery complex housing the Southwest’s premier collection of Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman antiquities. Herff recommends taking a quick selfie in front of the Alamo (300 Alamo Plaza) before touring Mission San José(701 E. Pyron Avenue), with its exquisitely sculpted la ventana de rosa (rose window).
STAY: OpenTable recently gave top honors to Signature, chef Andrew Weissman’s seasonal restaurant in La Cantera Resort & Spa. The 496- room resort’s concierge team can arrange everything from a private mariachi lesson or tortilla-making class to a shootaround with the San Antonio Spurs. Hole up on Cantera’s haute new adults-only floor for its exclusive lounge and complimentary access to the spa.
Slovenia’s culinary scene reflects its cultural fusion with neighboring Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria. With more than 20 gastronomic regions, some 170 traditional dishes, and its richly textured rebula wine, this tiny central European country is primed to be the next big thing for foodies.
But cuisine is not Slovenia’s only bounty. During a recent visit, New York City-based Virtuoso advisor Sekita Ekrek was “blown away” to find an inviting mix of Europe’s best: gorgeous wine country, breathtaking lakes and alpine meadows, ancient Mediterranean port towns, castles and caves, and the fairy-tale capital of Ljubljana. “It’s just all there.”
A variety of the country’s famous struklji (filled rolls) are on display at Central Market (6 Adamic-Lundrovo nabrezje) in Ljubljana’s easily walkable Old Town. “Don’t miss the octopus with passion fruit coulis at JB Restaurant (19 Miklosiceva), one of the best in the city,” says Ekrek. Then grab an ice cream at Cacao (3 Petkovskovo nabrezje) and stroll along the river promenade, aka “the beach.”
The Goriska Brda wine region, known as the “Tuscany of Slovenia,” boasts vineyards ripe with rebula grapes (called ribolla in Italy), used by organic wineries such as Kabaj(4 Slovrenc) to produce the region’s prized golden (or orange) wine. A clifftop castle guards glacial Lake Bled; take a pletna (a handmade wooden rowboat) out to the tiny island church and ring its “wishing bell.” Ekrek also recommends Piran, a medieval town on the Slovene Riviera that “oozes charm.” Pick up some of its famous therapeutic salts at Piranske Soline (2 Ulica IX korpusa) before climbing the town’s peak for views across the Adriatic to Venice, an easy boat ride away.
GO: Your travel advisor can work with Virtuoso’s local tour provider, Luxury Slovenia, to design a personalized Slovenian journey that can include experiences such as a gastronomic tour of Ljubljana, tastings in the Brda wine region, and a private violin concert in Piran. “They take impeccable care of clients, create one-ofa-kind experiences, and reveal some unbelievable highlights,” says Ekrek.
Many adventurers plan to cross the Panama Canal off their travel list in 2018, yet few will stick around long enough to explore what lies on either side of the locks. Those who do will discover spider monkeys and roseate spoonbills hiding in the Darién jungle’s lush foliage, hiking trails through the vast Punta Patiño Nature Reserve, thatched-roof villages in the indigenous Guna Yala province, and primo surf breaks off the Bocas del Toro archipelago.
Panama is also an excellent place “to learn more about things outside our comfort zone,” says UnCruise Adventures president Tim Jacox, who especially appreciates the chance to interact with the country’s native cultures on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. “These experiences shed light on what connects all of us as people.”
Las Vegas-based Virtuoso advisor Abby Lagman was pleasantly surprised by Panama City, which offers “a great mix of old and new, with a skyline of modernlooking high-rises that reminds me of Dubai.” Casco Viejo (the Old Quarter) is a must; visit the golden altar in Iglesia de San José (Calle 8 at Avenida A), then take in the sparkling skyline from Tántalo Roofbar (Calle 8 Este at Avenida B). Calzada de Amador, a long causeway built from rocks excavated during the Panama Canal’s construction, is home to the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo (Building 136)
GO: Snorkel in Guna Yala; paddleboard off the Perlas Islands; wander Portobelo, a UNESCO World Heritage site; and share stories with Emberá villagers in the Darién jungle during a nineday journey with UnCruise Adventures that features active explorations on both coasts. Its 62-passenger Safari Voyager is stationed year-round in Central America with a mostly local crew for insider perspectives.
FINE ARTS: Panama’s Portobelo Bay shows its creative side at El Otro Lado, a private eco-retreat with ten villas located within Portobelo National Park. Local artists are on hand to carve sculptures, lead painting workshops, and perform the colorful, folkloric Congo dance.
Followers of the slow movement make haste to Bhutan, where time stretches with the meditative sound of temple bells and success is gauged by a Gross National Happiness index.
The “Dragon Kingdom” lies at the Himalaya’s eastern end, landlocked between China and India. That geographical isolation, explains Varya Simpson, a Berkeley, California-based Virtuoso advisor, helped keep the country’s thousand-year-old society intact. “Bhutan was never a European colony, so the Western architecture and culture that have seeped into much of Indochina and India are not found there. What you experience are indigenous Buddhist traditions that were channeled from Tibet and maintained over time.”
Simpson, a former Fulbright scholar to India and lecturer in Asian Studies, says visitors find a surprise around every Bhutanese corner, “from an old monk performing a fire ritual to maroon-robed boys giggling over their begging bowls and sudden views of snowcapped mountains above verdant hillsides.” She recommends that visitors time their travels with one of the country’s numerous cultural events, such as the Ura Yakchoe Festival (in 2018: April 26 through 29).
The Ogyen Choling Museum, a preserved estate house in Bumthang’s Tang Valley, offers insight into life in the kingdom a century ago. Visitors can climb rickety ladders and examine old artifacts that Simpson describes as “falling apart, but wonderful.” The site is even more endearing as urban growth begins to tear at the unified fabric of Bhutanese culture, adding to the urgency of visiting now.
STAY: In the summer of 2018, happiness will come in the form of individually crafted journeys at the 82-suite Six Senses Bhutan, comprising five strategically located lodges across the Himalayan kingdom. Simpson is excited for its opening: “The roads in Bhutan can be rough and dusty, so coming home to a relaxing Six Senses suite will help you unwind before the next day’s adventures.”
The plight of polar bears has gained worldwide attention in recent years. While scientific reports make headlines, it’s the firsthand accounts of Arctic travelers that have fueled the conversation.
“Travelers tend to be influencers in our society, and they return [from the Arctic] with sensational stories and vivid pictures of one of the earth’s most sensitive environments,” says Court Whelan, Natural Habitat Adventures’ director of sustainability and conservation travel. “Few people have the chance to visit the region, but through those who do, others have the chance to fall in love with it vicariously, and as a result, be another voice and another vote to save it for the long term.”
Virtuoso advisor Michelle Bemis of McLean, Virginia, is a huge fan of the company’s polar bear expeditions based in Churchill, a former fur-trading post in Manitoba. Travelers venture out on the tundra in customized vehicles designed with plenty of windows and outdoor see-through decks for maximum viewing. “It’s truly amazing how close you can come to the bears in these Polar Rovers,” says Bemis.
With Arctic sea ice melting, the bears have less time to feed and, Bemis notes, are in real danger of extinction. She urges everyone who can to visit the Arctic now, and do what they can to help ensure that the species survives.
GO: The world’s first carbon-neutral travel provider, Natural Habitat Adventures works with the World Wildlife Fund to create small-group, sixand seven-day expeditions from Churchill. Guides go out of their way to track polar bears while educating guests on Arctic wildlife, geology, and climate change. Bemis also appreciates the opportunities to interact with indigenous people: “The elders’ stories are enthralling.”
Even those who have previously traveled down under are bowled over by the Kimberley. This is the “Outback of the Outback,” an untamed region about the size of California with not many more residents than in a Manhattan square mile. It’s a place of otherworldly landscapes, a pioneering history, and deeply rooted Aboriginal culture.
“For someone who has only experienced Sydney, the Gold Coast, and the Great Barrier Reef, Western Australia provides an obvious contrast,” says Virtuoso advisor Brian Harris of Aspen, Colorado. “The Kimberley truly is one of the last and largest undeveloped corners of the world, offering travelers unique insight into how life was lived before the conveniences of modern civilization.”
Harris’ must-dos: a helicopter ride to Mitchell Plateau and its magnificent waterfalls; a Zodiac tour through the iconic Horizontal Falls, where tides rush between narrow rock walls, creating a sideways cascade; and visiting with coastal Aboriginal communities. Other favorites include the Lacepede Islands, a haven for birders; Purnululu National Park’s surreal beehive-shaped towers, the Bungle Bungles; and the ruby-red ranges along Gibb River Road. The region’s few towns – sophisticated Perth, rural Broome, and laid-back Darwin – are all different from each other and worlds away from their east coast counterparts.
GO: Take a scenic helicopter flight before landing at Mitchell Falls to hike and swim. Ponant offers the optional excursion on its new 11-day Kimberley expedition aboard the 264-passenger L’Austral, which includes Zodiac outings with naturalist guides and a choice of personally arranged experiences in Wyndham (opt for the combination Ord River tour and Bungle Bungle scenic flight).
Moscow & Saint Petersburg
With Russia dominating the news recently, it’s important for travelers to look beyond politics. Chicagobased Virtuoso advisor Olya Kiriukhina, a Ukraine native who’s traveled extensively in Russia, believes that visiting the country is more relevant today than at any time since the end of the Cold War: “I think Russians and Americans have a lot more in common than most people realize.”
One thing they definitely share is a love of sports, which will be on full display when Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup from June 14 through July 15. Matches are scheduled to take place in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, as well as a number of smaller cities across the country.
A rooftop tour of Saint Petersburg (for city panoramas from atop its baroque and neoclassical buildings) and travels aboard Moscow’s Soviet-era metro system are among Kiriukhina’s offbeat favorites. For dining in the capital, try locavore LavkaLavka(21/2 Petrovka Street) and White Rabbit (3 Smolenskaya Square), serving modern Russian fare in a glass atrium with stunning views. Beyond the two cosmopolitan cities lies the authentic Russia of Doctor Zhivago, with its endless birch forests, elegant domed churches, and a cultural mix of European and Asian traditions.
STAY: Your Virtuoso advisor can create a personalized vacation that includes World Cup tickets from EliteAxis and stays at a choice of five Moscow hotels and four in Saint Petersburg. Two ideas: Cozy up next to the Kremlin in the 334-room Ritz-Carlton, Moscow. In Saint Petersburg, the 266-room Belmond Grand Hotel Europe is a stroll away from the Winter Palace and other landmarks.
In 2009, the film crew of Frozen Planet set out for Antarctica aboard the powerhouse icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov. As documented in Sir David Attenborough’s critically acclaimed BBC miniseries, the team was on a mission to reach the frozen grail: Snow Hill Island and its nearinaccessible emperor penguin rookery, home to some 4,000 pairs of the largest penguin species.
While they were able to visit the rookery, “Snow Hill Island is one of the hardest destinations on earth to reach,” says Cara Matthew of Quark Expeditions, which hosted the BBC crew. “The window to get there is extremely limited each season, and there’s no telling when a trip can be offered again.” Indeed, Quark’s journey was the last this century before the company announced four departures for fall 2018, providing travelers with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness these elusive creatures.
Of course, every adventure to “The Ice” marks a travel milestone, notes Calgary, Canada-based Virtuoso advisor Natasha Rhodes, who checked the seventh continent off her life list a few years back. “It’s hard to describe the feeling of being so disconnected from everyday life while being so completely connected with nature and your surroundings,” she says. “It’s like the rest of the world ceases to exist.”
GO: After nearly a decade, the 110-passenger Kapitan Khlebnikov will once again attempt to power through the polar ice to Snow Hill and its emperor penguins on four 2018 journeys from Quark Expeditions. An elite group of scientists and researchers will join the 14-day expeditions to teach passengers about this iconic wildlife event – and hopefully, gather penguin DNA.
Will you be going to any of these wonderful destinations?