If you’re like us, your wanderlust has been smoldering, and the new year means new adventures await. While travel can still be complex (make sure to always check the latest Covid-19 testing requirements and have proof of vaccination in hand), hotels and destinations in various corners of this country and around the world have reopened to travelers. We couldn’t be more thrilled. Here are five enticing vacations we can’t wait to book.
The gilded Palace of Versailles is a famous Paris day trip, but it has never been a more worthy destination than it is now thanks to a spectacular new hotel, the first-ever within the palace gates. If you want to splurge, check out the uber luxurious Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle (from $2,077 a night) that opened in June. It transports guests to the opulent 1700s and grants unprecedented access to the palace and its grounds, essentially a 2,000-acre green space with lakes and water features, woodlands, gardens and paths for walking and riding bikes.
Fourteen elegant suites and guest rooms include the light-filled Necker Suite with Versailles parquet flooring and a stand-alone bathtub with a view of the palace’s grand Hundred Steps staircase. Public spaces are adorned with Pierre Frey fabrics and period pieces painstakingly tracked down by art historians, like an intricate 18th-century desk made of five different kinds of wood on display in the mint green library.
Located in two buildings constructed in 1681 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Louis XIV’s favorite architect, the entire hotel has been renovated and refurbished to reflect 1788, the year of the last inventory before the French Revolution. Each evening celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse treats guests to a feast inspired by the lavish meals enjoyed by the Sun King himself.
Room rates include unlimited access to the Orangerie gardens and private tours of the Trianon palaces and the château, including the King and Queen’s State Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors.
It is impossible to see everything Versailles has to offer in a day, but by staying here, travelers can properly explore every nook and cranny, including the whimsical Queen’s Hamlet, the world’s most aesthetically pleasing petting zoo, where Marie Antoinette and her children would escape the demands of palace life, and the town of Versailles with its covered market, excellent restaurants and wine bars.
There are other smart and less opulent stay options in Versailles, including the Waldorf Astoria Versailles Trianon Palace (from $211 a night), in a 1907 building with a Grecian-inspired pool and a Guerlain spa.
The state of Vermont is arcadian in winter when smoke billows from the sugar shacks and church steeples are dusted with shimmering snowflakes. Just off of the central square in the town of Woodstock, the Woodstock Inn & Resort (from $395 a night) was established by conservationist Laurance Rockefeller and sports New England–style architecture and cozy interiors with coffered ceilings and multiple roaring fireplaces. During the holidays, the inn’s master gardener transforms the hotel into a winter wonderland with garlands, grapevine trees and dried flowers (the annual Wassail Weekend December 10–12 has an equestrian parade and period costumes). Guides organize numerous outdoor activities out of the hotel’s dedicated Nordic Center, including fat tire biking and uphill skinning and snowshoeing.
After exploring the slopes, book a hydration facial using Vermont-based skin care line Tata Harper products in the 10,000-square-foot spa. Families should head north just across the covered bridge to the Billings Farm and Museum, a working dairy farm with an 1890 farmhouse for cider doughnuts and horse-drawn wagon rides through the snow.
For a more romantic, adults-only option, travelers can book a stay at Twin Farms (from $2,550 a night all-inclusive) overlooking the Green Mountains in Barnard, where the architecture is elevated farmhouse meets Swiss chalet. Offering a smorgasbord of winter fun; guests can sign up for everything from ice fishing to cross-country skiing on the property’s 300 acres (make sure to après with a glass of champagne in the recently renovated Lift Shack). If you prefer, only leave your private cottage with a king-size feather bed to breathe in the fresh Vermont air. Twin Farms’ over-the-top room service includes a five-course dinner delivered to your doorstep, featuring dishes such as lamb roulade with Romanesco and garlic scape plus wine pairings.
Visitors might spot jaguars, armadillos and iguanas along this wild and remote stretch of coastline in Jalisco, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Puerto Vallarta. It’s so stunning that many big names have taken note. One and Only, Four Seasons and Luxury Frontiers are developing resorts in the area, and a new airport and highway are on track to open in 2022. The region is already home to many of the most understated and elegant hotels in Mexico, including Las Rosadas (from $1,100 a night), an eco-luxury ocean club and community with a castaway-style casita and a six-bedroom villa available for vacation rental. It’s a true culinary destination: chef Laurent Manrique, who lives in Marin, travels to Las Rosadas each time guests book Las Tres Noches, a villa package that includes immersive dining experiences over three nights. Manrique prepares locally caught seafood like red snapper on Playa Corazon, a small beach peppered with heart-shaped stones; a shaman-blessed vegetarian meal in a jungle; and a feast of grilled meats typical in the Tequila region, served in a naturally sculpted grotto. Casita guests and other visitors can experience Manrique’s fresh take on Mexican cuisine f, the beachfront Bar Mono and La Terraza, an intimate hacienda restaurant with just six coveted tables.
The palapa-topped hideaway Las Alamandas (from $513 a night) to the north has added two new luxury suites, and just 30 minutes south of Las Rosadas, a fashionable crowd flocks to Cuixmala (from $650 a night), once the retreat of French-British politician and tycoon Sir James Goldsmith. His daughter Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini has turned the sprawling yellow villa with Moorish influences into one of Mexico’s most luxurious and sustainable hotels. On a 30,000-acre nature preserve there is also a biodynamic farm, three private beaches, and even a herd of wild zebras. Accommodations include suites, villas, bungalows and casitas. Goldsmith Marcaccini also owns Hacienda de San Antonio (from $795 a night), about a two-and-half-hour drive east in the mountains of Colima, next to a volcano. A former coffee plantation, the hacienda hotel was recently redecorated with a new color scheme and family heirlooms once displayed in their Paris pied-à-terre.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos may not be as well-known as ski destinations like Lake Tahoe and Jackson Hole, and locals prefer it that way, but it should be on any powder hound’s radar, with more than 305 inches of average annual snowfall and a major revitalization nearly complete. Conservationist Louis Bacon acquired Taos Ski Valley in 2013 — Taos is the first and only B Corp certified ski resort — and immediately began a $300 million renovation project that has included modern chairlifts, a new plaza and the LEED-certified Blake Hotel (from $325 a night). At the center of the base area near Lift 1, the 80-room ski-in/ski-out hotel with traditional pine architecture evokes the “salon” of art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, complete with handmade furniture, Pueblo pottery, vintage black-and-white photographs and local Taoseño artworks.
Taos has very steep, challenging terrain and a European meets Southwest vibe. Visitors can order a Wiener schnitzel and German lager on the deck of the Bavarian Restaurant and peruse vintage and new western-style clothing and home goods at the artist-owned People of the Valley in downtown Taos. Anyone interested in learning about Taos’ history as an artist colony should wander the grounds and gardens at the newly opened Lunder Research Center at the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, where the Taos Society of Artists was founded. Outside Taos, Ojo Caliente reopened this fall after a refresh. Its mineral hot springs, tucked between desert cliffs and cottonwood forests, and adobe structures have intrigued wellness seekers for more than a century. Treatments include sound and energy healing.
Big Sur, California
With Highway 1 in Monterey reopened since the spring, it’s time to venture south to Big Sur and the cliffside Alila Ventana Big Sur (from $1,600 a night, glamping from $240 a night). It’s now an all-inclusive property as of last summer; guests can leave their credit cards in their wallets and focus on the serene setting that includes acres of meadows, slender redwood trees and Pacific Ocean views. Meals, snacks to take on outings, chauffeur service, and activities like tai chi, meditation and s’mores are included in the room rate. The 59 guest rooms, suites and villas feel like the most luxurious of treehouses, with king beds, window seats and private wood-paneled decks. Some rooms have fireplaces and oversize hammocks.
Visitors looking for an even more rustic experience can try glamping in Ventana Big Sur’s 20-acre redwood canyon. Separate from the rest of the resort and its amenities, glampers will enjoy safari tent–style accommodations with wood-burning fire pits and Adirondack chairs.
All Alila guests and Big Sur visitors should make it a point to dine at the property’s Big Sur Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant in a renovated 19th-century homestead. Reopened since the summer, the eatery serves Texas and Kansas City barbecue with a fresh California twist, including house-smoked tri-tip, St. Louis pork ribs with sweet barbecue stout sauce and banana bread pudding for dessert.