Here's our up-to-the-minute guide to six of the most exciting destinations on the planet. Consider this your passport to the best Asian restaurants on Hawaii's Big Island, the luxurious new Ayurvedic spas of India and more.
England: East London
For those who think they know London inside and out, the latest areas to explore: the emerging, arty neighborhoods of East London.
You might overlook this literally new neighborhood (the first buildings went up in the '80s), home to most of the national newspapers. But hidden among the high-rises are lots of good excuses to take a joyride on the fun and futuristic Docklands Light Railway or the Jubilee Line's new bit.
Where to stay: The five-star Four Seasons Hotel raised the bar for the neighborhood when it opened a year and a half ago (46 Westferry Circus; 011-44-20-7510-1999; doubles from $500). Next came Circus Apartments, a new high-design hostelry from Christina Ong (owner of the chic Metropolitan and Halkin hotels in London), where furnished apartments are for rent by the day, week or month (39 Westferry Circus; 011-44-20-7719-7000; doubles from $310).
Where to eat: Fish!, a superior chain-ette where you pick your fish and cooking method (33 Westferry Circus; 011-44-20-7519-6020). Riviera, for wood-fired pizza and other southern Italian dishes in an 1800 brick warehouse (W. India Quay, 14 Hertsmere Rd.; 011-44-20-7515-4245). Tabla, for contemporary Indian dishes (oxtail and chickpea soup) in the Georgian-era Dockmaster's House (W. India Dock Gate; 011-44-20-7345-0345). Ubon, Nobu (say it backwards) Matsuhisa's cost-conscious second London location (34 Westferry Circus; 011-44-20-7719-7800).
Hoxton & Shoreditch
Arty-smarty bars--with galleries and design stores attached--have made the area trendy. Get here before it becomes the next Notting Hill, with this month's release of High Heels and Low Lifes, starring Minnie Driver.
Where to eat: The Real Greek, one of the best recent additions to London's restaurant scene, for Theodore Kyriakou's incredible mezéthes (little dishes) (15 Hoxton Market; 011-44-20-7739-8212). Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, right next to a screening room (2-4 Hoxton Square; 011-44-20-7613-0709). The Old Dispensary--yes, you guessed it, an old dispensary recently turned into a picturesque pub (19A Leman St.; 011-44-20-7702-1406). Les Trois Garçons, owned by a trio of antiques dealers--all lush fabrics, chandeliers and taxidermy. The French food (venison with roasted chestnuts) is surprisingly serious for such a playful setting (1 Club Row; 011-44-20-7613-1924).
Where to shop: Columbia Glassworks, from which fashion bad boy Alexander McQueen has commissioned work (Swanfield St.; 011-44-20-7613-5155). Dominic Crinson, for clever, digitally designed ceramic tiles (15 Redchurch St.; 011-44-20-7613-2783). Geffrye Design Centre, a new gallery space that houses designers' workshops and wares (Kingsland Rd.; 011-44-20-7739-9893), as does the Old Truman Brewery (91 Brick Ln.; 011-44-20-7377-1234).
Where to dance: Cargo, built under a bridge; for live shows, DJs and global street-food snacks, from quesadillas to satays (83 Rivington St.; 011-44-20-7739-3440).
Crammed with architects, designers and photographers, Clerkenwell has the hip quotient that once belonged to Soho.
Where to stay: The Great Eastern Hotel has the pared-down design you'd expect from a Terence Conran operation (Liverpool St.; 011-44-20-7618-5000; doubles from $240). The Rookery is a compact and quaint hideaway, all claw-foot baths and Georgian sash windows (12 Peter's Ln.; 011-44-20-7336-0931; doubles from $205).
Where to eat: The Bishop's Finger is a grand Victorian purveyor of Kentish ales that just upgraded to a gastropub (10 W. Smithfield; 011-44-20-7248-2341). Club Gascon, Pascal Aussignac's always-packed French restaurant (57 W. Smithfield; 011-44-20-7796-0600), has a new wine bar next door, Cellar Gascon (59 W. Smithfield; 011-44-20-7600-7561), and a deli cousin, Comptoir Gascon, a few blocks away, offering charcuterie to go (63 Charterhouse St.; 011-44-20-7608-0851). Smith's of Smithfield is a meatpacking plant turned multi-dining-room showcase. Avoid the herd by heading to the posh Top Floor for an organic steak (6777 Charterhouse St.; 011-44-20-7236-6666).
- by Kate Sekules
India: Ayurvedic Spas
Adventure travelers have discovered India; spa-goers are about to. Their mantra: Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu system of energy balance.
Renowned for its beaches and herb plantations, the South Indian state of Kerala is the new holistic holiday hotspot. Among the many spas, few can compete with Aquaserene in South Paravur. Nestled on a peninsula in the palm-fringed backwaters (Kerala's canal system), the resort plays up the aquatic theme with a dramatic pool-within-a-pool set on a pond. Cobblestoned trails lead to the guest cottages, some of which are transplanted old bungalows. After having typical Ayurvedic treatments like "anointment" or "flow" therapy, you can order room service, delivered by canoe (South Paravur, Kollam District; 011-91-474-512-410; doubles from $95).
Opened in 1997 and modeled on the owner's stunning sixteenth-century fort, Rajvilas, in the princely city of Jaipur in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, established itself as one of the world's most sumptuous retreats. (Just ask guests like Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell or Jessica Lange.) You can play out your maharaja fantasies on 32 acres of gardens, ponds and latticed pavilions or admire the traditional Rajasthani textiles in your pink-adobe cottage or billowy luxury tent. Those looking for Ayurvedic enlightenment can relax with a sandalwood and rose powder body polish at the spa housed in a 200-year-old haveli (mansion). Rejuvenated, take an elephant-safari ride or tour Jaipur's forts and palaces (Goner Rd., Jaipur; 800-562-3764; doubles from $350).
With its serene mountain setting and Raj-inspired decor, the brand-new Wildflower Hall is taking the concept of well-being to an even higher level... literally. Private butlers and Champagne picnics are a nice touch here almost 9,000 feet above sea level, in the remote northwestern state of Himachal Pradesh. It's even nicer to gaze at the snow-draped Himalayan peaks while inhaling pine-scented air in an outdoor Jacuzzi. But you don't come all this way just to meditate and have warm sesame oil poured on your third eye, both part of the resort's traditional Hindu treatments. For the restless, there's trekking, rafting and touring Buddhist monasteries--in a private helicopter, of course (Mashobra Chharabra, Simla; 011-91-177-480-808; doubles from $240).
Those making a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, the spiritual birthplace of Ayurveda and yoga in the Himalayas, can seek instant nirvana at Ananda in Uttar Pradesh. The resort, which opened last April, offers both Western and Indian beauty and exercise programs, panoramic views of the Ganges and soothing modern rooms. Make sure to purify yourself with an aura-cleansing herbal-oil rub and perfect your asanas (postures) at the colonnaded yoga pavilion (Tehri Garhwal, Uttar Pradesh; 011-91-137-827-500 or 800-526-6566; doubles from $340).
Travelers to the northern Indian city of Agra usually take in the Taj Mahal and swiftly move on. Now, with the opening of Amarvilas, they have a reason to linger: an opulent marble lobby, palatial terraced gardens, 106 rooms appointed with hand-knotted rugs and inlaid timberwood furniture--and all of it comes with a lump-in-your-throat view of the Taj. After having feasted your eyes, indulge yourself with a breakfast of fragrant potato-stuffed bread with just-made yogurt, followed by a Himalayan body wrap at the spa. Sure, it balances your doshas; it also makes your skin glow (Taj East Gate Rd., Taj Nagri Scheme, Agra; 011-91-562-231-515; doubles from $300).
- by Anya Von Bremzen
Madrid's beautiful people are venturing to Extremadura for rugged beauty, Roman ruins, Michelin-starred food and one grand but hip hotel.
The hilltop hotel Rocamador, a former sixteenth-century monastery in the town of Almendral close to the border of Portugal, is drawing Madrid's social set to Extremadura. Here you'll find rural life--replete with horseback riding and pelota (a ball game better known as jai alai)--as dreamed up by its celebrity owners, actor Carlos Tristancho, his wife Lucia Dominguín and her pop-star brother Miguel Bose (Lucia and Miguel's father is the legendary bullfighter Dominguín who left Ava Gardner to marry their mom). Rocks pose as sculptures and herbs perfume the air of the 31 haute-rustic rooms. The chapel has been transformed into one of Spain's most talked-about restaurants, where dishes like pigeon with onion-pomegranate marmalade alongside a lemon verbena mousseline are prepared by two young alumni of three-Michelin-starred Arzak in San Sebastián (Ctra. Nacional Badajoz-Huelva, km 41,100, Almendral; 011-34-924-489-000; doubles from $160).
Mérida, a town in southern Extremadura, is heaven for archaeology buffs, with well-preserved Roman theaters and aqueducts.
Where to stay: Parador Vía de la Plata, a former convent that was built on the remains of a Roman temple (3 Plaza de la Constitución; 011-34-924-313-800; doubles from $92).
Where to eat: Nicolás for jamón Iberico de bellota, the best of Spain's cured hams, made from local black pigs (13 Felix Valverde Lillo; 011-34-924-319-610).
What to do: Balneario de Alange, a spa 15 miles out of town, where Spanish movie stars relax in ancient Roman baths (58 Calle Baños; 011-34-924-365-106). National Museum of Roman Art, designed by Spain's "it" architect Rafael Moneo (Calle José Ramón Mélida; 011-34-924-31-16-90).
Located in central Extremadura, Cáceres is a marvel of towers, churches and honey-stoned mansions, financed with gold plundered from the Americas.
Where to stay: Melía Cáceres, an elegant Renaissance palace converted into a chic yet historic hotel (11 Plaza de San Juan; 011-34-927-215-800; doubles from $150).
Where to eat: Atrio is more than worthy of its Michelin star. Chandeliers and antiques set the stage for chef Toño Pérez's truffled cream of cèpes and rack of merino lamb (30 Avenida de España; 011-34-927-242-928). El Palacio del Vino is a tapas bar that serves the regional drink, licor de bellota, a liquor made from acorns (4 Calle Ancha; 011-34-927-210-859).
Trujillo, an ancient town east of Cáceres with a web of cobblestoned streets and one of Spain's most beautiful plazas, is best known as the birthplace of conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
Where to stay: Parador Nacional de Trujillo is a former convent with four-poster beds in what were the nuns' cells and a serene Renaissance cloister. Request rooms four to 12, which have views of the old town (1 Calle Santa Beatríz de Silva; 011-34-927-321-350; doubles from $85).
Where to eat: Pizarro, an inn overlooking the plaza, serves partridge casserole and lamb stew infused with Extremadura's famously smoky paprika, pimentón (13 Plaza Mayor; 011-34-927-320-255).
Where to shop: Bazar Sant'olaria, for embossed leather and copperware (37 Plaza Mayor).
Where to pray: Both tourists and Catholic pilgrims visit the fourteenth-century Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, about 60 miles east of Trujillo, dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico.
- by Anya Von Bremzen
Mexico: Oaxaca City
Most Americans don't know Oaxaca. Food cognoscenti kept it to themselves--but with new hotels and restaurants, it's ready for more visitors.
The state of Oaxaca in southeastern Mexico has always drawn the adventurous. Now there's no need to rough it, with the addition of these luxurious hotels that will make you feel like you're staying at a friend's family estate. A few blocks from the central zócalo (town square) in Oaxaca City is the majestic 21-room Hotel Ex-Convento San Pablo, a former Dominican convent with architecture that dates to the sixteenth century, featuring vaulted brick ceilings and tile floors. The rooms overlook a courtyard fountain and are elegantly decorated with intricately carved wooden beds and eighteenth-century oil paintings (Fiallo 102, Centro; 011-52-951-6-49-14; doubles from $120). Hotel Hacienda Los Laureles sits on a hillside with a view of Oaxaca City. The 26 spacious rooms--with white stucco walls, beamed ceilings and ornate mirrors--surround a large tranquil garden filled with ancient laurel and cypress trees. There's a Jacuzzi in most rooms, and if that's not therapeutic enough for you, head for the spa for a temazcal treatment (traditional herbal steam bath) or massage. The hotel's restaurant makes a fine jugo de carne (sherry-infused beef broth) and pollo limón (lime-marinated chicken) (Hidalgo 21, San Felipe del Agua; 011-52-9501-53-00; doubles from $190). Outside the city, Casa Cerrito Sagrado is a new B&B with 10 terraced rooms overlooking the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle. For breakfast, owner Mary Jane Mendoza offers guests hot chocolate laced with ground almonds and cinnamon, plus rich egg bread for dunking, and fresh mangoes and pineapples (La Mano Mágica, Alcalá 203, Centro; 011-52-951-678-60; doubles from $80).
Oaxacan cuisine is known for so much--queso de Oaxaca (a string cheese), empanadas with squash blossoms--but its quintessential recipe is mole, a sauce made of chiles, ground seeds, nuts, spices and herbs. Some of the best mole in town can be found at the new reservations-only Casa Oaxaca. The chef prepares a set menu, as if he's throwing a dinner party in a colonial mansion (García Vígil 407; 011-52-951-4-41-73). El Che, the latest place for elegant dining, is known for its Argentine steak, grilled chorizo and baby eels with chiles, garlic and olive oil (5 de Mayo 413, Esquina Gurrion, Centro; 011-52-951-4-21-22). Within the funky pink, blue, yellow and lavender walls of Fonda De La Cruz, an eclectic crowd dines on cochinita pibil, pork seasoned with bitter orange and steamed in banana leaves (García Vígil 716-A, Centro; 011-52-951-3-91-60). Sit under the trees at Marco Polo for the best octopus salad in Oaxaca and fabulous whole fish baked in a wood-burning oven (Pino Suarez 806; 011-52-951-3-43-08).
At Mercado 20 de Noviembre, two blocks south of the town square, food stalls fill almost an entire building. The best section has the taco vendors: You take a wicker basket and pick out chiles and onions, then pass them to the griller who will cook your choice of chorizo, sliced beef or chile-rubbed pork, and pass it all back to you to wrap in fresh tortillas. Mercado Merced is well worth the 10-block walk from the square, especially for Oliva Castro's empanadas, filled with squash blossoms, huitlacoche (corn fungus) or tinga (spicy shredded pork). (Her stall, on Antojitos La Guerita, between Calles Murguia and Morelos, is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Then order a foamy vampiro, made with orange and beet juice, from the stall across the aisle. At the less-well-known daily market in Teotitlán del Valle, 17 miles from Oaxaca City, local women with ribbons braided into their hair sell fresh tamales and heirloom varieties of avocados and tomatoes.
- by Marilyn Tausend
Capitalism meets Communism in Shanghai, where mile-high hotels serve hairy crabs and queens mingle with comrades.
Grand Hyatt Shanghai An ultraglam hotel at the top of Jin Mao Tower, an 88-story obelisk that rises from the new commercial zone across the river. Shanghai Tang meets Armani at the Grand Café breakfast. Choose between a European buffet and a classic Chinese meal of hot soybean-milk soup with fried bread sticks (Jin Mao Tower, 2 Century Blvd., Pudong; 011-86-21-5049-1234; doubles from $190). Portman Ritz-Carlton at the Shanghai Centre A center of power and privilege, near both the old French quarter and downtown. A favorite of businessmen, especially since its recent renovation (1376 Nanjing West Rd.; 011-86-21-6279-8888; doubles from $270). Peace Hotel For the romance of old Shanghai. Slightly tacky, but with an unbeatable location overlooking the Bund, the waterfront boulevard. Join the ballroom dancers on the Bund in the early morning, or listen to the jazz band in the lounge at night. Ask for one of the renovated suites, with a walk-in closet anda huge bathroom (20 Nanjing East Rd.; 011-86-21-6321-6888; doubles from $160).
1221 The Dining Room For the mainland's best soup dumplings, Lion's Head casserole (rich pork meatballs) and Eight Treasure tea, poured perfectly into your tiny teacup from a spouted brass pot held three feet from the table. Expats and locals swoon in the presence of the graceful Hong Kongborn owner, who looks like the model-turned-artist Ahn Duong (1221 Yanan West Rd.; 011-86-21-6213-6585). Le Garçon Chinois For nouvelle cuisine Chinoise presented on Sung-dynasty-style ceramics. The setting, in a renovated Western house in the old Legation Quarter, might make you wish Mao hadn't triumphed (Hengshan Rd., Lane 9, No. 3; 011-86-21-6431-3005). M on the Bund With views of the waterfront boulevard, M is a dinner magnet for the moneyed crowd, created by the same people who opened Hong Kong's M on the Fringe. Sit next to the Queen of Thailand in the candlelit room and enjoy contemporary haute cuisine with Chinese accents. Pumpkin risotto and crispy pork are favorites, and every Shanghai starlet orders the Pavlova for dessert (7th Floor, No. 5 the Bund, corner of Guangdong Rd.; 011-86-21-6350-9988). To be more hip for less money, try the same owners' Italian café next door, Rollo di Pollo, for oven-fired pizza and the same rooftop view (011-86-21-6321-3389). Palladio For the best Italian food in Asia; don't miss the ravioli. The newest swell place to make deals, with $2 million worth of arches and columns (Portman Ritz-Carlton at the Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing West Rd.; 011-86-21-6279-7188). Park 97 This newly renovated property is part Japanese restaurant, part Italian trattoria and part disco, painted fire-engine red and open till 2 a.m. (Fuxing Park, 2 Gaolan Rd.; 011-86-21-6318-0785). Xinguang Jiu Jia For Shanghai's famous hairy crabs (in season September through November). The adventurous who come to this hole-in-the-wall joint have drunken crab, marinated raw in sweet rice wine and vinegar. Those less bold opt for crab roe with rice noodles. Everyone orders "yellow wine," the region's famous heated fermented-rice beverage (512 Tianjin Rd.; 011-86-21-6322-3978). Zhang Sheng Ji For delicate Hangzhou cuisine, like clay-pot chicken stewed whole. When you've eaten the meat, send the pot back for a serving of heavenly wontons to eat with the remaining broth (446 Zhaojiabang Rd.; 011-86-21-6445-5777).
What's next: To keep up with this ever-changing city, check out www.66cities.com for updated news and reviews of restaurants, hotels, bars and shopping.
- by Barbara Tropp
America: Big Island
The resorts are breathtaking, but there are more reasons to visit Hawaii's Big Island--especially for anyone who loves sushi, Thai food or shopping.
Four Seasons Hualalai is not just one of Hawaii's best resorts... it's one of the world's best. The staff has thought of everything: They will stock your minibar with your beer of choice, spritz you with Evian poolside and even repair your sandals for free. The restaurant Pahu i'a is probably the best on the island, with a restrained Asian take on Hawaiian dishes, such as Szechwan pepper-crusted ahi with Asian slaw and a sauce using local Ka'u oranges (100 Ka'upulehu Dr.; 800-983-3880; doubles from $475). Hapuna Beach Prince has the best Big Island beach, and all 350 rooms have ocean views. Its restaurant Hakone, designed in dramatic white stone, has excellent sushi. Too bad the hotel hosts so many conventions (62-100 Kauna'oa Dr.; 800-882-6060; doubles from $350). Mauna Kea put the Big Island on the traveler's map when Laurance S. Rockefeller opened it in 1965. Renovations have mercifully left the James-Bond-meets-Le-Corbusier ambience intact; wicker chaises, louvered balcony doors and amazing art remain (62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr.; 800-882-6060; doubles from $350).
For a change of pace from your fabulous resort, eat with the locals at these mom-and-pop hideaways. In the main town of Kona, the Asian selection runs the gamut. At Jennifer's Korean Barbecue, don't be thrown off by the listing "Yakiniku Plates"--it's just their name for genuine Korean barbecue (74-5605 Luhia St., off Kawai St., N. Kona; 808-326-1155). Kyotoya Sushi Shop is a tiny place for a great take-out lunch (N. Kona Shopping Center, Palani Rd.; 808-987-8490). Go to Sibu Cafe for tarragon-scented Balinese chicken served on outdoor tables. If you're lucky, you'll catch a live jazz band (Banyan Court Mall, Alii Dr., N. Kona; 808-329-1112). South of Kona, Keei Cafe is small, and the decor doesn't go beyond plastic furniture, but it's beloved for simple, home-cooked dishes, such as ultrafresh ono in Thai red curry (Highway 11, Honaunau; 808-328-8451). Further north, the working harbor town of Kawaihae has Cafe Pesto, which serves unusual (and surprisingly good) combinations, like a calzone with chipotle-grilled chicken breast, cilantro and goat cheese. Or try traditional dishes, such as sesame-marinated seared yellowtail (Kawaihae Shopping Center, 808-882-1071; S. Hata Building, Hilo, 808-969-6640). Further north, where the rolling green hills resemble those of New England, locals love Bamboo for its macadamia-crusted fish and rib-eye steaks--wholly appropriate, since the place is not far from Paniolo country, where Hawaiian cowboys still round up cattle at the island's more than 500 ranches (junction of highways 270 and 250, Hawi; 808-889-5555). While you're in the west, stop at Tex Drive In for malasadas--fluffy, yeasty Portuguese hole-less doughnuts. Eat them hot, and don't bother with fillings like Bavarian cream, pepper jelly and strawberry guava (Highway 19, Honokaa; 808-775-0598).
Shopping may not be at the top of your Big Island to-do list, but midcentury Hawaiian crockery has quietly become a collectible: Lokelani, or "heavenly rose," ware, early '30s Don Blanding designs and late '40s Santa Anita pottery are all painted with Hawaiian blooms. You might find some pieces at Mauna Kea Galleries (276 Keawe St., Hilo, 808-969-1184; 65-1298 Kawaihae Rd., Kamuela, 808-887-2244). Or check out Ets'ko for Japanese antiques (35 Wainuenue Ave.; 808-961-3778). Honokaa Trading Company, which sells a grab bag of Hawaiiana, is another good hunting ground (Mamane St.; 808-775-0808). For food to bring home, stop at Big Island Candies for delicious macadamia shortbreads and other edible souvenirs. Try the unusual Da-Kines, which are snacks--such as Japanese rice crackers, salted plums and dried cuttlefish--covered in chocolate (585 Hinano St., Hilo; 808-935-8890).
- by Kate Sekules