Today (December 21, 2015): my most memorable travel experiences of 2015.
It’s that time of the year again: time to look back at everything that happened – the good, the bad, and everything in between – during the past 12 months. While 2015 was filled with terrible stories (terror attacks, refugee crisis, never-ending wars and conflicts), an overwhelming lot of good things happened as well, such as the free elections in Myamar, same sex marriage in the USA, the ending of the Cuban blockade, less poverty worldwide, and a climate change deal. It was also a big year for travelers, with the introduction of the Airbus A350, giant hotel mergers, exciting hotel openings, devaluation of loyalty programs, and horrific events that painfully made clear that traveling is not always safe (e.g. the Germanwings crash, attacks in Paris and Tunesia). Still, this won’t stop us from traveling since traveling is the spice of life. It is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness (Mark Twain) and the best way to understand the ever-changing world we live in. Since this is a luxury travel blog that tries to give you a daily moment of travel inspiration and since I want to focus more on my personal stories in the future, I hereby share with you my travel highlights of 2015. You can share your own 2015 travel highlights in the comments section below!
Last October, I spent some days at the stunningly beautiful Mandarin Oriental resort in Bodrum. With an idyllic location in Bodrum’s secluded Paradise Bay, two private beaches, a range of fabulous gourmet restaurants, a world-class spa and incredible minimalistic design, this unique 6-star resort wowed me (like few other hotels did in 2015) and will seduce even the most discerning traveler. The first beach resort of the Mandarin Oriental hotel group, which is widely acclaimed as one of the most exclusive hotel brands in the world, is so phenomenal that it makes the nicest 5 star resorts look like a cheap motel. If you are in need of a luxurious beach break around the Mediterranean basin, then stop looking as this is as exclusive a getaway as you can imagine!
- Hotel website: Mandarin Oriental Bodrum
- Review: click here to read my review of the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum.
Last April, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A330-300 of Cathay Pacific from Doha in Qatar to Hong Kong. It was a memorable experience, albeit not in a positive way. While the flight itself was ok (with a great cabin crew, good seats, but unimpressive food), I will remember it as one of my worst flight experience ever (so far), because of the total incompetence that Cathay Pacific (and the Qatar Airways ground staff) displayed when a sandstorm caused an unexpected and very frustrating 24 hour flight delay at Doha. While it is not always possible for an airline to eliminate all of the factors that lead to a flight being delayed, it is crucial that there is no compromise in both communication and service for the passengers in such situation. And this is exactly where Cathay Pacific failed, not once, not twice, but multiple times.
- Review: click here to read my review of this flight.
The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong had long been on my radar, and I was finally able to stay there last spring (albeit one instead of two nights thanks to Cathay Pacific, cf supra). The hotel far exceeded my expectations: Hong Kong is one of the world’s greatest cities, known for its vibrant, ceaseless energy. And you feel that vibe as you journey all the way to the lobby on the 103rd floor. Seated atop the International Commerce Centre (ICC) – the 7th tallest building in the world and the highest in Hong Kong – the stunning luxury hotel boasts incomparable views of Victoria Harbour and the glimmering skyline of neighbouring Hong Kong Island. Inside, soaring architectural elements encrusted with custom glass artwork echo the signature glamour of the city below.
- Hotel website: The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong
- Top 10 accolades: The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong features in my top 10 lists of the world’s highest hotels, the best luxury hotels in China, the best luxury hotels in Hong Kong, and hotel rooms with a spectacular view.
- Review: click here to read my review of The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.
Last month, I flew in First Class from London to New York City. While American Airlines’ fleet of Boeing 777-300ER has one of the best longhaul Business Class products in the world, I was less impressed by their First Class product. It’s still a comfortable ride of course, but the difference with American Airlines’ excellent Business Class is only very marginal: the suite has more space, the seat can be turned into an office desk, there is turndown service (with duvet and extra pillow), and you get an extra course (soup) with your meal. While the onboard experience itself was not exceptional, I will still remember the flight because the flight path during landing took us directly above Midtown Manhattan, offering spectacular views of Central Park and the iconic Empire State Building.
- Review: click here to read my review of this flight.
The Maldives is my favorite beach destination in the world, blessed with the world’s most beautiful beaches, crystal clear blue lagoons, ultraluxurious hotels and incredible underwater wildlife. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. Last February, I was very lucky to enjoy a terrific 7-night stay at one of the archipelo’s most exclusive resorts, Maalifushi by COMO. Opened in 2014, it is the first luxury resort in the pristine Thaa Atoll in the archipelago’s southwest, deep in the vast Indian Ocean. With overwater villas and garden suites that feature a design of understated luxury, a stunning COMO Shambhala Spa, idyllic beaches, and world-class fine dining venues with an emphasis on healthy cuisine, Maalifushi may be the ultimate away-from-it-all destination for families, couples, surfers and divers.
- Hotel website: Maalifushi by COMO
- Top 10 accolades: Maalifushi by COMO features in my lists of the top 10 best luxury resorts in the Maldives, the best new luxury resorts of 2014, and the world’s best luxury hotels.
- Review: click here to read my review of Maalifishu.
New York, New York, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. The Big Apple, one of my favorite cities in the world (since I spent part of my studies there), represents the ultimate cosmopolitan destination and defines the urban lifestyle. Here, you can visit some of the world’s best museum collections, shop till you drop, attend world-class performances, enjoy world-class free attractions, stay at top-notch hotels, and find yourself having to make tough choices when it comes to dining out. It is also the perfect city to take your kids since there is so much to do. I had the pleasure to guide my friends’ supercute children, aged 10 and 8, in New York and they had the time of their lives.
To celebrate my best friend’s birthday, I took her on a surprise trip to the Rosewood London, currently the finest five-star hotel in the UK capital. It is situated in one of the city’s most historic thoroughfares, High Holborn. Blending English heritage with contemporary sophistication, the palatial building that houses the hotel has been sensitively renovated to create an ultra-luxurious hotel with the ambience of a stylish London residence. You arrive at the hotel through an archway that opens into a grand Edwardian courtyard, in a little oasis of tranquillity unique among London luxury hotels. We were upgraded to an incredible suite, where we spent a brillant weekend.
- Hotel website: Rosewood London
- Top 10 accolades: The Rosewood London features in my top 10 list of the most amazing city hotels in Europe and my list of the best new luxury hotels of 2013.
- Review: click here to read my review of the Rosewood London.
Last October, I was invited by Finnair to fly Business Class from Brussels to Helsinki in their new flagship plane, the Airbus A350. While Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines already operate the new Airbus A350 aircraft, Finnair is the first European airline to put the world’s most modern aircraft into service. The A350 aircraft will become the backbone of Finnair’s long-haul fleet, but prior to those long-haul flights, the A350 was rostered on crew familiarization flights within Europe, and Brussels was its 4th destination (after Amsterdam, Barcelona, Hamburg). I loved the brilliant A350 Finnair experience. Finnair’s CEO was even onboard and I got a chance tp interview him. It’s clear that the aircraft will substantially raise the bar for passenger comfort.
- Review: click here to read my review of this flight.
In October, I took my family on a surprise trip to Venice for my 40th birthday. Built atop 118 small islands separated by winding canals and linked by arching bridges, Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site suffused with beauty. And although the weather was not very cooperative, it was the perfect backdrop for a lovely weekend with my loved ones. While Venice has no shortage of iconic hotels – such as the Aman Canal Grande, the JW Marriott Venice, and San Clemente Palace – I choose to stay at the Gritti Palace, since it is a place of exceptional art, history and and elegance, reassuringly intimate with a homely feel. Its floating terrace is the best spot along Venice’s Canal Grande and made for a terrific and memorable birthday dinner.
- Hotel website: Gritti Palace
- Top 10 accolades: The Gritti Palace features in my top 10 lists of most spectacular hotel rooftops in the world and the best luxury hotels in Venice.
- Review: click here to read my review of the Gritti Palace.
My single most memorable travel experience of 2015, was a 5-night stay at what I consider to be the best hotel in the world, Soneva Kiri. Remote yet accessible by a 90 minute flight from Bangkok on the resort’s private plane, the ultraluxurious resort sits on Thailand’s 4th largest but least populated island, Koh Kood, in the Gulf of Siam. The 36 resort villas (including 11 private residences) are amongst the largest in the world. Located on the idyllic beach or sunny slopes in the rainforest, all have stunning infinity pools, chic furnishings, personal electric buggies, and impeccable service courtesy of private butlers. Highlights include the open air cinema Paradiso, Benz’ mangrove restaurant, the chocolate & ice cream parlour, and the spectacular Treetop dining pod.
- Hotel website: Soneva Kiri
- Other top 10 accolades: Soneva Kiri also features in my top 10 lists of the world’s most beautiful hotel beaches, the world’s most outrageous hotel experiences, the best private plunge pools in the world, the world’s most amazing beach hotels, the world’s best luxury hotels, and luxury hotels with private airports.
- Review: to read my review of Soneva Kiri, click here.
- Complimentary room upgrade: contact me to receive a complimentary room upgrade at Soneva Kiri.