This article was written by Anna Murphy and originally published in The Times
I am guessing Will and Kate don’t need to bother much with bragging, what with him being second in line to the throne and her having launched the nude patent heel as the go-to footwear for the masses. But if they did feel like showing off about something, their trip to Bhutan later this week would do nicely.
Just to be clear, the Duke and Duchess’s current stopover in India won’t cut it. India is over, over, over in London’s SW postcodes, ground zero for Sloane-trotters. Everyone did it in their gap yah.
To be honest Bhutan is edging towards over too: the fashion crowd — from Kate Moss to Donna Karan — went there yonks ago. However, the fact that only limited numbers of visitors are allowed into the Himalayan kingdom each year (and have to pay $200 a day for the privilege), and the fact that you can walk between the five super-luxe hotels that make up the Amankora chain (aman.com) — thus keeping it real while also keeping it not at all real — has ensured it has an ongoing cachet among those people for whom the world truly is their soon-to-be-swallowed oyster.
Because while you and I go on holiday to, well, go on holiday, there are others for whom it’s a competitive sport. Last week, for example, I met a friend who is extremely important in finance, doing I know not what. After I had asked her to explain to me for the umpteenth time what exactly it is that her job entails, and failed to understand any of it yet again, she asked me where I was going on holiday this year. The correct answer to which was neither a single destination, nor in Europe. Her own itinerary for the upcoming months includes Costa Rica and Mongolia, both of which are top scorers on the Places to Be Seen Going list. You can dine out for months at the private members’ club 5 Hertford Street on stories of drinking arak in a ger (mare’s milk in a variation on the theme of yurt, you loser).
The PBSG list is as fast-changing as the Nikkei, one reason why finance types are so good at keeping on top of it. A constant, though, is that the destinations should be pricey. (Another reason why it helps to be hedgie.) They also tend to be far away. Or, if not, to be the “new” something.
Like Minorca, which is the new Ibiza. (Stay at the gorgeous Torralbenc hotel, a former fortress reinvented by the hip Spanish hotelier Pablo Carrington; torralbenc.com.)
Or Salina, which is the new Panarea. And if you don’t even know what the old Panarea is — it too is one of Sicily’s Aeolian islands — you have some catching up to do. (Stay in one of Capofaro’s luxed-up workers’ cottages; capofaro.it.)
Or the island of Sylt, which is a whole new concept no less: a German beach destination. It’s northern Europe’s answer to the French Île de Ré — which is over, FYI. If it’s good enough for Christiane Arp, the editor of German Vogue, who has a house on Sylt, it’s good enough for the denizens of Ladbroke Square. (Stay at the dune-top Söl’ring Hof hotel; soelring-hof.de.)
You chalk up more points if you venture farther afield. One current must-go in those circles where dropping six figures on a fortnight’s holiday for two is the norm is the Indonesian island of Sumba — “it’s like Bali 50 years ago”, says one of my relentlessly betravelled friends. The “only” place to stay on Sumba is the expensively rustic Nihiwatu, owned by the former husband of the fashion designer Tory Burch (nihiwatu.com). Another feature of the PBSG list: there is always “only” one place to stay.
Then there’s Langkawi and Penang, two of the Andaman islands, off the coast of India, and Benguerra in Mozambique. Ditto Isla de Providencia off the unspoilt Caribbean coast of Colombia. (Small, off-the-beaten-track islands feature paradoxically large in the PBSG line-up, in case you hadn’t noticed: most people have never heard of them, which boosts one’s Bear Grylls average nicely; plus they are great for bestowing those feelings of dominion that alphas so enjoy.)
In fact, Colombia is this year’s multi-box-ticker. It sounds impressively scary but has a newly flourishing luxury tourist scene. Oh, the joyously postmodern frisson of staying at a boutique hotel in Medellín only months after watching Narcos. And then there’s the “new” Machu Picchu, Ciudad Perdida, plus the spectacular yet reassuringly little-known La Guajira desert.
Culture is another factor in the competitive travel arena. The Japanese island of Naoshima — which nobody had even heard of until Hamish Bowles, the perennially flashy Phileas Fogg de nos jours, wrote about it recently — is rammed with cutting-edge art and architecture. The art ranges from site-specific installations by James Turrell and Walter De Maria and a giant Yayoi Kusama pumpkin on a jetty to five Monet waterlily paintings housed in one of a series of buildings by Tadao Ando. The “only” place to stay here is the beautifully ascetic Benesse House (benesse-artsite.jp).
Not forgetting the reinvention that is Miami, where one simply must check in at the newly opened Faena, which has suites designed by Baz Luhrmann and its very own Rem Koolhaas art forum (faena.com). The Faena is the perfect place from which to foray and buy very large, very expensive art in the Wynwood gallery district.
It’s always good to bring a few props back home, the better to foreground your dinner party braggadocio, and should that prop be a gargantuan canvas by, say, Loriel Beltran of Miami’s edgy Dimensions Variable gallery, so much the better. (Beltran “blurs the line between traditional and street art scenes”, don’t you know.)
No doubt the Duke and Duchess will soon be displaying some Bhutanese dappa bowls at Anmer Hall. They may even settle down to one of their Waitrose TV dinners wearing traditional gho and kira robes. But that may be a brag too far.
Where the in-crowd go now: the travel editor’s guide
La Graciosa, a 30-minute ferry ride from Lanzarote, is the Canary Island that tourism forgot. With no hotels, no trees and no traffic, it’s the perfect place in which to unplug. The six seriously photogenic beaches are all lovely, but our pick is Playa de la Cocina, just beneath Montaña Amarilla. Try the local speciality of parrotfish (vieja) at any of the local eateries. As for lodgings, who needs a hotel when cool Airbnb has a seaside villa for eight from £125 a night?
Bagan in Burma boasts about 2,500 temples and pagodas spread over an area of 16 square miles. The country is opening up to tourism with a new president but it isn’t strong on luxury hotels or places to eat; get around that by cruising the Irrawaddy on board Belmond’s luxury 40-cabin Road to Mandalay — the ship’s restaurant is also open to non-residents. If you don’t wan to join the selfie-snapping monks at the sunset pagoda, Shwesandaw, Belmond can arrange private visits to individual temples, or you can drink in the whole ensemble by early-morning balloon trip.
Follow Beyoncé and Alicia Keys and head to Cavallo, off Corsica. This tiny island is so exclusive that it has been dubbed the Mustique of the Med. The place in which to stay and eat is L’Hôtel & Spa des Pêcheurs, built among the rocks with stunning sea views. Swim, snorkel in a clear sea that seems like the Indian Ocean, fish and relax.
Santiago de Cuba, a vibrant city on the eastern side of the island is the melting pot for nearly every Cuban music genre, from mysterious yoruba to Haitian-inspired beats. Forget Havana’s Buena Vista Social Club and enjoy Santiago’s beat from the rooftop of the colonial Hotel Casa Granda, with its great city views. Wait until the end of the year and you can stay in the hottest place in town, the 39-room Hotel Encanto Imperial, a 1915 building that’s getting a facelift.
Ciudad Perdida, Colombia, gets the same number of tourists in a year as Machu Picchu does in a day (about 8,000). Built by the Tayrona people in the 9th century, it wasn’t discovered until 1972. You still get there by trekking, staying in jungle huts and tented hammocks, but the new travel company Amakuna can arrange for a cocktail cart to toast your arrival. Or for the truly decadent, take a helicopter ride for a bird’s-eye view of the city. Jane Knight
How the rich do Bhutan — on a £6,500 budget
Forget backpacking or budget travel; you need to spend at least $200 (£140) for every day of a fixed itinerary in the country — and that’s just for the visa and obligatory guide. It’s a good ploy to ensure the tiny country remains upmarket and it goes some way to explaining why only 120,000 visitors go there each year. Among those who have been to the “forbidden kingdom” are Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.
Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom with spectacular snow-capped mountain scenery, fast-flowing glacial rivers, ancient Buddhist monasteries and discreet five-star boutique hotels offering yoga and world-class spas. As well as its abundance of natural beauty and rich, ancient culture — reinforced by government decrees for men to wear gho robes (resembling dressing gowns) and for women to wear kira (which look like saris) — its attraction for many lies in its unspoilt remoteness.
After the hair-raising descent into the high airport at Paro, when you seem almost to skim the mountainsides, there’s a choice to be made: whether to stay at the ultra-minimalist Amankora or opt for the slightly less pared-down Uma by COMO, where Keira Knightley and Leonardo DiCaprio have stayed. Apparently the Uma has the edge and the royal seal of approval; it’s where the king of Bhutan sometimes drops by for a yak burger.
If there’s one thing that should be top of the tick-list, it’s the 17th-century Tiger’s Nest monastery in the upper Paro valley, which clings to the side of a cliff some 10,000ft up. You’ll need to be fit to reach it, however: it’s a six-hour bracing hike and not for the faint-hearted.
Reward yourself with an easier trip into the heavens on a hot-air balloon ride from the Gangtey Goenpa Lodge. This magnificent wood and stone luxury retreat by a rushing river is in the small town of Gangtey in the glacial Phobjikha valley, where flocks of beautiful black-necked cranes can be seen from early November to the end of March.
Another day, another chic COMO hotel, this time Uma Punakha, which has 11 rooms and overlooks the verdant Punakha valley. The king eats here too, so you can be sure of a good spread in the restaurant, which serves Bhutanese chicken curry and other local dishes on the terrace. Be sure to make the 20-minute drive to Punakha Dzong; local guides say that this fortress is even better than the one the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting in the capital of Thimphu.
If you do head in their footsteps to the dzong in Thimphu, you’ll want to stay in Amankora Thimphu, with its 72 minimalist suites on a ridge facing the city.
So how much in total for a celebrity-style blow-out? A mere £6,500 per person for a 12-night trip with two nights in Bangkok at the beginning and the end (international flights and visa fees included) with Scott Dunn (scottdunn.com).