What's cool? Ask the in-crowd, darling. They'll tell you where to get off - News & Advice - Travel - The Independent

What's cool? Ask the in-crowd, darling. They'll tell you where to get off

Where are the fashionable places to visit this year? Andrew Tuck gets the lowdown from the trend-spotters

If you are the sort of person who cares about who designed the livery on your aircraft; are made happy by the promise of a night wrapped in Frette sheets; and feel like kissing the hotel manager when you find Kiehl's products by the bath, then you are a true style traveller. And just as you had to wangle that table at the new Wolseley restaurant, so you want to be among the first to discover the latest must-be-seen-at spa; the off-beat city due a renaissance; or even a whole country undergoing an architectural make-over. To ensure that you suffer no wanderlust woes, we tracked down the ultimate team of cool travel experts and asked them to divulge which destinations will be truly hip and happening in 2004.

If you are the sort of person who cares about who designed the livery on your aircraft; are made happy by the promise of a night wrapped in Frette sheets; and feel like kissing the hotel manager when you find Kiehl's products by the bath, then you are a true style traveller. And just as you had to wangle that table at the new Wolseley restaurant, so you want to be among the first to discover the latest must-be-seen-at spa; the off-beat city due a renaissance; or even a whole country undergoing an architectural make-over. To ensure that you suffer no wanderlust woes, we tracked down the ultimate team of cool travel experts and asked them to divulge which destinations will be truly hip and happening in 2004.

Glen Donovan, the managing director of Earth Travel, an exclusive travel agency used by rock stars and models, says the buzz is all about the remote Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. Anxious to avoid mass tourism, the King is allowing the countess of chic, Christina Ong (owner of the Halkin and Metropolitan hotels in London and Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos), to open Uma Paro, the first spa resort in the country. Due to launch early this summer, it will offer just 20 rooms and 10 villas. Several other grand hotel groups hope to open in the kingdom soon. Mr Donovan, a big fan of Morocco, also believes that Marrakesh will become even more fashionable with the opening by Sir Richard Branson of a five-star hotel in the restored Kasbah Tamadot, an old castle a 40-minute drive from the city in the Atlas mountains. "It's a fantasy building, a bit like the Taj Mahal of Morocco," Mr Donovan says.

Looking after a similarly smart and style-aware set is Ben Elliot, the young entrepreneur behind the successful concierge service Quintessentially. On the blower from icy Manhattan, he reveals where his global go-getters will be sunning themselves. For upmarket party people, Ibiza will remain hip ("Stay at La Ventana, Hotel Hacienda, Pacha Hotel or, better, rent a villa through us," he suggests cheekily). But Mykonos will also hit the style headlines. "It's the new Ibiza and Cavo Paradiso is the nightclub where all the new DJs are going to be playing. Stay at the Belvedere or Mykonos Blue. There's even an outpost of Nobu." Further afield, Bhutan, Antigua ("The suave cool Carlisle Bay owned by London's One Aldwych hotel") and North Island in the Seychelles are Mr Elliot's tips. And there is only one place for that Out of Africa experience, he says: "Singita Lebombo in South Africa is the über safari lodge.")

Sue Ward Davis, the legendary travel editor of Elle magazine, is a woman whose Manolos have stridden through the lobbies of all the world's great hotels. But, like Messrs Donovan and Elliot, she is considering investing in some sturdy walking boots for 2004. Because her top tip is also Ong's Bhutanese adventure. She also backs Morocco and believes that Casablanca will find itself on the style trail because of the opening of Villa Zevaco, a restaurant created in collaboration with Oliver Peyton (the man behind glam London restaurants Isola, Admiralty, Atlantic and Mash) and also the launch of the new five-star boutique hotel l'Amphitrite Palace by the Starwood group (which owns the W chain). In Europe, her suggestions include Greece, where in the run-up to the Olympics, hoteliers are raising their game. "There are some really great upmarket boutique hotels on their way: the Semiramis in Athens will be the first real design hotel in the capital; and the Asterias Suites at the Sani Beach Resort in Halkidiki will be truly A-list," says Ms Ward Davis. Other names to drop are: Laos ("For the real backpacker experience"); Beirut ("Amazing restaurants, clubs and bars. It's going to be very big in 2004") and Central America and South America ("They are going to lose their reputations among British travellers as places only frequented by people interested in trekking. Buenos Aires will be especially popular because of the opening of El Porteno, a vast luxury hotel, restaurant and bar complex created by local fashion businessman Alan Faena and global style guru Philippe Starck.").

Another man tipping Central and South America is Mr Peyton. "My place for 2004 would be Costa Rica. It's stunning: more than 30 national parks, 5 per cent of the world's butterfly species, amazing beaches. To stay there cheaply try the Montezuma hotel at Sano Banano. For more luxury, I would recommend Makanda By The Sea in Manuel Antonio."

Also tipping Central and South America is the team behind the exclusive and wonderfully demanding travel magazine Nota Bene ( www.nbreview.com). It says that "Sao Paolo is Brazil's coolest city in a country which is most definitely the hot destination for 2004. Great hotels (we like the new Fasano), wonderful restaurants, top designer shopping, fashionable and discerning crowd (unfortunately a huge disparity between rich and poor but the rich certainly know how to live)." Indeed, it will be publishing a special report on Brazil this spring. And, Nota Bene's team adds: "Look out for Honduras and Guatemala, as the natural follow-ons to Costa Rica. And in Costa Rica a new Four Seasons will be opening in January 2004. That will boost that country even higher as a cool destination." And, on the other side of the world, it is tipping Shanghai.

The man who gave us wallpaper* magazine (which pioneered style travel to the most unlikely destinations) and now runs the design consultancy Winkorp, also has some interesting travel plans for 2004. Tyler Brûlé believes that Maputo in Mozambique has what it takes to be cool - "A bit of a Brazil vibe in Africa. The city has all the architecture to create its own, South Beach-style scene" - while closer to time he's betting his euros on Monaco ("Why not? The reopened Hermitage makes the city the perfect escape for anyone who wants excellent shopping, a good spa and a non-stop freak-show outside their door") and Lisbon ("Good traditional retail, a new hotel from Grace Leo Andrieu [responsible for the Lancaster hotel in Paris, among many other ventures] and a burgeoning design scene will make the Portuguese capital the new hot weekender"). Oh, and the Son Brull hotel, near Pollenca in Mallorca, will be the new stalking ground for the paparazzi.

Another cool hunter is Christopher Sanderson, creative director of the lifestyle and culture forecasting think-tank The Future Laboratory, which has just produced a report on cool travel trends for 2004. So where is he heading? "I'm off to Aman-i-khas, Aman Resort's new venture in India - six of the most luxurious tents known to man next to the remote tiger reserve Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. The reason why the Aman group keeps getting voted the best resort hotels by guides and magazines around the world is, more than any other factor, the way it envelops you with a feeling of warmth and family." And he also says to look out for the emergence of the "hometel" in 2004 - "more personal than a boutique hotel, it's a cross between staying in a grand b&b and being a house guest at the home of a friend who owns that dream town or country house with every luxury on tap."

More style than moolah? Well, those nice people at STA Travel, the student and youth travel specialists, have been asking their trend-setting customers where they will be heading in 2004. Like Mr Brûlé, many have their eyes on Mozambique and the country's unspoilt beaches. And like the Elle posse, they are also saving up to visit Argentina, "from the sophistication of Buenos Aires to the wilds of Patagonia", says a spokeswoman

And finally, as they say, Jennifer Cox, shortly to be seen on BBC1 with our own Simon Calder presenting the new travel show Perfect Holiday, insists that Gothenburg is the place to be in 2004. Not only does it "party as hard as Stockholm", but also the cool Hotel Odin Residence opens 7 January (modern Scandinavian style, Bang & Olufsen televisions and CD players in the apartments). And, Cox insists, make sure you have time to visit the archipelago (Saltholmen is a good place to start). There are even floating saunas. Well, you'll need that calming experience after all the excitement we've discovered.

Top Ten Destinations

1 Bhutan

Remote Buddhist kingdom gets a five-star spa. The new Nepal for the jet set. Call Como Holidays (020-7447 1029).

2 Morocco

Morocco hasn't been his hot since the Getty-Stones-Pallenberg came here. It's the new new Morocco. Contact Virgin Limited Edition (0800 716 919; www.virginlimitededition.co.uk).

3 Seychelles

The 1970s honeymoon haunt is the style spot for those after relaxation (perhaps following a 2003 divorce?). It's the new Maldives. Call Seychelles Travel (01202 877330; www.seychelles-travel.co.uk).

4 Mozambique

Colonial-style capital with a few truly great hotels - and unexplored beaches. It's the new Cape Town. Contact Bridge the World (0870 443 2399; www.bridgetheworld.com).

5 Argentina

You've eaten the steaks and learnt to tango, now for the real thing. It's the new Brazil and Mexico - sort of. Call Travelbag (0870 890 2179; www.travelbag.co.uk).

6 Greece

Be a sport and head to the home of the Olympics - plus there's a booming boutique hotel scene. It's the new Italy. Contact Thomson Holidays (0870 165 0079; www.thomsonholidays.com).

7 Gothenburg

Compact party town (pictured below) with good Scandinavian shopping treats. It's the new Stockholm. Go to City Break Guide ( www.acitybreakguide.com).

8 The Med

Monaco is the new Ibiza. Ibiza is the new Monaco. Mykonos is the new Monaco and Ibiza. Ravers and socialites are as one in 2004. For Monaco, contact British Airways (0870 24 00 747; www.ba.com/breaks). For Mykonos and Ibiza, contact Thomas Cook (0870 010 0437; www.thomascook.co.uk)

9 Costa Rica

Beautiful beaches and a back-to-nature vibe. Stunning hotels, too. It's the new Mexico. Contact Travelbag (0870 890 2179; www.travelbag.com).

10 Beirut

The chicest city in the eastern Med. Great bars, clubs and restaurants. It's the old Beirut. Call Holiday Finders (0870 013 0533; www.holidayfinders.com).

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