From Montenegro to Malta, discover the top holiday destinations for 2018 in Luxury London's definitive travel guide
Instead of Colombia… Uruguay
With Colombia submerged beneath a flood of North American tourism, seek out some South American summer in big-sky Uruguay instead. It’s well worth a few days wandering Montevideo’s jacaranda-lined streets and experiencing the tango bars and smoking parrilladas (grill rooms), but don’t lose too much time before getting to the coast. It’s good country for a road trip, as the contrasts between resorts such as gleaming Punta del Este and scruffy Cabo Polonio are striking. The beach culture is eccentric and welcoming, and for surfers it’s a trove of secret spots. The influx from Argentina in high summer means popular resorts like Punta del Este become rather cheek by jowl, so consider going February to the start of April for the vibe – and the weather – without the crowds.
Stay: Playa Vik José Ignacio
A gilded beach house for the European and American A-list, Playa Vik can come across as much modernist sculpture park as luxury boutique hotel. Designed by Uruguayan starchitect Carlos Ott, the six glass-walled and grass-roofed casas are awash with abstract art and sculpture-cum-furniture. Bright and fun on the inside, the outside is all about enjoying the endless ocean vistas and warm sea breezes, whether you’re in the open-air restaurant or relaxing in the infinity pool angled towards the curving sands of Playa Mansa below.
From $600 (approx. £450) per night, www.playavik.com
Instead of Ibiza… Malta
While a heavily fortified archipelago might not immediately shout ‘good time’; Malta is exactly that. Not only is its capital Valletta one of the worthiest Capital of Cultures for years, but this string of islands below Sicily is a noted European party zone: dive into St. Julian’s lively Paceville district for both barrels of Maltese clubland. Beyond the nightlife, Malta’s scorching summer temperatures pushes attention seaward; hop in your convertible and seek out one of the more secluded, sandy coves lapped by the translucent Med.
Stay: Casa Ellul
This converted Victorian-period palazzo, owned by the same family for generations, is the Fortress City’s first luxury boutique hotel. It’s a fine start: Casa Ellul’s suites are serene, ultra-modern spaces with a conscientious eye to the architecture’s traditional trappings. The family owners certainly aren’t aloof; you may find yourself being served coffee by one of the Ellul brothers. You could ask their advice on what to visit, but with all the main sights of this UNESCO World Heritage city within a few hundred metres of Casa Ellul, you’ll probably prefer to put sandalled foot to marble pavement and strike out on your own.
From €265 (approx. £235) per night, www.casaellul.com
Instead of Italy… Montenegro
Instead of visiting tiny, ancient villages full of friendly people in Italy, hop across the Adriatic and try it in Montenegro instead. A yacht fraternity favourite for its sparkling sapphire coast hedged in by a soaring mountainous interior, Montenegro is as Instagrammable as Amalfi or the Apennines and not half as crowded… yet. With flight routes on the rise, there’s only so much increased tourism this bijou nation can handle before something starts to give. Uncover its sun-bleached charms and fascinating, cultural-crossroads history before everyone else.
Stay: Aman Sveti Stefan
The jewel of the handsome Budva Riviera, this extraordinary resort incorporates the entire islet of Sveti Stefan, long a retreat for celebrities. In the summer, check into any of the village’s renovated stone houses, while eight suites are available year-round within 1930s Villa Milocer, formerly the summer residence of the Serbian royal family. Charter a boat to whisk you to 2,500-year-old Budva or, a boat drink or two further, to the Old Town of Kotor.
From €750 (approx. £660) per night, www.amansvetistefan.com
Instead of Switzerland… South Tyrol
Well, who can avoid Italy altogether? But this is South Tyrol, an autonomous region as much its own country as it is a part of the Bel Paese (and Austria). Alto Adige, as the Italians call South Tyrol, is Dolomites country, so expect tiny, bright villages lodged within jagged, peach-coloured mountain valleys. There’s superb skiing (the spectacular, day-long Sella Ronda round trip takes in several resorts) but instead of the usual carb-heavy ski fare expect high altitude fine-dining instead. Packing in more Michelin stars than any other Italian region (while still being only about double the size of Kent) the area flouts this attribute through various foodie events run throughout the year – in the winter, try the ‘ski safari’ where Michelin-starred chefs staff mountain huts. But if you’re just after some me time in a region of incomparable beauty, this topography will fit the bill.
Stay: San Luis Retreat Hotel & Lodges
Located high in the mountains, San Luis is an oasis of tranquillity. Expect alpine chic, floor-to-ceiling windows in the double-height spa and a roaring fire by the pool (and pretty much everywhere else you look). Recharge with personalised fitness sessions or, much more sensibly, through a program of essential oil and herb massages. Private breakfasts are served in-room, and afterwards contemplate the stunning scenery from the comfort of your own hot tub.
From €290 (approx. £255) per night, www.sanluis-hotel.com
Instead of San Sebastián… Lisbon
After a swathe of new restaurant and hotel openings last year, Portugal’s historic capital has burnished its already outstanding foodie credentials. But it’s street food that’s really hip, so walk the city’s picturesque hills and get your fingers greasy with codfish and chorizo fritters and traditional pregos (steak sandwiches). June sees the liveliest of street food action – with parades and music mingling with the smoke and smells of grilled sardines and seared chorizo.
Stay: The Four Seasons Hotel Ritz
This centrally located five-star hotel, built in 1959, is the jewel in the Portuguese capital’s hospitality crown. The effortless gilt and crystal trim of old school luxury are balanced beautifully by the extensive collection of modern art. The rooms are decked out in 18th century replica furniture, deep carpets, and come complete with private terraces. The spa’s the best in the city, and if you need to run off some of those calories, hit the 400-metre running track on the roof, which offers splendid views over the city.
From €525 (approx. £465) per night, www.fourseasons.com