Cities & Communities
SANTIAGO, CHILE: An earthquake has not stood in the way of its booming modern music, art and culinary scenes.
1. Santiago, Chile
Undaunted by an earthquake, a city embraces modern culture.
Less than a year after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in Chile, its capital, Santiago, has largely recovered, the economy continues to grow, and tourism is in an upswing.
Though the quake, which caused hundreds of casualties, was centered more than 200 miles away, many of Santiago’s older buildings were damaged, including the Museum of Fine Arts.
But the earthquake last year — and another in Chile last week that caused more panic than damage — seems to have only briefly paused a cultural shift that had begun to take hold in the city. Known as a buttoned-up place, Santiago has in recent years added modern museums, smartly designed hotels and sophisticated restaurants. The city has become decidedly more vibrant.
This year, it has even been chosen as the first foreign city to host a rather unbuttoned event: Lollapalooza. The 20-year-old American music festival picked Santiago for its first overseas outing because of its open space and the variety of cultural offerings, and because locals have a passion for contemporary music, said Lollapalooza’s founder, the musician Perry Farrell. The festival takes place in April in O’Higgins Park.
This musical awakening owes much to the government’s investment in the arts. The new Centro Gabriela Mistral, for example, a 200,000-square-foot center made of glass and weathering steel, has a varied calendar of concerts, dance performances, plays and art exhibits.
Perhaps the most remarkable cultural space to open in the last few years is the Museo de la Moda, a privately financed fashion museum inside a revamped 1960s Modernist mansion. It has a permanent collection of nearly 10,000 pieces of couture and memorabilia (of which 800 are typically on display), including a light-blue jacket worn in 1966 by John Lennon and a black strapless gown worn in 1981 by Diana, Princess of Wales.
Luxury hotels are not new to Santiago, but when the W opened in 2009, it was the first to feature truly modern design. The recently opened Aubrey is equally chic and much more intimate. With an attractive mix of vintage and new furniture (Tom Dixon lamps, 19th-century Parisian rugs, tufted leather sofas), the 15-room property raised the bar for boutique lodgings in the city. It occupies two renovated residences in the Bellavista neighborhood, a creative district where Lollapalooza’s fans would feel right at home.
— PAOLA SINGER
The big draw for the San Juan Islands this year just might be its dining scene. Blaine Wetzel, a former chef at the wildly acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Noma, took the reins at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (due to reopen on Feb. 10), while Lisa Nakamura, who has trained with big-name chefs like Thomas Keller, opened Allium on Orcas Island.
But the eternal lure of the San Juans — what brings chefs out as well as tourists — are the landscapes. On islands from Shaw to Decatur, pastoral hills give way to broody forests and scrappy escarpments that overlook fjordlike inlets. Thanks to an active land preservation effort by organizations like the San Juan County Land Bank, each year new areas are protected from logging or unruly development, and in turn provide fresh terrain for the public to explore.
Last year, the San Juan Island National Historic Park grew by 312 acres with the purchase of densely forested Mitchell Hill. On Lopez Island, a 50-year lease signed by the state Department of Natural Resources in 2009 now protects the Lopez Hill area from logging; a web of public trails winds past mossy conifers and madrona trees with peeling cinnamon-red bark. And some smaller parcels have the air of a secret about them, like the spectacular Watmough Bay Preserve on Lopez, with a trail that leads to a strip of beach on a wooded inlet, its moody water as magically lighted as a Bierstadt painting.
— SARA DICKERMAN
As Thailand’s third-largest island, Koh Samui isn’t exactly off the radar. But the 95-square-mile tropical gem in the southern Gulf of Thailand, whose white sand beaches, abundant coral reefs and seas of palm trees were once a backpackers’ secret, has emerged as the stylish luxury alternative to crowded Phuket. Last month’s much-anticipated opening of the W Retreat Koh Samui on a private beach along the island’s northern shore was the chic hotel brand’s premiere in Southeast Asia. July saw the arrival of the 78 pool-villas at the Banyan Tree Samui and its bay-facing spa, which includes the island’s first hydrotherapy facility. It is burnishing Koh Samui’s reputation as one of Thailand’s top wellness destinations, along with the yoga and detox center at the Moroccan-inspired boutique resort Absolute Sanctuary, which turns three in April.
Local restaurants have kept pace, luring international chefs who are transforming Koh Samui into an eating destination as well. Newcomers include H-Bistro at the Hansar Samui resort, where the French-Mediterranean and Thai menu was conceived by a former private chef to the Jordanian royal family, and Orgasmic by Chef Wally, which serves innovative cocktails and dishes like cocoa butter Hokkaido scallops and freshly caught white snapper with pecan-celery mash. The local scene goes into full swing at the weekly Sunday Sessions under the soaring thatched roofs at loungey Beach Republic, whose brunch, seafood barbecue and sunset D.J.’s are quickly becoming famous.
— NAOMI LINDT
Iceland’s economic crash has had an upside, at least for tourists. After the devaluation of the krona that followed the country’s 2008 financial crisis, the breathtakingly beautiful island is a lot more affordable, meaning that a hotel room that was $200 before the crash might cost $130 now.
While traditionally a must-see for nature tourists — who come for thermal springs, glaciers, volcanic landscapes and the Northern Lights — Iceland is stepping up the cultural offerings with Reykjavik’s new Harpa-Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, a symphony and opera house whose stunning glass facade was designed in collaboration with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Opening ceremonies begin in May, with performances by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic Opera and local rock bands. Another draw is the third annual DesignMarch (in March), a festival that showcases Icelandic design, from clothing and textiles to furniture. And the Iceland Airwaves music festival, every October, is perennially cool.
— SALLY McGRANE
Compared with the Italian troika of tourism — Florence, Venice and Rome — Milan is often an afterthought. But with novel, eye-catching design emerging around the city, that should soon change.
For years, unsightly scaffolding obscured the Milan Cathedral; now that most of it has been dismantled, the newly scrubbed Gothic masterpiece, also known as the Duomo, is worth a fresh look. Across the piazza, the city’s collection of 20th-century art is now showcased at the Museo del Novecento, which opened in December in the restored Palazzo dell’Arengario.
Outside the historic center, former factories have been transformed into design studios, old warehouses have been repurposed as unconventional art venues, and galleries are packed with avant-garde works. The eclectic Spazio Rossana Orlandi gallery displays the latest creations from emerging designers, while large-scale art installations from acclaimed international artists like Anselm Kiefer are exhibited at HangarBicocca, a cavernous art space that re-opened last year.
And though fashion followers still flock to the wish-filled windows of Miu Miu and Marni, fashion in Milan now extends beyond retail and runways. Arguably the most fashionable addition is the Hotel Milano Scala, which opened last year in a renovated 19th-century mansion singing the eco-chic promise of “zero-emissions hospitality.” In a country where green directives are not yet widespread, it proves that Milan is, once again, on the cutting edge.
— INGRID K. WILLIAMS
Ski buffs don’t usually think of Soviet Georgia when planning their next backcountry outing. But some ambitious plans in the Caucasus are trying to change that fast. Tucked between the Black and Caspian seas and smattered with mountains, Georgia has the kind of terrain adventurous skiers yearn for: peaks reaching 16,000 feet, deep valleys and largely untouched slopes. Known best for spectacular off-piste and heli-skiing, Bakuriani and Gudauri — each a short drive from Tbilisi — saw 30,000 visitors in 2009 and are expanding fast.
And now, in efforts spearheaded by the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, the ski-resort bug is spreading even further. In Mestia, the first groomed slopes of a new resort opened in December. Also earmarked as a winter hot spot is Goderdzi pass, which can have snow coverage six months a year.
— KIMBERLY BRADLEY
There is never a bad time to go to London. But this year may be better than most: the 2012 Summer Olympic Games has prompted the construction of 12,000 hotel rooms, and several hotels that have been around for a while are burnishing their appeal with notable new restaurants.
Many are opening well in advance of the games. The 192-room Four Seasons London at Park Lane reopens late this month after a two-year-plus gut renovation that added a penthouse spa overlooking Hyde Park and new restaurant seating in a private garden. The new W London Leicester Square arrives in February, conforming to British tastes with a trendy take on high tea. In April the Corinthia Hotel London reinvents a vintage 1855 hotel, and in May the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London makes its debut in a cathedral-like Victorian hotel with a restaurant by the Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing.
Other hotels are adding restaurants from renowned chefs. This spring, the May Fair Hotel will become home to the chef Silvena Rowe’s Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, Quince.
Expect hotel and restaurant bookings to be tight on and around April 29, date of the royal wedding, for which London tourism officials expect a pre-Olympics wave of visitors.
— ELAINE GLUSAC
Long known for sport fishing, Loreto, on Baja California Sur’s eastern coast, is poised to become one of Mexico’s next luxury destinations.
On Wednesday, Villa Group Resorts, one of Mexico’s largest privately owned hotel groups, will open a $60 million Villa del Palmar resort with three restaurants, a 20,000-square-foot turtle-shaped pool and 150 suites from $250 to $1,500 a night. The resort is the first phase of an 1,800-acre development, Danzante Ba. It will add seven resort hotels, restaurants and a Rees Jones golf course.
Loreto also has longstanding attractions to tout. It recently started a public relations campaign, with help from the Mexico Tourism Board, to highlight its colonial architecture, deserted beaches and marine life. Founded in 1697 by Jesuit missionaries, Loreto is home to the historic Mission of Our Lady Loreto, one of the first “California” missions. The baroque Mission of San Javier can be found nearby in the Sierra de la Giganta Mountains.
Visitors can take day trips to see prehistoric rock art in the Sierra de San Francisco region of Baja California between Loreto and Bahia de Los Angeles. Five islands that make up the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, which covers 797 square miles in the Sea of Cortez, offer extensive snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, whale-watching and scuba-diving opportunities. The area is home to more than 800 species of marine life, including six-foot-long Humboldt squid.
— MICHELLE HIGGINS
Many film aficionados have been lured to Park City for the annual Sundance festival, missing the slopes entirely, which is a shame. This year, new hotels, expanded terrain and events at area ski resorts make on-mountain exploration imperative. Last month, at Deer Valley, Montage opened a 220-room Craftsman-style midmountain lodge ; it offers ski-in, ski-out access, gas fireplaces in every room, and a spa.
Other recent openings include the St. Regis Deer Crest, the Waldorf Astoria Park City and the Hyatt Escala Lodge.
Over at the Canyons Resort, 300 acres of new skiing and snowboarding terrain includes 10 new trails that range from intermediate to expert gladed tree runs. The resort is also introducing what’s billed as the first heated chair lift in North America and opening an après-ski “beach,” an outdoor gathering place with beach-style lounge chairs, food and cocktail stations and expansive views of the mountainside.
— BONNIE TSUI