Luxury Hotels

INTERVAL

As a break from meandering around Morocco, let’s get some personal thoughts from Catherine Heald*. She’s a people person – see her, third from the left, above, at the pre-ILTM party in Cannes last month)

‘I am a contrarian by nature when it comes to travel, and my first trip to Sri Lanka during the civil war was fabulous – 100% safe for foreigners (as long as you stayed out of Jaffna which no one went to anyone) but otherwise we had the country to ourselves.  Sri Lanka subsequently became massively popular — but it has been off the boil since the July 2022 protests led to the fleeing of the President (after the viral videos of young men swimming in his pool at the Presidential Palace) but soon thereafter peace returned.  Few are aware of this and are still avoiding this little island which is an absolute paradise for luxury travelers – not to mention excellent value for money – rendering this an ideal time to visit Sri Lanka.

‘I am personally not a fan of “country collecting” and just ticking off a box just to say you’ve “been there”.  But in these superficial times many people want to do just that, and compete for having traveled to the most countries.  As such, there is no 2.5-3 week trip that competes with Pan-Stans, where you “hit” all 5 fascinating and totally unique countries in a short time.  Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are all completely different from one another – and if you care to learn about the history, culture, architecture, geo-politics, religions and much more (as opposed to just ticking a box) you are in for an amazing treat and a cornucopia of experiences and deep knowledge of geo-politics which is the antithesis of how we think in the Americas and Europe.

Taiwan is still relatively undiscovered by most western travelers, but should be highly alluring to nature, culture and food lovers. The small country boasts the visual splendor of the lush mountains of Wulai, the scenic Taroko Gorge, and the dramatic cliffs along the east coast. The modern capital, Taipei, stands out with inspiring temples and a thriving culinary scene. Renowned for its excellent biking routes and wild landscapes that are perfect for hiking, Taiwan offers adventure seekers a haven of experiences. Beyond Taipei, cities like Tainan and Kaohsiung compete with vibrant street snacks, flamboyant temples, and timeless rituals, adding depth to the island’s rich cultural tapestry. With direct flights available from Los Angeles and New York, 2024 may be the year to explore this hugely underrated country.  And hey – you and I first met there an Italian restaurant in Taipei in 1989 with my then husband Simon Winchester! BTW we are still friendly and had an amicable divorce perhaps due to having had no children!

‘After many years of being closed, Tibet (and neighboring Yunnan Province) are once again open to travelers, and there is no better reason to go now than the numerous new Songtsam lodges sprinkled all across the region.  19 years ago I named my company Remote Lands for obvious reasons and nothing gets me more excited than luxury accommodations way way off the beaten path.  Songtsam epitomizes that ethos with an array of new lodges planned in Tibet from Lhasa all the way east to the Yunnan border, and from there south all the way down to the tropics of southern China and Xishuangbanna near the border of Thailand.

‘We all have pet peeves when it comes to travel, and one of mine is people who think they have “done” a destination and “know it” after having been there once. I have lived in Manhattan for more than 40 years and I still can hardly even say I “know” New York City, which is constantly and endlessly changing.  When it comes to my favorite country of Japan, nothing annoys me more than when someone thinks they are an expert after having been there once – typically to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Osaka and maybe Hiroshima and Naoshima. The rich tapestry of Japanese  culture requires many many dozens of trips and all over the country from Hokkaido to Honshu to Shikoku to Kyushu and Okinawa before even beginning to understand anything. To answer your question about predicted new destinations, Kyushu is my top choice in Japan.  Sophisticated travelers are coming back to Japan over and over and want to get way off the beaten path and experience real Japan without all the tourists in the aforesaid places.  I am loathe to reveal my secrets because they risk being overrun by foreign tourists, but I recently stayed in a 300 year old sake brewery auberge in a tiny remote village in Saga which included a 15 course dinner with their own sake pairings, and on a far flung island called Goto off western Kyushu where Japanese Christians escaped to and built their own churches where they could freely worship. I stayed in the brand new ultra-luxe hotel by Onko Chishin with all glass walls and private onsens, and I was in heaven!’

*Catherine Heald is Co-Founder and CEO of Remote Lands, remotelands.com. She abhors boredom and mediocrity does this software engineer, technology entrepreneur and founder of three software companies. She also co-founded Remote Lands in 2005: her partner, Jay Tindall , heads its Bangkok office while she is maestro in Manhattan. Remote Lands specialises in curated Asia trips, perhaps partnering with top-level brands.   She’s still good friends with former husband, the Asia media guru Simon Winchester, and she loves her life, New York by week and a Connecticut farm at weekends – her husband is antiquarian bookseller Donald Heald and, a champion marathoner, she still runs 40 miles a week.