Travel serves as one of the greatest sources of new ideas, perspectives and creative inspiration. Over 2014, the CH team was lucky to have ventured around the world to renowned and remote destinations alike. Adventure remained a constant theme throughout the year, which saw us taking in a tiny music festival in the Faroe Islands, speeding across the world’s largest sand desert in Saudi Arabia and island-hopping in the Maldives in search of surf. No matter our destination or itinerary, we found plenty to discover and learned a lot along the way. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite travel stories from the year, and here’s to adding new passport stamps in 2015.
Crossing Saudia Arabia’s Empty Quarter
At the start of 2014, we had an incredibly exciting opportunity to join Land Rover on their latest driving challenge; a time-crunching race across the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia—one of the harshest environments on the planet. Land Rover’s aim was to prove that the production model of their Sport SUV could handle the most extreme conditions and make record time across this vast desert. To do so, the brand enlisted professional rally driver Moi Torrallardona to push the Sport to the limit and attempt accomplishing the intimidating and daring goal. After a few tense situations and some hardcore performance driving, Torrallardona took time to speak to us about the experience.
Four Seasons Resort at Kuda Hurra, Maldives
As the last lights of Sri Lanka’s capital of Columbo fade into the night, the vast darkness of the Indian Ocean sets in. For 600 kilometers, it’s nothing but the velvety black of the sea and a canopy of stars. Then, like a brilliant shower of sparks, the coral island nation of the Maldives appears. Arriving in the Maldives—made up of around 1,200 islands (the number is constantly changing with the season) spread out over 26 atolls—is the oceanic equivalent of reaching an oasis in the desert. While fisherman and traders have long used the port of Malé as a checkpoint, today most accommodations are of the luxury variety—in our case the Four Seasons at Kuda Huraa.
Iceland’s Geothermal ION Hotel
Iceland is often dubbed “the land of fire and ice”—and not just because “Game of Thrones” chose the island nation as a frequent filming location. About the size of Kentucky, Iceland boasts some of the most starkly juxtaposed landscapes in the world. From black sand beaches to glacier fields to jagged peaks, the lava fields of otherworldly green moss to the countless active geysers, Iceland’s landscape is stunning—and that’s only the beginning. There’s no better place to experience these extremes than the ION Hotel. Consistently awarded for both its design and sustainability, the ION’s (slightly) remote location an hour east of Reykjavik makes it the ideal getaway to both relax and explore the country’s extremes.
Word of Mouth: Faroe Islands
With a dramatic landscape as intricately charming as it is awe-inspiring, the Faroe Islands (a nation located between Iceland and Norway), provide a destination unlike any other. Situated in the North Atlantic, the archipelago is comprised of 18 separate islands (many of which can be visited) covered in steep, sheer mountains and carpeted with grass and vibrant wildflowers. The allure of the outdoors may be a primary motivation for most visitors, yet this small country has far more to offer—from cafés and bars, to museums and more. A rarity, the Faroes have been left largely untouched by the outside world. But that doesn’t mean they’re without modern amenities (WiFi is everywhere)—it does mean, however, that delving into the culture makes for a completely one-of-a-kind and extraordinary experience.
On the 47th to 52nd floors of the new Toranomon Hills skyscraper is one of Tokyo’s newest hotels. Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills—the Hyatt-owned brand’s second property in Asia—is aiming for a sophisticated yet simple approach to a luxurious stay, removing much of the over-formality and international approach commonly found among its fellow five-star compatriots in Tokyo. As we saw with Andaz Peninsula Papagayo in Costa Rica, the boutique hotel chain makes commendable efforts to incorporate the local environment and culture (whether it’s Savannah, Georgia or Shanghai, China) into its design and service. One of the key takeaways: the Japanese take their baths seriously.
An Artistic Vineyard in British Columbia, Canada
As the world’s second largest country in geographical area, Canada’s vast terrain varies greatly. But as a nation stereotypically synonymous with ice hockey and year-round winter, it’s hard to imagine that in British Columbia there’s the Okanagan Valley, which includes the Osoyoos Desert—complete with rattlesnakes and prickly cacti. Nestled between the Coast Mountains to the west and the Monashee Mountains to the east is the valley’s 75-mile long lake, and sprinkling its edges are impeccably cared-for vineyards that benefit from the rain shadow covering the area. The Okanagan’s unique meso-climate lends itself to nuanced winemaking, and a community of highly skilled grape-growers and obsessive winemakers are demonstrating just how special the region really is.
CH Returns to Zambia
After hosting our first successful Cool Hunting Edition trip to Africa in summer 2012, the CH team was eager to design another trip and revisit Zambia with a new group two years later. Embedded in the wilderness of South Luangwa National Park, our guests enjoyed safari excursions each day and returned to the luxurious accommodations of The Bushcamp Company by night. Similar to our last trip, we had the privilege of visiting some local businesses and residents. And this time around, we spent more time at a local Mfuwe Secondary School reconnecting with students we met previously and getting to know new ones. We’re proud to have achieved another incredible experience and we look forward to hosting more CH Edition trips in the near future.
Ice Driving in the Rocky Mountains
To show that an Aston Martin has versatility to match its brawn and beauty, the British manufacturer has launched a series of winter driving schools. The US program was held in February, 2014 at Laci Ranch, just outside of Crested Butte, Colorado, on a vast and gently rolling plot of land that typically receives over 10 feet of snow each winter. Everything on hand, including the luxurious track-side yurt, was purpose-built for Aston’s latest US course. Our first day entailed training exercises to focus on turning, braking and sliding (with the added obstacle of a white-out snow storm), whereas the second was spent rotating between models and driving laps and laps and laps, each time pushing the cars a little further and learning how to slip, slide and drift with an elegance befitting an Aston.
Hotel Domestique, South Carolina
Traveler’s Rest near Greenville, South Carolina might not top the must-visit lists yet, but retired pro cyclist George Hincapie and his brother Richard are set to change this by sharing their best-kept secret (and also the area they call home) with others through their new boutique hotel. Those who visit Hotel Domestique, however, are seeking anything but rest. The active travelers come to cycle—sometimes, with Hincapie himself—and hike through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, which also provide the backdrop to their Tuscan villa-like grounds.
Pedras Salgadas Spa & Nature Park, Portugal
As much as one can plan ahead, living in the moment is certainly a fulfilling way to travel. After several days spent in Portugal’s bustling second city of Porto, we felt in need of a tranquil getaway wherein a calming atmosphere and verdant landscapes take precedent over late-night parties and scorching treks through urban climates. This is exactly what we found on an impromptu journey to northeastern Portugal’s Trás-os-Montes, a stunning region replete with endless hills and pastoral landscapes with picturesque villages nestled in between. There, we took respite in Pedras Salgadas Spa & Nature Park: a centuries-old natural healing ground dotted with modern treehouse retreats.