Best of CH 2015: Travel

Our favorite travel stories, traversing Macau to Miami

The CH staff clocked in some serious airline mileage this year, visiting the four corners of the continental US and enduring long hauls overseas. But the destination itself isn’t what induces the thrill of travel—rather, it’s the heightened state of senses eager for discovery and new experiences. It manifests in so many ways, from realizing the beauty of fatigue on a historic bike “race” through California’s San Luis Obispo County to walking in the opposite direction from the casinos in Macau. There’s been no better time to get away, as we observed new accommodations—like Generator Paris—that confront the hotel industry’s status quo in order to provide lodgings for savvier travelers. If you already know where you’ll be traveling in 2016, head to CH City Guides for well-considered recommendations on where to stay, dine and shop. For those still seeking inspiration (or just some design eye-candy), here’s a look at 10 of our favorite travel stories from the year.

32,000 Acres of Backcountry Terrain at Baldface Lodge

Tucked away deep in the Southern Selkirks amid British Columbia’s myriad mountain ranges that stack up like a line of dominos across the province, Baldface Lodge is the epitome of an epic destination. On a clear day, it’s a short but breathtaking helicopter ride from nearby Nelson, BC. When the snow falls and the clouds roll in from the west—grounding all flights in the process—you might be looking at a bumpy couple of hours in a snowcat. One look at the lodge, and all the travel logistics and coordination are worth it.

Generator Paris

“Hostel” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you step into the freshly opened Generator Paris—from its sheer size alone (916 beds across eight floors) to the supremely Instagrammable communal spaces (where Tom Dixon lights are paired with flea market scores) that could give boutique hotels a run for their money. Most notably, Generator Paris not only offers shared rooms with stunning views of Sacré-Cœur that start at €25, but spacious private rooms with equally large terraces big enough to host a barbecue party (there’s no grill, but you do get your own hammock). This is no dream, but an incredible windfall for the generation of savvy travelers wanting the best bang for their buck—who then can spend their money on actually experiencing the city.

Eroica California

Leave your Lycra at home, forget about carbon fiber, stop meticulously counting the grams of your new crankset and prepare for a healthy dose of fatigue. At the inaugural Eroica California ride this year—part of the Italy-based Eroica series of non-competitive rides and festivals with editions in England, Japan, Spain—vintage bikes and apparel are the rules of the day. That means steel and aluminum frames, olive oil instead of energy bars, wool jerseys, drop-tube shifters and no clip-in pedals. It’s a throwback and, to the uninitiated, it might look like cycling’s version of a Civil War reenactment. As we learned riding the first Eroica California through San Luis Obispo County, it’s far more than pageantry; it’s an experience in what lies at the soul of bike racing.

Experiencing Virgin’s First-Ever Hotel in Chicago

Lifelong philanthropist and billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has shaken up traditional industries with his adventurous spirit and design sensibility. His companies encompass everything from banking stem cells and future space travel to an entire island in the British Virgin Islands. While most of us probably can’t make the minimum seven-night stay at the private Necker Island compound anytime soon, Branson’s latest foray is a quite accessible 250-room hotel in Chicago—the first of what is to be many Virgin Hotels. Joining a crowded hotel scene in downtown Chicago, Virgin Hotels decided to take up residence in the Art Deco-style Old Dearborn Bank building for their first location, infusing history with contemporary design. We were present for the grand opening in April 2015, which came complete with Branson dancing on a float in the style of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and A-Trak and Ryan Hemsworth christening the bars with their tunes.

Bombay Gin’s Laverstoke Mill Distillery

On an average distillery visit, the most impressive fact tends to be that all the liquor pertaining to the brand (or many brands) has been created exactly where you are standing. While this is true of Bombay Gin’s Laverstoke Mill Distillery (about an hour’s drive outside of London), there’s far more at play. We toured the active production facility and visitor center and were taken aback—not only by the renovated paper mill with roots dating back to the year 903 CE and its hyper-modern glass greenhouse, but also by its continued developments regarding cyclical energy sustainability. It’s a well-considered place of wonder that also happens to produce every drop of Bombay’s product line; and open to the public, making it a beautiful and strange travel destination.

Nautilus, a SIXTY Hotel in Miami Beach

At the prime location of 18th and Collins in Miami, the Nautilus—a new destination from the SIXTY Hotels group—opened its doors just before this year’s Miami Art Week. The 250-room Art Deco property rests beside the beach, but it’s the structure itself and what’s inside that make it a cultural wonder and an exciting new destination. Hotelier Jason Pomeranc took famed architect Morris Lapidus’ original 1950s vision, added hints of European hospitality and design, and turned something historic into a contemporary luxury hotel.

Cool Hunting Edition: Cuba 2015

Right after visiting Cuba in June of of 2013, we started planning Cool Hunting Edition: Cuba. We knew that any trip to Cuba would be special, but when dates were finally announced for the 12th Bienal de la Habana for May 2015, we committed to exploring Havana through its art and artists—those who are driving cultural conversation and evolution in a more impactful way than in many other countries. So much has changed since we started planning our trip: the arts community has become stronger, the thaw in US-Cuban relations is happening at breakneck speed, and the desire for many to see the country before “it changes” is ever-increasing. Our timing couldn’t have been better.

Elma Arts Complex and Luxury Hotel, Israel

Zichron Yaakov might not sit at the top of every visitor’s must-see list in Israel. Relatively overshadowed by Holy Land sites and the unbeatable appeal of Tel Aviv, the quaint village—founded in 1882 by Lord Baron Rothschild—is positioned high in northern Israel’s verdant Carmel Region overlooking a glistening swathe of the Mediterranean Sea. Amidst the historical village’s millennium-old sites, boutique wineries, art galleries and Israeli rustic-style restaurants sits a massive, white-clad and segmented structure jettisoning into the sky, creating a stark contrast with the landscape’s tree-laden surroundings: the Elma Arts Complex and Luxury Hotel.

Word of Mouth: Macau’s Small Shops

There’s much more to the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Macau than high rolling and mega-luxury hotels. The peninsula has a unique story, other than being the only Chinese territory where one can legally gamble in a casino: it was formerly a Portuguese colony for roughly five centuries just until 1999. As you drive away from the glitz of Cotai Strip, Macau’s history lives on in the form of pastel-colored buildings, beautiful cobblestone streets and baroque churches—making for sometimes a bizarre collision of two worlds, Mediterranean and Chinese. Because Macau is so small, finding gems off the beaten track here feels even more special. In between Macau must-visits—like the picturesque Mandarin’s House (with circular moon gates and a secret garden perfect for meditation) and nabbing an egg tart at the famed Margaret’s Café e Nata—peruse these recently opened small shops providing a thoughtful counterpoint to the hotels with 3000 rooms.

Word of Mouth: Cape Cod

Cape Cod—Massachusetts’ hook-shaped peninsula—was home to the Wampanoag Native American people for centuries before becoming a popular vacation destination in the 1940s. The peninsula’s natural beauty was formed by glaciers about 25,000 years ago, and its stunning landscape—including dunes, kettle ponds, salt marshes, cranberry bogs and more—has long been explored by bike or on foot. New restaurants and revamped hotels have been opening recently, with new takes on Cape classics like fried clams and salt water taffy. It’s a place where tradition, charm and whimsy meet—but it’s never old-fashioned or stereotypical. That said, you won’t be hard-pressed to find a classic Adirondack chair to relax in while taking in the view of those iconic Cape Cod cottages. Check out our recommendations on what to eat, drink and see (in between those lounging beach sessions) in our Word of Mouth guide.

Nautilus and Cape Cod images courtesy of respective brands, all others by Cool Hunting