Tatler Asia's Guide to the Best Places to Travel in 2020
1/12 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The crazy Carnival may be the first thing that comes to mind when one mentions Rio de Janeiro, but the Brazilian city also shines in another discipline—architecture. Named the first-ever Unesco World Capital of Architecture—a new initiative created with the International Union of Architects—2020 will see the megacity host a year-long celebration investigating architecture’s cultural relevance.
“The aim is to create new synergies between culture and architecture in an increasingly urban world, in which cities are hubs for ideas, trade, culture, science and social development in particular,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, Unesco assistant director-general for culture, in a statement.
Rio’s striking landscape—it’s blessed with both towering mountains and expansive beaches—is home to several creations of late Brazilian maestro Oscar Niemeyer, who’s considered one of the world’s greatest modernist architects. Highlights include Niemeyer’s own home, Casa das Canoas, which is nestled in the mountainous Tijuca Forest; the recently restored cylindrical skyscraper Hotel Nacional; and the futuristic Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Niterói (pictured).
The eye candy does not stop there—many of Rio’s cultural institutions are built to stand out. Among them are the Carmen Miranda Museum and the Museum of Tomorrow, an imposing skeletal structure by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
2/12 Siargao, Philippines
As surfing makes its debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics, it is high time to explore some of Asia’s surfing hotspots. The best place to do so is Siargao—a teardrop‑shaped island in the Pacific, whose year‑round, world-class surf breaks have earned it a reputation as the surfing capital of the Philippines. Once an island for in-the-know surfers, Siargao’s most famous surf breaks at Cloud 9 now attract professional surfers from around the world. But don’t worry if you’ve never surfed before—the beauty of Siargao is that there are breaks to suit all levels, so even beginners will have a great time learning to ride the waves.
Not a surfer? Siargao offers other options whether you’re after a relaxing beach getaway or an adrenaline-filled holiday. From swimming with stingless jellyfish in a blue lagoon to stand-up paddleboarding through ancient mangroves, this is a tropical haven that’s a delight to explore for people of all ages. At the moment, Siargao only has one luxury hotel, the plush Nay Palad Hideaway on the island’s south coast, but it has a crop of charming family-run hotels.
3/12 Bodrum, Turkey
With the James Bond film No Time to Die officially due for release this year, 007 is on everyone’s minds. Many of the filming locations from James Bond’s history make excellent travel destinations, one being Bodrum in Turkey—the backdrop of 2006 blockbuster Casino Royale.
Those who want to explore the Turkish Riviera in style can book Caresse, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa in Bodrum, which also offers seven exclusive boats and yachts for charter. This includes the one and only Sunseeker XS 2000 (nicknamed “Katia”)—the same speedboat that James Bond drove as he touched down in the Bahamas.
There’s more to the Turkish port city than being a prime sailing destination for the world’s elite. Those who prefer to stay on terra firma are spoilt for choice—the city is home to several luxurious hotels, including the newly renovated Six Senses Kaplankaya and The Bodrum Edition, and a slew of trendy restaurants and celebrity-approved beach clubs dot the coastline. Those with wellness on their agenda are best served by a spa retreat at the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum, where traditional Turkish hammams with private scrub rooms and outdoor spa cabanas overlook the glistening Aegean Sea.
(Related: From Local Bazaars to Iconic Attractions—Here Are the Best Things to do in Istanbul, Turkey)
4/12 Northern Territory, Australia
The damaging environmental impact of global meat production has spurred a surging interest in alternative protein sources, evident in the shift to plant-based diets and the gradual acceptance of the idea of eating insects—which according to research from the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, we will be eating much more of in the coming decade. Those with a taste for adventure, culinary or otherwise, can get ahead of the curve with a trip to Australia’s Northern Territory.
Edible insects are part of bush tucker culture (food native to the Australian bush) and a traditional source of nourishment by Aboriginal inhabitants. In recent years, bush tucker has entered the fine dining realm, stemming from greater appreciation of the unique and diverse flavours of these indigenous offerings. In the Australian Outback, Tali Wiru (meaning “beautiful dune” in local Anangu language) is an open-air fine dining experience perched atop a remote southern desert sand dune, offering magnificent views of Uluru and the distant domes of Kata Tjuta. Every course in this private four‑course dinner is infused with ancient native ingredients, so expect to enjoy exotic items such as green ants, yabbie caviar and pressed wallaby.
Curious gourmands can also explore the Anbangbang Billabong, where guests can take a bushwalk led by an Aboriginal guide to locate native food and water sources. If you’re feeling brave, try the ultimate in bush tucker: witchetty grub, a fat larva that is high in protein with a distinct nutty flavour.
(Related: A Food Lover's Guide To Australia's Northern Territory)
5/12 The Caucasus Mountains, Armenia and Georgia
The next time you’re looking for places in which to enjoy fresh air— a unique demand of affluent Asian travellers—why not consider an escape to the Caucasus Mountains?
Located between the Black and Caspian seas, the mountain system surrounds the Caucasus region, which spans Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. Considered the natural boundary between Europe and Asia, the alpine terrain serves as a great backdrop for a cultural road trip like no other. Scott Dunn currently offers a signature departure that traverses two to three Caucasian countries; it also creates tailor-made holidays for those looking for a personalised itinerary.
With a winemaking history dating back to 8,000 BC, Georgia is enjoying a tourism boom with many visitors hungry to discover its culinary treasures and enjoy its creative energy. Rooms Hotels, which has properties in the capital Tbilisi and in Mount Kazbegi, is popular with travellers who value design with a strong sense of place.
Armenia, on the other hand, is on the cusp of becoming the hottest destination in Europe. Travellers should take a day or two to discover Yerevan’s pastel-coloured cityscape before driving to the mountains to see stunning ancient monuments and monasteries including Khor Virap, the Roman temple of Garni, as well as the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries. In the midst of your adventures, don’t forget to tuck into the delightful array of Armenian salads, cheese and lavash.
6/12 Scottish Highlands, Scotland
With slow travel being the mantra for many travellers this year, the search is on for places where you can sit back, relax and do hardly anything at all. There are fewer places well-suited to this endeavour as the raw and rugged Scottish Highlands.
Wildland, a conservation project founded in 2007, works tirelessly to protect and restore some of Scotland’s most precious and beautiful landscapes while acquiring and restoring some special properties along the way—from the lavish Aldourie Castle to the spectacular yet intimate Glenfeshie cottage, which is hidden in the heart of Cairngorms National Park. These accommodations, paired with locally inspired dining and experiences rooted in Scotland’s rich history, make for a truly authentic experience.
Another way to explore the Scottish Highlands in a relaxed manner is by train. Onboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman (pictured), guests revel in the art of doing nothing in the comfort of the train’s elegant, Edwardian-inspired cabins. Bespoke itineraries can be created to suit specific interests such as a private stargazing excursion.
And what is a visit to Scotland without whisky? The Macallan’s state-of-the-art distillery is a sight to behold for whisky connoisseurs and design lovers alike. Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, this eco-friendly factory is a masterpiece in architecture, sustainability and, of course, exceptional Scottish whisky. “The distillery is the home of production,” says Toby Jeavons, one of the lead architects on the project. “But it’s also the home of the spirit, it’s the home of what the whole brand is about.”
(Related: These Are The British Royal Family's Favourite Holiday Destinations)
7/12 Chengdu, China
Food is one of the main motivations to travel and more holidaymakers are planning trips centred on restaurants that are destinations in themselves, according to Virtuoso’s latest Luxe Report. Others seek out chef‑led experiences such as those curated by Prior Travel, which had Massimo Bottura host a weekend in his villa in Italy, or venture to “second cities” in search of a better understanding of regional cuisine.
Those with curious palates will be well-served discovering Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu, Mainland China. Named by Unesco as a City of Gastronomy, its famous hotpot and dan dan noodles are not only delicious but can easily be made vegetarian or vegan as well.
Set in a historic courtyard, Mi Xun Teahouse at The Temple House (pictured) is inspired by local teahouse culture, providing an elegant backdrop for a vegetarian hotpot experience featuring premium ingredients such as Chinese truffle soup base. High-quality mushrooms, herbs and vegetables are sourced from organic farmers in Yunnan province and handpicked from the restaurant’s on-site herb and vegetable garden.
Whether you can take the heat or not, a Chengdu hotpot experience is not complete without the legendary “face-changing” performance at the famous Da Miao Hot Pot—Michelle Obama and Robin Roberts are among the restaurant’s renowned patrons.
8/12 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
It’s the first time that the World Expo will be held in Middle East, so host city Dubai is planning a historic event of epic proportions. Offering a vision of the future with its vertigo-inducing skyscrapers, gleaming architecture and palm-shaped artificial islands, Dubai is one of the world’s 24 cities designated as a Unesco City of Design.
For the World Expo, Dubai has, for all intents and purposes, erected a brand-new neighbourhood as a venue for the six month-long event commencing in October. It will welcome 190 participating countries and millions of visitors to a network of more than a hundred new buildings connected by smart technology. The physical structures and the programming embody opportunity, mobility and sustainability—the pillars of this year’s World Expo.
Embrace Dubai’s forward-thinking ethos by staying at the newly opened Me by Meliá, the only hotel in the city designed by late Zaha Hadid. Visitors should also keep an eye out for the Museum of the Future, which has been designed not by an architect but by a computer algorithm.
(Related: Nepal's Only Billionaire Binod Chaudhary Opens His First Luxury Hotel In Dubai)
9/12 Cairo, Egypt
Come for the history, stay for the luxury. Cairo has been reinventing itself in recent years and the results are impressive to say the least, as it has built for the future while lovingly preserving its storied past. Case in point: The Grand Egyptian Museum—the largest archaeological museum in the world that’s finally set to open in 2020. The US$1b glass-and-concrete masterpiece will house the largest collection of Tutankhaman relics ever displayed, including the boy pharaoh’s iconic gold funeral mask, and sits on the Giza plateau overlooking the ancient pyramids.
The museum isn’t the only new, luxurious way to experience Egypt. On the rise are boutique cruises on the River Nile—the country’s main waterway and the subject of countless Egyptian legends. Nour el Nil, founded by three partners who share a common love for Egypt, operates a fleet of traditional Nile sailing boats known as dahabiya.
The vessels are built from scratch and are dressed to impress with elegant, bohemian-style decor that’s perfect for Instagram. Each boat is adorned with a tasteful collection of daybeds, striped sofas and cosy hammocks ensuring that guests sail in style, and the all-white cabins down below have elements inspired by the bygone days of exploration.
10/12 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
A leisurely drive from the capital Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende is an enchanting destination where the people are as vibrant as the city itself, characterised by colourful colonial architecture, charming (and very strollable) cobblestone streets and an air of eccentricity.
Left in near ruins in the early 20th century following the depletion of its silver ore and an influenza epidemic, it was artists who brought San Miguel de Allende back to life, and it continues to be a thriving creative centre. Visitors will find no shortage of fascinating museums and galleries such as Fabrica la Aurora, a former industrial textile mill turned gallery that celebrates local artists, as well as boutiques selling artisanal goods ranging from clothing to jewellery and homeware.
In the last decade, the dining scene has also blossomed with restaurants helmed by chefs who have allowed their imagination to run wild, including unassuming taco stand Tacos San Francisco (a must) as well as Nomada, where chef Marco Cruz serves up contemporary Mexican cuisine made from local ingredients. One of the best ways to soak up the city’s atmosphere is to head to one of its many rooftop bars—our pick is upscale Mexican restaurant Quince—to bask in San Miguel de Allende’s “eternal spring” climate. Tequila enthusiasts take note: stop by the home of Casa Dragones—Mexico’s most revered small-batch tequila—in what was once the 17th-century stables for the Dragones cavalry battalion.
(Related: How To Explore Mexico, According To Jessica Alba)
11/12 Marrakech, Morocco
With its mysterious mazes, bazaars of the old medina and colourful new crop of galleries, museums and lush gardens, it’s no surprise that Marrakech was designated the first-ever African Capital of Culture 2020.
The city has captured the hearts and minds of countless icons throughout history. Perhaps, most famously, the late Yves Saint Laurent who said: “Marrakech introduced me to colour...although I was used to the light and the colours of North Africa, it was only later, when I discovered Morocco, that I understood my colours were those of zellige mosaics, zouacs, djellabas and caftans. For whatever daring things I have done since then, I am indebted to the country, to the violence of its harmonies, the insolence of its mixtures, the intensity of its inventions.” The legendary French designer’s connection with Marrakech has been immortalised at Musée Yves Saint Laurent, a stunning museum that houses an impressive collection of his work, including 15,000 couture pieces and never before seen sketches and other objects.
As for where to stay, it is hard to look past the opulent Royal Mansour. Designed by King Mohammed VI, it’s a grand celebration of the architecture, craftsmanship and culture of Morocco. Think sprawling Moorish gardens, lofty palm trees, and interiors filled with velvet, silk and brocade. There’s also Amanjena—which boasts 32 sunset-hued guest pavilions and eight maisons, complete with king‑sized beds, marble tubs, and sunken firepits—as well as L’Hôtel Marrakech, a stylish converted riad in the middle of the medina by acclaimed designer Jasper Conran.
(Related: Why Desert Holidays Are Becoming Increasingly Popular Among Travellers)
12/12 Tokyo, Japan
There are plenty of good reasons to head to Tokyo year in and year out, but it would be remiss not to include the Japanese capital in a list of places to visit in 2020 as it revels in the spotlight as the hosts of the Summer Olympics.
The city is expecting up to 40 million visitors leading up to the games—a fact that hasn’t escaped hoteliers keen to respond to the city’s shortage of premium accommodation. One of the most anticipated recent openings was The Okura Tokyo, which unveiled its billion-dollar renovation in late 2019. The historic hotel will yet again welcome spectators as it did when it first opened just in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.
In addition, two luxury hotel brands are preparing to roll out the red carpet come July: The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo and The Tokyo Edition. Designed by architect Jean‑Michel Gathy, the brand-new Four Seasons at Otemachi occupies levels 34 to 38 of a building situated right across from the Imperial Palace; it is also directly connected to Otemachi Station for added convenience. The Tokyo Edition at Toranomon will have 206 guest rooms with prized views of the city’s skyline including the nearby Tokyo Tower.
Apart from the sparkling new hotels, Tokyo also remains the top destination for gourmands with myriad dining experiences to satiate all cravings. The city is home to 226 Michelin-starred restaurants—more than any other city in the world.
(Related: The Best Luxury Hotels To Stay in Tokyo For 2020)