With the prospect of international travel becoming less complicated in 2023, we have our sights set on far-flung destinations that will satiate our increasing wanderlust. Step outside of your comfort zone and explore our curated list of some of the most enticing resorts and travel experiences in the world, with these must-visit holidays for 2023. From railway journeys through Europe to unparalleled wildlife safaris in Canada, these exquisite, elevated escapes will give you memories to last a lifetime.
Habitas AlUla in Saudi Arabia
Lose yourself in an ancient desert landscape at the breathtaking Habitas AlUla — a stunning new resort set in between the canyons of Saudi Arabia’s remote Ashar Valley (on a site with history that dates back to the first century). Offering utterly luxurious accommodation in one of the region’s most untouched and picturesque locations, Habitas AlUla not only provides its guests all the expected amenities of a hotel of this calibre, but the chance at a spiritual experience too, along with an unprecedented immersion into the region’s fascinating history and culture. The hotel itself comprises a series of luxury villas nestled between the desert’s sandstone cliffs, each boasting scenic canyon views and generous decks, designed to meld seamlessly into the surrounds. Here, the focus is on sustainability and offering sumptuous accommodation without leaving a significant footprint.
The resort is home to an impressive wellbeing programme, with yoga, wellness and fitness centres, meditation and breathwork classes, and a serene pool that seems to appear, like a mirage, out of nowhere. At the on-site restaurant Tama, regenerative agricultural methods have been used to create menus that offer a delicious array of Middle Eastern cuisines, promising exceptional culinary experiences that match the tone set by the rest of the resort.
All that said, it is the cultural and historical elements that are perhaps the biggest drawcards for this particular location. From a curated local concert series, to weekly outdoor cinema screenings (slanted toward cultural films and documentaries), to fascinating discussion sessions that shed light on local initiatives and the rich history of the region, to the fact that Habitas AlUla sits alongside Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra (formerly the principal southern city of the ancient Nabutacun Kingdom and home to 111 carefully preserved, ornate tombs), guests at this resort will leave having had their eyes opened to a whole other world. The ancient sites that border Habitas AlUla have existed almost since the dawn of humanity, telling the stories of great conquests and sacrifices, the tumultuous history of religion, and host a library of some of the oldest written literature — a bucket-list destination indeed.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: During the winter months, when the heat is at a more bearable temperature. November — February is perfect, but you’ll get away with March too.
Weather: It gets cold in the desert at night, so pack layers for stargazing. You’re guaranteed to never see nights so clear again.
Insider’s Tip: It is no longer compulsory for women to cover their hair and wear an abaya in Saudi Arabia, but many still visit prepared to, as a sign of respect for the culture and religion.
Amankora in Bhutan
Among the expansive terrain of the world’s last remaining Bhuddist kingdom, a collection of luxury lodges by globally-renowned chain Aman can be found. Bhutan — often called the happiest place in the world — officially re-opened in September, after more than two years of being closed to the outside world, and is once again offering its inimitable hospitality and awe-inspiring cultural experiences to those intrepid enough to make the journey. Here, Amankora offers five lodges across Bhutan’s central and western valleys, and as the first resort to have taken up residence in this incredible kingdom, has been part of the landscape here for over 20 years (making it uniquely positioned to offer its guests deep insight into the culture). At Amankora, the idea is that each of the five lodges offers a slightly different experience, encouraging guests to undertake a customisable ‘Journey’ to experience all of the resort’s different properties — the best chance to gain a true understanding of Bhutanese life.
If you are travelling all that way, we recommend booking the Ultimate Amankora Journey. This awe-inspiring experience will take 13 nights, and will see you stay at all five of Amankora’s Lodges — Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang. It includes daily guided excursions exploring the jaw-dropping landscapes by car, foot and air, as well as offering trips to iconic spiritual sights like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and the ancient Buddhist Temple, Kyichu Lhakhang, built in the 7th Century. Of course, between day trips and sight-seeing, you can indulge in Amankora’s signature, hospitality, from exquisite food and wine to sumptuous spa treatments.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: Winter months are almost too cold in the Himalayas for an enjoyable vacation, but March through to May sees the spring blossoms come to life, with crisp clear skies that make the expansive views all the more beautiful.
Weather: Given its vast nature and exposure to the elements, Bhutan can get as hot and humid as it can get extremely cold. Pack light, but prepare for all climates.
Insider’s Tip: International guests visiting Bhutan are required to pay a Sustainable Development Fee as part of their trip. At $200 USD per day, it may be initially off-putting, but it finances the country’s low volume, high value tourism concept. One can rest assured that this contribution will make all the difference to Bhutan’s future, preserving its natural beauty and wildlife, and conserving the rich, ancient culture.
Embark on an enchanting, snow-capped train ride through the picturesque European countryside with the recent introduction of winter travel on the world’s most famous train — Belmond’s iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Here, the destination is actually the journey itself, with a majestic train made up of 17 original 1920s and 1930s carriages, each utterly charming in its own way. From the Historic Cabins to the Grand Suites, as well as eight new suites set to join the line-up next year, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the ultimate in luxury railway travel, and offers the kind of opulent, extravagant, old-world experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Whether you travel between Paris and Venice, or seek a journey to Budapest, Istanbul, Prague or Brussels, or even Amsterdam or Florence or Rome, you can gaze out the window as you wind through a winter wonderland of untouched landscapes and spend cosy evenings in a jewel-coloured dining car, indulging in exquisite seasonal menus and imbibing fine Champagne. When dinner is over, you can head to Bar Cart ‘3674’, where you’ll spend unforgettable evenings sipping on cocktails to raucous live piano. And when all the conviviality starts to feel exhausting, you can retreat to the comfort of your own private suite, filled with plush furnishings and finished with hand-crafted details designed to take you back to an era of decorative glamour and unbridled luxury.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: Having run its exquisite train journeys through Europe for decades, it is the newly-released winter journeys that are making the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express more appealing than ever. Just picture winding through a snowy, mountainous landscape and stopping at small, festive towns along the way. Book between December and March and capitalise on this magical time of year.
Weather: The weather is entirely dependent on your route and destination. Now that this historic train is running all year round, you really can choose the climate best suited to you.
Insider’s Tip: On this train, one can never be overdressed, so pack some special pieces. For dinner, opt for formal evening attire. Guests are known to don black tie and wear their finest jewellery for the occasion.
Churchill Wild Polar Bear Safaris
With three serene lodges in Hudson Bay, Canada, on the remote Manitoba coastline, Churchill Wild offers once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters and wilderness adventures, designed to leave its guests with a deeper understanding of the importance of these ecosystems, and a more profound attachment to nature. Set directly in the path of polar bears as they wander up and down the coastline in the summer and fall, the Seal River Heritage Lodge, the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and the Dymond Lake Ecolodge offer the perfect bases from which to get up-close-and-personal with these endangered animals, alongside black bears, wolves, Arctic foxes, hares, moose and Beluga whales. With a wide range of safari adventures, Churchill Wild offers something for everyone, whether you’re a nature photographer, an intrepid explorer, an animal enthusiast or even someone who would rather not venture too far from the comfort of the fireplace.
Here, the emphasis is on providing an environmentally conscious, exclusive travel option that offers access to remote landscapes while minimising the footprint left by visitors. This philosophy seeps into every aspect of a stay with Churchill Wild, where even the cuisine served is hyper-seasonal and ‘Tundra-inspired,’ which means that everything is organic and locally-sourced or wildly-harvested. At Churchill Wild, all efforts are made to preserve the future of the region, and those who reside within — both humans and animals alike. The result is both memorable and awe-inspiring.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: Just before the Canadian winter (October — November) is when the polar bears gather en masse, awaiting the big freeze of Hudson Bay.
Weather: Year-round, northern Manitoba has a colder climate, with temperatures ranging from 20°C in the summer, to -15°C in winter.
Insider’s Tip: The beauty of the terrain and its remote nature means that Churchill township is only accessible by train or plane, so take the opportunity to charter a scenic flight and experience the sprawling landscape from above.
Ett Hem Boutique Hotel in Stockholm
Set in the heart of picturesque Stockholm and made up of three private houses, Ett Hem is a boutique accommodation that has been created for people looking for something more personal than a classic, luxury hotel. And while Sweden is largely credited as the birthplace of minimalism, Ett Hem doesn’t scrimp on sumptuous details, instead offering a kind of meticulously-curated maximalism that gives its beautiful interiors a warm, welcoming and homely vibe. In fact ‘Ett Hem’ actually translates to ‘at home,’ which is exactly how you’ll feel staying here. The crown jewel of the three houses is the Attic Suite where, in the renovated rafters, you are greeted by tapestry-plastered ceilings and teak walls, with a working desk underneath one peaked window, and a deep, standalone tub in the ensuite underneath the other.
In its dining room, Ett Hem offers organic, locally-sourced and utterly delicious dishes from a simple menu created daily by the kitchen. Elsewhere, guests can indulge in refreshing cocktails on Ett Hem’s sun-soaked patio, explore the on-site greenhouse or partake in some rejuvenating treatments at the spa.
While it will be hard to leave the hotel’s luxurious surrounds, we suggest taking some time to explore the beautiful Swedish capital, built on four islands and surrounded by rivers. Stockholm is renowned for it’s exquisite dining, so seek out the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant Riche, or the iconic Strandvägen 1. For drinks, we suggest heading to the Södermalm cafe or wine bar Tjoget, or do as the locals do and pop into natural wine spot, Savant Bar.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: Summer in Stockholm is paradise. Gorgeous swimming spots are never far away, and the days are very long, giving you more time to take in the surrounds. We recommend booking between July and August, while New Zealand is in the thick of winter.
Weather: Stockholm is on the colder-side year-round, but summer days see it warming up
to 20°C-— 25°C.
Insider’s Tip: Renowned for its minimalist and luxury fashion, Swedish shopping is unparalleled. Hornsgatan is home to a number of chic vintage boutiques for furniture and fashion, while NK Store is like a Swedish Selfridges — offering a curated collection of luxurious wares.
Arijiju Safari in Kenya
Tucked into a rocky hillside in Laikipia, central Kenya, is Arijiju, an ultra-luxurious wellness and wildlife sanctuary offering exquisite, boutique accommodation in the heart of the Borana-Lewa Conservatory, and taking the idea of the African safari to a whole new level.
Ten years in the making, Arijiju was a joint project between London-based Michaelis Boyd and Johannesburg-based Plewman Architects who wanted to create something that felt private and comfortable, and could offer its guests a true immersion into nature. Here, the main house comprises three generous suites, a study, a light-filled dining room, a cinema room, a wellness spa and a cantilevered 65-foot natural swimming pool, from which elephants have been known to drink (even while guests are lounging beside it). The only other accommodation outside the main house is in two separate, self-contained cottages, with the entire property able to accommodate a maximum of 10 guests and only on an exclusive basis, meaning that to stay here is to truly escape the world — a proper getaway in every sense. But aside from all of that, the true beauty of Arijiju is the way in which it melds seamlessly into its vast landscape, astutely designed to look like a building that has been on the land for centuries. This reflects the resort’s thorough approach to conservation and how deeply the team cares about maintaining a small footprint for the sake of the animals who call the surrounding area home. Beyond that, the tourism model employed at Arijiju sees funds diverted to supporting a number of local conservation projects, making every guest here an integral part of the future of this spectacular landscape.
It is an approach that is clearly working, with Laikipia the only region in Kenya where wildlife numbers have flourished in the last two decades. As such, Arijiju offers a range of out-of-this-world wildlife adventures and up-close encounters, including traditional safaris in 4x4s, on foot, or by mountain bike, treks on horseback, guided by local rangers, treetop canopy walks, (allowing a birds eye view of the Ngare Ndare forests), or helicopter fly-fishing in the remote lakes of Mount Kenya.
Of course, on your return to the residence, a raft of rejuvenating spa treatments are available for those seeking relaxation. And by starlight, Arijiju’s food offering is set to fully replenish you for more intrepid adventures the following day, where the resident chefs will create delicious meals from local, farm-reared beef and poultry, with vegetables sourced from the sanctuary’s organic garden.
NEED TO KNOW
When to Visit: Arijiju’s peak season is June — August. Visiting at other times will allow a more accessible rate, but summer is when the environment flourishes.
Weather: The climate is mild, around 25°C— 30°C during the day, but much cooler at night.
Insider’s Tip: Reaching Nairobi calls for 30+ hours of flying (with most routes offering a minimum of two stopovers from Auckland) and to get to Arijiju requires a special charter flight to the conservatory airstrip. If this incredible destination finds its way onto your list next year, we recommend extending your holiday and including some other stops along the way to make all that travel worthwhile.