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Goa’s New Gem

While wild, all-night beach parties are part of Goa’s DNA, the stretch of sand that the new W Goa calls home is laid-back and, now, quite luxurious. Surrounded by coconut palms on Vagator Beach, the 160-room property merges traditional India with Goa’s hippy past in design: towering white walls nod to the country’s intricately carved jali screens, lightshades resemble fishing nets, and throw pillows and rugs come in a rainbow of colors. Perhaps the biggest allure is the hotel’s location, in the shadow of the 500-year-old Chapora Fort, perched on black cliffs and a crumbling reminder of the state’s Portuguese past. There are plenty of waterside hangouts within walking distance, but as the sun disappears over the Arabian Sea, it’s hard to beat a poolside perch at Woo Bar–chai spiced martini in hand, of course. —Natasha Dragun

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Goan Places”).

20 Nights with Small Luxury Hotels of the World

With over 500 independently-minded hotels that span the globe, Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) has everything from boldly designed urban sanctuaries to palatial mansions nestled in the countryside. In the historic Bedfordshire, the magnificent Luton Hoo Hotel boasts an 18-hole golf course, and a handful of picture-perfect wedding venues and private fishing lakes, among other luxuries. Over in Barcelona, the design-driven Grand Hotel Central offers contemporary comforts and first-rate facilities aplenty. Regardless of the location, the group consistently delivers personalized and one-of-a-kind experiences, providing its guests with only the best of the best.

To further encourage you to take a break from your daily routine and see more of the world, SLH is launching an exciting global sweepstake you won’t want to miss out on. Members who book their stay with the group next month will stand a chance to win 20 free nights at any SLH property in 2017. With such a diverse collection of properties to choose from, the lucky winner’s hardest task will be deciding where to spend their 20 complimentary nights.

For more information, visit Small Luxury Hotels of the World. 

Korean Air to Start Direct Flights to Delhi

Come the beginning of December, Korean Air will add Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport to its route network, making it the airline’s second Indian destination after Mumbai. The new service will be flown using the Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which seats up to 218 passengers and is equipped with the airline’s newest First and Prestige Class seats. Flights will leave Seoul’s Incheon International Airport at 12:45 p.m. and arrive in Delhi at 6:20 p.m. local time. The return leg will then depart Delhi at 7:40 p.m. and land in the South Korean capital at 5:50 a.m. the next day.

For more information, visit Korean Air.

World’s Highest and Longest Bridge in China

An improbable landscape of soaring, pine-crested sandstone spires, Zhangjiajie in China’s Hunan province is known to global moviegoers for its resemblance to the floating Hallelujah Mountains of Avatar. But it’s not just the dreamlike scenery that will take your breath away—the area now boasts an extreme feat of engineering, worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster.

Stretching 430 meters long and 6 meters wide, hovering over a 300-meter-deep valley between two cliffs in the canyon area, the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge opened on August 20, becoming the world’s highest and longest glass-bottomed bridge. However, a flood of 80,000 daily visitors—10 times the expected number—led to its temporary closure in just two weeks.

But the glass walkway has finally reopened to tourists and promises to provide even more heart-pounding experiences like bungee jumping in the near future.

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Walk this Way”).

Dream Holidays with Best Western


Spanning Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and The Philippines, Best Western Hotels & Resorts boasts an extensive list of properties in Asia. From now until the end of October, the hotel brand is offering 10 lucky couples a chance to win a trip to their dream destination in the region. The prize will cover two nights’ accommodation at a Best Western hotel, plane tickets, meals, as well as tours. To enter the “BW Dreams Come True” contest, all you have to do is browse through the brand’s collection of Asian hotels and vote for a holiday spot. The lucky winners will be drawn from the pool of participants who selected the most voted destination.

For more information, visit BW Dreams Come True.

HKIA Bans Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Smartphones

Following an announcement issued by the United States Department of Transportation, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has officially placed a total ban on Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones on all flights departing from and arriving at the airport.

“With immediate effect, passengers who own or possess a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device are requested not to transport the device on their person, in carry-on baggage, or in checked baggage on flights to and from Hong Kong. This applies to all Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices,” stated the announcement that was posted on HKIA’s official website.

The fire-prone device has been involved in a number of reported incidents regarding overheating and combustion, forcing Samsung to permanently discontinue its production. Major airlines such as Etihad, Lufthansa, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, and Qantas have also enforced a total ban on the product as a safety precaution.

For more information, visit Hong Kong International Airport.

Free Nights at St. Regis Singapore

As part of its Stay Longer For Less package, this elegant hotel near Orchard Road is offering guests extra nights of bespoke pampering in its Grand Deluxe rooms. Staying three means paying for two, while those who book six-night stays receive two nights free. The package includes in-room Wi-Fi, the hotel brand’s signature butler service, free access to the wet lounge at Remède Spa, and the chance to join daily art appreciation sessions that take in the property’s private collection, with pieces by renowned 20th-century masters such as Picasso, Chagall, and Miró.

For more information, visit St. Regis Singapore.

Louis Vuitton Launches New Photo Books

One of the better-kept secrets of the fashion industry is that hidden behind the rows of conspicuously logoed leather goods at Louis Vuitton is Editions, a low-key but excellent selection of travel tomes and city guides. Now, the brand’s busy publishing arm is launching Fashion Eye, 
a collection of photography books bound in tinted silk-screen cloth covers. Each of the five volumes features a city or a country as seen through the eyes of a leading 20th-century or up-and-coming fashion photographer. Whether the dreamlike sequences of Guy Bourdin’s stark sensuality of 1970s Miami, Henry Clarke’s legendary excursions through India for American Vogue in the ’60s, Jeanloup Sieff’s evocative black-and-white renderings of Paris, or more recent work shot by Kourtney Roy in California and Wing Shya in Shanghai, the 50-plus large-format images in each book are a snapshot into a familiar world from an unexpected angle (US$56). —Daven Wu

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“The Eyes Have It”).

A Road Trip through Sicily

Braving the roads of this ancient Mediterranean island is well worth the effort, especially when the itinerary includes a clutch of small, stylish hotels that steer guests toward some of Sicily’s best food and wine.

By Leisa Tyler

Looming above Sicily’s east coast, Mount Etna has erupted more than 200 times since records started in 1500 B.C., making it one of the most active volcanoes on earth. Classical mythology holds that this is the work of Typhon, the father of all monsters, who was entombed under the mountain by Zeus and forever left to menace the world with regular outpourings of fire and ash. The latest eruption, a short but spectacular outburst of lava, occurred in May. But it’s an explosion of a very different sort that has brought me and my husband to Etna’s slopes at the start of this weeklong Sicilian road trip. Boutique winemaking is booming on Italy’s largest island, and perhaps nowhere more so than right here on this volcano.

Sommelier Alessandro Pugliese (left) with winemaker Riccardo Negri in Graci’s vineyards on Mount Etna.

Sommelier Alessandro Pugliese (left) with winemaker Riccardo Negri in Graci’s vineyards on Mount Etna.

Our guide is Alessandro Pugliese, the enthusiastic sommelier at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, a swanky seaside hotel below the medieval town of Taormina. Originally from Calabria, Pugliese became love-struck with Sicilian wines after discovering the coterie of winemakers that had turned away from the mass-produced plonk the island is known for in favor of crafting artisanal reds and whites from native grapes. He showcases these at the Sant’Andrea, but for a first-hand experience, Pugliese has brought us to Etna’s northern flank to visit the Graci estate, whose ungrafted vines and old stone warehouse lay abandoned before banker-turned-vintner Alberto Graci bought the property in 2004. Planted on rich black volcanic soil between 600 and 1,000 meters
above sea level, the vineyards here grow only endemic grape varieties: Nerello Mascalese, Carricante, and Catarratto. Graci’s 2013 Arcuria, a white wine made from a blend of the latter two, is all mineral notes and honeysuckle, but it’s no match for the 2009 vintage that the winery generously opens for us—they only have 20 bottles left.

That evening at Villa Sant’Andrea’s candlelit seaside restaurant, dinner is paired with more unique Sicilian wines. First up is a crisp white from Pantelleria, a tiny Italian island between here and Tunisia that is so windy viticulturists have to dig trenches so the vines don’t fly away. Then comes a Marsala from the legendary Marco De Bartoli winery in the west. Fortified, Marsala wines are usually sweet. This one is anything but; dry and astringent, it is a perfect match for the grouper carpaccio and paper-thin slivers of salty lard that emerge from the kitchen.

Spaghetti with swordfish and clams at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea.

Spaghetti with swordfish and clams at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea.

Our next hotel is a half-hour drive away along narrow country roads that skirt Sicily’s east coast. On one side is the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean; on the other, Etna broods under wisps of cloud. Sitting plump on the volcano’s lower slopes near the town of Zafferana Etnea is Monaci delle Terre Nere, an agriturismo (farm that takes guests) with 16 hectares of olive
groves and citrus trees and vineyards, as well as 20 stylishly furnished guest rooms tucked into 
the estate’s salmon-hued 19th-century villa and outbuildings. But the main reason we chose Monaci (as with all the hotels on our itinerary)was for its unique insight into Sicilian traditions. Here, that means a cooking class with one of the hotel’s chefs, who shows us how to make  pasta and bread with timilia, an ancient wheat variety that fell into obscurity with the rise of processed flour in Sicily. Supplemented by herbs from the kitchen’s organic farm, the results are fragrant and delicious, even if my arms throb afterward from all the kneading.

It must be said: Sicily’s notorious and no-apparent-speed-limit roads, more often than not incongruously signposted, don’t exactly scream “relaxed driving holiday.” But nor is there a viable or affordable alternative to seeing the island. It is with this in mind that we use Monaci’s proximity to Etna and the relatively subdued switchback road that crosses the volcano’s southeastern slopes for some driving practice. Midway up we stop to stretch our legs. While it is possible to trek or catch a cable car 
to the upper crater zone and peek into Etna’s blazing red belly, we’re content to admire the arid, ocher moonscape on the mountain’s flanks, where a succession of cinder cones dot the otherworldly terrain.

Overlooking the Baroque town center of Modica from the terrace of a guest room at Casa Talía.

Overlooking the Baroque town center of Modica from the terrace of a guest room at Casa Talía.

There are countless reasons to brave the roads that lead to Modica, our next stop. A Baroque gem hugging a steep-sided ravine, the town offers an extraordinary setting as well as stunning local food. There’s also Casa Talía, a group of once-abandoned stone houses in Modica’s old Jewish quarter that Milanese architect Marco Giunta discovered while on holiday here in 2001. Deciding to convert them into a boutique hotel, he and his wife Viviana Haddad (also an architect) quit their jobs and began the painstaking process of restoring the ancient dwellings, which are arranged around a Mediterranean garden. Now chicly furnished, each of the 10 rooms has retained its original stone walls, while bamboo ceilings and hand-painted tile floors nod to Sicily’s North African influences. But it is the views of Modica’s historic center from our terrace that take the cake: a labyrinth of cobbled lanes, dust-colored villas, piazzas, and the noble cathedrals of St. George and St. Peter.

From Modica, it is an hour’s drive to Noto, 
the grandest of southeast Sicily’s eight UNESCO-
listed Baroque towns. Giunta suggests we take
the “old road,” and I’m glad we heed his advice. The quiet rural lane winds through a pastoral countryside of olive groves and wheat fields framed by adorable drystone walls.

They say there are two things you should never do when hiring a car in Sicily: one, agree to a size upgrade; and two, choose a vehicle that is shiny and scratch-free. Not knowing this at the time, we did both. Rebuilt after a massive earthquake in 1693, Noto was never designed to accommodate vehicles, especially not our Fiat 500, a veritable tank by Italian standards. The town is a complex maze of one-way streets and insanely tight corners where many an unwary driver has left paint on the walls. And then there’s the 10-point turn we have to execute to get into the courtyard of Seven Rooms Villadorata, our home for the night.

Noto’s most stunning hotel occupies the southern wing of the Nicolaci Palace, built in the 18th century by a local tuna magnate. Dilapidated, the palazzo had no running water or electricity when Cristina Summa, a former tourism official who spent her childhood summers at her grandmother’s house in Noto, took it over in the late 1990s. There are now seven spacious guest rooms with tile floors, wrought-iron balconies, and exotic tapestries, as well as a breezy breakfast terrace with views that sweep over Noto’s church towers all the way to the sea. Manna, the delightful ground-floor restaurant, serves an all-star lineup of premium Sicilian ingredients in gorgeous dishes like lamb couscous and bread crisps with aubergine cream and mackerel fillet. And the communal drawing and reading rooms—plus a kitchen stocked with complimentary minibar items—make it feel like you’re staying in the apartment of a wealthy friend, which was Summa’s aim. “We want our guests to experience a modern-day version of the Grand Tour,” she says.

A bedroom at Casa Talía, where the attentive service and stylish decor are outmatched only by the views over Modica's Baroque townscape.

A bedroom at Casa Talía, where the attentive service and stylish decor are outmatched only by the views over Modica’s Baroque townscape.

The next day, our trusty, still-scratch-free Fiat brings us to Agrigento and our last stop, the 200-hectare olive, almond, and wheat farm Azienda Agricola Mandranova. One of Sicily’s most loved agriturismo hotels, Mandranova was never intended to be for tourists; rather, they became an economic necessity while Giuseppe di Vincenzo set about making “the best olive oil in the world.”

Leaving a successful banking career in 
Milan, di Vincenzo returned to Sicily in 1995 to revive his family’s farm, a sprawling property of rolling hills and ancient stone buildings that sits beside the roar of a busy highway. Throwing out the rule book, along with many unproductive trees, he sought to understand the true essence of olive oil—and how, through heat, sunlight, chemical extraction, and the time between the harvest and press, most of what we buy in the supermarket is actually rancid. It is this story that di Vincenzo tells guests on daily tours, weaving in more than a few anecdotes and theatrics along the way.

Pleasures abound at Mandranova: lounging by the cactus-lined swimming pool; sampling the blood-red fruits of a century-old mulberry tree; partaking in boozy, convivial communal dinners. But tasting the farm’s rich and herbaceous olive oils, their flavors pure and unadulterated, might just be worth a visit in itself.

“Complex, cultured, deep—this is the oil of the gods,” di Vincenzo tells me over the din of traffic. “Sicily all summed up.”

This article originally appeared in the October/November print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“On a Sicilian Spin”).

Year-End Festivities with Banyan Tree


Saffron at Banyan Tree Bangkok.

From a tropical Christmas vacation to an extravagant masquerade ball, Banyan Tree properties around the world have lined up a range of activities and events in time for the year-end festivities, inviting you and your loved ones to make the most of this holiday season.

For a truly magical holiday, book the Sense of Celebration offer and enjoy a Harry Potter-inspired getaway at Banyan Tree Mayakoba. Kids will want to spend all day running around as Christmas elves, while thrill seekers will get to enjoy a series of fun-packed outdoor activities. Come New Year’s Eve, the lobby terrace will transform into a replica of the Hogwarts dining hall, where guests will be able to tuck into a delicious epicurean buffet. Those in search of paradise will love a stay at Banyan Tree Ungasan in Bali. Soak up the sun and spend this Christmas Eve singing along to classic holiday tunes with the Dalung Orphanage Choir, then welcome the new year by dancing the night away at a masquerade-themed party.

Get back in touch with nature at Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru in the Maldives, where you can choose to embark on a special Christmas Day underwater adventure or simply sunbathe on the deck of your private pool villa. In the Thai capital, Banyan Tree Bangkok beckons with a wealth of culinary wonders and gastronomical delights. Spend some quality time with your nearest and dearest over a five-course meal at Saffron, or indulge in free-flowing drinks at the 60th-floored Vertigo TOO. A sun-kissed holiday at Banyan Tree Phuket is equally enticing; from a five-course Christmas Eve dinner to a grand New Year’s Eve Gala Party, guests have a lot to look forward to this festive season.

For more information, visit Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts.