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04/24/24: The Inside Story on the Oscars of the Travel World

Inside the just-announced Hot List from Condé Nast Traveler with the magazine's Global Editorial Director Divia Thani, and more curated openings.

April 24, 2024 By THE GRAND TOURIST
Divia Thani. Photo: Courtesy Condé Nast

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The May/June cover of Condé Nast Traveler. Photo: Courtesy Condé Nast

The travel industry is obsessed with lists and awards, and one of the most coveted would certainly be The Hot List from Condé Nast Traveler. In the magazine’s just-released 28th edition of the feature, they highlight the editors’ favorite hotels, restaurants, and cruises that debuted in the past year. At the helm of this coveted endeavor is Divia Thani, the Global Editorial Director of Traveler and its various editions. Formerly the editor of the magazine’s edition in India since 2010, Thani first studied in the States and was previously a features editor at Vogue. This year’s Hot List includes a few top-of-mind trends in addition to a best-of list of venues, including massive cruise ships and a quartet of beachside retreats. I quizzed Thani on how they choose the winners, why she thinks boutique hotels are more popular than ever, and which winners she found surprising. —Dan Rubinstein

Magazines have evolved so much in recent years. How has The Hot List changed with them?
The Hot List is always so exciting and something our audiences eagerly look forward to every year. We now present not only the coolest new hotels that have opened across the world this past year, we’re also telling you about the hottest new restaurants and cruises globally. Look at them all together, and it’s a great way of seeing the trends emerging in travel and hospitality.

Everyone in the travel industry looks forward to these big lists, too. How do you put it together? What’s your process like?
For the past couple of years, we have drawn on the expertise, insider intel, and firsthand on-the-ground knowledge that our editors across the world have. Our teams in the U.S., as well as our teams in the UK, Italy, Spain, the Middle East, India, and China, keep running lists of new and exciting developments they’ve visited that they want to nominate for The Hot List when the time comes. Then we put our heads and a very organized and slightly intimidating Excel sheet together, and we debate every single entry. Very often, we’ll send our correspondents back to check things out and see how the properties are shaping up.

This year you highlighted a group of boutique hotels, some from first-time hoteliers. Any personal favorites?
Small, boutique, independently run hotels are always going to make this list because they’re harder for people to find and are often real gems. In a world where you can find Starbucks and Zara on every corner, these hotels reinforce the things we travel for—to escape our everyday and discover something wonderful and new. These hotels are often truly immersed in the destination and run by locals who have a story to tell and a true point of view about these cities. They offer a personal touch, and their passion for hospitality shines through. The Global Ambassador in Phoenix is from first-time hoteliers, as are Sun Ranch (a group of friends bonded together to open it in Byron Bay in Australia) and Farasha Farmhouse in Marrakech. This can definitely happen at big properties—the Carlton in Cannes, which is on our cover, is a great example—but it’s often easier to pull off on a smaller scale. I’m really excited to visit the Shinta Mani Mustang in Nepal, designed by Bill Bensley, situated in the Kali Gandaki River valley between the Annapurna and the Dhaulagiri mountain ranges of northern Nepal. It’s such a remote and pristine location with incredible views, and it offers a rare insight into Nepali-Tibetan highland culture. Plus, the design is beautiful but very thoughtful, keeping sustainable principles at the core. It’s setting a new tone for experiential travel in Nepal.

Speaking of trends, it sometimes seems like we’re going through a renaissance in cruising. What should first-timers look for in a cruise vacation today?
Expedition ships! If you’re a first-timer and the thought of a massive ship with roller coasters, lavish buffets, and thousands of people is overwhelming you or just putting you off cruising, look to our favorite expedition ships instead. These are much, much smaller and designed to explore more remote and off-the-beaten-track destinations, from Antarctica to the Galápagos Islands. They also take experiences, culinary offerings, amenities, and wellness to the next level. If you’re looking to cruise, this is what you’re looking for.

When it comes to urban retreats, is there a city you think has been overlooked lately that deserves a second look? And perhaps a place there to stay you can recommend?
Paris is all about the Olympics this year, but London is definitely having a moment. There are new Hot List hotels, of course: There is the very historic Raffles London at The OWO as well as the Peninsula, overlooking Hyde Park. We also just launched the UK’s Top New Restaurant Awards, and London has some fantastic places to eat: West African food is the new rage. Aji Akokomi’s Akara and Joké Bakare’s Chishuru are remarkable for their modern take on Nigerian cuisine. Meanwhile, I suggest booking tables at Arlington, The Dover, and Mountain as soon as you’ve booked your flights. With Wimbledon, the Ascots, The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and other summer festivals coming up, London is really the urban getaway you’re looking for. It has everything you want from a big city but at a pace that’s gentle and easy compared to New York.

Did any winners on this year’s list really surprise you?
I’m delighted by the sheer variety on this year’s list. There are new openings in cities like Paris, New York, and London, but also in Riyadh—a wonderful little St. Regis that honestly blew me away—Las Vegas, Dubai, Rome, and Tokyo. And then there are new spots in exciting bucket-list destinations: Punakha in Bhutan; Angama Amboseli in Kenya’s Kimana Sanctuary; Cap Karoso in Sumba, Indonesia; and Villa Mabrouka in Tangier, Morocco. The list has grand, ambitious projects as well as small labors of love. It’s the kind of list hotel lovers relish, of course, but it’s also a list that will make you want to go to new places and consider destinations you might not have before.

Summer is almost here. Any vacation plans?
Always! This summer, I wanted to do the Mediterranean but still go off the beaten track. I found just what I was looking for in Asturias in northern Spain, on the coast, with Galicia to the west and the Basque Country to the east. The Spaniards love it. My Spanish editor called it the “Scotland of Spain,” and I was hooked. But it’s still rather undiscovered to the rest of us. The region has more than 24 nature reserves, including a parque nacional and three of Spain’s largest parques naturales. There are bears and wolves, but there are also some Michelin-starred restaurants and a plethora of artisanal cheese makers. I’m also really excited about our home base there: The Palacio de Figueras, an 11-bedroom palace that dates back to the 16th century, has been painstakingly restored and is now available to rent. Lucky me.

From left: Jaime Hayon’s new works at Galerie Kreo. Photo: Alexandra de Cossette; Caspar David Friedrich’s “Kreidefelsen auf Rügen,” (1818). Photo: Courtesy Kunst Museum Winterthur

History’s Ultimate Romantic Gets Surveyed in Berlin; a Spanish Designer Merges Art and Craft with a New Body of Work; Stolen WWII Works are Resurrected in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, “Lisa Oppenheim: Spolia” (Until June 16)
For this body of work, presented in her first show in the Netherlands, American artist Lisa Oppenheim searched through archives to unearth photographs of art pieces stolen from Dutch collections by the Nazis during World War II. She rendered these art pieces, either missing or destroyed, in ghostly gelatin prints, giving them a second life.

Berlin, “Caspar David Friedrich: Infinite Landscapes” (Until Aug. 8)
The German painter Caspar David Friedrich, known for his contemplative landscapes, was a pioneer of his time. His most prominent painting, “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” is synonymous with Romanticism. To mark the 250th anniversary of his birthday, Alte Nationalgalerie, home to one of the largest collections of his work, presents their first major exhibit of the painter with 60 paintings and 50 of his drawings.

Brussels, “The Color of Distance” (Opens Apr. 24)
Artist Paulo Monteiro started off drawing comic strips for underground magazines in São Paulo. Perhaps that explains the simple charm of the Brazilian artist’s abstract oil paintings—largely organic shapes in a minimal palette—and aluminum sculptures. Less is more.

Paris, “Jaime Hayon: Atelier Wonderland” (Opens Apr. 25)
In his fifth solo show with Galerie Kreo, the Spanish polymath Jaime Hayon—whose work blurs the lines between art, decoration, and design—presents 15 handcrafted pieces from vases and chandeliers with cheeky faces and large handles to wood tables constructed with Venetian craftsmen. Hayon continues to fuse the old and new, taking inspiration from the silhouettes and techniques of historic design and adorning it with bold colors and playful personality.

Seoul, “Cecily Brown: Nana and Other Stories” (Opens Apr. 26)
London-born, New York–based painter Cecily Brown is known for her chaotic abstractions that on closer inspection reveal the intricate forms of people, gatherings, animals, and whatever else the mind conjures in the loose strokes and bold colors. In her newest paintings, Brown returns to her previous work—some shown in her survey “Death and the Maid” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year—and shifts her style to tighter, more concentrated strokes. —Vasilisa Ioukhnovets

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