Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Looking to hit the road in 2023? From Charleston, Fiji, to wine country in France, here are six ideas based on the best time of year.

January: Cayman Islands for SCUBA Diving, Upscale Lodging, Cayman Cookout

Over a decade ago, I earned my Open Water Certification in the coral-rich seas ringing Grand Cayman Island. As a kid, I spent holidays on 7-mile beach, the famous stretch of silky sand hugging the translucent blue sea. In the years to follow, Grand Cayman became synonymous with banking, cruise ship day-trippers and family-friendly holidays, with lodging built largely around corporate hotels, villas, or condos. Travelers looking for boutique spaces, a taste of true indigenous culture, or reimagined Caribbean cuisine flew elsewhere.

Today, Grand Cayman and its sibling Little Cayman, have undergone a renaissance of art, food, and revamped or newly debuted properties, breathing new, post-pandemic life into this gorgeous island. Landmark The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, a beachfront icon, unveiled a stunning 2-year renovation, appeasing the pickiest design hounds through its homage to British West Indian style with color and natural textiles. Visitors looking for an intimate bolthole, can book the 50-room Palm Heights. Art buffs should wander the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, a pair of sleek buildings fringed with gardens. A slew of eateries, like Ms. Piper’s Kitchen + Garden, entice foodies. For the ultimate food-and-wine event, however, nothing beats the island’s marquee festival, Cayman Cookout hosted by Chef Eric Ripert. The festival recently celebrated its 14th year at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, so mark your calendars for what’s sure to be a blowout in 2024.

March: Charleston, South Carolina for the African American Music, Wine + Food, Azaleas

Come March, pink and white azaleas transform the Holy City into a living, breathing garden rich in history and culture. Daily weather hovers at a near-perfect 75 F, with low humidity to boot. March also marks the month the city’s famous food and wine festival returns. Charleston Wine + Food runs March 1-5, kicking spring off with creative seminars, dinners, tastings, and workshops hosted by both local and national talent from chefs, wine pros, to mixologists. While it’s a festive time to visit, there’s plenty else to do throughout the month.

New restaurants and hotels debut on a regular basis. The end of 2022 saw wine-centric local bistro Vern’s open its doors in Cannonborough/Elliotborough. Quinte Oyster Bar, the newest spot celebrating the region’s love affair with bivalves, opened in the intimate hotel the Pinch. The team behind the popular 167 spots (raw and sushi), opened a stylish Mediterranean bar with nautical touches. Out on Sullivan’s Island, Sullivan’s Fish Camp added to the growing clutch of culinary options lining the main drag.

Charleston’s boutique hotels are reason enough to visit, from Hotel Emeline, Zero George Street, The Spectator Hotel, Dewberry Charleston, The Loutrel and The Ryder, all of which offer excellent drink or food, or both. Hopefully, come March, the long-anticipated International African American Museum will have opened. Currently slated for January 2023, the museum sits where enslaved Africans were brought upon arriving in American in the 18th and 19th centuries.

May: Ischia, Italy for Sandy Beaches, Thermal Baths, and Pretty Villages

The tiny Tyrrhenian Island of Ischia, a breezy ferry ride from Naples, feels a world apart from the thrum of the metropolitan city and the throngs crowding the Amalfi Coast. Though many American tourists overlook the charm of this bougainvillea-strewn destination, this volcanic island has lured holidaymakers since the glamorous era of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Indeed, the two filmed the Cleopatra barge scene at a cove near the hotel L’Albergo della Regina Isabella in Lacco Ameno.

Today, L’Albergo della Regina Isabella remains one of the most popular hotels for visitors looking to soak up vintage Hollywood vibes. The property offers 5-star white glove service, traditional and avant-garde Michelin-star dining, a discreet bayfront location tucked between rocky outcroppings, and therapeutic bath and mud treatments from the hypermineral thermal springs. Just outside Lacco Ameno sits one of best thermal spring parks on the island, Negombo. Lush gardens surround over a dozen pools and relaxation areas. Get a mud mask facial then head down to the sandy beach on the Bay of San Montano for a swim.

In the town of Ischia Ponte, one of the island’s most historic villages set at the foot of dramatic cliffside castle Castello Aragonese, shops and cafes line the well-preserved streets, including Distillerie Aragonesi. Duo Anna and Alessandro Buono are reviving ancient artisanal liqueurs and spirits based on heritage ingredients like fig, wild citrus, and carob. The gorgeous packaging makes their bottles perfect gifts for drink enthusiasts back home.

July: Fiji for Tropical Beaches, SCUBA Diving, and Cultural Interaction

Flying to a string of tropical islands in the thick of a steamy American August may appear a perplexing summer destination recommendation. It’s hot. Go somewhere hotter? Yet, Fiji sits in the Southern Hemisphere flipping our summer into their winter. That’s not to say the South Pacific Island nation off the northeast coast of New Zealand gets cold or even snowy; the warm tropical climate remains pleasant year-round. However, the rainy season, which runs November through April, can impact a traveler’s experience (humidity, bugs, underwater visibility for SCUBA diving, daylong lashings). Alternatively, August stays dry with a pleasant average daytime temperature in the high 70s. August is also an ideal time for Americans because the Australian holidaymakers have departed with their school age children, and it’s a month when Americans often take time to travel as long as two weeks.

Two weeks. That’s the ideal amount of time to see as much as possible, especially for marine life tourists. SCUBA divers have a wealth of choices, especially if willing to hop around between islands. Arriving in Nadi, you could head south to the Coral Coast, then out to the Mamanuca Islands, up to the Yasawa Islands or even further northeast to Savusavu Bay. If you’re looking to get PADI certified, you’ll need a few days in one spot. I recently earned my Advanced Open Water at Vomo Island which required 5 dives over four days, for example.

Fiji also attracts travelers who appreciate interacting with the local population, learning about Fijian culture, visiting villages, and participating in a kava ceremony or two. The country has a resort for every need: Vomo Island offers superb house reef snorkeling and diving; the 14-acre private Dolphin Island Resort offers an intimate private setting with doting staff dedicated to your group; and Six Senses, set on a gorgeous crescent lagoon, takes sustainability and closed-loop operations to unparalleled levels.

September: Ionian Islands, Greece for Dramatic Beaches, Easy Sailing, Local Food and Wine

Every American tourist heads to Santorini and Mykonos and they’re not wrong. These islands captivate the imagination for good reason. However, the glorious nature of Greece and its hundreds of mountain towns and fishing villages means there’s a lifetime’s supply of alternatives for the curious adventurer. Consider the Ionian Islands in Western Greece, likely home of Homer’s hero Odysseus, as an option for your next personal Greek odyssey. Composed of seven principal islands and a smattering of smaller ones, the island group is best-known for Corfu in the north near Albania, and Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos, connected by a string of ferries, further south.

The islands saw multiple rulers—Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Napoleonic, and British— the vestiges of past peoples still visible today in ruins and architecture. These relics lend a fascinating addendum to the real draw cards: natural beauty. Lefkada, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos boast some of Greece’s, and the world’s, most dramatic beaches. Sapphire waters gain a milky luminescence from the talcum sand of crumbling limestone cliffs carved across time by pounding waves, giving way to each island’s windy western beaches.

The best way to see each island is by rental car and sailboat. With two weeks, you should focus on Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia, and Zakynthos, leaving Corfu for another trip. Pick up a car in Athens and drive to Lefkada for a few nights. The stylish boutique hotel Crystal Waters Lefkada in Nikiana provides a perfect base for beach hopping, while boasting two fantastic restaurants, including the gastro leaning Duende. Then swap your car for a sailboat with Sail Ionian, whether skipped, crewed, or solo. The tiny villages and quiet coves of Ithaca and northern Kefalonia are best explored from the water.

All boats return to Lefkada where you’ll pick up your car and car ferry back to Kefalonia. Stay a few nights at health and wellness property F Zeen Retreat, where you can indulge in fresh food, yoga, and meditation classes. The hotel stocks wine from several local wineries if you don’t have much time (though here’s a guide on four to visit if you do.) Don’t miss the beaches of Myrtos and Makris Gialos. Spend some time in the port city of Argostoli. Driving can be tough at night so stay a night or two nearby at Thalassa Boutique Hotel Kefalonia. For your last stop, catch the ferry to Zakynthos and beeline to the island’s best property, the Olea All Suite Hotel. The surrounding neighborhood is a tourist trap, but the north, west and southwest coasts are gorgeous. Book a cove boat tour and make an obligatory stop at shipwreck beach. It’s crowded for a reason – it’s breathtaking.

November Bourgogne, France for Hospices de Beaune, Autumn Weather, Budget Travel

If you’ve been dreaming of visiting the world’s most hallowed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards in Burgundy or Bourgogne, as the French now prefer the world call it, November offers several opportunities. First, on November 19th, 2023, the Hospices de Beaune will run again. The event is deemed by many in the wine world the most famous of all charity wine auctions. The story dates to 1443 when the iconic Hôtel-Dieu, located in central Beaune and known for its colorful tiles, was built as a refuge for the sick. The charity proceeds benefit the hospital, a modern facility now located on the outskirts of the city, and other good causes. The Hospices also marks the new vintage. Even if you’re not there to buy, participating in one of the wine world’s oldest, cherished events is a singular experience.

Of course, the popularity of the event raises competition for lodging and room rates, so if you’d rather avoid crowds and delight in low season, pick an earlier or later week to visit. Just remember to pack a jacket and umbrella. While the days are shorter and the sun hangs lower, drinking an earthy red by a cozy fireplace in a historic manor house doesn’t get more French countryside.

For the best value wine to buy and a better assurance of wine being available to buy (poor weather has shrunk recent vintages while prices continue rising from global demand), consider concentrating your time around Marsannay at the northern tip and Santenay at the southern tip of Côte d’Or, respectively, and Côte Chalonnaise. Sitting south of the Côte de Beaune, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate production in Côte Chalonnaise though the small but fascinating village of Bouzeron is a historic Aligoté-only appellation. The main wine producing areas to visit are Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny, a bit further south. For a nice cross-section, book tastings with Domaine Jean Fournier in Marsannay, Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay, Domaine Xavier et Guillemette Besson in Givry, Domaine Aubert et Pamela de Villaine in Bouzeron, and Château de Chamirey in Mercurey and Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune itself.

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