Top destinations luring industry insiders this summer, from The Maldives and Rwanda to Lake Como and Lamego.
When Hollywood moguls, Fortune 500 CEOs and royals seek ultra-personalized, discreet and high-touch travel experiences, they turn to the experts: Jack Ezon of Embark, Bobby Zur of Travel Artistry and Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare. With highly confidential black books of international power players and unparalleled access to the world’s most exclusive hotels, hideaways and pursuits, this power trio delivers otherworldly journeys to the most discerning of jetsetters.
“Entertainment industry executives and celebrities are craving self-discovery and connection in their summer excursions,” says Zur, founder and owner of Travel Artistry. “The focus is on family and stepping away from the fast pace. The more personalized the better, the more experiential the better, and always offsetting that active exploration with the ultimate in pampering and relaxation.”
Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark, agrees: “There’s an immense desire for inner purpose, getting away from comfort zones and into experimenting, identifying with different perspectives and appreciating cultural differences.”
Here, the luxury travel pros unveil their picks for industry-approved summer destinations.
“With some of the friendliest and most endearing locals in the world, Ireland and Scotland are more desirable than ever,” says Ezon. Everyone from Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Mark Wahlberg to Pierce Brosnan and Taylor Swift have been seduced by the Emerald Isle. Lavish properties such as the medieval Ashford Castle in Ireland are “straight out of a period film set with all of the heavy traditional luxury you might imagine,” says Zur.
And Adare Manor in Limerick is for the golfing-spa-luxury seeker "who appreciates style and modern wow factor in a resort estate that still oozes a strong sense of place,” he adds. The town is also quite charming with innovative attractions such as the new McCallan Distillery Experience and the luxe Belmond Grand Hibernian train, which is the first of its kind on the island. “Clients also love that these destinations are both off the grid,” adds Ezon.
And while historically golf has been a primary driver, the majority of trips Ezon and Zur are curating to this region focus on recreation and active exploring (hiking and biking) or whiskey. ”From endless treks to distilleries, there is a newfound allure to Scotland,” Ezon says. “The new Fife Arms brings the first world-class luxury resort to Braemar, and will certainly draw a new set of jetsetters to the region.” Launched by art world power couple Iwan and Manuela Wirth, this 46-room restored Victorian inn doubles as a visually stimulating art gallery and platform to explore the mighty Scottish Highlands and boutique distilleries.
I’ve waited my whole life to make this trip. pic.twitter.com/J2GNciu9Oy— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) May 31, 2018
“The African continent, particularly South Africa, East Africa, Namibia and Rwanda continue to be hot destinations,” says Zur. Rihanna, Jessica Biel, Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres have all visited.
“After years of turmoil in Rwanda, a new government has not only brought stability, but progress and reform as evidenced in the cool capital of Kigali,” Ezon says. Hoteliers in Rwanda include luxury conservation pioneer Singita with the opening of Singita Kwitonda this summer. The intimate, nine-room lodge will be the only hotel adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. “There has never been a more luxe way to go gorilla trekking as this comeback country sees growing demand,” says Ezon.
Zur agrees: “There’s nothing quite like the Singita brand of lodges, both for thoughtful, wow-factor luxury and the incredible conservation-sustainability efforts they’re doing in Africa.” Singita joins the new Bisate Lodge and One&Only’s soon-to-debut Gorilla’s Nest as highly elevated havens in the country.
Outside of the park, One&Only has also opened Nyungwe House as a gateway to Nyungwe Forest National Park (the oldest on the planet), famous for its chimpanzees. “In Namibia, clients are eager to visit jaw-dropping properties such as the 10-room Shipwreck Lodge on the sand of Skeleton Coast,” says Zur. "This is the African wilderness, stripped-down, remote and ray. There’s no place like it.”
Located in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region and less than an hour from the bustle of Milan is the sophisticated hamlet of Lake Como, where George and Amal Clooney and Richard Branson have private villas.
Melissa Biggs Bradley, CEO of Indagare, a members-only travel-planning boutique, has her eye on the new Mandarin Oriental Lake Como, which recently took over and renovated a beloved property with a prime perch overlooking the lake. “The hotel attracts high-profile guests, in part thanks to the region’s discreet but elegant vibe,” she says. “With easy access from the Milan airport, this is an ideal destination to unwind in privacy.”
And for those seeking to boost their health and wellness, Zur shares that Lefay Resorts has debuted a new holistic destination in the majestic setting of the Dolomites (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Lefay Resort and Spa Dolomiti. “This is the perfect fusion of a dramatic natural setting and stylish modernism,” he says.
“Castles have always attracted celebrities and royals, but the latest and greatest countryside retreat right now is Heckfield Place in England, just southwest of London, making it an easy escape,” says Biggs Bradley. VIP guests have included model-actress Cara Delevingne and journalist Derek Blasberg, who stayed while attending the wedding of Princess Eugenie.
“And recently the property received even more royal treatment: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle baby-mooned in the most expensive suite at the secluded countryside hotel in Hampshire,” she adds. Located outside of London, the 400-acre property features 45 sumptuous guest quarters with such serene indulgences as swimming in the lake, picnicking on the grounds and strolling in the flourishing gardens and woodlands.
After the devastating Thomas Fire, rain and mudslides, the “American Riviera” is back and thriving. A long-adored industry haven, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Ivan Reitman and George Lucas have all called Montecito home.
“Beachside, the recently debuted Rosewood Miramar has brought a high dose of glamour, haute cuisine and attention to the area, and the historical Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore forever beguiles visitors with its lush landscape, jungle pool and dazzling Coral Casino Beach Club," says Zur.
Further inland, the cherished hideaway San Ysidro Ranch just unveiled a comprehensive renovation. Steeped in history (Winston Churchill visited, and Jackie and John F. Kennedy honeymooned there), this enduring retreat, also adored by Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, is nestled in the foothills amid eucalyptus, oak and jacaranda trees and epitomizes the “ultimate in exclusivity.”
The Maldives has more private island resorts than anywhere else in the world and offers the ultimate Robinson Crusoe barefoot luxury experience, with options that range from eco-properties and tents to palatial suites on their own islands that come with yachts, Biggs Bradley says.
It’s no wonder star couples (David and Victoria Beckham; Prince William and Kate Middleton; John Legend and Chrissy Teigen) and ultra-high net-worth individuals are flocking to this chain of over 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean (200 of which are occupied by private resorts).“This is a far-flung destination ideal for celebrities looking to hide out from cameras and prying eyes,” adds Biggs Bradley.
Retreats such as Velaa, a private island/atoll hideaway, attracts families for its host of activities and couples seeking uber luxury. “And Cheval Blanc is the most indulgent, discreet and sexy — the ultimate romantic escape,” says Ezon. The Conrad Maldives Rangali is another draw. “Their underwater villas are one-of-a-kind,” says Zur.
With its unobstructed crystal blue ocean views, international flair and seclusion, Ezon is enchanted by the region. “Most people say it isn’t worth flying halfway around the world for a good beach, especially with the luxury of having the Caribbean and Hawaii at our back door,” he says. “I used to somewhat agree — that is, until I witnessed the Maldives. The sea and sand are so overwhelmingly breathtaking, I would fly around the world twice to return.”
As Hollywood adjacent and Sundance Film Festival central, Park City is a year-round escape. Jeffrey Katzenberg and Will Smith have owned homes in the area, and nearly every star has visited, from Nicole Kidman to Idris Elba to Jake Gyllenhaal. While the slopes are the main attraction during winter, this Shangri-La is booming all summer long, and shiny new properties catering to elevated industry tastes continue to entice.
“The 3,500 acre Lodge at Blue Sky, located 20 minutes from Park City, is the latest hot-ticket resort in the American West,” says Biggs Bradley. “It feels like a summer playground for adults, with fly fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing, skeet shooting and helicopter tours for once-in-a-lifetime views. Come winter, the property will offer heli-skiing to private areas in the Wasatch Mountains.”
Zur is also a fan of the 12-room Washington School House, as is Matthew McConaughey. “It’s both refined and eclectic in that it’s so classically and intricately designed, with thought going into every piece from the art and furnishings to soft goods, but it retains that cozy mountain feel with dark hardwood floors, stairs and exposed brick walls,” he says. For those seeking privacy, this is the ideal refuge. “It’s definitely not a resort or lodge, but more of a discreet luxury inn right in the heart of town.”
“This oft-forgotten country is heating up following a growth year, as travelers look for more unexpected experiences in Europe,” says Ezon. New, unspoiled luxury properties and meaningful value around the coastal regions and wine lands make Portugal “the next big thing.” Michael Fassbender, Madonna and Karlie Kloss have already discovered this gem.
Sublime Comporta, an hour outside of Lisbon, is a coveted spot, as is the romantic Six Senses Doro Valley. “Explorers will fall in love with the incredible new São Lourenço do Barrocal, a 200-year-old working farm and vineyard on the Portugal Lakes bordering Spain, and less than two hours from Lisbon,” Ezon adds. “The area embraces medieval villages, farm-to-table abundance and an almost Tuscan-like allure without the tourist crowds.”
“Cabo is the go-to locale for A-listers in need of a relaxing, secluded beach getaway,” says Biggs Bradley. Jessica Alba, NBC vp special programming Doug Vaughan and American Gods producer Craig Cegielski have all been spotted at The Cape, A Thompson Hotel. Perched on tranquil Monuments Beach, the property is just 10 minutes from downtown.
“The industry favorite is becoming even more of a must-visit destination, thanks to an influx of sleek new hotels like Nobu Los Cabos, along with an upcoming Aman property,” she adds. Meanwhile, the glistening coastline of Riviera Nayarit is another accessible celebrity refuge, attracting everyone from Jennifer Lawrence and Selena Gomez to Michael Douglas and Bill Gates, whose private investment arm purchased the Hollywood favorite Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita and adjacent land.
“Punta Mita has some of the best private villas and hotels in Mexico, and its proximity to golf courses and hip beach towns like Sayulita make it super appealing for quick weekend getaways from Los Angeles,” says Biggs Bradley.