FEATURES / HIGHLIGHTS

A World of Travel
10 of My Favorite Places on the Planet
Duane Wells
1/16/2013

Memories can be an odd affair. If we're lucky, we treasure more than we disdain. And if we're exceptionally fortunate, we are given a rare few that leave an indelible imprint on our souls.
   
I travel a lot. So it's not a stretch to think that selecting 10 of my favorite travel experiences might be as taxing an endeavor as querying a designer on his favorite design or asking a parent to choose a favorite child (despite the fact that we all know they have one). But for me, the task was no Sophie's Choice. In fact, when charged with ticking off my most memorable recent travel experiences, the list came with relative ease—a shocking revelation given that decisiveness is notoriously absent from my inventory of strong suits.

Es Moli de Sal, Formentera

After a big night out in Ibiza, I took an hour-long ferry ride over to the unspoiled isle of Formentera, a place for which legendary architect and interior designer Philippe Starck and supermodels ranging from Elle MacPherson to Kate Moss have developed quite an affinity as of late. Owing to my queasiness, I bailed on a diving expedition but not the accompanying boat ride, which thankfully brought me distractingly close to a band of sexy European tourists sunbathing in the buff on a sizeable boat floating nearby. (It's the little things, people.)
   
Later that afternoon, we pulled right up to Es Moli De Sal, a restaurant with breathtaking views situated in a converted windmill high atop a jagged corner of Formentera. Not only was the experience surreal, but Es Moli De Sal’s signature dish, Fideau—a paella made with noodles and fish stock—was life-altering. esmolidesal.es

Hilton Beach, Tel Aviv

To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect of my maiden voyage to the Middle East. Adding to my initial confusion was the dressing down I received from El Al security at JFK airport prior to take-off, which didn't exactly set the most inviting tone for my trip. But few places have surprised me as much as Tel Aviv. Simultaneously cosmopolitan, sexy and cool, Tel Aviv is quite simply one of the hottest destinations on the planet. Believe me when I say there is a reason Madonna kicked off her world tour here.

Hilton Beach, so named for its proximity to the nearby Hilton Hotel, is a particularly memorable spot—not only because of the picture-perfect beaches, but also because of who it attracts. Known as “the gay beach,” Hilton Beach is populated daily by fit, toned specimens soaking up the Mediterranean sun and playing volleyball in the sand. What's not to love about that? visit-tlv.com


Zurich West, Zurich


One of the things I love most about traveling  is watching destinations evolve. In my opinion, if you don't seek out the new and different in a place, there is absolutely no reason to revisit it.
   
When I first visited Zurich as a college student, there was little reason (if any) for a tourist to venture into the western part of Zurich. It was industrial, and though industry may fuel the engine of the world's economies, it's not the most scintillating thing to scope out on vacation. But that was then and this is now.
   
Nowadays, Zurich West is the spirited new heart of Zurich. Snazzy boutiques and design shops are buttressed by some of the most buzzed-about eateries in all of the city. And, of course, a great many of the city's hipsters now call Zurich West home as well. Quelle surprise. zuerich.com

Södermalm, Stockholm

Before any girl, dragon or tattoo was on our radar, Stockholm was on mine.
   
In the last few years, I have fallen for Stockholm in a big way. The style of the city enthralls me, the people enchant me and the progressiveness in the air is quite simply intoxicating.
   
In no place is all of the above more evident than in Södermalm, where Stockholm's diversity truly shines. In this Bohemian community, I love to spend the afternoon shopping the island's edgy boutiques and design shops, stopping off for a cup of tea and then heading back into the thick of things for a slice of Stockholm nightlife. In Södermalm, it's black and it's white, it's wrong and it's right, but it's always authentic. visitstockholm.com

Le Castelas, Provence

High above the village of Sivergues—at the end of a bumpy, dirty road in the Luberon region of Provence—sits Le Castelas, a 16th century farmhouse, where pigs and goats roam free against a landscape laced with mountains and blue skies. It was in this scenic setting I had a spectacular lunch one spring afternoon.  I use the word “spectacular” here not to denote anything over-the-top, but rather to describe the striking simplicity of the event.
   
Goat cheese, made and aged at the farm, was served family-style with fresh-baked bread at picnic tables outside the farmhouse. Being that it was Provence, carafes of rose wine followed, as did massive platters of ham and vegetables all from the farm. Children played games, strangers got to know one another and everything happened in its own sweet time without complaint or hurry. There was not a single note of discord in that place on that day, and it couldn't have been a simpler or more delightful way to while away an afternoon in the Luberon. visitprovence.com

The Manoir de Verzy, Champagne

The first stop on my tour involves Champagne and France, a combination that has always served me well.

On my very first trip to the Champagne region, I was whisked around to at least two champagne houses every day, and at each house I was treated to both a private tasting and a lunch or dinner menu that had been especially paired with vintages from the respective house. Despite the unrepentant luxe of each experience, none compared to my visit of Veuve Clicquot's Manoir de Verzy.
   
Generally reserved for events and Veuve Clicquot VIPs, the Manoir de Verzy is a stunning 19th century country house embellished with rose bushes and tucked into the bosom of Champagne's vineyards. A white-jacketed waiter greeted my party with a tray of chilled Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame in the gardens overlooking Champagne just behind the house. After aperitifs, we moved into the main dining room for a three-course lunch paired with Veuve's best vintages. Printed menus with our names awaited our arrival, and the lunch culminated with more La Grande Dame, this time properly opened with a saber. If I said that this wasn’t one of those “Hey Mom, look at me!" moments, I'd be lying. veuve-clicquot.com

Pret-ą-Portea, The Berkeley, London

The Berkeley is a London institution, and as far as I'm concerned, there's not a bad thing about the place. That said, there are a few offerings that are real standouts at the iconic property. The five-star hotel's rooftop pool and spa— a favorite of Naomi Campbell and Gwyneth Paltrow—notwithstanding, it is the Fashionista's Afternoon Tea, better known as Prêt-à-Portea, that keeps me coming back for more.
   
Prêt-à-Portea takes the traditional afternoon tea experience and gives it a fashionista twist by taking inspiration from the latest designs to come down the runway. For instance, the Autumn/Winter 2012 Prêt-à-Portea collection of “cakes and fancies” was influenced by the designs of Manolo Blahnik, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs, just to name a few. Pair all of that with a range of specialty teas like Pear Caramel, African Amber and White Peony and you've got tea to remember. Oh, and did I mention the people-watching? This is one daily event in London that attracts the fabulous and the more fabulous.
   
Kylie is a fan of Prêt-à-Portea, as is Victoria Beckam, whose eponymous ready-to-wear line has also been an inspiration for the tea service itself.  Heaven! theberkeley-co.uk

La Réserve, Paris

Part of the beauty of Paris is being out on the city’s streets, unless of course you're residing at La Reserve, where staying  in seems a much better option. I have to admit that even my sometimes jaded, world-weary eyes lit up with joy when I stepped through the massive doors of La Réserve Paris at the Place du Trocadéro.
   
So discreet and exclusive that I was immediately convinced my taxi had dropped me off at the wrong address, La Réserve is a destination meant only for those who know it exists. It is not the kind of place you stumble upon, despite its idyllic location in the city’s 16th arrondissement. In fact, it doesn't even have a sign. The 'wow' factor is reserved for what lies beyond those imposing doors.

La Réserve has 10 apartments ranging from approximately 1,600 to 3,200 square feet, all featuring a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. The apartment I checked into was a two-floor number with two bedrooms, a full living room, office, formal dining room, full kitchen and, best of all, a terrace looking out onto the tower. Needless to say, I spent most of the afternoon on that terrace, glass of rosé in hand, pinching myself.

That there were housekeepers who miraculously appeared and disappeared to tidy things up all day was the icing on the proverbial cake. lareserve-paris.com

Healdsburg, Sonoma County

Sonoma County is one of America's real gems, and one of its centerpieces is Healdsburg. There must be more goodness packed into every bucolic square foot of that town than almost any other place in the country. It's simple, sophisticated living just beyond the outskirts of the big city. Whenever I amble along Main Street or stroll the plaza at the heart of Healdsburg, I unearth treasures like new tasting rooms and little shops that I missed on my last visit. And then when I duck into a new place for lunch or dinner, I am always pleasantly surprised.
   
Just recently I popped into Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar and noshed on a variety of oysters and a series of small plates, and in the process I discovered yet another favorite. Sadly, my all-time favorite, Bovola (home of Black Pig bacon), has picked up and moved from its prime location on the plaza, but Copperfield's, the great, great, great book store that shared its space, remains stalwartly in place. I guess the thing that strikes me most about Healdsburg is that it has the feel and warmth of a small town combined with the savvy of a big city. That's what I call the best of both worlds. sonoma-county.org

Grace Bay, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

Following my initial visit to Providenciales—or Provo, as it is known—I described the island as “paradise found.”  Years later, my assessment hasn't changed.

I have often wondered, what defines paradise? Pristine white sand beaches? Surreal, turquoise-colored waters? Beautifully appointed accommodations situated in the midst of a remarkably unspoiled corner of the globe? Or, by chance, some elaborately well-balanced combination of moments in time?

I usually can’t decide, but thankfully, now that I’ve discovered the perfect trifecta in Turks and Caicos, I suspect I shall never toil again for a definition. turksandcaicostourism.com

Koke’e State Park, Kauai
By Bradley Jones    

High above the dry west side of Kauai is a unique mountain environment that showcases the amazingly diverse landscapes of the Garden Island. Explore rugged Waimea Canyon on your way to Koke’e State Park, a land of magical forests filled with native plants and birds and a spectacular lookout over Kalalau Valley. The park features challenging hiking trails, as well as a museum, gift shop and restaurant at Koke’e Lodge (try the Lilikoi Chiffon Pie). gohawaii.com/kauai


For more of my travel musings, visit theduanewells.com and follow me on Twitter @theduanewells.


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