One of the most encouraging snippets of information to emerge from the 2016 Andrew Harper Readers’ Choice survey was that no less than 75 percent of respondents hoped to cross the Atlantic in the coming year. Despite the terrorist horrors and the ongoing refugee crisis, Europe remains a region of the world that beckons affluent Americans. And why not? The chance of becoming personally involved in some headline-grabbing atrocity is tiny. To illustrate the point, journalists are apt to quote the number of people killed annually on American highways. I will spare you the statistics, but it is safe to assume that the chances of meeting an untimely end on I-95 are considerably greater than they are on the Champs-Elysées.
However, the psychology of foreign travel doesn’t have much to do with the actual numbers. The Ebola epidemic, now mercifully constrained, temporarily demolished the safari business, even though the affected countries — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — are thousands of miles from the East and Southern African game parks. People go on vacation to relax and forget about the troubles of the world, and even a vague feeling of unease can have a strongly deterrent effect. So when sitting down to think about my travels in 2017, and where might be of particular interest to my readers, I feel obliged to take security concerns into consideration.
It will probably come as no great surprise to anyone that the number of American visitors to Scandinavia has significantly increased. Norway is peaceful, prosperous, clean and well-organized. It also boasts some of the world’s most dramatic scenery. On a recent trip, an account of which I will publish in the February 2017 Hideaway Report, I was also thrilled to discover several fine hotels in the fjords north of Bergen. In addition, I traveled aboard one of the comfortable and atmospheric Hurtigruten coastal ships, which, since 1893, have linked the towns dotted along the 1,700 miles of Norway’s west coast. Next spring, I plan to make an extended journey through Sweden, which I confidently expect to be equally productive.
A consistent trend in recent years has been the ever-increasing popularity of river cruises. Part of the appeal of such boats is doubtless that they provide a secure and reassuring base from which to explore. In places like Myanmar, Cambodia and Peru, they can take you places that are surprisingly remote and unspoiled, with none of the hassle of overland travel. In Europe, the classic river trips were on the Rhine and the Danube, but now there are many more choices, especially in France, on rivers such as the Rhône and the Garonne. However, in 2017, I plan to treat myself to a trip along the lovely Douro River in Portugal, on one of the excellent vessels operated by Uniworld.
Although London has not been immune from terrorism, and no doubt some degree of threat persists, I am sure that 2017 will see a considerable increase in the number of visitors to Britain, and its capital city in particular. As a result of Brexit (the country’s impending departure from the European Union), the pound has fallen precipitously against the dollar, and a country that is normally one of the most expensive in the world is all of a sudden unexpectedly reasonable. It seems probable that an exchange rate favorable to U.S. travelers will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Personally, I plan to take a Downton Abbey tour in order to experience the new generation of English country house hotels. The actual house in the TV series is Highclere Castle, located about 65 miles to the west of London. But the script sets the action in the northern county of Yorkshire. Although many of the old industrial cities of northern England — places exemplified by the former steel capital of Sheffield — make up a decaying rust belt, much of Yorkshire is unspoiled and extremely beautiful, as are the adjoining counties of Northumberland and Cumbria. So I plan to construct a circular itinerary beginning and ending in the ancient cathedral city of York.
Bhutan and Nepal
For those in search of the otherworldly, there are few more alluring destinations than Bhutan. True, the Himalayan Kingdom admits more visitors than it used to — about 50,000 travelers a year — but the cultural impact is still slight. I hope to return in summer 2017, as a number of new hotels, opened by distinguished companies such as COMO, Six Senses and Taj, now merit investigation. I will also take the opportunity to visit neighboring Nepal. Although the country is struggling to recover from the catastrophic earthquake of 2015, with some of the ancient buildings in the Kathmandu Valley still in ruins, a luxurious new Taj safari lodge, Meghauli Serai, has opened in Chitwan National Park, home to Indian rhinos, sloth bears and about 75 extremely elusive tigers. At Dhulikhel, on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley, a new wellness retreat, Dwarika’s Resort, with stupendous views of the jagged 20,000-foot Langtang peaks, has attracted rapturous reviews.
Much of Southeast Asia now receives huge numbers of tourists, not least because newly wealthy Chinese travelers are keen to visit their near abroad. (This trend is exemplified by Angkor Wat, which until the late 1990s was littered with land mines and completely off-limits; nowadays, the temple complex receives over 2 million visitors a year.) Myanmar was arguably the country of 2016, and I had confidently expected there to be numerous new travel opportunities for affluent Americans. But things are not working out quite as expected. The army — members of which have profited greatly from the military’s prolonged tyrannical rule — is proving recalcitrant and unwilling to surrender power, despite having lost yet another election. And the issue of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority seems to be close to insoluble.
In 2017, I expect Laos to be the Asian country at the center of attention. There, in places such as Luang Prabang, travelers can still experience the architecture, landscape and atmosphere of French colonial Indochine. Development is on its way — companies such as InterContinental, Sofitel and Marriott, to name but three, are making plans for new hotels — but, for now, Vientiane is a small, peaceful low-rise capital, where the spires of Buddhist temples still dominate the skyline.