Monday 24 January 2011


The hottest destinations and the hottest hotels for the new year

With more than 4100 hotels in over 850 destinations globally, leading hotel group Accor has released its list of the 11 hottest destinations for 2011, highlighting the destinations and hotels that should be on the itinerary for every world traveller. While some are largely undiscovered destinations, others are cities that deserve to be revisited and that have reinvented or reinvigorated themselves for the new year.

1)    THE WILD WEST OF CHINA – Lost Horizon found

While the focus over the past few years has been on China's major cities – with Beijing hosting the Olympics and Shanghai the World Trade Fair – Australian travelers are renowned for looking beyond the obvious, especially when there is adventure and romance on offer.

China's north-west Yunnan province is relatively undiscovered by tourism and yet offers history, spectacular scenery and the legend of the Lost Horizon. A new Pullman hotel will open in the historic city of Lijiang – famous for its cobblestone streets, original wooden houses and gushing canals – in March and it will provide the perfect gateway for exploring this remarkable region. Start the exploration in Lijiang and then plan trips to see sites such as Tiger Leaping Gorge and then onto Lost Horizon territory and the town of Shangri-La, or Zhongdian, as the Chinese call it. Set 3300 metres above sea level, there is no better place to read James Hilton's Lost Horizon than in the atmospheric Songstram Retreat MGallery, which overlooks Shangri-la. The town's historical Songzanlin Si Monastery dates back to 1679 but it is the natural beauty of the area that really makes this a special destination. With just 24 dry-stone villas spread over two acres, the MGallery showcases the finest Tibetan traditions, with handcrafted furniture, deep timber bath tubs and raised bed platforms above lounge areas complete with private fireplaces – and all overlooking those mesmerising views.

Note: China is the only place in the world where you can stay in an Accor hotel in a place called Shangri-la, written up in a book by Hilton.

2)    HANOI - Indochine chic with operatic overtures

With Hanoi's 1000th birthday celebrations over, this is the time to savour this city rich in history and character. Home to the famed Sofitel Metropole, Accor has just launched a new hotel that might not have the century-old history of the Metropole but has plenty of French style and elegance.  In the centre of Hanoi, Hotel de l'Opera MGallery is just a step away from the Opera House, the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. It brings together the best of Hanoi – Colonial accents, theatrical interior design and contemporary public spaces. Each of the 107 rooms is a sanctuary of comfort, with 21st century connections and old-world elegance. Its Le La Fée Verte (The Green Fairy) bar is set to become the hottest nightspot in the city. A metaphor for the decadence of the Belle Epoque era, it takes you back to the bars of 1920s Paris where an evening drink becomes a lavish ritual. MGallery ambassador, Kristin Scott Thomas, opened the hotel in January 2011 and you can live like a movie star, luxuriating in the MGallery in between discovering Hanoi's lakes, leafy boulevards, colonial heritage and fascinating history. Hanoi blends the exotic chic of old Asia with the modern, in a city where imagination becomes reality.

3)    PHNOM PENH – there's more to Cambodia than just Angkor Wat

Since Pol Pot was forced out of Cambodia, tourists have returned in vast numbers to discover the beauty of Angkor Wat, but the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, is set to stake its claim as a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with its own special attributes. Once known as the "Pearl of Asia" the city was noted for its French colonial architecture and its strategic position at the meeting of four rivers but today it is known as one of the most dynamic cities in Asia, having experienced huge growth in recent years with new hotels, restaurants and bars springing up around the city. One of these new hotels, the USD$50 million Sofitel Phnom Penh opened on 4th January 2011, with eight restaurants and bars, and the city's first purpose-built day spa of its kind. As Phnom Penh's first new five-star hotel since the 1990s, the Sofitel will make Phnom Penh a must-visit destination for upscale travellers who have previously not been adequately catered for outside of Siem Reap. The Sofitel's cityside front nestles against Phnom Penh's charming old French quarter, itself in the midst of a major make-over, within walking distance of the Royal Palace, the National Museum and Sisowath Quay.

4)    AUCKLAND – ready to kick goals

The Ashes may have been lost but there's always the William Webb Ellis trophy…and surely it's time to bring back Bill! If that's to happen, Australia will need to be standing tall in Auckland later this year, probably with the All Blacks crushed into the mud. The eyes of the world will be on Auckland for the Rugby World Cup in October 2011, but Accor says the city will be a hot destination all year round. The prospect of hosting the World Cup has seen the entire city spruced up for the influx of visitors, with new a beautification program that includes transforming Queens Wharf, Aotea Square and Eden Park. As the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in New Zealand, Auckland has something for every taste, from beautiful beaches to world-class vineyards, and from island retreats to cultural attractions, plus the country's best shopping and dining. Accor is opening a new Novotel at Auckland Airport in 2011, and last week took over management of the former Hyatt Hotel in the CBD and have transformed it into a Pullman.

5)    MAURITIUS - SO Spicy

Mauritius has been on the wish list of many Australians for years, but this year it is even easier to reach thanks to the launch of additional air services. Brimming with historic sights, cultural diversity, virgin rainforests, sand-rimmed lagoons and spectacular beaches, Mauritius boasts one of the world's most global food scenes, with strong French influences in addition to Chinese, Indian and African. Its laidback, welcoming atmosphere and the infectious party spirit of the locals make it truly a paradise on earth. This year Mauritius is even more tempting, with the launch of Sofitel So Mauritius, a luxury boutique hotel with interior design by Kenzo Takada, food by three Michelin star Chef Frederic Anton, and a radically new architectural style by Thai designer Lek Bunnag. With its blend of French sophistication along with Indian and Creole influences, the So Mauritius is set on 34 acres of pristine beachfront, with just 92 detached villas and suites offering complete privacy (many with their own pool) and a luxurious day spa offering signature treatments such as Hibiscus Therapy or a Golden Needles facelift. Located near the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Morne Brabant, this is the first of Sofitel's signature SO boutique designer hotels.

6)    NSW BLUE MOUNTAINS - Cinderella will go to the ball

Tourism to the Blue Mountains in NSW has been down in recent years, but 2011 will see the spotlight firmly on this World Heritage-listed region which boasts some of the most dramatic natural attractions in all of Australia. With endless rainforests, canyons, caves and waterfalls to explore, the Blue Mountains is the perfect destination for adventurers and nature lovers. In 2011 one of the true tourism icons of the region will return to its original splendor as the Fairmont Resort has joined Accor's upmarket MGallery label and will undergo a major renovation. Works have already begun at the 201-room hotel and it has signaled a return to health for tourism in the area, as once more there is a quality world-class hotel that caters for families, couples and conferences. Set right next to the 18-hole Leura Golf Course, the Fairmont is a destination in itself, with an extensive array of leisure facilities including two restaurants, a lounge bar, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis and squash courts, gym, indoor theatre and day spa. This year will see the addition of a new deck overlooking the spectacular Jamison Valley, the return of the famous paddle boats and the addition of a kids club, along with other improvements.

7)    BLOOMSBURY, LONDON - Blooming lovely

London is all abuzz with preparations for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton as well as for the 2012 Olympic Games so this is definitely the year to visit, especially with the dollar so strong against the pound. And one area of London, Bloomsbury, will enjoy a special spotlight this year, thanks to its reinvention from fashionable residential area to tourism hotspot. Famous for its beautiful gardens, literary connections (Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and William Yeats all lived here) and formal squares, Bloomsbury is home to the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and now the new Mercure Bloomsbury. The historic property, originally built by relatives of Sir Walter Scott, was formerly the Waverley Hotel, named after one of his novels. Following an extensive renovation program, it has now been relaunched as the Mercure. A new bar and kitchen are to open by March and all guest rooms and public areas have already undergone a major make-over – just like London is doing.

8)    LEGIAN, BALI - Leg it to Paradise

Bali has always been popular but this year the spotlight will be on Legian, which is drawing visitors from the adjacent Kuta and Seminyak beaches as they discover that Legian offers the best of both worlds. Until now the area has lacked a truly international 5-star hotel, but that is set to change with the imminent opening of the brand new Pullman Legian Nirwana. Inspired by the shape of frangipani petals, the Pullman is a brand new beachfront resort, offering Balinese hospitality from a new perspective. In a stylish, chic urban style, the resort features 351 spacious rooms and suites, a rooftop infinity pool and a freeform garden pool. A Kids Club and Teen Club make it perfect for families while an extensive line-up of dining options including a rooftop pool bar mean couples and honeymooners will love it too. In Balinese, the word 'Legian' means "delightful to the senses" and the Pullman certainly guarantees to delight your senses on every level.

9)      HOBART - Inn like Flynn

The opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart has made the world take another look at the Tasmanian capital, with the city enjoying a renewed sense of vitality. The largest private museum in Australia, the MONA is home to the $100 million art collection of David Walsh. Set on the banks of the Derwent River, the controversial museum has taken Australia's second oldest city by storm. Also blending old and new, the Grand Mercure Hadley's is about to unveil its $30 million new wing including 128 luxury suites, a grand ballroom and extensive food and beverage outlets.  The new wing is adjacent to the historic 71-room National Trust-listed hotel, which was built in 1834 and has played host to some of the most celebrated characters in history including Errol Flynn and Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen. Hadleys is the oldest continuously operating boutique hotel in Tasmania and provides a unique contrast of old and new on the Hobart landscape - and this is definitely the year to check it out.

10)  RIO DE JANEIRO - Shake your marraccas in Rio

Rio made Peter Allen feel like dancing and the city's legendary party status will be further enhanced with the release of 20th Century Fox's Film 'Rio' later this year. The word Rio conjures up immediate images – of the colourful Carnavale, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, sultry samba rhythms and the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. Its people are amongst the most passionate and welcoming in the world and are always ready for a party but it also boasts lush green mountains and waterfalls which allow for quiet moments of contemplation. One of the newest hotels to open in Rio is the Novotel which boasts stylish rooms in the city's financial and business district, close to the best tourist attractions, cultural and entertainment hot spots.

11)  DUBAI - Who said Fire & Ice can't be mixed together?

While Dubai has been a hot destination for a number of years, 2011 is the year to go with many building projects having been completed in the last 12 months and a renewed sense of vigour to the city following the global financial crisis. In a city renowned for its hot weather, the new five-star Pullman Dubai offers direct access to the Middle East's only indoor ski field as well as the most glamorous shopping in the region. With spectacular views over the city to the Gulf of Oman, the 24-storey Pullman Dubai Mall of the Emirates boasts a refined blend of oriental and international inspirations and features two rooftop pools, a Shisha lounge, wine bar, two restaurants, fitness centre and luxurious day spa.

To find out more about these hot destinations and the hot hotels in which to stay go to

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