2020 Travel Awards: The Best Adventures, Hotels, and Guides in the World

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For our 2020 travel awards, we’re celebrating the best the world has to offer, from Arctic kayaking to backcountry luxury. Sound appealing? How about the northwest’s coolest upscale RV park? A dune-side resort down under? A luxurious private island? A Scandinavian heli-ski resort?

 

 

From the world’s new adventure frontiers to its best places to stay, here are our top travel awards, and your ticket to get out there.

The Best Backcountry Hut-to-Hut Ski Trip Only Diehard Skiers Know About

The Best Place to Do It All: Deplar Farm, Iceland

This 28,000-square-foot lodge, with room for 34 guests, is like a high-end base camp for every adrenaline sport known to man: backcountry skiing on treeless peaks, fat-tire biking across empty plains, hiking via helicopter, sea kayaking across fjords, surfing the North Atlantic. Of course, it’s not all type-2 fun at this former sheep farm. The lodge, in the remote Fljót Valley, also happens to have one of the best spas in Iceland, with saunas, steam rooms, and flotation tanks. There’s even an outdoor geothermal pool with a swim-up bar for nighttime aurora borealis viewing. Plus, starting this year, the company’s in-house creative director (who shot this image) is offering a weeklong photo workshop to perfect your Instagram game. Of course, you’ll have a hard time taking anything but an epic shot here—#nofilter for sure. — Ryan Krogh

Jordan: A Middle Eastern Kingdom Gets an Adventure Makeover

Jordan has long been popular with tourists, thanks to the archaeological site Petra. But the country is increasingly full of adventure options, too, including the 400-mile Jordan Trail, which crosses all the best parts of the country, including the stunning Jordan Rift Valley. For cyclists, there’s a new 453-mile cross-country bike trail, and equestrians can now play Bedouin with Jordan Inspiration Tours. Even the new lodging options are outdoorsy, like Sun City Camp, full of domed tents in the desert where you can ATV, fat bike, or rock climb in Valley of the Moon, then head to the coast to dive the coral-rich Red Sea. — Jen Murphy

Karol Kozlowski Premium Rm Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

The Chesapeake’s Can’t-Miss Crab Shack: The Red Roost, Maryland

Ask any local for the Eastern Shore’s most legendary crab feast and they’ll no doubt send you deep into the backwoods to the Red Roost, a 400-seat crab house inside a 1940s chicken coop. Inside, you’ll find long tables piled high with all-you-can-eat steamed crabs. Specials include shrimp, clams, and corn grown by the same farmer for 40 years. It’s one of those joints where you’ll see everyone from congresspeople to local watermen, and that’s perhaps its truest charm. In a country that’s more polarized than ever, good food still brings us together. — Tim Neville

Courtesy of The Red Roost

Our Favorite Environmentalist: Will Bolsover, Founder of Natural World Safaris

Plenty of outfitters say they give back, but few do it like Natural World Safaris founder and CEO Will Bolsover. Beginning this year, NWS’s Expeditions for Change will let travelers not only donate through their trip fees but also engage on the ground with worthy causes, like helping climate scientists gather data in the Arctic. In Myanmar, guests will walk inside a protected teak forest with retired elephants once used by the timber industry. “There’s a lot of chatter out there about doing things the right way, and it’s not always true,” says Bolsover. “These trips are simply us trying to say, ‘Look, this is where we can really make a big difference.’ ” — R.K.

Illustrations by Sam Kerr for Men’s Journal

The Best Place to Eat Fish: Under Restaurant, Norway

Ocean view takes on a whole new meaning at Under. From land, Europe’s first underwater restaurant looks like a futuristic submarine shipwrecked in the rocky waters of the North Atlantic. But the 40-seat dining room, 16 feet below sea level, feels more like an aquarium, with a panoramic window that allows guests to observe neon jellyfish, rainbow-hued wrasses, and the occasional seal as it passes by. Seafood is the star of Danish chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard’s 18-course tasting menu ($250), not surprisingly, but he focuses on underappreciated fish like lingcod and typically discarded bits such as brown crab head. Under easily could be written off as a gimmicky tourist attraction, but the restaurant also works with marine biologists to facilitate research. Open less than a year, there’s already a six-month waiting list. — Jen Murphy

Lillian Tveit / Shutterstock

The Ultimate Paddling Experience: Ocean Endeavour Cruise, Arctic Ocean

In 2018, when Adventure Canada added a fleet of kayaks to its 198-passenger expedition cruise ship, the outfitter became one of the first to offer paddling in the Northwest Passage. Using the ship as a floating base camp, 12 experienced guests and two guides launch tandem kayaks to ply the ice-choked waters among whales and walrus. It’s a new offering, but it may be the most ancient way to experience this part of the world. “This is how the Inuit have been traveling through for thousands of years,” says guide Dawson Freeze. — Jayme Moye

Tetyana Dotsenko / Shutterstock

The Most Laid-Back Luxe Resort: Amanera, Dominican Republic

This resort, on the country’s northwest coast, is the definition of luxury, with 25 casitas featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls and massive outdoor terraces (many with their own pool) surrounded by native hedges for the feeling of total seclusion. Breakfasts packed with fresh local fruit are offered next to the infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean. Then it’s off to the mile-long, totally empty beach for surfing, swimming, or just relaxing. For dinner, you can request a private meal in the library with service so good it’s prescient. And you can do all of this barefoot. No flip-flops required. — R.K.

Courtesy of Amanera

The South’s Car-Free Paradise: Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

With no bridge to Daufuskie, a 10-square-mile barrier island 30 minutes by ferry from Hilton Head, there’s hardly a car (or grocery store) to be found here. But Lowcountry charm is everywhere: fresh oysters and shrimp at down-home seafood joints, fishing and paddling in back bays, and horseback riding on white-sand beaches, all with hardly any crowds. You can rent a beach cruiser to explore Spanish moss–covered roads or just enjoy a sundowner cocktail in your room overlooking the 1873 lighthouse at Haig Point, a resort community that’s home to the historic Strachan Mansion. The pace of life will never feel more relaxing. — Blane Bachelor

Mike Ritterbeck

The Best Arctic Powder Runs: Niekhu Mountain Villa, Sweden

Come summer, there are few ski destinations better equipped to make the most of mild temps and lingering snow than Niehku Mountain Villa. From its doorstep on the Swedish-Norwegian border, its helicopters can access 60 mountain peaks for backcountry runs, or you can head over to ski tour along Norway’s fjords. The only other tracks you’ll encounter belong to Sami herdsmen and their reindeer. “The vast landscape in Swedish Lapland is like Europe’s last wilderness,” says Jossi Lindblom, co-owner of Niehku. Plus, you can adventure 24/7 under the midnight sun. But forewarning: It’s nearly impossible to pull yourself away from the fireside lounge after you’ve finished one of the lodge’s tundra-to-table meals, paired with wines from a 500-bottle cellar. — Jen Murphy

Mattias Fredriksson

The Best Beachside Tapas Bar: Axtarre Taberna, Spain

Surfers know the Basque coastline thanks to the left-hand barrel at Mundaka. Down the beach, in Urdaibai, is also one of Spain’s best tapas bars, Axtarre Taberna, always busy with local surfers in flip-flops and old legends in berets. Pintxos (Basque tapas) laden with goat cheese cover the bar top, and zuritos, the region’s famous quarter-pint beers, flow freely. Better yet: Everything is on the honor system. You simply grab a dish or two and let the bartender know your tally when it’s time to hit the waves. — Terry Ward

Jon Chica / Shutterstock

Winter’s Most Inviting Backcountry Hot Spring: Burgdorf Hot Springs, Idaho

Idaho is said to be home to more hot springs per square mile than any place outside Iceland. And even with all of the options, Burgdorf Hot Springs stands apart, especially in winter, when getting there requires a 20-mile snowmobiling tour through the Salmon River Mountains. At the site, 110-degree water gushes out at 150 gallons per minute into the pebble-lined pools. “There’s nothing like the tingle that covers your body after a soak, then a jump into the snowbank,” says local Devin Hawkins. Afterward, you can fill up for the ride back with the cafe’s handcrafted pizzas. — T.W.

Courtesy of Idaho Tourism

The Most Inspired Hotel Conversion: Hotel Peter & Paul, New Orleans

Since it debuted last year in a 150-year-old former Catholic school and convent, Hotel Peter & Paul has become an instant Big Easy classic. Seventy-one guest rooms are spread throughout the compound, including in the onetime school building. The cavernous church is now a multipurpose events space that features craft fairs, private gatherings, and weekly yoga, Pilates, and dance classes open to the public. And across the courtyard, in the former rectory building, is Elysian, a restaurant, coffee shop, and bar, which has that sort of southern gothic charm bordering on sacrilege that can fly only in a place like New Orleans. In a city full of great places to drink, this one is likely to become your favorite. — Tim Sohn

Ash NYC/ Hotel Peter & Paul

A Private Island for Rent: Royal Island, Bahamas

Private islands are an extreme luxury usually reserved for the likes of billionaires such as Richard Branson. But there is one where you can live out your own Necker Island fantasy: Royal Island, just four miles off North Eleuthera. It has that quaint Bahamian aesthetic and, with five beachfront villas and a main house accommodating up to 18 guests, you can rent the whole thing (from $14K per night), guaranteeing privacy. It’s shaded with thick tangles of sea grapes and fronts a white-sand beach, where jet skis and SUPs are lined up at the ready. You can snorkel a shipwreck to see sea turtles or sip cocktails on a pristine sandbar that materializes at low tide. “We drove all around on the boat,” says Avrum Elmakis, an entrepreneur who visited for his 40th birthday with friends. “The water was the clearest, most perfect shade of blue I’ve ever seen.” — T.W.

Jaime Kidd

Most Innovative Glamping Resort: Bay Point Landing, Oregon

Set on 103 acres along Oregon’s wild Central Coast, this resort completely upends the stereotype of an RV park. Many of the camper sites and tricked-out Airstreams, which are available for rent, have dramatic views of Coos Bay. The centerpiece is several Nordic-inspired cabins that are essentially luxe versions of tiny houses, with kitchenettes and queen beds. There’s surfing, whale-watching, steelhead fishing, or hiking the surrounding old-growth forests. Or you can just soak in the indoor saltwater pool or pick up a six-pack of local IPAs and stargaze by the firepit. — Jen Murphy

Ketan Morris

America’s Starriest Skies: Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho

More than 80 percent of Americans can’t see the stars, thanks to “wasted” light reflecting off streets and buildings. But not in Idaho. Over two decades, local officials collaborated to turn off unused lights and shade street lamps, in the process creating the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the U.S.’s first gold-tier area for soaking in the cosmos (as designated by the International Dark Sky Association). It covers 1,416 square miles from Ketchum to Stanley, and encompasses four counties and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. There’s simply no better, bigger place in America to enjoy the universe—and one that has all the tourist amenities, thanks to nearby Sun Valley. To see it in all its glory, drive north along Highway 75 from Sun Valley and pull off on one of the many side roads. The stars will never shine brighter. — Berne Broudy

Shane N. Cotee / Shutterstock

Our Favorite Hotel Guru: Philippe Kjellgren, Founder of PK’s List

Looking for a lodge in Madagascar accessible only by helicopter? Or perhaps you want a villa on Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán? In either case, Philippe Kjellgren has you covered. The 52-year-old Swede, who has written seven travel books, recently spent 912 days crossing the globe to vet 1,500 of the 2,100 properties on his latest app, PK’s List. For $8 per month, users get the unique guarantee that PK, as he is known, has endorsed each place. It’s a personal touch—perhaps the most personal—in an era defined by anonymous crowd-sourced reviews. “Having visited 147 countries,” says Kjellgren, “has allowed me to really hone in on what makes a truly exceptional hotel.” — Alona Martinez

Illustrations by Sam Kerr for Men’s Journal

The Chicest Place to Get Well: Shou Sugi Ban House, New York

This new Japanese-inspired wellness retreat 90 miles east of New York City is stocked with everything you need to chill—meditative gardens, a spa, fitness classes in an open-air pavilion, a detoxifying infrared sauna, a transporting sound bath, hydrotherapy sessions. You can even consult with a shaman, if that’s your thing. The kitchen is overseen by Noma veteran Mads Refslund and offers mostly plant-based meals served at a communal table just a few feet from the open kitchen. The result: a highly curated but not at all fussy escape from the thrum of daily life. — Lori Leibovich

Fredrika Stjarne

Dominica: A Caribbean Island Is Reborn

Far from your typical rum-soaked getaway, Dominica is more like the island cousin of Costa Rica, covered in volcanoes, hot springs, rain forests, and cliff-rimmed coastline. In 2017, it was devastated by Hurricane Maria, but Dominica is coming back in a big way. And you can now end a trek along the 115-mile Waitukubuli National Trail at the island’s first five-star stay, Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski, on the border of Cabrits National Park, perhaps the Caribbean’s most overlooked ecological treasure. — Jen Murphy

Jad Davenport/Nat Geo/Offset

The Best Backcountry Hut: Thelma Hut, Colorado

One of Colorado’s most beloved under-the-radar experiences has long been Opus Hut, set deep in the backcountry of the San Juan Mountains. Last year, its owners began managing a sister property, Thelma Hut, with a soaring steal-beam and wood design. The lodge sleeps eight, and you need to leave your car on the Million Dollar Highway for the half-mile hike in. But once there, you have complete solitude, with hiking or backcountry skiing up to 13,000 feet literally right out the front door. “You’d otherwise be snow camping,” says Allison Kingsley, who helps run things. All the food is provided, so no need to carry it in. And it’s just 11 mountain miles away from Opus Hut, so you can link the two in a multiday epic. — T.W.

Kirsten Dobroths

The Most Over-the-Top Fishing Lodge: Rifflin’ Hitch Lodge, Canada

On its surface, this inn in northern Labrador is downright quaint, with log construction, a river-stone fireplace, and caribou-antler chandeliers. But it’s what’s sitting out front that truly elevates it: two helicopters and a Cessna floatplane, your taxi rides each morning to one of the best Atlantic salmon rivers on the planet. In the evenings, an in-house chef will prepare the most elaborate meal you can have in an off-the-grid property, everything from moose steaks to chocolate soufflé. At $75,000 for an all-inclusive four-day stay, this is life-list-level pricing. But when you and seven of your buddies go home, you’ll have more big-fish tales than anyone, including flying to the coast to pick up a few chunks of glacial ice for happy hour. Because, really, what’s a fishing trip without a single malt on a 10,000-year-old cube? — R.K.

Read McKendree

Be a Navy Seal for a Day: Trident Adventures, Hawaii

Founded by two retired U.S. Navy SEALs, Oahu’s Trident Adventures specializes in diving for run-ins with sea turtles and other marine creatures. But they also offer a rare opportunity to adventure like a SEAL for a day—without all of the hardcore training. Participants jump out of a helicopter for a tandem skydive at 10,000 feet, take tactical shooting lessons at a private gun range, then make a jump from a helicopter into the Pacific waters. With experienced SEALs setting the pace (and overseeing safety), all you have to do is enjoy the ride, which is easier said than done. — Jill K. Robinson

Greg Champion

Most Jaw-Dropping Mountain View: Hoshinoya Fuji Hotel, Japan

Situated on a forested hillside, the crisp modern rooms at Hoshinoya Fuji feel like personal space-age treehouses, each pod with its own stunning view across Lake Kawaguchi to majestic Fuji-san. The experience of staying here is a riff on the Japanese practice of forest bathing—it offers special digital detox stays, as well—augmented with an array of particularly well-thought-out flourishes. Snuggle under a blanket while enjoying a breakfast delivered to your balcony in a picnic basket. Sign up for the sunrise canoe trip on the lake. Or spend your time on the Cloud Terrace, a massive series of decks in the forest, where you can take a class on how to smoke various foods, watch a classic film projected on a screen strung between trees, or sip on some Japanese whiskey next to a campfire while Mount Fuji dominates the skyline in the distance. — T.S.

Courtesy of Hoshino Resorts

The Chicest Eco-Hotel Ever: Downtown Camper by Scandic, Sweden

This 494-room accommodation in central Stockholm balances two great Swedish loves: industrial chic and nature. Interior steel pillars crack open with moss. Urskog skateboards decorate the muted walls. And a giant net with oversize pillows lets you hang out over the lobby, literally. Even the rooms, with window daybeds and co-living spaces, come scented with a tailor-made aroma evoking a vanilla-tinged campfire. Activities include yoga and group bike rides. Come evening, head to the Nest—the spa and rooftop pool—for cocktails just as the Nordic sun turns the city pink. — T.N.

Courtesy of Downtown Camper; Robin Hayes

The World’s Greatest Soak: Vök Baths, Iceland

Located along the country’s unspoiled eastern coastline, these hot baths are a series of geothermal floating pools on Lake Urriðavatn. The pools mimic the look of vakir, natural ice-free patches in the lake that form in winter due to the hot spring beneath. After a dip, at the lakeside bistro you can sip tea made from homegrown herbs or try a Vök-inspired craft beer produced using the springs’ pristine water and local hops—surely the purest IPA ever to touch your lips. — Jayme Moye

Martijn Veenman

Our Favorite Innovator: Luis Vargas, Founder of Modern Adventure

When Luis Vargas started brainstorming the inaugural trips for his travel company, Modern Adventure, his mind went to people rather than places. To provide a deeper travel experience, Vargas decided to tap in-the-know tastemakers like Michelin-starred chef Gavin Kayser, and Oregon wine icon David Adelsheim, as trip leaders. “A destination comes into sharp relief when viewed through the lens of someone’s passion,” says Vargas. To date, his company has 50 guides in the fields of art, food, wine, design, and fitness. Highlights for 2020 include a coffee tour of Colombia and a design-focused trip to Japan with Tung Chiang, of Heath Ceramics in San Francisco. —Jen Murphy

Illustrations by Sam Kerr for Men’s Journal

The Best Water World Resort: Turtle Bay, Hawaii

Located on Oahu’s North Shore, the epicenter of surf culture, this 800-acre resort just might be the best place in the world to explore every ocean sport man has dreamed up: sailing on catamarans, outrigger canoeing, snorkeling, shark diving, whale watching, SUPing, swimming with turtles, and, of course, surfing. Back on land, the property has more than enough activities to satiate everyone, too, including two championship golf courses and a spa. — R.K.

E.J.Johnson Photography / Shutterstock

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