Travel Top 50 2015/16 - Issue 89 - Magazine | Monocle

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Best business rail journey

ÖBB's Railjet service, Vienna to Munich

Few pleasures can top that of a seamless transfer by rail and recently we found ourselves zipping between the Bavarian capital of Munich and Vienna rather more frequently. Departing every two hours the ÖBB Railjet service is everything a decent rail journey should be: think spacious compartments, decent storage, reclining leather seats, a trolley service and newspaper delivered with an unfaltering smile. The business-class carriage (seat one, in particular) is our favourite spot from which to watch the postcard-pretty city of Salzburg pass the window at 230km an hour.


Best renovation

Foxfire Mountain House

The 101-year-old Foxfire Mountain House in the Catskills was bought two years ago by husband-and-wife team Eliza Clark and Tim Trojian. “We wanted a project we could do together since the work hours are long in both our industries,” says Clark.

A television producer and chef respectively, the couple combined their skills to bring the derelict hotel back to life. It has 10 rooms and guests are now being welcomed. The restaurant opens in early 2016.


Best back seat

BMW 7 Series

Of all the passenger experiences you could sample at the IAA 2015 motorshow in Frankfurt, the roomy back seat of the latest BMW 7 Series was perhaps the most seductive. Passengers can enjoy adjustable massage chairs, two 10-inch TV screens and soft lighting. In addition, the brilliantly over-the-top welcome lights – optical corridors beamed from beneath the doors when opened – ensure passenger egos are as well attended to as their backs.


Best new lounge

Cathay Pacific first-class lounge at Hong Kong Airport

A year after the debut at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Ilse Crawford’s lounges for Cathay Pacific are slowly rolling out. And they still astound. The first-class lounge at Hong Kong Airport, which opened this summer, is another masterclass in well-wrought hospitality, packed with homely touches including artwork and plants, plus furniture by the likes of Cappellini, BDDW, JL Møller and lighting from Michael Anastassiades. But the facilities themselves impress as much as the design, including foot massages courtesy of Gentlemen’s Tonic, a quiet library and walnut-coated day suites where waiting passengers can curl up overlooking the runway. Next up? Studioilse’s concept will land in Heathrow, Vancouver and Taipei.


Best short hop

Kaohsiung Light Rail, Taiwan

The novel technology powering Taiwan’s first light-rail system offers citizens of Kaohsiung a low-cost, eco-friendly commuting option. The electronic system relies on batteries that are recharged without catenaries at stations as passengers board and alight. This eliminates the need for costly overhead cables and reduces the energy consumption of the line’s tasteful trams. Since October, the Kaohsiung Light Rail Transit has offered free rides along the city’s harbour, part of a 22km loop set to roll out in 2016. Officials hope citizens will ditch their cars and scooters as the project nears completion; we’re all for a mass transit option that’s environmental without skimping on service or speed.


Key in-flight cleanser

Jao Refresher

Founded by Gale Mayron and her chemist father in 1997, the Jao Refresher has updated ancient techniques for a thoroughly modern preoccupation with germs. The original product from the company is this unisex sanitiser, which manages to hydrate rather than dry out skin while killing germs. Ideal for any escape, Jao also has a slim carry-on-approved travel pack.


Most innovative newsstand concept


At Monocle we’ve got strong feelings about the quality of our newsstands. Rather than complain, our parent group has launched a benchmark-setting kiosk a stone’s throw from Paddington Station (on Norfolk Place) in our home of London. Underneath our striped awning you’ll find an unrivalled selection of independent magazines, dapper dailies, long reads and an extensive print-on-demand selection. Drawing on the best examples from Mitteleuropa and Italy, the kiosk’s healthy print inventory is complemented by a few travel essentials (think toothbrushes and undies) as well as coffee from New Zealand roaster Allpress.


Most-welcome fleet addition

Finnair's A350

The Finns aren’t usually the best at bragging but as the first European airline to fly the brand new Airbus A350 we think they’ve plenty to be proud of. “With the A350 we can start building our growth and we intend to double our Asian traffic by 2020,” says CEO Pekka Vauramo. For the onboard offer Finnair partnered with Helsinki-based interior designer Vertti Kivi, which means lighting and seat accents keep up with Finland’s unique brand of design. Couple that with a uniquely Finnish menu (expect reindeer steak and warm cinnamon buns) and you have the right mix for long-haul success.


Best for in-flight specs

Archibald Optics

Boasting British design and Japanese craftsmanship, this selection of frames from Archibald Optics is a good-looking addition to any travel tote and a sure way to catch the purser’s attention. By cutting out the middleman, Archibald takes these acetate specs straight from the craftsmen that make them in Fukui, Japan. More than 15 independent workshops work to assemble a range of elegant styles, which we’ve got an eye on for a winter wardrobe revamp.


Best-designed guides

Vienna travel guides

We’re not one to ignore our own Vienna guide but Reiseschneiderei’s offering is an excellent companion to the Austrian capital. The agency, led by Marc Bittner, offers booklets personalised to suit your tastes and interests. From What Travellers Really Have to Know about Vienna to What the Grätzl Rossau: the Heart of the 9th District is all About, these guides get right to the point.


Best concierge

Jérémie Varry, Baur au Lac, Zürich

Swiss-born Jérémie Varry found his way to the Baur au Lac in 1998 after a stint at the Hotel Ritz Paris. “I fell in love with it and never returned [to France],” says Varry, who has 22 years of hotel experience under his belt. The grand hotel on the banks of Lake Zürich, established by Johannes Baur in 1844, was the first of its kind and in its day hosted the likes of Empress Sisi, Elisabeth of Austria and Marc Chagall. To this day it offers unparalleled service and Varry is always on call to meet his guests’ demands. “It’s nice when regulars recognise you and when we’re able to bring a little magic into their lives,” he says.


Best regional airpot 

Fort McMurray, Canada

Touching down at Fort McMurray airport in Alberta, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in an architectural rendering rather than the rough-edged boomtown at the heart of Canada’s oil sands. The terminal’s capacious, minimalist interior is filled with natural light and decked out in woods that evoke the surrounding landscape of thick forests. Art installations nod to the area’s aviation history and a storied tradition of bush-flying. While sluggish oil prices have put passenger traffic below expectations, the impressive new airport presents an alternative vision for the oil-dependent city: a transportation gateway and services centre for the vast Canadian north.


Most missed on the motorway

Land Rover Defender

This will be the last full year of production of Land Rover’s iconic, boxy brute of an off-roader: the Defender. Since the launch of the first model in 1948, the 4x4’s squared silhouette (and renowned ruggedness) has made it an icon of British engineering. But tightening emissions and safety regulations, as well as competition from Asian carmakers, have forced it off the production line. Luckily for devotees, an estimated three quarters of the two million Defenders made are still on the road, and as the vehicle’s hardiness is unquestioned it’ll be a while before they disappear completely. But as manufacturers pursue sleeker lines and softer curves, we’re wondering if the Defender’s demise also means the death of the right angle in car design? Here’s hoping not.


Best in-air amenity kit

Swiss International Airlines

Business-class passengers have another reason to enjoy their flights: a seasonally updated in-flight kit. During winter the Alpine-inspired haul has a warm woolly hat and neck-warmer adorned with the Swiss logo. The airline worked with Formia to develop a fully sustainable collection that is designed to stay useful for passengers long after they’ve disembarked. A fine (and typically Swiss) addition is found in the form of a few Ricola bonbons for a sweet treat come take-off.


Comfiest onboard (and off again) footwear

Adidas slides

Whether boarding a plane or plodding along poolside, there’s something timeless (and eminently useful) about Adidas’s stylish slip-ons. The quick-drying slides sport a patterned outsole for grip and the rubber topper and contoured insole supply the comfort. First introduced in 1972, the shoe still looks fresh and its unchanged charm make them a must for poolside life.


Best in-flight magazine

'EnRoute', Air Canada

EnRoute is available from the seat pocket of any Air Canada flight and, with a circulation topping 100,000, the glossy monthly is enjoyed by some 1.5 million readers. The magazine’s reach goes beyond on-board consumption and ranks as one of Canada’s leading voices on travel. “It’s important for us to offer the best to our readers,” says Jean-François Légaré, editor in chief of the magazine. “So we’ve reached out to the best contributors in the industry.”


Best railway redesign

Great Western Railway, UK

First Great Western has received a timely rebrand thanks to the London office of design agency Pentagram. The rail operator has reverted to its 1833 name, the Great Western Railway, and the new look echoes the brand’s golden-age font and old-school charm (in a rather fetching green, no less). But are fancy poster campaigns and austere Victorian logos enough? The UK’s rail operators can still take notice of Italy’s high-speed Frecciarossa and Japan’s Shinkansen for benchmarks of how to get its ailing network back on track. The rebrand is a great start but better rolling stock and lower fares are the next stop.


Best infrastructure investment


Set for completion by 2019, London’s Crossrail will buoy the UK capital’s already ample underground train services, as well as offering better airport access from the city’s east. The 118km-long new route is currently the largest construction project in Europe. Predicted to add £42bn (€58.2) to the UK economy and provide thousands of construction jobs in the meantime, the railway will service 200 million annual passengers, increasing London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent. Crossrail 2, which is in its planning stages, offers an even brighter light at the end of the tunnel for the sprawling city.


Best new cabin

Air France's new La Première cabin

Designed in neutral grey tones and wood, Air France launched the impressive La Première suites earlier this year on its B777-300 aircraft. Ferry yourself between Paris and Jakarta, New York, Dubai and Singapore, enjoying curtained privacy and the luxury of a seat that turns into a spacious 2m-long flatbed. Perfect for intimate meals, each of the four suite’s dining tables can accommodate an extra guest. For a dose of high-altitude culture, catch up on the latest film releases on a 24-inch HD touchscreen, which offers programming in 12 languages.


Best left unchanged

Parco dei Principi, Sorrento

There are hotels that draw a crowd for the architecture and design alone. Parco dei Principi is one. An appreciation of the past leads to excellence in the present at the cliff-top hotel, which overlooks the Mediterranean. Designed by architect Gio Ponti, the hotel was opened in 1962. Royal Teresa Naldi, granddaughter of the hotel’s founder Roberto Fernandes, is owner and president of the hotel chain Royal Group, of which Parco dei Principi is a part. Ponti’s artful eye extended from balconies to textiles and majolica tiles; it’s a perfect counterpoint to minimalist, identikit new-builds. Botanical gardens provide fairytale wonder while an unusual elevator descends through the stone cliff to a sunbathing jetty.


Top in-room bar service

Soho Beach House, Miami

Miami is well catered for when it comes to luxurious (and at times louche) guest services but none has achieved the understated glamour of the in-room bar service at the Soho Beach House. Best enjoyed between a dip and a dinner reservation, the service allows guests to opt for a drink from the mobile bar cart that’s manned to serve house specialities from 19.00 to 21.00. If privacy is preferred, this hotel hasn’t skimped on the mini-bar either: oversized vintage trunks come stocked with appealing barware, including a peeler, jigger, glass Darby shaker and silver Reed and Barton set-up tray. Time to toast the high life.


Best economy-seat concept

Skycouch, Air New Zealand

In the battle between airlines, legroom gets smaller every year while seats seem to narrow. In 2011, Air New Zealand broke that trend when it released the Skycouch, a design that allows couples in economy to buy the seat in between them and then convert all three seats into a lie-flat space. Now, the idea is spreading as Air New Zealand licenses the design to non-competing airlines. Time to snuggle up.


Best for the great outdoors

Hoshinoya Fuji

Hoshinoya Fuji is an experience for people who enjoy getting close to the outdoors but don’t fancy roughing it. Perched above Lake Kawaguchi-ko in central Yamanashi prefecture, the complex, which opened in late October, includes 40 concrete cabins with views of Mount Fuji and a sprawling, terraced wooden patio ideal for morning yoga sessions or evening drinks.


Most ambitious rail route

Austria to Iran

A new rail link is set to be added to connect Europe with the Middle East, as Austrian and Iranian officials have inked a deal to launch a commercial route between the two countries. It’s all part of the Iranian tourism board’s plan to double the amount of rail travellers this year, with officials hoping that the cultural history of Tehran will appeal to curious Europeans. We see the route as a potential stimulant for business between the newly opened Iranian market and Austria’s capital.


Best for shutterbugs

Leica D-Lux camera

Leica’s lean D-Lux offers exceptional picture quality and behind the classic styling is one of the company’s fastest lenses. The compact boasts an impressive sensor that ensures it captures great quality pictures and it shoots video in high-resolution too. Forget about pesky wires cluttering up your desk, integrated wi-fi makes downloading your snaps a cinch. Amateurs needn’t be intimidated; the emphasis is on simplicity and ease of use.


Isetan Haneda Store

Leader in airport retail

Airport shopping is so often a disappointment with the same brands prevalent from Toronto to Melbourne. At Haneda Airport’s domestic terminals, Isetan has done away with the old format to offer customers the quality they would expect at the brand’s beautiful department store in the city. The women’s shop has all the elements for a wardrobe makeover as well as a Uka nail salon (one of Tokyo’s best), a Sky High juice bar and a branch of Rose Bakery. The men’s shop is similarly astute with labels numbering Incotex, Ettinger and John Lobb. Come with an empty suitcase or extra carry-on. You can expect to fill it.


Comfiest onboard outfit

Get the look

Style and comfort are a must for any long-haul flight. Start with a jumper from Loopwheeler x Beams over a soft T-shirt from Merz b Schwanen. Pair with woollen trousers from Barena and a pair of Ludwig Reiter slip-ons to dress the look up. Socks from Anonymousism and Eyevan glasses add pop and sophistication.;;;;;


Best new terminal

Narita Terminal 3

Narita International Airport’s Terminal 3 proves a tight budget is no barrier to good design. Built by Nikken Sekkei with design direction from Tokyo-based Party, the airport’s new terminal for low-cost airlines has no moving walkways or illuminated signs; instead there’s a springy, two-toned running track covering the floor. This guides travellers to their gates in an enjoyable fashion. Waiting-lounge sofas and food-court tables and chairs were made by Muji’s parent company Ryohin Keikaku.


Most-anticipated new release

Pilatus PC-24

Swiss maker Pilatus knows how to build an excellent aeroplane. It has proven it time and again with some of the world’s most reliable propeller aircraft (we’ve always admired the PC-12). In 2015 the manufacturer’s first jet, the PC-24, took to the skies for its maiden test flight.

At first glance it seems just like another private jet but look closer and you’ll notice an abnormally large cargo door and landing gear that can handle dirt runways. This means that the aeroplane can put down almost anywhere. We look forward to seeing the PC-24 on runways – and dirt airstrips – from 2017.


Best skincare on the go

Three and Mühle

A reliable set of travel toiletries is a must and for moisturiser look no further than Tokyo’s skincare-and-cosmetics brand Three. Working exclusively with essential oils and plant-based ingredients, Three is one to pack. For a close shave after a 12-hour flight, there’s Mühle, which has been at the forefront of sharp shaving accessories made in the German Erz Mountains since 1945. “There are certain rituals in every man’s daily life that he loves and deems important and for which he takes his time, even when he has little time to spare. Shaving is one of those things,” says third-generation co-owner Andreas Müller.;


Best kept travel secret

Reagan National Airport, Washington

This airport is a gilded reminder of a time when the US took pride in transportation. Designed to be modern but pay homage to colonial and neoclassical architecture, the terminal’s façade is fittingly grand. “The iconic domes and striking views of the Washington Monument and other national landmarks remind travellers they are near the nation’s capital,” says airport manager Paul Malandrino. It’s a shame that most never get to see this mini hub as they get pushed through the city’s Dulles International Airport.


Most competitive market

North Atlantic

In the skies between North America and Europe, low-cost airlines are waging a fare and route war against the legacy airlines that once dominated. In 2013 Oslo-based Norwegian Air launched long-haul services across the Atlantic. Iceland’s Wow Air and Canada’s Westjet have since joined the dogfight. The trend has ruffled the feathers of more than a few legacy airline CEOs who have little interest in lower airfares as they clock up record profits by sticking to their guns on higher prices.


Cosiest onboard history

Form & Thread socks

Staying snug on a long-haul flight needn’t cost a fortune. Form & Thread socks, created by friends Rich Jeal and Chris Bell, are a wonderful travel companion to combat on-board chills or to keep your feet toasty warm when disembarking at a cold stop. Combining soft cotton and a resiliently thick weave, these distinctive socks provide an elegant complement to any outfit. The vibrant array of colours also offers the option of a snazzy accent to your on-board ensemble.


Best for exercise

Get the look

Often an enlivening burst of physical activity is the ticket for clearing your mind (or coming to a decision) and that’s why we’re always sure to tuck some activewear in the tote. A decent sporting ensemble is essential. Our proposal includes trainers from Nike over socks from Japanese specialist Tabio, a well-ventilated singlet from Boston-based Tracksmith and the airy but supportive addition of Iffley Road shorts. Throw on a performance cashmere fleece from Scottish firm Dhu to keep an even temperature when you want to explore a chilly city.;;;;


Best new family-run operation

Dear Hotel, Madrid

This family-owned 162-room hotel on Madrid’s Gran Vía has been completely refurbished, maintaining its neoclassical flourishes, by designer Sandra Tarruella. The rooftop restaurant and terrace are both (literally) towering achievements but where Dear Hotel really triumphs is in its attention to detail that many bigger hospitality players can’t muster. “Big chains can get bogged down by bureaucracy but we can provide bespoke solutions thanks to the luxury of quick decision-making,” says owner and hotel director Francisco Sebrango. For lucky hotel guests the added benefit of this attentive sensibility can translate into last-minute seats to watch Real Madrid or the opera at the Teatro Real thanks to the family’s connections.


Best vest for staying snug

Moessmer woollen vest

When visiting Alpine climes forget the ultra-technical garb and high-vis colours favourerd by out-of-towners. Instead opt for a time-tested favourite: loden. The water-resistant felted wool has been a wardrobe staple at these altitudes for centuries. Our preferred purveyor is South Tyrol’s Moessmer, a company that’s washed and woven fabrics in the Puster Valley for some 120 years. Offset with staghorn buttons, the vests come in light or dark grey.


Newspaper that goes the distance

'Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung', Germany

Founded in 1949, this paper, whose print edition is available in 25 countries, boasts one of the biggest networks of correspondents that rivals even that of The New York Times. With over one million daily readers, an average 40 pages and knack for a scoop, it’s ideal for any commute.


Most needed cabin overhaul

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is putting lie-flat seats, designed by consultancy Paul Wylde, in its Airbus A330s – a welcome change considering the reclining premium seats it’s used for years. The reluctance by most carriers to upgrade is understandable but the move will help Hawaiian Airlines compete with the premium offerings available on the Asian side of the Pacific.


Best rail upgrade

Poland's new Pendolino Polska service

Poland’s blue-nosed Pendolino trains are produced by French company Alstom. Capable of reaching speeds of 250 km/h, the trains have graced Poland’s platforms since December 2014 and have cut travel times between Warsaw and major cities such as Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk. Operator PKP Intercity paid around €665m for the 20 trains. The sleek interiors make for comfortable business trips or weekend jaunts. Although incomplete (there’s no on-board wi-fi yet), the service remains a welcome alternative to an irksome domestic flight.


Best mini-hub horticulture

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Louisiana

When Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport saw annual traffic grow to more than 800,000 passengers it called on architecture firm WHLC to expand the space for security checks. The architects used the opportunity to reposition the airport’s screening area, making its once fenced-off grand rotunda a public space for people waiting to welcome home or say goodbye to their loved ones. Light spills through the glass ceiling on to luscious foliage. Southern hospitality at its best.


Most unflappable Gm

Stijn Oyen of Hotel Maria Cristina, Spain

Oyen learnt the hospitality trade as a chef in the kitchens of Belgium, from where he hails. Ever unflappable, he is a master of multi-tasking, which makes the palatial Maria Cristina Hotel such a success. A premier venue for galas and parties during the San Sebastián film festival, Maria Cristina’s popularity is a testament to Oyen’s cool head.
+34 943 437 600


Top two-wheeler

Brooklyn by Pelago

Finnish bicycle-maker Pelago’s most popular model has been improved with new features but its classic appeal remains intact. Its sturdy welded-steel structure and comfortable Brooks-leather saddle will aid a smooth commute through the city, while the puncture-protected Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tyres prevent any flat starts. Easy to jump on and to manoeuvre, the frame comes in black, grey and beige and can be kitted out with accessories such as baskets and lights.


Best luggage trolley

Bad Schörgau, South Tyrol

First impressions are set the very moment that guests arrive. For a sense of place when putting down our totes we’re enamoured with the portage equipment at Hotel Bad Schörgau in the forested Sarntal Valley in South Tyrol, northern Italy. Made by designer Georg Muehlmann, the cart is built from solid Bavarian ash fashioned at right angles and comes with detachable coat clip and felt-covered base.


Best for bags


Japanese brand Nanamica expresses its fondness for utility with its triple black selection, a trio of Cordura nylon and leather-trim bags. The only drawback? Choosing one of the stylish designs.


Most bucolic escape

São Lourenço do Barrocal, Portugal

Surrounded by undulating plains and cork trees, São Lourenço do Barrocal lies in the heart of the Alentejo, Portugal’s big-sky country and agricultural heartland. Close to fortified Roman towns, Moorish ruins and the vast Alqueva Lake, the hotel is part of a 200-year-old farming estate that is replete with vineyards and olive groves. Its whitewashed stone buildings with terracotta-tiled roofs have been carefully refurbished by Pritzker-winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, who has carved out rooms, cottages and a spa for guests in former stables and barns. An idyllic refuge.


Best inner-city stay

Chiltern Firehouse, London

Its bar may be a headline-grabbing watering hole and its restaurant beloved for business lunches but Monocle’s near neighbour in Marylebone, Chiltern Firehouse, is also a hotel par excellence. The 26 rooms spread across three floors of this 19th-century Victorian red-brick building guarantee a quiet spot for a kip – regardless of what riotous party may be brewing downstairs. Capacious closets can hold gifts from nearby menswear shop Trunk and the minibar comes stocked with ready-to-pour cocktails that have been whisked at the downstairs bar. Room details that make the difference: the international plug sockets and tactile bakelite switches.


Best for a drink in hand

Tankards, at the Captain's Bar, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

There are some customer-loyalty programmes that are worth going the extra mile for. Hong Kong’s Captain’s Bar, located at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, has created a reward for continued custom. A silver tankard, sporting an engraving of your name, awaits those who choose to favour the upmarket watering hole.

All beers here are served in a silver tankard but having your very own tucked away makes for a fine upgrade. The half-century-old space is certainly one worth coming back to – favoured for its nightly jazz performances and crowd of dapper regulars.


Best smart travel jacket

Descente Blanc, Pause

Men who want to look and travel smart should look no further than Japanese sportswear brand Descente (whose shop in Tokyo is a treat, see issue 88). This versatile jacket is made from a breathable, stretchy and comfortable fabric. Originally developed and employed for the brand’s sportswear, the material makes the Descente Pause jacket light and packable but ensures it emerges crisp with the beautiful silhouette in shape and ready to impress.


Best for a refreshing spritz

Colony 2139 fabric mist

Colony 2139 is the joint work of Japanese retail entrepreneur Ichiro Yamamoto and American Frank Delgadillo, founder of the creative agency Townes. Both share a love of mid-century furniture and functional design and have together created a lifestyle and clothing brand that encapsulates their tasteful aesthetic. We give the nod to their Japan-made rum-and-mandarin fabric mist. One spritz will perk up the weariest of well-travelled garments.


Most-anticipated touchdown

The Bombardier C Series (CS100 & CS300)

Canadian aircraft builder Bombardier says it is nearly time for the first commercial flight of the Bombardier CS100. Come 2016, Swiss International Air Lines will be the first to use the jet, which the company says burns 20 per cent less fuel than comparable in-production aircraft. The long-awaited medium-haul airliner is aimed at competing with the small end of both Boeing and Airbus’s product line. The programme has had some hiccups but all signs suggest that the final product will mean more direct, longer-haul connections for smaller cities. We’re never one to complain about fewer stopovers.

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