Travel Top 50 | Monocle

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Best rural pit stop

Takaosanguchi Station


Such is the popularity of Mount Takao – one of Tokyo’s closest hiking escapes – that the main station is often gridlocked at weekends. Railway company Keio hired top architect Kengo Kuma (who designed Japan’s new National Stadium) to give it a timely makeover: Takaosanguchi Station now has a dramatic wooden roof, which is made from fragrant cedar and has hints of the nearby Yakuo-in Temple.

One of the big draws is the adjoining hot-spring bath complex, where weary climbers can bathe in therapeutic onsen water, snooze on tatami mats and enjoy a reviving massage. Do also make time for a bowl of soba with grated mountain yam before heading back to the city.
2241 Takaomachi, Hachioji


Smartest luggage


In mind of a luggage upgrade to replace your trusty Rimowa? This hardy Hokkaido-made number is just the ticket. The lightweight model from Japanese brand Proteca boasts an impact-resistant resin shell and hardy magnesium-alloy frame that can handle the bumpy ride on the baggage belt, while the interior has a hanger for keeping jackets meeting-ready. Plus: the tsa lock is an intimidating deterrent.


Best regional revival

Trenitalia’s new stock


In Italy, regional trains are getting a €4bn upgrade. When the 450 new trains hit the tracks in 2019, replacing an aged fleet, Italians will enjoy groundbreaking technical design alongside dramatic interiors with comfy seats, bike storage, ski racks, laptop desks, vending machines and wi-fi, rivalling the comfort and style of the country’s high-speed trains. Manufacturers including Alstom and Hitachi will together provide 150 standard-size trains and 300 double-deckers that zoom along at up to 160km/h.


Best for in-flight sense of occasion

Lufthansa’s tracht flights for Oktoberfest


A decade ago Lufthansa introduced a new custom that has its flight crew double as ambassadors for Oktoberfest, Germany’s booziest and best-loved folk festival that takes place in Munich every year. To get in the spirit, for a few weeks in September and October the airline’s typical smart uniforms are stowed away and replaced by a colourful display of Bavarian national dress: dirndls for the stewardesses and lederhosen for the stewards.

While the designers may vary – Munich’s Angermaier created this year’s collection – the colour theme remains true to the brand in shades of blue and white with a touch of yellow. Prost!


Best hotel kitchen

Il San Pietro di Positano


No coastline seduces the traveller’s eye like Amalfi – but local restaurateurs don’t rest on their laurels. At Il San Pietro, third-generation owner Vito Cinque has unveiled an eye-catching two-level open kitchen carved into the cliff, which permits an up-close view of the culinary activity (the hotel’s formal restaurant already enjoys a Michelin star). Guests witness farm-to-table cooking with vegetables and herbs from the hotel’s garden transformed into some of the coast’s finest food. The state-of-the art facilities also harness warm kitchen air to meet the property’s hot-water needs.


Best for lakeside luxury

Seehotel Ambach


Architect Othmar Barth’s semicircular pavilion overlooking Lake Caldaro was a sensation when it opened in 1973. Its geometric balconies and panelled wooden lobby have remained virtually unchanged ever since. “This place was a sleeping beauty,” says owner Klaus Maran, who took over his aunt’s business three years ago. “She never changed anything – now it’s my duty to keep it as it is.”

From Vico Magistretti chairs to Achille Castiglioni lamps, furniture in all 32 lake-view rooms is from the 1970s. Maran’s savvy spruce-up also focuses on service, with a new kitchen team creating a different menu every night.


Best of the Med

Lynx, Invictus and Riva yachts

Autumn was unexpectedly busy for the boating world despite a sluggish start to the year. As brands hopped from trade shows in Cannes, Monaco and Fort Lauderdale, there was a palpable confidence for a more buoyant 2017.

If you’re interested in chartering a yacht, our pick is the Heliad II, built by Dutch shipyard Lynx Yachts with a retro profile that wowed in Monaco. It’s available to charter through Fraser Yachts. For a nippier craft our vote goes to the new Invictus Yacht 370gt, a pleasure boat designed by Christian Grande. One of our favourite launches in Cannes was the Rivamare by Ferretti-owned heritage brand Riva. With its single cabin, the 12-metre speedboat is somewhere between a large day-boat and a weekender.;;;


Best short-haul Business Class service

Air Serbia

Air Serbia’s premium service is old school in the best possible way. The front rows of its Airbus a319/a320 fleet feature wide, reclining leather seats set at a roomy one-metre pitch. As for catering, there isn’t a dry sandwich to be seen. Executive chef Zoran Miskovic has prepared an à la carte menu including regional delicacies made from Serbia-sourced ingredients; Serbian vineyards Radovanovic and Aleksandrovic provide wine to match. There are five varieties of rakija (fruity brandy) to enjoy as you reach for the one concession to modernity: a complimentary tablet for checking emails.


Most innovative bookseller



Since 2005, BooksActually has started a new chapter in independent publishing in the city. “We wanted to make books accessible by putting them in places where people congregate,” says founder Kenny Leck. “It’s trying to make bookselling exciting again.”

Vending machines placed at cultural hotspots, including the National Museum of Singapore, dispense local and international titles for consumers on the go, some from its own publishing arm, the Math Paper Press. Each machine aids Singapore’s literary chops so Changi Airport is the obvious next step.


Best onboard look: casual

Cardigan by Loopwheeler; T-shirt by Reigning Champ; Trousers by Auralee; Bag by Mismo; Slip-ons by Ludwig Reiter; Scarf by Begg & Co; Watch by Tudor

Reliable layering options for our casual cast of onboard essentials come in the form of a cardigan from Satoshi Suzuki’s Loopwheeler brand and a Canada-made T-shirt from Reigning Champ, paired with trousers from Tokyo-based Auralee.

A capacious Danish tote from Mismo and Tudor watch add a smart accent to the ensemble and Vienna’s own Ludwig Reiter slip-ons are comfy and easily removed mid-flight. Final touch? A cashmere scarf from Begg & Co to cosy up to and combat the chills.;;;;;


Who needs an app?

Emirates’ printed timetable

Few artefacts conjure up the golden age of air travel like a printed timetable and Emirates has continued to reissue its agenda every year. Using Dubai as the transit lounge between East and West, the timetable lists the night flights that go from Adelaide to Entebbe, the shortest layovers for Mancunians heading to Mashhad and seat configurations across the fleet.

Few carriers still print their departures but this is to miss a trick: a timetable is a handy way to make offline plans, and you can run a finger down the listings to note destinations for future travels.


Best on the mic

Cathay Pacific captains

“Good evening, this is your captain speaking,” says Evan Summerfield from the flight deck of Cathay Pacific’s Airbus a340. A warm welcome aboard remains a constant amid a fast-changing airline industry and there is no more comforting sound than Cathay’s experienced crew of Aussie and British pilots.

Sydneysider Summerfield developed his dulcet tones on community radio before heading Hong Kong in 1995. Cathay favours personality over scripts and Summerfield’s instructions for new pilots are to be clear, precise and reassuring, especially during Hong Kong’s stormy summer months. Cathay’s aviators are a triumph of sound service.


Best collaboration

Qantas International First Lounge with Sofitel in Sydney

The French hotel chain Sofitel and Australia’s flag carrier have put together a red-carpet welcome in Sydney Airport that has us wishing the flight never boards. Set foot in the Marc Newson-designed First Class lounge and you’ll see why.

From the plush leather sofas and works areas decked out with iMacs to the marble-topped bar serving scrummy fare from Aussie chef Neil Perry, the duo leave nothing to chance. If you’ve time to spare, enjoy some R&R at the Aurora spa before kicking back with a novel at the in-lounge library.


Most anticipated launch

ÖBB’s Nightjet


As of early December 2016, Austrian Federal Railways (öbb) has expanded its night-train network with a newly launched Nightjet fleet. “With this step, öbb will be by far the biggest operator of night trains in central Europe,” says öbb CEO Andreas Matthä. “We expect roughly 500,000 additional passengers next year, which is 50 per cent more compared to the one million passengers travelling currently.”

öbb is filling the void left by the Deutsche Bahn’s nixed sleeper-train service and will invest €40m in making this happen. Look out for its contemporary couchettes by 2018 and a set of sparkling new carriages by 2020, servicing several European destinations.


Most ambitious small hoteliers

The Zetter Group


The Zetter Group arrived in London 12 years ago and now – three smart hotels and one restaurant later – it’s expanding to a former fire station in Manchester. The heritage-listed building will house 90 rooms over five floors “You’ll find the same quirkiness but the result will be unique,” says co-founder Mark Sainsbury.


Most refreshing independent

Warehouse Hotel


Offering a counterpoint to the big-brand hotels in Singapore is the first offering from smaller-scale independent Lo & Behold Group, the brand behind the White Rabbit and Odette restaurants. The godown (warehouse) building on the banks of Robertson Quay is a 37-key affair and while the rooftop infinity pool will be a magnet for some, many will also be intrigued by the former factory’s history as an illegal alcohol distillery and a meeting place for furtive societies. Lo & Behold’s characteristically excellent grub comes courtesy of Singaporean chef Willin Low.


First among firsts

JAL and Lufthansa

The world looks brighter from seat 1A but even in the rarefied world of First Class travel some airlines do things better than the rest (though admittedly our two winners were inseparable in their merits): Japan Airlines (JAL) and Lufthansa.

JAL’s suite offers privacy in a wood-grain pod with a generous seat, a 23-inch screen and a mattress from Japanese favourite Airweave. Lufthansa rates for its attention to detail, such as good linen and a two-metre-long flat bed. Travel from Frankfurt and there is a dedicated First Class terminal with valet parking; the limo transfer from the terminal straight to the plane doesn’t hurt either.;


Best buns



Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station, a 1935 masterpiece of Italian rationalist architecture, has recently turned its First Class waiting room into a bakery café that’s open to all travellers. There Vyta, the seventh in this chain of small patisseries to operate exclusively in Italy’s main stations, serves high-quality but affordable versions of Italian goodies – paninis, pizza, croissants, coffee and wine – in a bold and built-to-impress interior.

Inside it’s all copper and green marble set against jade-coloured walls, all of which is offset by antique touches such as original 1930s photos and wood panelling. The result is truly first-class.


Best onboard look: smart

Suit by B:Ming by Beams; shirt by Gitman Vintage; socks by Tabio for Trunk Clothiers; boots by Santoni; glasses by  Persol; watch by Vacheron Constantin; suitcase by Rimowa

You’ll cut a fine dash with this smart suit from Japanese maestro Beams (the B:Ming collection, mind) over a US-made, button-down shirt from Gitman Vintage. We turn to Italy to keep ourselves on a firm footing with these dandy desert boots from Marche-based Santoni (made all the comfier by a pair of Tabio socks, which come into their own should you kick off your Santonis).

Our first choice for haulage is a matte-black Rimowa cabin-case. And last but not least, accessories in the form of Persol specs and a tidy timepiece from Vacheron-Constantin complete proceedings.;;;;;


Sharpest new restaurant space

Bills Ginza


For his fourth restaurant in Tokyo, Australian chef Bill Granger has moved away from his usual relaxed style to a more luxurious interior with leather banquettes and terrazzo tiling. The spacious 145-seat restaurant is in the middle of Ginza, on the 12th floor of the newly opened Okura House, and has great views.

The Bills favourites are all there, along with Ginza specials such as a porcini-rubbed prime fillet steak and crab toast with chilli and lime. The restaurant is open from 08.30 and runs through to dinner. Take a stool at the bar for a pre-dinner ginger-and-shiso mojito.


Best whirlybird


Despite undergoing a rebrand, Italy’s Leonardo, once known as AgustaWestland, hasn’t changed its approach when it comes to designing cutting-edge helicopters. Its newly introduced aw169, a twin-turbine chopper with a range of up to 800km, has garnered more than 150 orders.

Built at the company’s facility north of Milan, the craft sports a Pratt & Whitney power plant that gives it a cruising speed of 140 knots. Interest has poured in from South Korea to Brazil, the latter a key market since vip clients in São Paulo are always in need of a fast ride to avoid the city’s notorious traffic tailbacks.


Best new city-centre hotel

Marktgasse Hotel


The Junior Suite of the recently opened Marktgasse Hotel in Zürich’s Niederdorf district offers what is perhaps the best view in town: its terrace looks out over the city and, weather permitting, is ideal for an alfresco breakfast with mountain views.

Marktgasse is actually a former inn, restored by Basel firm Miller & Maranta. The result is a spectacular 39-room place that’s a lively alternative to some of the city’s more conservative stays. Older features, including wooden wall-panelling, work well with lamps and furniture from the likes of Flos and Cassina. Appreciative murmurs have already been heard from locals who have found their way to Baltho, the intimate bar with a restaurant that serves hearty and uncomplicated food.


Best infrastructure investment

Gotthard Base Tunnel


The Swiss may remain resolutely outside the EU but they do their fair share to bring the continent closer in ways that fill Brussels bureaucrats with envy. The newly opened 57km Gotthard Base Tunnel – the world’s longest and deepest underground rail link – has been bored underneath a massif in the central Alps and lets passengers travel in comfort at speeds of up to 250km/h.

The round-trip journey between Zürich and Milan will be cut by more than an hour, permitting travellers to get in a proper eight-hour work day (or shopping excursion) at their destination before heading home. That said, the scenery of the old stretch of track will be missed.


Sharpest station upgrades


The Netherlands

The stations that greet them on arrival will please passengers zipping across the Netherlands on the new high-speed rail network. In 2014 national rail authority NS started an overhaul of six hub stations (Utrecht, Rotterdam, The Hague, Arnhem, Breda and Amsterdam-Zuid), tapping a different architecture firm for each redesign.

Five projects have been unveiled so far, including Unstudio’s concrete-and-wood behemoth in Arnhem and Koen van Velsen’s patchwork-brick structure (pictured) in Breda. Each station has high ceilings and lots of light but retains a distinctive identity.


Best pick-me-ups

BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and Toyota Land Cruiser

A day spent dashing between appointments in Tokyo or Frankfurt can be a task eased by a knowledgeable driver (who knows all the shortcuts) and the right ride in which to take on the traffic. The bmw m760li is one such rig: the 7 Series’ roomy backseat makes it the flagship passenger car in the Bavarian maker’s fleet. The Lexus LS hits a different note: the ls460 F Sport saloon isn’t known for toting vips around town but its lower profile, unflashy demeanour and roomy interior make it a great addition to the line-up.

Meanwhile, the Toyota Land Cruiser is tough to beat on most terrains – as well as being a great urban ride for larger groups. Of course, a fleet of these towering and sharp-looking suvs in the new ZX model isn’t necessarily low profile. But the respect held for this vehicle around the world means that people hit the brakes and take notice if a flock of Land Cruisers swoop past.;;


Tastiest train fare

SBB Plättli


Food on trains can be drab but catering service Elvetino sets the table for success aboard Swiss Federal Railways (SBB).

Since 2013, sbb’s restaurants and bistros have served the hearty sbb Plättli. Not only are all ingredients sourced from the region but it’s also only available on the Swiss train network. The platter features a selection of bread and toppings that include Bündner ham and a range of cheeses – such as emmi-kaltbach-emmentaler, emmi-kaltbach-greyerzer, wildbachkäse and la fleur bio tome – all topped with pearl onions and tart cornichons.


Best inflight menu

Sasu Laukkonen for Finnair

The organic, fuss-free fare of Helsinki’s 20-cover Chef & Sommelier restaurant can now be found on Finland’s flag-carrier. Last April, Michelin-starred chef Sasu Laukkonen hooked up with Finnair to produce a signature menu for long-haul Business Class passengers. The menu changes with the seasons but forest-picked berries, root vegetables and slow-braised beef are typical examples of his Finnish hospitality at 30,000ft.


Best Economy eats

JAL’s Yoshoku meals from Shiseido Parlour on Japan-Honolulu routes

The Economy Class meals on Japan Airlines (jal) show that it’s possible to dine delightfully at the back of a plane. Since September 2016, jal has served delicious yoshoku meals – an old-fashioned Japanese take on western cuisine – comprising beef stew, hamburger steaks and bacon quiche on flights to Honolulu.

The collaboration with Shiseido Parlour, a venerable waiters-in-bow-ties joint in Tokyo, adds to the airline’s appeal. jal also has a 3-4-2 seating configuration on its refurbished 777 aircraft, which offers couples a private space instead of having to share a three-seat arrangement with strangers.


Most anticipated hotel opening

Park Hyatt Bangkok

Borrowing its form from the curved stupas (domes) of Thailand’s temples, Amanda Levete Architects and Bangkok-based Pi Design teamed up to provide the structure of Park Hyatt Bangkok. Opening in early 2017, the striking asymmetrical aluminum structure sits atop the Central Embassy mall and will hold more than 200 suites designed by New York-based Yabu Pushelberg.

There’s an infinity pool beset by cabanas and leafy palms – an excellent way to escape the city’s unforgiving heat. That said, convenience and the new-build’s central location are key to its success.


Most regrettable departure

Tegel Airport


Some questioned whether it would ever happen but after six years of baffling delays and billions of euros invested, the “new” Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport (BER) in Germany’s capital is finally projected to open in late 2017.

The completion of a new airport should be welcomed but the opening of ber goes hand in hand with the closure of flight hub Tegel Airport. Designed by gmp in 1965 and inaugurated in 1974, the base was a portal to the outside world during the Cold War. While Tegel must give way to ber within six months of its launch, there’s still time to say goodbye.


Best for mile-high style

Jac + Jack Travel Wear

For those who dread the indignity of wearing yesterday’s clothes on long-haul flights, Australian designers Jacqueline Hunt and Lisa Dempsey bring welcome relief in the form of an all-cotton on-board kit.

Packed into an ethically manufactured bag, it comes complete with a blanket that pairs sophistication with comfort, as well as some socks and a mask that is extremely easy on the eye (and your eyes).


Most anticipated train service

East Japan Railway’s Shiki-Shima Train Suite

In Japan the future of rail travel isn’t just about speed. Come spring, East Japan Railway will launch its Train Suite Shiki-Shima, a 10-car train designed to accommodate just 34 passengers. It comes complete with private sleeping quarters, lounges and a dining car.

The long journeys through the Tohoku region will include stop-offs at artisans’ workshops and scenic spots; there’s also lots of on-board craftsmanship to admire, from washi wallpaper to kumiko woodwork. JR East’s design team has even found a way to equip the train with bathtubs that are made from cypress wood and, remarkably, won’t slosh water everywhere.


Most tasteful renovation

Casas Caiadas


When Lisbon couple Mario Domingues and Paula Cabrito stumbled across two abandoned water mills on a patch of isolated countryside in central Portugal, they saw opportunity instead of ruin. Rather than raze the site’s farmhouses they restored them, keeping traditional touches (rounded roof tiles and narrow windows) and inserting a few modern amenities, including a swimming pool where the canal once flowed.

The rural retreat hosts up to eight guests, who can tuck into regional fare and unwind with strolls on the property past centuries-old olive trees and menhirs.
+351 962 616 474


Best hotel spa

Susanne Kaufmann Spa at São Lourenço do Barrocal


Hotel spas are often overdesigned (it’s time to rethink mood lighting) and under-deliver on what matters: treatments to keep you feeling fresh. Hats off to São Lourenço do Barrocal, a farmstead turned country retreat in Portugal’s Alentejo, for getting it right.

The vaulted ceilings, whitewashed walls and natural light create a serene setting. Massages and facials use oils and lotions developed by Austria’s Susanne Kaufmann, who sources ingredients from the Alps. Do try her organic tea too.


Top onboard tipples

De Kleine Schorre wine for KLM

Mikkeller beer for SAS snd Suntory’s Hibiki whiskey for ANA

  1. Copenhagen brewery Mikkeller has concocted a beer for Scandinavian Airlines. It looked to Hong Kong when devising the brew, a Belgian ale base fermented with mango juice.
  2. For the past decade klm has stocked its flights with beautifully branded bottles of white wine by De Kleine Schorre.
  3. Passengers jetting across Japan in ana’s Business Class can savour the soothing notes of a Hibiki whiskey, which is hard to find outside the country.


Best bar nibble

Caramel popcorn at the Fairmont Royal York


Don’t scoff but Toronto’s stately Fairmont Royal York hotel has started serving an unlikely but irresistible snack: caramel popcorn. A welcome addition to the more refined culinary options on offer, the candied-corn snack is served in the hotel’s Library Bar and is best washed down with one of the establishment’s rare single malts.


Best Premium Economy

Air Canada

Since Air Canada launched its Premium Economy service for flights between Paris and Montréal in 2013, the national carrier has expanded the class to more than 20 routes. Upgrades start at ground level, where travellers enjoy priority boarding and baggage handling, as well as the option of checking in a second piece of luggage.

Passengers are greeted with a drink upon boarding and offered kits containing travel essentials. The seats afford greater reclines and stretch space, while the entertainment system features a bigger touchscreen. With all these fine touches, the hardest part is disembarking.

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