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Directions

Travel Diary A Journey into Rural China / Essay The Science of Sleep / Making of August by Vincent Van Duysen / Trend Forecast by The Future Laboratory / Further Thoughts from Stefan Sagmeister, Ping Fu, Kjell A. Nordström & more ...

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The Magazine by Design Hotels™

Issue Nº 15 / 2019 / New Sanctuaries


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Directions

New Sanctuaries Step inside and feel … something.

Almost since its inception, the word “sanctuary” has held diffuse, multiple meanings — a sacred space, yes, but not of necessity a temple. It was a meeting place, a site for ritual, even for trade. Wildlife sanctuaries have also existed for millennia, a line that runs from the protected jungles of ancient Sri Lanka to Antelope Canyon, an Instagram pilgrimage point on Navajo land in the American Southwest. Then there is sanctuary in the sense of asylum, of refuge for those in need. In this issue of Directions, we hold the term loosely as we go in search of places both physical and figurative, natural and designed, where we find renewal, shelter, communion, and expressions of the sublime. From an ambitious new series of rural retreats in eastern China, to the latest findings in sleep science, a modern-day monastery by a Belgian master, and a think tank that looks 10,000 years into the future, explore with us the New Sanctuaries of our ever-shifting contemporary world.

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Category (Further Thoughts, Making of, Travel Diary etc.)

#15

Directions The Magazine by Design Hotels™

Editorial Director

Managing Editor

Publisher

Serdar Kutucu

Silvena Ivanova

Design Hotels AG Stralauer Allee 2c, 10245 Berlin © 2019 Design Hotels AG

Editor in Chief

Production & Distribution Manager

Charly Wilder

Stefanie Sandl

Creative Director Johannes Schwark

Project Managers Cleo van Geest, Laura Meier

Art Director Suvi Haering

Media Manager Alina Soare-Rada

Graphic Designers Rémy Dautin, Vivian Nebelin, Christine Daum, Linda Kunnath, Millie Engono

Writers Ben Crair, Charly Wilder, Sophie Lovell, The Future Laboratory, Gisela Williams, Peter Firth, Ken Baron, Vidula Kotian, Tom Osmond

Pre-Press Sabine Gierer

Advertising Director Daniel Hilz

Advertising Manager Jeanne Troillet

Copy Editor Tracey Kelliher

Special Thanks

Illustrators

Andreas Murkudis, Anne Levy, Neda Fatapour, Richard Ding, Vincent Van Duysen Architects

Moonassi, Elisabeth Moch, Lea Heinrich

Photographers Robbie Lawrence, Matthias Weingärtner, Brechenmacher/Baumann Photography, Robert Rieger, Emily Andrews, Daniel Flaschar, Stephanie Füssenich, Benoit Linero, Lizett Martine Diaz, Colossal Photos and The Lo & Behold Group

No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent of Design Hotels AG.

Printer Rasch Druckerei & Verlag GmbH & Co. KG Lindenstraße 47, 49565 Bramsche Printed in Germany

Contact Letters to the Editor: c.wilder@designhotels.com Advertising Inquiries: directions@designhotels.com Distribution Inquiries: s.sandl@designhotels.com

About Design Hotels™ represents a hand-selected collection of 300+ independent, design-driven hotels in hundreds of destinations across the globe. From the pioneering boutique hotels of New York and London to the rising stars of Shanghai, Mexico City, and Tbilisi, from exclusive mountaintops to off-the-beaten-path escapes, each hotel is a wholly unique creative expression, steeped in the history, culture, and nature of its surroundings, as well as a social hub for our expanding community. designhotels.com

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designhotels.com


New Sanctuaries

A Journey into Rural China China’s cities have industrialized at a pace unseen in human history, but now a new generation of architects, artisans, and entrepreneurs is returning to the countryside — 44

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In This Issue

The Science of Sleep Ben Crair was having trouble sleeping, so he decided to test his luck within the rapidly expanding billiondollar market for sleep aids and checks into one of the world’s most sleep-forward hotels — 28

The Spa Is Dead From an Umbrian monastery to the shores of Big Sur, our writer explores the shifting landscape of wellness travel, where Eastern mysticism, alternative medicine, and mindfulness are uprooting conventional spa concepts — 88

Further Thoughts Six thought leaders in media, the arts, travel, business, and design ref lect on the New Sanctuaries — places both physical and figurative where we find renewal, shelter, communion, and expressions of the sublime — 14

The Future of Traveling Well From geolocation technologies and AI to the rising importance of culture, community, and conscientiousness, Peter Firth offers a glimpse into the travel of tomorrow — 96

The Traveler Is Present In a world defined by technological excess and automation, we will increasingly look to travel for something we once took for granted: human connection — 36

The Making of August by Vincent Van Duysen

Travel Essentials Inf luential retailer Andreas Murkudis shares his 10 best-kept- secret travel essentials — extraordinary, versatile pieces by little-known brands that have gained cult followings in Berlin and beyond — 20

A former Augustinian cloister becomes a modernday sanctuary under the guidance of the legendary Belgian architect in his first-ever hotel project — 62

Georgia Rising

The Moonlighters

A voyage through a country that’s shaken off its troubled past to become one of the world’s most extraordinary travel destinations, with booming arts, culinary, and fashion scenes, thriving businesses, and nightlife said to rival Berlin — 104

Many of the figures at the vanguard of hospitality today seem to have one thing in common: they never set out to be hoteliers — 72

New Utopias How the inf luence of Burning Man and other cultural gatherings helped spawn a movement and opened up new possibilities in the realm of lifestyle travel — 80

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Contributors

Elisabeth Moch

Charly Wilder

Robbie Lawrence

created the contributor portraits for the second instalment of our “Further Thoughts” series in her trademark Rorschach-esque watercolor style. The Berlin-based illustrator has contributed to The New York Times, Zeit Magazin, and Wallpaper*, among others.

not only went to China and Georgia for this issue of Directions, penning both travel diary features — she’s also the magazine’s editor in chief. An American based in Berlin, she is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

shot the features in China and Georgia. A freelance photojournalist whose deft approach to light and shadow evokes Fauvism and the Dutch Masters, he has contributed to The Wall Street Journal Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Fader.

Ben Crair

Moonassi

The Future Laboratory

is a writer living in Berlin who penned “The Science of Sleep” and “The Spa Is Dead” for this issue of Directions. He has written for The New York Times and National Geographic. He tends to sleep better when there’s a dog around.

Daehyun Kim, a.k.a. Moonassi, is a visual artist based in Seoul whose dreamlike ink drawings illustrate “The Science of Sleep.” His work has been exhibited internationally and commissioned by The New York Times and Maison Kitsuné, among others.

is a world-leading foresight consultancy specializing in trends intelligence, strategic research, and innovation strategy. In “The Traveler Is Present,” they look at the ways technological excess puts a counterintutitive premium on human connection.

Julien Mauve

Gisela Williams

Lea Heinrich

is a French visual artist whose 2015 series, Greetings From Mars, illustrates “The Traveler Is Present.” “I have always wondered what it would be like to discover a totally different world, lifeless, full of wild landscapes and to photograph it for the first time,” he says.

documents the influence of Burning Man and other festivals on the hotel industry in “New Utopias.” A correspondent for Departures, T Magazine, and Elle Decor, she was born in Connecticut and lived in Bali, Bermuda, and Brooklyn before settling in Berlin.

created the illustrations for “The Spa Is Dead.” Born in Duderstadt, Germany, her career began when she won a drawing contest at the age of five at a local bakery. The prize was 50 bucks’ worth of cake, which she and her friends ate in one day.

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The Kinfolk Artwork Series An exciting extension of Kinfolk’s ethos of fostering community and celebrating the many talents of our collaborators, The Kinfolk Artwork Series consists of three limited edition prints selected by the Kinfolk team. Printed in Denmark on premium paper, each artwork is limited to a run of 250.

K I N F O L K . C O M / A R T WO R K


Further Thoughts

Six thought leaders in media, the arts, travel, business, and design reflect on the New Sanctuaries —  places both physical and figurative where we find renewal, shelter, communion, and expressions of the sublime

Illustrations  Elisabeth Moch

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Ping Fu The Long Now Foundation is a think tank, but we are also a group of people who are not satisfied with just having ideas. We wanted to actually create physical experiences. That’s why we built the Clock of the Long Now. If the pyramid is the symbol of the past, then the clock is the symbol of the future. We created it not only to inspire people to think about ­responsibility for the long term, but also to create an experience. It’s designed in a way that’s very much like a sanctuary. We picked a mountain — it’s literally underground within an 11,000-foot mountain. We dug a hole 500 feet deep for this clock, which is 30 feet in diameter and sits 250 feet above sea level. It’s a huge clock so that it can’t be looted. But the ­experience of visiting this clock starts with hiking up to the mountain.You go into this tunnel and then there’s this gigantic clock that’s been designed to chime a different sequence every day for 10,000 years. We have recorded 1,500 human lan­ guages and etched them onto the disk and put it together with

Ping Fu is a tech pioneer who helped create the software behind Mozilla and Internet Explorer. She founded Geomagic, an inf luential 3D imaging company, and sits on the board of directors of The Long Now Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit that aims at “creatively fostering responsibility” in the framework of the next 10,000 years

the clock. Imagine in the future when someone finds it! When you get there, there’s a large sanctuary space where people will be able to sit and discuss their experience, to assimilate it immediately. The space has four corners. We are building one corner now. In 100 years, someone will build the second corner. The third will be built in 1,000 years, and then the fourth in 10,000 years. So I’m trying to imagine how this space would look in the duration of 10,000 years! If you think about travel, you can focus on the destination or you can think about how you get there. The Clock and The Long Now Foundation are kind of about setting the time, not about the destination, right? You’re not setting a specific goal, but you can start to ask the question. If you have 10,000 years to solve a problem, what problem would you pick?

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New Sanctuaries

Stefan Sagmeister I am doing a full year of experiments every seven years, a true sanctuary from regular work. However, I do work a lot in that year, hour-wise possibly more than in a regular year. But I am only allowed to work on projects that come from within myself that year, no outside or client-driven work is accepted. I’m sure many other time divisions would be possible, depending on the field and personal preferences. One hour a day, or one day a week, etc. These sabbaticals (I have taken three of them so far) made sure that my work remained a calling and did not deteriorate into a career — or even worse — a mere job.

Stefan Sagmeister is an Austrian designer and art director who has worked for the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, and the Guggenheim Museum, among many others

Reto Gurtner We are in such a busy world now, and the question for many people is how we’re going to get out of it, how we’re going to not be permanently online. At Laax, we have such big, monu­ mental nature around us, it’s just absolutely amazing. It’s one of the few Unesco sites that’s about natural, not cultural, heritage: the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, and so on. And this creates a natural sanctuary. But technology has an important role — as a pain reliever. When you go to a ski resort, it’s usually a pain from the beginning to the end. Do I have a parking spot, yes or no? Is it overcrowded now? You’re under permanent stress. So it’s all about how are we going to reduce stress? I’ve been trying to reduce the pain points. Technology is just a tool. We invented those tools to improve our quality of life. Because I don’t want to go to the mountains to think about uphill transportation. I want to go there to be inspired.

Reto Gurtner is the head of Weisse Arena Group, which combines the formerly separate resorts of Flims, Laax, and Falera into one of the world’s most technologically integrated and environmentally sustainable ski resorts

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Further Thoughts

The biggest transportation company in the world doesn’t own any cars, and the biggest ­media company in the world doesn’t g ­ enerate any media

Josh Fehnert In an information age where people are completely under a deluge of zeros and ones, I think the media has become a bit of a sanctuary — a tribal kind of calling post, a totem pole. After Trump was elected, subscriptions to The New York Times, The New Yorker, rocketed, because in a world where it’s hard to discern a way forward, or something happens that challenges you, people look for authority and reliable information. The economy has changed, right? The biggest transportation company in the world doesn’t own any cars. The biggest hospitality company in the world doesn’t own any hotels — if you think about Airbnb and Uber. The biggest ­media company in the world is Facebook, and it doesn’t ­generate any media. So if you are a media provider or even a brand that wants to engage with people, you need to realize that there is a quality of interaction with your reader, which is different from a quantity of interactions. You need to be committed, as lots of people are, to telling good stories, and if you’re in the world of journalism, that involves not taking stuff for free. That involves not bothering too heavily about social media. If people want the long read about why the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh was so short, they don’t go to Facebook. So it’s about creating a platform where people trust you, which takes time, takes investment. And it’s not always about seeking views, likes, and clicks. The funding streams haven’t been worked out, right? But let’s put this whole thing into perspective. We will have access to more information than ever before. We will have access to a better education than ever before in all of human history. We’re living longer, which should do something for wisdom, although perhaps it mightn’t. So, will the newspaper titans of yesteryear be the big players in 50 years time? I don’t know, probably not. But will the a­ ptitude and capacity to be charmed by a story, to be taken in by it and devote our time to it continue? I think totally it will.

Josh Fehnert is an executive editor

at Monocle magazine, overseeing its inter­n ational coverage of the hospitality industry across print, film, radio, and online. In 2018, he edited The Monocle Guide to Hotels, Inns and Hideaways, published by Gestalten

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New Sanctuaries

As technology reaches new heights, more and more people are looking for ways to better themselves — to reach a higher consciousness

Claus Sendlinger Work, live, consume, learn — the boundaries are melting, and lately I’ve been dreaming of a new kind of space that builds on this insight, a space that could easily be understood as a sanctuary. It would be far more than a co-working space or an incubator or even a cultural institution, but it would fulfil the goals of all of those things as well. I think we are in many ways at a high point, despite the tumult of our times, or at least the beginnings of a turning point. As technology reaches new heights, more and more people are looking for ways to better themselves — to reach a higher consciousness —  whether it’s through self-improvement or meditation, transformative travel or psychedelics, utopian social projects or the teachings of wildly popular gurus like Eckhart Tolle. The desire is there. And we want to be in the real world! People are not content with all-digital experiences. So I’m dreaming of new sanctuaries: physical, real-world spaces where people can connect with one another, harnessing the power of things like artificial intelligence and the digital economy to explore and expand their consciousness, where they can have a good time and be a force for good in the world. It’s still a dream, but I’m working on it.

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Claus Sendlinger is the founder of Design Hotels, the first hotel marketing consortium dedicated to the rising boutique hotel movement of the early 1990s. In 2018, he was designated by Condé Nast Traveller as one of “the 50 people changing the way we travel”


Further Thoughts

Are we in the ­b­eginning of a de-globalization process?

find around Venus. There’s Venus and then there are these small moons that are bits and pieces of Venus. So this is ­London, Paris, New York, these huge urban areas, and then you have small moons or satellites that basically revolve around those urban areas.

Kjell A. Nordström

On the other hand, there is this very interesting question: are we in the ­b­eginning of a de-globalization process? The world has been on one trajectory since the end of the Second World War. It was a closed place for obvious reasons right after the war — borders, soldiers, different currencies, passports, you name it. And then slowly, slowly, we started to open the world like an oyster, then faster with the formation of the European Union and the World Trade Organization and the Nafta agreement in North America. And by 1999, 2000, I think we all thought, “Wow, we will continue and move further into this fantastic, global, one-planet-that-we-all-share kind of idea.” But what we see today in a number of industries and across the political landscape is actually the opposite: back to borders, back to border control, multinational companies that sell off international operations and focus on a region rather than trying to cover the globe.

We have been on a wave of urbanization for almost 100 years, but it’s wrapping up right now, and we’re moving toward a world of 600 urban areas, rather than cities. In less than 25 years we will live on less than 1.5 percent of the world’s landmass. This means that we are now creating a lot of sanctuaries, if you will. The whole of Scandinavia is becoming like a desolated national park, the northern parts of Norway and Sweden, where today you really can find wilderness in a way that you couldn’t 10 years ago. Urbanization drives the search for sanctuaries, but these sanctuaries are like urban minihotspots in the middle of nowhere. If you look at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi in the north of Sweden, which is really in the wilderness, it still mimics what you would find in the urban environment in terms of service, eating and drinking, the ideas, and the lifestyle. Think of those small moons that you

We can’t transport fish from Chile to China and from China to Germany and sell it in a German supermarket. That’s what we’ve been doing! We can’t build a German car in Thailand, then ship it back to Germany, the way we have been doing it, which is called globalization. We will watch our borders more closely. Why? Because there is an increasing number of people drifting around in the world, and we want, in most societies, to have a certain control over who’s living here. That’s obvious in a democratic society. So we have a family of forces that basically take us back to, not a nationalistic world, but a regional world, a world made up of small areas like Scotland or Wales or the south of Norway, Bavaria in Germany, where identification comes with a smaller area than the nation-­ state — either regions or urban areas — but we will see a much more distinct identification with where we come from.

Kjell A. Nordström is a celebrated economist, public speaker, advisor, and bestselling author designated one of Thinkers50’s most inf luential management minds. His latest book is Urban Express with Per Schlingmann

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10  Travel Essentials Influential retailer Andreas Murkudis shares his 10 best-kept-secret travel essentials — extraordinary, versatile pieces by little-known brands that have gained cult followings in Berlin and beyond

Photographs  Matthias Weingärtner

Since opening his eponymous concept store in Berlin in 2003, Andreas Murkudis has become something of a sartorial guru to the city’s fashion-­ forward creative set. His impeccable selection of brands, spread over a 1,000-square-meter industrial space in a back courtyard off ­ Berlin’s ­gallery-packed Potsdamer Strasse, includes a few big names, like Dries Van Noten and Yohji Y ­ amamoto, but mostly independent designers and labels that, despite their extra– ordinary quality and style, are rela­ tively unknown.

“The thing is, there are a lot of brands in the store that are perfect for traveling, but hardly anyone knows them.”

“You have to do research to find these brands, because they don’t spend money on advertising,” says Murkudis, who sat down recently with Directions to walk us through some of his travel essentials.

For Murkudis, quality not only trumps quantity but renders it unnecessary. “In my apartment, I can put all of my clothing, minus t-shirts and underwear, on a single small rack,” he says. “Some of these pieces

From Paris-based Catalan designer Isaac Reina to Choya, a 130-yearold Japanese shirt-maker, Murkudis favors brands that produce beautiful, classically stylish items that are built to last. “These people are real ­control freaks,” he says of the designers he carries. “They only want to put things out that are perfect — and this is really rare.”

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I’ve had for more than 20 years.” He adds, “these items are a little expensive, but you’ll have them for ages.” This less-is-more sensibility is particularly relevant to travel, he says. He never checks luggage, preferring instead to bring a few very versatile pieces and use the hotel laundry service when necessary. “Recently I went from Berlin to ­Tokyo, from Tokyo to Paris, from Paris to Mexico City, with one piece of hand luggage,” Murkudis says. “I’m very organized when I travel. I check the weather, the hotel. I never take ­any toiletries if I’m going to a hotel that will have them. I just have hand ­luggage, and I can be free.” So what exactly does he bring? With these 10 items, says Murkudis, you can never go wrong.


1 This classic navy rubberized Mackintosh coat with a removable wool lining was made using a method developed in 1823. “Whenever I’m traveling I have it,” says Murkudis. “Mine is not in the best condition anymore but I’ve had it for 20 years. It’s a really nice product for traveling.” Mackintosh — Navy Bonded Cotton ¾ Coat GR-001D

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New Sanctuaries

3 Mey Story, the premium range from German heritage manufacturer Mey, was established in 1928. The company sources the finest Pima cotton from trusted Peruvian farmers, who traditionally pick the cotton by hand. Then the fabric is knitted at Mey’s small factory in southern Germany, where experienced craftspeople tailor the garments. “The regular Mey line you can buy at German department stores, but Mey Story is only sold in a few places,” says Murkudis. “The quality is so high that it keeps its form for a very long time.” Mey Story — Classic White T-Shirt

Oyuna — Mongolian Cashmere Shawl

2 Textile designer Oyuna Tserendorj set out to transform the extremely soft cashmere wool of her native Mongolia into something firmly contemporary. The result is Oyuna, her brand of womenswear, scarves, and homewear made with attention to sustainability and the protection of the unique Mongolian steppe, threatened by overgrazing and desertification. “She’s based in London but she comes from Mongolia, so she has a connection to the herders there,” says Murkudis, who recommends travelers bring along one of Oyuna’s high-quality cashmere shawls.

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Travel Essentials

5 Another Italian brand that goes back half a century, Aspesi has earned a cult following for its classic, simple forms, impeccable cuts, and exceptional materials. Located in Legnano, in northern Italy, the company updates and tweaks an arsenal of its favorite materials each year, just as its iconic models are re-featured each season and gradually added upon as needed. The brand’s stylish and versatile ­Thermore Shirt Alvaro Wool is “one of our biggest sellers,” says Murkudis. “It’s between a shirt and a jacket — so nice for winter, and you have wool inside and a lot of pockets. It’s perfect.” Aspesi — Thermore Shirt Alvaro Wool

Isaac Reina — N°575 Bis Pilot Tote

4 Isaac Reina’s understated, geometrical, immaculately rendered leather goods bear the imprint of his training in architecture back home in his native Barcelona as well as his time at the legendary fashion house Hermès. The Paris-based designer’s N°575 Bis Pilot Tote in thin calf is “perfect for traveling,” says ­Mur­kudis, who uses the bag himself, along with an Isaac Reina leather laptop folder that is “15 years old and in perfect condition.”

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New Sanctuaries

6 This selection of sustainable, organic, unisex loungewear and botanical products by ­Tokyo-based company Secondskin, is “the most important collection for travel,” says Murkudis. “Everything is especially made for flying. It’s really light; you don’t feel the ­fabric.” Included is a t-shirt made of highly processed, machine-washable cotton that went through 40 steps of production to obtain its ultra-soft texture. There’s also a toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, bath salts, and scented paper sheets that can be packed between clothing for freshness. Murkudis was at a fair in Florence when he discovered the company, which was founded by the Japanese creative director and aromatherapist Yindigo A. Mochizuki. “It’s just one person, but she spends so much time to produce these things,” he says.

Marsèll — Murkudis Shoe Collaboration

7 The handmade, artificially aged leather shoes of Venice-based Marsèll, a family label established in 2001, evoke the style of

Secondskin — Travel Collection

­ ohemian travelers stepping right out of b ­Fellini. “The quality is extremely high,” says Murkudis. “We’ve collaborated with them on 25 colors especially made for us, and they are one of our best sellers.”

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Travel Essentials

8 Founded as a small workshop in the Italian town of Ferrara in 1973, Felisi produces high-quality leather goods crafted by talented local artisans with each design bearing a unique number. “They have in their archive around 5,000 different products,” says Murkudis, who travels with the 02/28. “It’s really minimalistic, and the thing is, you have the number always … so say you bought this one 20 years ago and then you want another color or a different leather, a gold zipper instead of silver, you just give them the number and they can produce it for you.” Felisi — 02/28

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New Sanctuaries

9 Paris-based Seya sources and produces their collection of artisanal, sustainably-­ made clothing and objects during yearly trips to far-flung locales, from B ­ angkok and Laos to Argentina to Peru. Murkudis particularly loves the brand’s incense sticks from the Palo Santo tree, a relative of frankincense, myrrh, and copal, that grows on the coast of South America. Not only does it smell amazing, but Palo Santo repels insects — perfect for off-the-beaten-path adventures — and it is said to bring good fortune and enhance creativity. Seya — Palo Santo Incense Sticks

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Travel Essentials

10 Founded in 1886, Choya is one of Japan’s oldest shirt makers, said to supply the imperial family. The innovative company helped cultivate its own hybrid cotton seed and introduced industrial spinning to Asia. The interchangeable collar, which can be switched between Western and Eastern styles, makes it particularly nice for traveling, says Murkudis. “I think we are their only client in Europe at the moment,” he adds, “but we sell them very well.”

Choya — Shirt with Interchangeable Collar

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The Science of Sleep Writer Ben Crair explores the rapidly expanding billion-dollar market for sleep aids, from high-tech gadgets to herbal remedies to “smart pajamas,” and checks into one of the world’s most sleep-forward hotels Illustrations Moonassi

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Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz.

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The Science of Sleep

Abstract When I could not sleep as a child, I would press my head into the pillow, count sheep, and, if that failed, crawl into my parents’ bed. As a grown man, the solutions for insomnia are not so simple, and recently I have started sleeping in an electronic headband that uses “bone conduction speakers” to play sounds through my forehead and directly into my inner eardrum. The Dreem headband is equipped with various sensors to monitor my brain activity and plays special noises at precise moments to improve the quality of deep sleep. It also includes programs to help you to fall asleep, ­including a “cognition” program that plays random words to distract a ruminating brain. And so some nights I lie down listening while a soothing female voice whispers (through my forehead) into my (inner) ear: tourism, bathing, sunset, dress.

Some nights I lie down listening while a soothing female voice whispers (through my forehead) into my (inner) ear: tourism, bathing, sunset, dress 

Materials The headband is just one of several sleep aids that have made their way onto my nightstand. I have recently been exploring the booming market in “sleep aids,” the growing number of consumer products to improve our sleep. Good sleep is essential to healthy functioning, but it is increasingly hard to come by in our age of push alerts and LED screens: more than a third of American adults do not get enough sleep. No wonder, then, that people are willing to shell out to improve their rest. The global market for sleep aids hit $69.5 billion in 2017, and many companies, from startups like Dreem to heavyweights like Philips, are pumping out sleep pro­ducts. They draw on the research of prestigious medical schools, like Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, that have set up divisions of sleep medicine. 31

Some evenings I zonk out in Under Armour’s “Athlete Recovery Sleepwear,” which supposedly boosts blood flow to sore muscles by returning outgoing infrared energy to the body. I cannot really tell if my body recovers faster from exercise after sleeping in the pajamas, but I like the way they feel on my skin — smooth like silk, but strangely heavy too, as though they have been soaked in water. I travel with the Rohm portable sound machine by Marpac, which plays white noise to help me sleep through the night in noisy new places. And occasionally, I burn a “tranquility scented candle” from Neom, “a complex blend of 19 of the purest possible essential oils,” selected for their sleep-friendly olfactory properties.


Essay

Most aromatherapy candles don’t tout scientific research on their labels, but studies have backed their value as sleep aids. One study, for instance, of 31 subjects found that the scent of lavender “increased the percentage of deep or slow-wave sleep,” and that “all subjects reported higher vigor the morning after lavender exposure.” But some poor sleepers may need more than the smell of flowers  — which is how I ended up with the Dreem headband.

to memory loss and depression. Melatonin, a sleep-­ promoting hormone produced by the pineal gland, available in a variety of over-the-counter supplements, is a safer option. A 2018 study in the United States showed that melatonin works by suppressing neurons in the brain that keep you awake and alert. Many people swear by it, especially for jet lag. Personally, I can’t say I noticed a difference.

Deep sleep follows REM sleep and is especially important to memory consolidation and cognitive performance, and the Dreem headband aims to enhance it with audio stimulations to strengthen the brain’s “slow oscillations.” This is supposed to result in better sleep — but I often found myself waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to remove the headband, simply so that my head could rest flush against the pillow.

Methodology

There was a time when a sleep-challenged person like me might unthinkingly pop an Ambien. But in recent years, there’s been mounting scientific evidence that pharmaceutical sleep aids are addictive and connected

In my experience, one old-fashioned sleep aid rises above the others: a good hotel room. I was reminded of this when I recently checked into the Terrace Suite on the top floor of The Soho Hotel in London, one of 10 properties owned by Firmdale Hotels, a brand known for its thoughtfulness about sleep. Designed by Kit Kemp, an award-winning interior designer as well as the co-owner of Firmdale, the suite’s cozy, handcrafted feel stood in contrast to the anesthetized sleekness of more generic hotel rooms. The bed’s headboard rose almost to the ceiling: I jumped in like a child into a ball pit. First, I stretched horizontally across the super king

32


The Science of Sleep

Good sleep is essential to healthy functioning, but it is increasingly hard to come by in our age of push alerts and LED screens

mattress, my toes not even dangling off the edge; then I spun myself rightward and climbed beneath the sheets. The underside of the comforter was lined with silk. Floor-to-ceiling windows wrapped around the suite and gazed over the rooftops of nearby buildings. In my bed, I felt part of the city but isolated and safe from it also. This balancing act, of making a guest feel both in the city and away from it, is a challenge that any urban boutique hotel faces. Hotels are, after all, increasingly part of the lives of cities — places where visitors and locals come to eat, work, party, and relax. But they remain, at their core, places where people want a good night’s rest. “Quite simply, we sell sleep,” says Anna Jackson, the operations director for Firmdale Hotels. The guest’s ability to get a good night’s rest, she says, is “the most important element when we are planning a hotel.” This task is made especially tall by what researchers call the “first-night effect,” where one half of the brain stays more alert than the other half when a subject is sleeping in a new environment. This often results in a night of fitful sleep and makes guests extra-sensitive to noise and

other disturbances — which can be a problem, especially for urban hotels. The Soho Hotel, for instance, is located in one of London’s busiest and most vibrant neighborhoods, an area packed with restaurants, cafés, bars, shops, and theaters. “Building hotels in Soho was always a risk due to the ambient noise levels through until the early hours of the morning,” says Jackson. The Soho Hotel’s windows are triple-glazed to muffle street noise. (Jackson calls glazing “the most important element to start with.”) All the doors have a soft-closing mechanism to dampen sound, even the doors on the

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Essay

Most of us want the same thing at night — eight hours of uninterrupted and deep sleep — but the ways we pursue it are as myriad as our dreams

pantries. The rooms in The Soho Hotel, and every other Firmdale property, offer several bedtime luxuries that any sleep-challenged guest can appreciate, from custom mattresses with several layers of natural fibers, to customized pillows, bed linens, duvets, and even a bottle of Rik Rak pillow spray so that they can fall asleep to the scent of lavender and eucalyptus.

Limitations of Study So, has all of my research, and the products that incorporate it, improved my sleep? I’m not always sure, which is a reminder that sleep is an art as much as a science. Most of us want the same thing at night — eight hours of uninterrupted and deep sleep — but the ways we pursue it are as myriad as our dreams. Some people’s bedtime ritual is like a séance, with the lighting of exotic candles and the brewing of strange teas. For others, going to bed is more like an athletic event, with stretching, bathing, and breathing exercises. Like any art form, sleep has its savants: I know a guy who can fall asleep standing on a crowded New York subway train and wake up 15 minutes later feeling totally refreshed. Perhaps the truest sleep artists, though, are those who use no products and simply consider sleep as that thing they do after sex. As for me, I will continue to take sleep one night at a time, trying new aids, techniques, and rituals until one day, hopefully, I learn what works for me. And when all else fails, I’ll book a hotel room.  ■ 34


Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

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Trend Forecast

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The Traveler is

Present In a world defined by technological excess and automation, we will increasingly look to travel for something we once took for granted: human connection Words  The Future Laboratory

You can’t go somewhere if you’re already everywhere. In an age in which we freely distribute ourselves across a multitude of digital channels, exist in multiple time zones simultaneously, and maintain a m ­ is­c­ellany of identities dependent on whichever platform we’re currently staring at, adventure becomes all but impossible. If you doubt that this is the case, consider whether you have ever had to ask someone, or been asked yourself, to merely be “present.” It’s a

common request in office meetings, around the family dinner ­table, on date night. We’re quick to dismiss this as the simplest of tasks, a common courtesy that requires no ­degree of effort. The truth, however, is ­otherwise. Today, partici­ pation in the digital economy is both mandatory and continuous. Indeed, the average Briton checks their phone every 12 minutes, according to research by Ofcom, while a 2017 US study showed that incidents of “technoference” were disrupting parent-­c hild relationships to 37

such a degree that they were causing unforeseen behavioral issues. If it sounds like we’re already at a crisis point, then look away now. Studies predict that by 2020 the ­average person will have more conversations with artificially intelligent bots than with their partner. By 2025, we are forecast to be interacting with con­nected devices nearly 4,800 times per day, according to a recent study by leading data storage company Seagate. No wonder distraction is fast becoming our default


Trend Forecast

By 2025, we are forecast to be interacting with connected devices nearly 4,800 times per day. No wonder distraction is fast becoming our default state state. “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it,” explains Matthew B. Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head. “We’ve sacrificed ­silence — the c­ ondition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.” Indeed, thinking is increasingly an activity being designed out of our day-to-day experience. “When it comes to the most central tenet of individualism — free will — tech companies have a different way,” explains Franklin Foer, author of World Without Mind: The ­Existential Threat of Big Tech. “They hope to automate the choices, both large and small, that we make as we float through the day.” This is the era of “subconscious commerce,” in which any friction in the process of consumption is reduced to a minimum and the path to purchase is transformed into an infinite loop. The ultimate manifestation of this is automated retail, or “Just Walk Out” shopping, a development that is transforming the way we interact with brands, mainly by omitting the human element.This is already prevalent in China, home to rapidly expanding automated retail startups like ­BingoBox and Take Go. At the newest stores of ­Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, customers have their faces scanned before the AI-powered environment confronts them with customized adverts and promotions based on demographic cues and past shopping habits. While Amazon Go outlets might be the only credible example of such automated stores currently operating in the west, this is largely because brands targeting this market are looking even further over the horizon to a time when you won’t even need to step out, let alone check out. A combination of self-driving technology and consumer data profiling means that the concept of ­“destination retail” looks to have a shortened shelf life, replaced instead by an armada of mobilized and modular storefronts. From startups such as Robomart and 38


Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

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Trend Forecast

“Just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think”  Matthew B. Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head

AutoX to grocery giants like Kroger, US shoppers will soon only have to journey as far as their front driveway to browse aisles of algorithmically stocked con­sumer goods within one of the new mobile storefronts. Our day-to-day existence is therefore set to be defined by states of detachment, stasis, and over-saturation, a condition in which there is no need to ask for anything because all desires have already been predicted and ­fulfilled … and there is no one to talk to anyway. For the hospitality industry, this provides a clear imperative. Travel is focused on granting access to the extra­ordinary, and in a world defined by technological excess, tuning out the digital noise in order to make room for the sort of human connections we once took for granted is the new premium. “What we should be questioning is why humans dream of making intelligence artificial instead of realizing the relevance of augmenting our own imperfect, yet beautiful, human intellect with the philosophy of metacognition, or in simpler words: ­learning how to think,” argues Andrés Colmenares, co-founder of Internet Age Media. In this respect, travel’s metier of “broadening the mind” has never been more important. In its purest sense, travel has always been about achieving this ideal — to generate genuinely profound thoughts, to discover original sources of knowledge, to be inspired by exposure to the unfamiliar. If a moment of collectedness ,  of “not being addressed,”  is a prerequisite to achieving this end, then the physical context is key. Room has to be made; a refuge has to be sought. Each adventure must begin by allotting a time and a place to be truly “present,” perhaps for the first time in months. The most important aspect of any sanctuary is not its fixtures, however, but the person who is there to open the door. Hospitality in its most literal form means to “receive with goodwill.” That is why the simplest dwelling can easily be made as hos­pitable as 40

1  Our day-to-day existence is set to

be defined by states of detachment, stasis, and over-saturation. Image by Aleksandra Szymanska for The Future Laboratory 2  System Aesthetics, a digital

illustration series by London-based creative agency Field, depicts the form, structure, and behavior of Artificial Intelligence algorithms 3  In the era of “subconscious

commerce,” any friction in the process of consumption is reduced to a minimum, using technologies like facial recognition. This computer-generated image shows a human face with markers of biometric facial recognition software


The Traveler is Present

1

2

3

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Trend Forecast

 The most important aspect of any sanctuary is not its fixtures, but the person who is there to open the door

the finest five-star hotel. That’s also why anyone looking for adventure in today’s distracted world knows to look not for places, but people. To see how this ethos is transforming the hospitality industry, you need only to look at the revival of the members’ club concept in cities around the world, redefined around the tenets of inclusivity and community rather than tradition and elitism. Take Singapore-based 1880 as a case in point. Unlike older establishments such as The Tanglin Club and the Singapore Cricket Club, long-standing bastions of status and privilege, 1880 ­exists “to inspire conversations that impact society in a positive way,” says founder Marc Nicholson. “It’s a lofty statement. But I’m not being naive. It’s genuinely about diversity and inclusion.” In line with this philosophy, the club is establishing a membership panel that will offer honorary membership to anyone who can enrich the club but can’t afford its $2,000 yearly fee. And like Chinese whispers, a lust for the loquacious is spreading. The tagline for many of today’s leading ­venues should simply read, “let’s talk.” New York and Chicago boutique hotel brand The James Hotels offers a new service that sends intuitive counselors to guests’ rooms in order to target their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. The Standard, High Line hotel in New York features a free phone booth with a direct line to the switchboard at the US capitol. Even London’s Ministry of Sound, where the city’s youth used to commune over dance hits and cheap lager, has opened a members’ club, noting that these days, the most hedonistic act might just be sitting across the table from one another.

the art of conversation.” The concept was inspired by Stanford University’s Interpersonal Dynamics elective, which Norn founder Travis Hollingsworth attended while studying for his master’s degree. Voted the most popular elective course at Stanford, it is renowned for helping students to forge strong relationships with ­others, particularly those from different backgrounds. Building on this conversational concept, members can spend up to six months as a Norn resident at a cost of £1,510 per month. Anyone wishing to reside, however, must undergo a psychographic assessment to ensure their compatibility with both the brand’s ethos and with other guests. “Modern life, for many of us, is missing the space for meaningful gatherings and exchanges among foreign people and ideas,” explains Hollingsworth. “We are playing with the idea of how social networks are formed, like Facebook, but in the offline world.” Companies like Norn are banking on the idea that what people want more than ever from travel is real-world connection. As our day-to-day lives become increasingly digitized and automated, we will travel to unplug, to meet face to face, to find a community, and to be welcomed with goodwill.  ■

But perhaps the most fully rounded expression of this trend is Norn. Part members’ club, part residency, with locations in London, Berlin, Barcelona, and San ­Francisco, Norn is billed as an “offline network reviving 42

The images on pages 54, 57, and 61 are part of a 2015 visual art series by Julien Mauve titled Greetings From Mars


Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

43


A Journey into Rural China China’s cities have industrialized at a pace unseen in human history, but now a new generation of architects, artisans, and entrepreneurs is returning to the countryside with an ambitious series of rural retreats that value slowness, silence, and cultural heritage

Words  Charly Wilder Photographs  Robbie Lawrence


The Spa is Dead From an Umbrian monastery to the shores of Big Sur, Ben Crair explores the shifting landscape of wellness travel, where Eastern mysticism, alternative medicine, and mindfulness are uprooting conventional spa concepts. Illustrations  Lea Heinrich


Travel Diary

一 On my first morning in Fujian, I woke up at dawn to the sound of rushing water. Rising from bed, I slid open one of the old wooden windows of my room, which was situated within a 180-year-old mountain dwelling in southeastern China. I dressed quickly and descended a narrow staircase of dark cypress, entering the first of the structure’s several interlocking stone courtyards.

GR

E AT

WALL

OF CHINA

BEIJING

Y E LLOW SE A

I had arrived under the cover of night, and the view now as I stepped into the main courtyard was astonishing —  like entering into a painting. Traditional earthen-brick buildings known as “tulou” rose up against a backdrop of lush emerald-green hills ridged with oolong tea plantations and persimmon trees, all hung in mist. The doorways were marked with faded Chinese calligraphy, remnants of its time as a traditional family home during the latter half of the Qing dynasty. I walked through the courtyard and stepped out the front gate into the 600-year-old village of Taxia. A stream rushed by my feet, the sound of water now so loud it drowned out even the morning birdsong.

Yangzhou SHA N GHA I

CHINA

Taxia X IA M E N

H O N G KO N G

It was hard to believe I was really here, that such a world was even accessible to a foreign visitor like me. And until recently, for the most part, it wasn’t. Tourism to the People’s Republic of China has been building rapidly in the several decades since the nation began to open up, growing from about 230,000 foreign tourists in 1978 to 59.27 million in 2016. The vast majority of this influx has concentrated in the cities, where infrastructure was more quickly developed. And yet, while the foreign media continues to report on China’s breakneck-speed urbanization, its countryside has been developing at a speed and scale unseen in the West. Drawn by the promise of boundless opportunity, architects and artists — as well as capital flow — have been converging in rural areas across the country. It’s against this backdrop that billionaire venture capitalist Wang Gongquan, who is famous in China not only as a businessman but as a liberal advocate and sometime poet, launched Tsingpu Retreats in 2017, hoping to serve a growing desire for slowness, silence, rural heritage, and communion with nature and oneself. Each retreat is the work of a different architect, who incorporates contemporary design into the understanding of local history, environment, and traditions. This sensibility pertains not only to the architecture: Guests are offered an immersive

Images from in and around Tsingpu Tulou Retreat in Taxia village, part of greater Zhangzhou in the southeastern province of Fujian

program of cultural activities, from bamboo foraging in the hills around Tsingpu Tulou Retreat in Fujian, to Ming dynasty-style fan-folding at Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a remarkable hyper-modern construction that, since its opening in 2018, quickly made its way into the headlines of global design publications like Dezeen and ArchDaily. Four retreats are open at the time of writing, with a total of 10 slated by the end of 2019. 二 To get to any of the Tsingpu retreats, foreign visitors fly into one of China’s main international hubs — typically Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong — where they will inevitably get a first-hand feel for the urban crowding

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A Journey into Rural China

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Travel Diary

1  Wang Gongquan is famous

in China not only as a wildly successful businessman but as a liberal advocate and sometime poet 2  China’s notoriously poor air

quality has improved in recent years, due largely to a government crackdown on pollution, but there are still bad days 3  The Forbidden City is a

sprawling 15th-century palace complex consisting of hundreds of elaborate red-and-gold pavilion-style constructions with names like the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Palace of Gathering Elegance

1

and congestion that characterizes much of the country. China’s notoriously poor air quality has improved in recent years, due largely to a government crackdown on pollution. So I was surprised to exit Beijing airport into a noxious, gray-colored smog. There are still bad days apparently, but I decided to be optimistic — a few days wouldn’t hurt, would they? And as I sat in the back of a taxi, watching hundreds of masked motorcyclists and rickshaw drivers weaving in and out of the narrow hutong alleyways in the shadows of high-rise towers, I couldn’t help but admit the smog lent the city a woozy Blade Runner-esque kind of lyricism. The next day was as maximalist and dreamlike as they come. We woke up and drove two hours to the well-preserved Mutianyu stretch of the Great Wall, which snakes dragon-like and solitary along an electrifying landscape of misty undulating terrain. Built over millennia and fortified during the Ming dynasty, the ancient 5,500-mile Wall was meant to keep out northern invaders and protect Silk Road trade as China developed from a chaotic topography of warring forces into a great imperial power, bringing the arts, philosophy,

and sciences to unprecedented heights. Standing atop the Wall, I had the strange sensation of seeing history from above — as if I were floating outside of time. From there, we headed into central Beijing and joined the great masses of people making their way through the red-walled Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City, a sprawling 15th-century palace complex used by the imperial family. We walked the old imperial road to the Gate of Heavenly Peace, or Tiananmen, which is crowned with a massive portrait of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, who ruled the country as the Chairman of the Communist Party from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.We could look south from there onto Tiananmen Square, where Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic but which is best known in the West for the student-led pro-democracy protests that took place there in 1989. Wang Gongquan, then a student, was one of the protesters arrested that day, and in a similar contrast between the external and internal depictions of China, he is perhaps best known in the West for his activism. He’s been

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A Journey into Rural China

I couldn’t help but admit that the smog lent the city a woozy Blade Runner-esque kind of lyricism ...

2

imprisoned twice — once in the Tiananmen crackdown and again in 2013 in connection with his involvement in the New Citizens’ Movement.Yet in China, his celebrity derives mostly from his tremendous business success and unique biography. Mr.Wang grew up in the northeastern province of Jilin, where he worked for the government before quitting to co-found Vantone Holdings in 1991, one of the country’s leading real estate developers. In the 2000s he ran several venture capital and private equity funds, with which he amassed a fortune, in China but also abroad in Silicon Valley. “I consider Tsingpu the last work of my career — my masterpiece,” said Mr. Wang through a translator, when I met with him at the company’s headquarters the next morning. Looking at his own career and the rapidly developing Chinese market, he saw an opening for a series of sophisticated, culturally engaged rural retreats that would cater to booming Chinese wealth and interest from abroad. “I’m trying to create a place, a site, for people to feel the beauty of poetry, their inner heart, their artistic spirit.” This has become harder and harder to find in the cities, he said, and after 48 hours in Beijing, I was inclined to agree. The project requires intense cooperation with the government, but Mr. Wang said that his past brushes with controversy have not caused him any problems. “On the contrary, I think that most of the officials respect me because of my work to help people,” he said. And in many ways, his reputation has been beneficial: “Everyone knows I will never pay a bribe.” Tsingpu also connects with Mr.Wang’s love for classical Chinese poetry, which is rooted in Confucianism and takes pastoral beauty and the contemplation of nature as enduring themes. As a way to explain what he hoped Tsingpu Retreats would accomplish, he quoted Xin Qiji, a 12th-century poet who is one of his favorites. “ ‘Oh, how lovely the green mountains look to me! Do I look the same in the eyes of the trees and flowers?’ ” Mr.Wang paused. “So that’s the concept,” he said, looking at me with laughing eyes. “I think I get it,” I told him. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure. 三

3

In any case, by the time we said goodbye to Mr. Wang and boarded a plane due southeast, I was ready for the country. A couple of hours later we landed in Xiamen, a city of some 4 million people in southeastern Fujian. Its 49


Travel Diary

“I’m trying to create a place, a site, for people to feel the beauty of poetry, their inner heart, their artistic spirit”

the rooms with furniture by Fnji (pronounced Fanji), a Chinese company that has helped reinvigorate the country’s design scene with its elegantly minimalist high-end ash and walnut wood furnishings. There are also refined in-room touches like earthenware tea sets with clay vessels of local black and wheat teas.

Wang Gongquan

airport, the closest to Tsingpu Tulou, is situated on an island in the Taiwan Strait. I let the warm, semitropical air stream in the windows as we drove for hours in the dark, seeing the occasional flash of banana trees, until we eventually arrived at Tsingpu Tulou. Two members of the young staff — all locals of the village — brought us tea and fruit and showed us to our rooms, but it wasn’t until that next misty morning that I got a sense of the property. The three main buildings of Tsingpu Tulou Retreat date back more than 180 years, when they were the home of the wealthy Zhang family (nearly all the inhabitants of Taxia village are related to this same family). The father lived in one building, his three wives lived in another, and their 11 children lived in the third. Polygamy was a marker of affluence among the Hakka people, an ethnic group that spread from central China into the southeast around 1,000 years ago, fleeing unrest and invasions. The threat of bandits and marauders contributed to the unique Hakka building style known as “tulou,” fortified earthen dwellings that sealed off the living space from the outside. Tsingpu Tulou Retreat was built over the course of a year, an ambitious $8 million adaptive-reuse project led by the Beijing-based studio Trace Architecture Office (TAO), which since its founding in 2009 by the architect Hua Li has become renowned for its site-responsive construction methods that honor cultural and environmental conditions. With the help of dozens of local artisans, craftspeople, and laborers, TAO knocked down walls to enlarge the rooms, raised ceilings, and restored original details and features, like ornate lotus-shaped interlocking wooden ceiling brackets known as “dougong,” using materials reclaimed from other tulou sites. They filled

As we sat down to lunch in the restaurant, one of two new buildings TAO constructed for the project, I got to experience how this localism extends to the retreat’s cuisine. Waiters brought a feast of regional delicacies, like bone-in chicken soup (Fujian cuisine is known for its soups), razor clams served with hot Chinese watermelon, fresh bamboo root with pork belly, and a dessert of red bean paste with orange peel. Everything was delicious, and unlike other Chinese regional cuisines (Szechuan and Hunan being the most famous in the West), Fujian cuisine is neither spicy nor greasy, tending instead to sweet and sour tastes. I found the food quite accessible — barring the local breakfast, which was served alongside Western items like croissants and omelets. It consisted of congee, a glutinous rice porridge, topped with items like pork floss, fermented tofu, and “hundred-year eggs,” i.e. duck eggs preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for many weeks until the yolk turns a creamy, piquant dark gray-green and the white becomes a salty, dark-brown, translucent jelly. I’m generally an adventurous eater, but I found myself, without a moment’s hesitation, reaching for the croissant. After lunch, we walked through the village of Taxia, following the stream through its jungle-green hilly terrain. Centuries-old earthen and brick-wood village dwellings were stacked like Jenga blocks along the banks of the stream, which was crisscrossed by small wooden footbridges. Our guide, a 36-year-old local named Junhao Zhang, explained that the village is named for the taijitu, the Chinese term for what we call in English a yin-yang symbol. That’s how Taxia is shaped when

50

Tsingpu Tulou Retreat was built over the course of a year, an ambitious 8-million-dollar adaptive-reuse project led by the Beijing-based studio Trace Architecture Office (TAO)


A Journey into Rural China

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Travel Diary

1

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A Journey into Rural China

2

3

1  The three main buildings of

5

Tsingpu Tulou Retreat date back more than 180 years, when they were the home of the wealthy Zhang family 2  Part of Gaobei Tulou Cluster,

the massive Unesco-marked “king of tulou” was built in 1709 and includes four concentric rings surrounding an ancestral hall 3  A Taxia villager prepares

dinner for his family 4  Renyan Zhu, a 40-year-old

mother of two, works on a tea plantation and gives tours at the Gaobei Tulou Cluster, where she lives with her husband and sons 5  Unlike other regional cuisines,

Fujian food is neither spicy nor greasy, featuring refined dishes like razor clams with hot Chinese watermelon, pictured here

4

53


Travel Diary

St.  G eorge’s main staircase

incorporates original architectural elements of the heritage building.

A traditional family home in the Fujian village of Taxia, named for its yin-yang shape when viewed from above

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A Journey into Rural China

St.  G eorge’s main staircase

Little Pangu Garden is a traditional walled garden in Yangzhou featuring ornate pavilions, zigzagging pathways, and ponds set with craggy rockery pulled from the sea

incorporates original architectural elements of the heritage building.

55


Travel Diary

St.  G eorge’s main staircase

incorporates original architectural elements of the heritage building.

St.  G eorge’s main staircase

incorporates original architectural elements of the heritage building.

1

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A Journey into Rural China

St.  G eorge’s main staircase

incorporates original architectural elements of the heritage building.

2

1  Inspired by the courtyard

typology of vernacular Chinese architecture, Neri & Hu designed Tsingpu Yangzhou to interact with the changing daylight and to blur the transition between interior and exterior 2  The property sits on a stretch

of ecologically diverse marshland, characteristic of the Slender West Lake region 3  Litte Pangu Garden, part of

3

the 600-year-old Dingjiawan residential district, has a mazelike, geometric quality that inspired Neri & Hu when creating Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat

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Travel Diary

The property’s mazelike gridded structure was all dramatic ­shadow-cast geometrical angles, darkened to abstraction

you, she sang a song for us, one she learned as a child. It was traditionally sung on the tea plantations by wives to their husbands, wishing them health and well wishes when the men would leave to find paid work abroad. I listened to Renyan’s voice, pure and beautiful, fill the space between us. 四

viewed from above, bisected by a curving stream and punctuated by two circular tulou roofs. I asked how he felt, as a 20th-generation Taxia local, about this influx of foreign visitors. “We really love it,” he said, “for introducing tulou culture to the world. And as more tourists come, locals can have more chances to make money and improve things for their family.” We walked to the second-story tea room to get a good view of the mountains. “You should see it on a summer night,” said Junhao fondly, “when the hills fill with fireflies.” That evening, an instructor led us in a session of traditional Fujian wood-painting. We each received a flat piece of wood and a palette of paint and spent the evening slowly working away at our compositions as our cups were refilled with steaming green tea. After only a day in Fujian, my mindstate was altered, the clamor of the city already fading from memory. The next day, we traveled to the nearby Gaobei Tulou Cluster, a kind of open-air museum where we were able to visit three massive Unesco-marked multi-story cylindrical tulou. The tulou were built to accommodate hundreds of families at once, and some of their descendants still live there, offering tours of the structures and selling tea and tobacco. After showing us around, one of these descendants, a 40-year-old mother of two named Renyan Zhu, brought us into her home for a tea ceremony, one of China’s most beloved and ubiquitous daily rituals. We sat around a table, and Renyan poured us cup after cup of steaming tea, black and oolong, and a “blooming” green tea made with marigold and globe amaranth that, when added to hot water, appeared to actually blossom before our eyes. With our guide as a translator we chatted about our lives, her husband and children, work on the tea plantation, my husband back in Berlin. I bought some tea from her, and as a thank

After two days in Fujian, we flew from Xiamen to ­Yangzhou, a city in China’s Jiangsu province that straddles the Grand Canal north of the Yangtze River. Once a major stop for the salt trade, it’s now known for its ancient shrines and traditional gardens. Again we drove in darkness until finally we reached Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat. By night, the property’s mazelike gridded structure, which was inspired by the courtyard typology of vernacular Chinese architecture, was all dramatic shadow-cast geometrical angles, darkened to abstraction. It was spectacular, as was the sunken, rectangular reception room, where glass walls looked out on one of many shallow Tetris-shaped reflection pools. Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, sometimes referred to as “The Walled,” is the work of Neri & Hu, an acclaimed architectural firm founded by partners Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu.They began with several existing structures, then expanded, using over 1.2 million reclaimed gray bricks they collected from Yangzhou and surrounding areas. “Every brick has a story,” said the concierge as he walked me through the retreat the next morning, pointing out centuries-old markings on some of the bricks — Chinese characters meaning “long life” or “be happy.” Neri & Hu designed the structure to interact with the changing daylight. Squares of light appear on the walls like framed pictures. Shadows stretch, contract, and move upward and downward as the hours progress.

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Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a hyper-modern construction by leading Chinese architects Neri & Hu, opened in 2018 to instant acclaim, gracing the headlines of global design publications like Dezeen and ArchDaily


A Journey into Rural China

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Travel Diary

“Oh, how lovely the green mountains look to me! Do I look the same in the eyes of the trees and flowers?” Xin Qiji, 12th-century poet

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the locals haven’t all embraced such an ambitious undertaking. Or as the concierge put it: “They think it looks unfinished.” To get a better feel not only for the region but for the aesthetic traditions that inform the retreat, we went the next day to the oldest part of town, the 600-year-old Dingjiawan residential district. Like Tsingpu Yangzhou, the area has a mazelike, geometric quality. Light moves through openings and across walls. We stopped at Little Pangu Garden, a privately owned traditional walled garden and walked down its zigzagging pathways lined with a great variety of palms, orchids, and bamboo, around ornate pavilions and ponds set with craggy rockery pulled from the sea, all hemmed in by walls built to replicate the spine of a dragon. From there, we visited the ancient Daming Temple, which is known throughout the Buddhist world for one of its monks, Jianzhen, who helped to spread Buddhism to Japan in the 8th Century B.C. I watched pilgrims burn fistfuls of incense, bowing and wielding it over their heads, praying at the feet of statues depicting Buddha and his disciples. It was a Saturday, so the temple was thronged with visitors, among them several Japanese tour groups, who shuffled back and forth under the shade of a blossoming osmanthus tree, which filled the courtyard with its distinctive sweet-wine aroma. It was undeniable that the place had a spiritual aura, a sublime calm cultivated over millennia. We returned to the retreat for a dinner of braised eel with pumpkin and garlic, hollowed-out dragon fruit filled with seared beef, mushroom, and peppers, and “flowers” made from jellyfish, carrot, and cucumber.

As I ate, it was as if I could actually taste the landscape. Like Fujian food, Jiangsu cuisine is mild, favoring sour and sweet to salt and spice. But the food at Yangzhou was even more refined than what we had at Tulou, which might have less to do with regional differences and more with the man in charge, Changzhu Gao, a third-generation Yangzhou chef whose grandfather cooked for Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China. After dinner, the retreat hosted a concert by a master of the guqin, a plucked seven-string instrument of the zither family said to date back more than 5,000 years. The master called each of us on stage to learn a few bars of a popular Cantonese song called “Laughing on the Blue Sea.” I slid my fingers across the strings and heard the melody take shape. The next morning — my last in Yangzhou — I took a walk down the long bank of the nearby Slender West Lake, savoring these last solitary moments in nature. Weeping willows swayed in the wind, their pendulous branches grazing the surface of the water like fingers on silk. The guqin still played in my head, and the sun cast a pale glow, doubling a pagoda onto the water’s surface. I felt somehow part of it, but also separate, and I was suddenly reminded of the Xin Qiji poem Mr. Wang had quoted to me back in Beijing. “Oh, how lovely the green mountains look to me! Do I look the same in the eyes of the trees and flowers?” At the time, I’d found it hard to get my head around. But that morning in Yangzhou, it made perfect sense.  ■

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Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .

Nadeen, an oil and mixed media painting by American street artist Dan Witz .


The

Making A former Augustinian cloister becomes a modern-day sanctuary under the guidance of legendary Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen in his first-ever hotel project


of

August Words Sophie Lovell

Photographs Robert Rieger


Making of

“My style is very understated. It is very subtle. It’s timeless. In a way there is a modernity with a hint of conservatism” Vincent Van Duysen

The Flemish city of Antwerp is, quite simply, beautiful. From the point of view of an architecture fan, it has that rare combination of ingredients: centuries of trade wealth translated into bricks, mortar, heritage, and ­culture, balanced with a forward-looking attitude that does not shy from experimentation and statement. It is also the home of excellent taste. Situated on the river Scheldt, with its North Sea access, Antwerp has been one of the world’s largest ports since the 16th century, trading everything from sugar to oil and, most famously, diamonds. In the Late Middle Ages, the city’s merchants, understandably proud of their ­pecuniary prowess, started building tall, tightly packed townhouses with distinctive stepped-gable fronts, each with its own additional “bling” in the form of carvings, statues, gold leaf, twiddly brickwork, and even turrets. The old medieval city center is full of them, like squeezed Venetian palazzos robbed of their canals, all clustered around a magnificent Gothic cathedral that looks as if it has been woven from the finest lace. Fanning out from the center, the buildings get a little younger, but the architectural range and variety of styles and the expressions of comfortable wealth do not lessen. If anything, the buildings get more elegant: tall and slim with perfect proportions, front doors and window frames immaculately glossed in discreet muted colors. And it makes sense that some of the best-dressed buildings in Europe should house some of the best dressers: Since the 1980s and the emergence of the so-called

“Antwerp Six” (fashion design graduates from the ­Royal Academy of Fine Arts including Dries Van Noten and Ann D ­ emeulemeester), the city has grown into a major f­ ashion center. Add to that mix dynamic music and art scenes, and Antwerp has grown into one of the continent’s resurgent culture capitals. And now, southwest of the city center in the upcoming neighborhood of Berchem, a leading figure in Antwerp’s design scene, Vincent Van Duysen, has transformed a former Augustinian cloister into his (remarkably) first-ever hotel project — August, opening in spring 2019. “I’ve been approached many times by other people, even big names, to design hotels,” said Van Duysen. “In a way, I was never ready for it. But with August, the building, the location, the fact that it’s my hometown and with a family that I know, means that the chemistry is just right.” The story of August begins with Mouche Van Hool, owner of what has to be the most stylish boutique hotel in Antwerp, Hotel Julien, set in one of those beautifullyboned residences in the city center. Van Hool worked in public relations and advertising before she and her ­husband Laurent De Scheemaecker, a shipping and business lawyer, bought the house and converted it into a hotel. It wasn’t long however before it was exceeding capacity, so they were looking for a new location to add to their portfolio, says Van Hool, “when in 2014 a friend called me about this former cloister in the Green Quarter that was being sold as a hotel project.”

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August by Vincent Van Duysen

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A leading figure in the Antwerp design scene, Vincent Van Duysen works in an understated style that clearly stems from the city’s historical architectural cadence


Making of

“When you restore a building, you have to do it with respect. We have to consider the past as being a beautiful gift” Vincent Van Duysen

Het Groen Kwartier (the Green Quarter) is a pedestrian-­ only luxury development on the site of a large 19th-­ century former military hospital complex that used to belong to the Belgian army. Van Hool and De ­Scheemaecker saw the potential of the site immediately. The area is a vibrant one with numerous new shops and restaurants and small cafés. It is close to the Zurenborg area, with its stunning Art Nouveau and fin de siècle-­ style mansions. The De Koninck brewery — a family-­ run business that has been brewing the local beer “bolleke” since 1833 — is also nearby, as is the main ring road. One of the first businesses to open there in 2014 was The Jane, a two-star Michelin restaurant in the ­former hospital chapel at the center of the building ­ensemble, whose young star chef, Nick Bril, is developing the entire food and beverage concept for August. It has been joined by three new apartment blocks, luxury apartments in the renovated former officers’ houses, an advertising agency, a bakery, and  now, this rather special new hotel. “The three huge walled gardens were a big draw for us,” says Van Hool, “Antwerp is quite a dense city. This place is so close to the city center and yet so peaceful with lots of space.” They knew, however, that creating a hotel on this site would not be easy: “It is a heritage listed building; we can’t change anything,” says Van Hool, but they knew just the man who could. “We immediately contacted Vincent Van Duysen to ask if he would be interested in designing the hotel. We have always loved his work and thought that if we did another hotel, we would do it with him.” Van Duysen made his name as an architect and designer in the 1990s. Right across his broad range of architectural and design output — from private houses,

offices, and showrooms, to furniture, light fittings, cutlery, and even his own range of gorgeous pottery storage vessels — a sense of “less is more” and a ­meticulous attention to detailing have become his trademark. Yet he hates to be called a minimalist. His particular aesthetic vision, restrained choices of ­materials, forms, and desaturated color palettes are very much pared to the essentials, but there is a richness there that is anything but spartan. Perhaps luxurious functionalism best describes his much aped and admired style, which is in high demand from clients around the world. Van Hool and De ­Scheemaecker were delighted when he accepted the commission, ­beginning work in N ­ ovember 2014. The project began for Van Duysen Architects with the development of the core concept: “When we start working on each of our projects I always try to give my team the maximum that I can. My mind is full of ­accumulating ideas. I travel a lot. I see a lot. I meet a lot of people. I see a lot of hotels. So, I throw these ideas out verbally and on paper and my team and I start working on them. Then we create different moods and try to design style directions for the hotel,” says Van Duysen. The August site is a combination of five buildings. The biggest challenge for Van Duysen and his team was to link them together in an optimal way without falling foul of heritage restrictions. The nuns’ former private chapel will be the main lounge and bar area. There are two terraced townhouses with gardens adjacent to the site, one of which will accommodate a spa complete with an outdoor swimming pool with its own filtering reed bed. The building behind the chapel, which was the nuns’ living quarters, will contain most of the guestrooms, the kitchen, and a guests’ library.

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The biggest challenge for Van Duysen and his team was to link together the site’s five buildings in an optimal way without falling foul of heritage restrictions


Making of

“This s ­ acred soul, or sacred feeling, is still around, and you cannot deny that” Vincent Van Duysen

After the initial idea phase, says Van Duysen, “I start to eliminate and calm down the process. This place has its own soul, there’s a lot of emotion. My own style is very understated. It is very subtle, it’s timeless. In a way there is a modernity with a hint of conservatism. I’m not the kind of person that wants to create immediate effects. There is a pared-down attitude that we Belgians have in our aesthetics: very humble, very desaturated colors.” Vincent’s distinctive style is one that clearly stems from the historical architectural cadence that is Antwerp’s own, but without the flashy need to show off occasionally. For precisely this reason, in addition to designing many residential and office buildings worldwide, he has worked as a creative director or designer for a ­number of interior furnishing companies, including Molteni&C, Dada, Kvadrat, Paola Lenti, Olivari, B&B Italia, and Flos, to name but a few. This experience and his range of contacts in the business has put him in a unique position when it comes to furnishing his first complete hotel project. The bar, for example, the centerpiece of the former chapel, will have a beautiful Adolf Loos-like light feature by Flos, and all the furniture will be customized and derived from designs he did in collaboration with ­Molteni&C. “The interior has some traditional forms, in a modern way, with beautiful, huge taupe and graybeige sofas combined with little tables as well as more club-like dark black and brown leather sofas that I’ve seen in bars and lounges in traditional hotels,” he explains. “The cupboard systems and door handles are

more archetypical, they just blend in and could have been there forever. The sanitary fittings are also my ­designs for Fantini Rubinetti. The cutlery is designed by me — literally everything is tailor-made.” Dealing with a listed monument means there are a lot of rules they have to respect. “We have to make sure that the program of the hotel fits in the kind of building that we are interfering with,” he says. “It’s also a challenge for me to design without too much ostentation within this type of building that already has a strong identity. There were floor tile patterns, for example, which needed to be restored, particularly in the chapel. They are part of an existing aesthetic that determines the kind of style I have to pick up on, yet I still needed to design a hotel that has its own unique features that make it different from any other hotel.” “When you restore a building, you have to do it with respect,” says Van Duysen, “We have to consider the past as being a beautiful gift. We need to work around it, but in the modern way we are living in now.” The entire project is a labor of meticulous love for the architect: In the end, he says, “the most important thing is that this has to be a place where people can feel calm, comfortable, and at home, but without neglecting the fact that we are still in a place that was sacred. This ­sacred soul, or sacred feeling, is still around, and you cannot deny that. You don’t have to have a chapel to disconnect from the noise around you. I call my own home in Antwerp a ‘sanctuary,’ and I’m sure that this will be another sanctuary, which makes me very happy.”  ■

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August by Vincent Van Duysen

1

2

4

1  Mouche Van Hool, owner of August and Hotel Julien 2–4  Together with restoration architect Wouter Callebaut, Vincent Van Duysen painstakingly renovated the building, outfitting the interiors with a palette of materials and colors in tune with the original

3

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Philippe Schiepan, the creator of Le CollatĂŠral in Arles, France


Spitzmarke

The Moonlighters Many of the figures at the vanguard of hospitality today seem to have one thing in common: they never set out to be hoteliers 73


The Moonlighters

“Ultimately, it’s about emotions” Philippe Schiepan, Le Collatéral

Le Collatéral, an art hotel in the scenic Provençal city of Arles, is not what anyone would call typical. For one thing, it’s housed in a medieval church. For another, it contains only four guestrooms, functioning largely as a hybrid cultural space, hosting exhibitions, workshops, artist-in-residence programs, and other collaborative projects. And while it’s certainly not unusual to find art in a hotel, it’s rather rare to find a hotel that feels, itself, like a work of art. This isn’t business as usual, so it should come as no surprise that the mind behind the project doesn’t come from the hotel business at all. A media pioneer, Philippe Schiepan launched the first experimental private television channel in France in the 1980s. He remade his career as an Internet entrepreneur in the 1990s, then worked in the 2000s as a scenographer of innovative and digital spaces, launching a collaborative 3D project with the Galeries Lafayette Group exploring “digital doubles.” And then, as if out of nowhere, he shifted gears once again to create Le Collatéral, serving as its curator, architect, designer, and grand visionary, transforming the hotel into an immersive environment of commissioned and acquired works, unusual textures, and wild installations. “I grew tired of digital,” said Schiepan. “I think it is a little vintage now and removed from the lives of real people. And I am a real person!” But how, with virtually no experience in hospitality or interior design, did he make it happen? “No method. Just feeling,” he said. “The big challenge was to achieve a place that feels natural, inspiring, and comfortable for guests. If you are at peace with the identity of the structure and the rhythm of the art within, then the design is very easy. It just happens!”

The story of Schiepan and Le Collatéral seems to be part of a wider trend. Driven by instinct and insights derived from outside the industry, first-time hoteliers are increasingly stepping in from other fields and throwing convention to the wind — with remarkable results. Looking across today’s hospitality landscape, it’s clear that many of the figures at the vanguard have one thing in common: they never set out to be hoteliers. For a case in point, turn to Yoshitaka Nojiri, the man behind Trunk Hotel in Tokyo’s hyper-fashionable Shibuya neighborhood. Before launching Trunk, he was influential in the fashion scene, helping to develop the streetwear style known as “Shibuya Casual” as a teenager. Later, he built a career in the wedding industry, pioneering a so-called “private house wedding” style that has since taken hold across Japan and far beyond. This knack for breaking with orthodoxy has a direct through-line to Trunk Hotel, a true boutique property designed as much for locals as tourists, in a travel market flooded with traditional luxury and business hotels. And Nojiri’s unconventional approach didn’t stop there. “We decided not to have manuals for services and operations,” he said. “I understand that manuals make everything easier, but I trust our employees and encourage them to solve problems by them­selves. That requires high skills and a vivid imagi­ nation,” he added. “It is difficult to find people with such talents, but so far it seems to be working well.” There was nothing typical about the creation of G-Rough, a hotel housed in a 400-year-old family residence in Rome’s Piazza Navona. For one thing, G-Rough owner Gabriele Salini actually used to live there. Once he decided to turn it into a hotel, he in­ vited several local artists to move in. “They became

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Spitzmarke

Yoshitaka Nojiri, the man behind Trunk Hotel in Tokyo’s ­hyperfashionable Shibuya neighborhood

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Paul Salmon, owner of Rockhouse and Skylark in Negril, Jamaica, and Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, the woman behind Iceland’s Ion Hotels


The Moonlighters

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Gabriele Salini, owner of G-Rough, a hotel housed in a 400-year-old family residence in Rome’s Piazza Navona

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The Moonlighters

“I recommend all the great places that mean something to me in the city” Gabriele Salini, G-Rough

part of the transformation process,” said Salini. “They created pieces of art inside the building, and later we did a one-day show and invited gallerists.” These artworks are now part of the hotel, as are the many pieces of Italian design furniture from the 1930s through to the 1950s from Salini’s private collection. “It was easy for me to start with the things I had ­a lready collected — it was enough to decorate the hotel’s 10 suites!” said Salini. The resulting visual landscape meshes La Dolce Vita fantasy and Baroque, while at the same time feeling as lived-in and full of character as — yes — a real home, much to the delight of G-Rough’s enthusiastic following. “I wanted the guests to experience exactly where they were in the world,” said Sigurlaug Sverrisdóttir, the woman behind Ion Adventure Hotel in the dramatic hinterlands of Nesjavellir, Iceland and its sister property, Ion City Hotel, in Reykjavik. Before Ion, she spent years traveling the world as a flight attendant and tour operator, staying often in luxury chain hotels and feeling perpetually disappointed by the generic placelessness of so many of them. “You would not get any concept of where you were,” said Sverrisdóttir. So when it came to Ion Adventure Hotel, she said, “I wanted the guests to experience the Icelandic nature, the culture, the trends, music, design, and everything we like and ­appreciate.” She applied this outside-the-box localism to everything from the art and music that fill the hotel to the partially exposed spa, which features organic, mineral-rich volcanic ash and clay sourced from the immediate vicinity. This desire to share with visitors what they love about their home seems to drive many first-time hoteliers. Some, like Salini, even provide their guests with their own personal guidebooks or booklets of recommen­ dations. “I recommend all the great places that mean something to me in the city,” said Salini. “I want to give people an authentic experience of being a true Roman in Rome.” When creating Trunk Hotel, one of Nojiri’s

central goals was to help revitalize the Tokyo neighborhood where he grew up. “I had been feeling that Shibuya was less lively compared to old times,” he said, “so I decided to open a hotel that creates a new culture and energizes the city.” But you don’t have to be from a destination to set out to improve it. It was his instant affection for Jamaica that inspired Australian native Paul Salmon, a former investment banker, to leave the world of finance behind and open Rockhouse Hotel in Negril some 25 years ago. “I fell in love with the country. It has such a vibrant culture and a real identity to it — the music, the culture, the food,” said Salmon. “And the people have such a positive, fun outlook on life.” He knew from the outset that he wanted to give back to the community, but rather than merely give money, Salmon created a freestanding philanthropic organization, the Rockhouse Foundation, which he says has invested over $5 million in the Jamaican educational system. To date, the foundation has completely transformed and modernized six schools and a library. Rockhouse Hotel and Salmon’s unconventional, ethical approach have earned rave reviews, as has his recently opened second hotel, Skylark Negril Beach Resort. In a way it makes perfect sense. Travel is personal. It’s emotional. It’s about how you, the traveler, feels in a given experience. No surprise then that the ability to create such an experience is not necessarily about ­institutional knowledge, but about a certain intangible instinct. You’ve got it or you don’t. “Ultimately, it’s about emotions,” said Schiepan, when asked how he decided on the concept for Le Collatéral. “The art creates pure emotion and, thus, memories. It’s very difficult to put words to these emotions. It’s silence and awe. Our guests don’t say, ‘Oh this is a great place.’ They say, ‘We are just happy to be here!’ So their emotional reaction, not their critical assessment, is what comes through the most.”  ■

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THE NEW

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UTOPIAS How the influence of Burning Man and other alternative gatherings has helped spawn an almost spiritual movement of ideas and culture across the globe — and opened up new worlds of possibility in the realm of lifestyle travel

Words  Gisela Williams

It all started with the words, “Let’s burn a man.” On a summer solstice evening 30 years ago, a bohemian drifter named Larry Harvey spoke those words to a ­dozen friends, torched an effigy of a man, and watched it go up in flames on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. The rest, as they say, is history. In 2018, Burning Man ­attracted almost 70,000 participants, some of whom camp out and live in complete freedom for more than a week in the Nevada desert. The only rules are based on the festival’s 10 Principles, including “radical self-­reliance,” “radical inclusion,” and “leaving no trace.”

What is it about Burning Man and like-minded festivals that inspires a nearly religious fervor? When asked to describe what Burning Man is, Larry Harvey often ­defines it as an experience that is about “transcendence and connecting with something bigger than you are.” Brett Leve, one of the five founders of Summit, a series of festival-like conferences about ideas, which have ­taken place in Tulum, in Utah, and on a ship en route from Miami to the Bahamas, says that most of us in the Western world have “lost all our rites of passage. My bar mitzvah was not a rite of passage. There is no related understanding of self or adversity or pilgrimage involved.” He points to Burning Man, or the Camino de Santiago, a network of ancient pilgrim routes across Europe that come together at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, as a ­communal ritual that fills the void. “Burning Man is like a modern rite of passage. You travel to a remote place, set yourself in a harsh climate and then have to be self reliant for at least 36 hours.”

Festivals are no longer just about listening to live ­music and celebrating the seasons. The influence of Burning Man and other alternative festivals has helped spawn an almost spiritual movement of ideas and culture across the globe. It also taps into a growing community of lifestyle travelers who, in a time of increased mobility and digital connectivity, increasingly embrace a nomadic lifestyle that blurs the lines between life, work, and play. 81


Horizons

To get to the Ezera Skanas festival in rural Latvia, most people leave Riga at midnight and drive more than 100 kilometers, mostly through forest, to the remote Kala Lake. Small groups start arriving around 2 a.m. Silence and solitude is encouraged, especially once people get into small boats (their own or rentals) and push them out on the dark water, the bright stars above their only source of light. “Entering the water in the dark is such a ­dramatic event that it changes one’s state of attention,” said one of the three founders, Reinis Spaile. “People are disoriented. It’s like entering a dream.” Eventually the sky lightens and you can see the shadows of other surrounding boats. Music starts to play and as the sun rises, it peaks. You can finally see the musicians that are performing on floating stages. “You wake up communally to a new day and a new place,” described Spaile. “It is like a modern ritual.” Started in 2012 by about two dozen friends as more of an off-the-grid happening than a ­festival, Ezera Skanas has since developed into something bigger than the founders ever imagined — in 2017, despite no promotion, there were about 3,500 visitors from around the globe. They have rejected offers from ­corporate sponsors, instead paying costs with ticket sales and support from the local government, explaining that “commerce takes the attention away from one’s experience.” In the summer of 2017, they invited designers, video makers, artists, and choreographers to set up camp two weeks before the event in order to add the additional disciplines of performance art and dance to the festival. After a yearlong pause, Ezera Skanas festival will return in the summer of 2019.

Ezera Skanas festival

The burning obsession with transformative festivals has created a new niche in the world of travel. Like surfers chasing the ultimate wave, techno music lovers follow DJs around the globe, flying from Ibiza to Las Vegas. For those pursuing that next big idea, events like TED and Summit will lure them wherever the latest guru of innovation might be. For these 82


New Utopias

“Entering the water in the dark is such a dramatic event that it changes one’s state of attention … ” Reinis Spaile, co-founder of Ezera Skanas

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Horizons

1

1  A full moon ritual at

San Giorgio Mykonos 2  A music ritual at La Granja

Ibiza, focused on electronic and world music

2

3  Summit Powder Mountain

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New Utopias

travelers, the journey is less about the destination and more about the content and the crowd. At the same time, it’s often the destination that makes the festival. The more dramatic the setting the better. As Spaile said, “Nature is the stage. We found that the major star of our festival is the landscape and then it’s about how we add to it.” Modern communication technologies enable and inspire these plugged-in modern nomads, be they festival goers, tech workers, or digital commuters, to seek new experiences around the globe. They’ll spend a few months in Berlin and then a few in Bangkok, couch surfing or finding a temporary rental apartment. It’s this growing creative tech set for which hospitality pioneers are trying to create dynamic multi-use hubs. What Soho House is for the international entertainment industry, smaller hospitality projects like Roam, with co-living spaces in Bali, London, Tokyo, and ­Miami, and Zoku, a live-work long-stay concept in Amsterdam, are trying to build real-time spaces where their like-­ minded transient guests can connect for work and play.

When the first Design Hotels Project, Papaya Playa, came onto the scene in 2011 along the Mayan Riviera in Tulum, it was one of the first examples of a permanent hub for the type of modern nomad one finds on the festival circuit: a bohemian crash pad and boutique hotel on the beach, a house party and think tank all in one. Claus Sendlinger, the founder of Design Hotels, along with Emilio Heredia, the owner of the original property, paid special attention to the mix of guests, inviting international DJs and wellness gurus on a regular basis to move bodies and minds. The Papaya Playa Project concept was so successful that the team went on to create similar projects in Rio and Mykonos, and most recently they debuted La Granja, a 10-hectare farmstead in central Ibiza. The founders of Summit, and owners of Powder ­Mountain (10,000 acres of land in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains), haven’t yet built a hotel, but they have already broken ground on an “Alpine town 2.0,” ­according to Elliott Bisnow, one of the five founders.

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Horizons

1  A Summit session 2  Chase Iron Eyes, a

representative of the Lakota People’s Law Project, speaks at the opening session of Summit Outside on Powder Mountain

1

2

Powder Mountain will be home to several boutique properties, co-working spaces, a recording studio, and a handful of laid-back cafés and restaurants.The most important element, though, is the community. Already, the town has a committed crowd of dedicated guests and collaborators that includes Richard Branson and the spoken word poet IN-Q, who were converted to the cult of Powder Mountain by the founders’ long running Summit events. “The common ground is that they are people of integrity that view their work as transformational,” Brett Leve describes. In the summer of 2016, Dan Blackledge, creator of the alternative Hideout and Unknown festivals, debuted what is essentially a festival island on the previously uninhabited Croatian isle of Obonjan. Call it summer

camp for adults. Guests and visiting artists stay in a variety of low impact accommodation, from luxury tents to “forest lodges”; on offer are events like night walks with resident astronomers as well as meditation sessions and concerts throughout the day and night. Blackledge points to social media as one of the reasons why the festival scene has grown so quickly and claims that platforms like Instagram have actually inspired people to get out into the world and experience the things they see others doing. “That’s why people are spending more money on experiences rather than material objects,” ­he said. “And that trend will just grow.” If that is true, then Kfir Levy and Eduardo Castillo of Habitas are on the right track. The two DJs have already taken their traveling, invitation-only event

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New Utopias

around the globe, from a farm in California to a remote beach in Thailand. They have found that their community is so moved by the gatherings and experiences that they curate, they are now trying to implement them into unique hotel properties. In 2017 they opened Habitas Tulum, a beachside resort of stylishly bohemian tents, where check-in guests are asked to first meditate on the purpose of their trip. Currently building several more hotels, one in Namibia and another in the Bahamas, Habitas has also launched a membership club in New York and in Venice Beach, California. Up next: one in Mexico City. “We want people to constantly be in a child-like state of wonder, always discovering things,” said Levy. Thierry Teyssier, of the cultish Maison des Rêves properties in Morocco, has always pushed the envelope in terms of embedding moments of wonder within his projects. He recently launched 700,000 Heures, a new travel concept that involves pure theater set within stunning natural landscapes. The name refers to the number of hours, on average, that make up a human life. Teyssier’s goal is to make sure none of those hours is wasted, at least when it comes to travel experiences. So just as he once moved theatrical performances from one secret garden to the next when he directed a theater company in Paris called Midi-Minuit, he now transports his nomadic hotel every six months to a different ­location, starting in Puglia, Italy and then popping up in Cambodia.

Habitas curates one-of-a-kind gatherings and installations for the spiritually curious

In many ways, transcendent experiences are now to hospitality what contemporary design and architecture were in the late 90s. Today’s most forward-thinking hotels harness this desire for meaning and use it to build communities. “The next level of innovation in hospi­ tality is not about changing the designer but i­nstead is about changing the content and creating a community around multi-functional space,” said Claus Sendlinger. “It’s all about dynamic collaboration.” In the meantime, the Burning Man Project (the non-profit that administers the festival) has purchased a 3,800-acre ranch in Nevada and, in a full-circle moment, is starting to build an experimental community at Fly Ranch that is funded entirely by donations. In the notice that they posted on their website, they asked the question: “What if we had a place to experiment with and apply the 10 Principles, 365 days a year …?” At Hotel Burning Man, the festival will never end.  ■ 87

“We want people to constantly be in a child-like state of wonder … ” Kfir Levy, co-founder of Habitas


The Spa is Dead From an Umbrian monastery to the shores of Big Sur, Ben Crair explores the shifting landscape of wellness travel, where Eastern mysticism, alternative medicine, and mindfulness are uprooting conventional spa concepts Illustrations  Lea Heinrich


The Spa is Dead

The previous day, I had watched my new iPhone’s bars disappear one by one on the long dirt road to Eremito

On my first morning at Eremito, I woke up with the sunrise and listened to the silence until my ears began to ring. Was my brain rebelling against the quiet? No, I decided: it was the sound of my own listening — a sound I had not heard in a very long time. I live in a big city, with cars and rowdy bars and perpetual construction. My workdays are a losing battle against the Internet’s carnival of distraction. And in my free time, whenever I feel the creep of boredom, I do the same thing as every­body else: I fiddle with my phone.

place “where you are totally disconnected,” he says. He drove around Umbria until he came upon an abandoned monastery from the 14th century on a hillside in the forest. He hired local workers to raise a new building from the ruined stones. Murzilli’s hotel resembles the monasteries that still operate throughout Umbria, with cool stone floors, crackling fireplaces, clay jugs of wine, and a bare minimum of technology. And his vision is just as interesting for what it leaves out. Eremito has no proper spa, only a steam room and a Jacuzzi, open for a couple of hours every afternoon.

The previous day, I had watched my new iPhone’s bars disappear one by one on the long dirt road to Eremito. The Umbrian hillsides blushed with the first reds of autumn, and plump clouds waltzed across the sky. ­Sergio, the brother of Eremito’s owner, had picked me up at the nearest train station in a battered white Land Rover. “He likes hotels in places impossible to go,” he explained as we forded a small stream. Though I had been looking forward to a few days in the Italian country­side, I had also been apprehensive about the hotel’s “digital detox” ­policy — and so I was relieved to pull up to Eremito’s stone gate and meet Peppo, the hotel’s gray-muzzled boxer and a much better com­ panion than my phone.

“Now to make a spa makes no more sense,” Murzilli says. The spa—at least as we know it, with its white robes, Swedish massages, and beauty treatments — is a thing of the past. It pampers at a time when travelers crave something more transformative — new ways of drawing closer to themselves, each other, and the ­natural world. “People are seeking all kinds of wellness programming that’s not only more holistic but is also far more active than a spa,” says Beth McGroarty, the director of ­research at the Global Wellness Institute. In response, innovative hoteliers, like Murzilli, are revolutionizing travel, drawing on local traditions and global trends and combining mindfulness, community, spirituality, and exercise to create immersive new wellness experiences.

This withdrawal is the allure of Eremito, a 12-room hotel in a nature reserve between Florence and Rome. Eight years ago, Marcello Murzilli returned to Italy from Mexico, where he ran the Hotelito Desconocido, to build “a contemporary hermitage” for solo travelers, a

“The new luxury is silence,” Murzilli says. He wanted Eremito to be “a small hotel where you can find identity, relationships, and silence.” Increasingly, he noticed 91


Essay

Every traveler was, in his or her own way, a pilgrim

t­ ravelers were yearning for more than just relaxation or exploration — they wanted to step outside of the deluge of 21st-century life, to reconnect to physical places, ­listen to each other, and re-evaluate their priorities. ­Every traveler was, in his or her own way, a pilgrim. “We are very isolated in the digital world,” says Andreas ­Wieser, who founded the Austrian hotel and health ­resort Lanserhof, one of the world’s pioneering wellness destinations. “Travel can create a space so we can think about who we are and who we would like to be.” This space requires more than just a few hours in the sauna — which is why hoteliers are thinking outside the spa. They are responding to a growing receptivity to forms of spirituality and mindfulness that, a decade ago, might have struck many travelers as crunchy and strange. For example, La Granja Ibiza, a farmstead set among the island’s wild inlands, regularly hosts healers to lead guests in rituals and energy work across various cultures and disciplines. Sound meditation, which is most often associated with Tibetan Buddhism but can be found in some form across various cultures, is also gaining popularity.

“Sound enables us to disconnect from the busy brain,” says Alexandre Tannous, one of the world’s leading sound researchers. “This is the whole point of music.” An ethnomusicologist who has studied sound from Western scientific, Eastern philosophical, and shamanic perspectives, Tannous has recently been consulting with leaders in the hospitality industry, encouraging them to learn about how sound can deepen and enrich the guest experience. Increasingly, hoteliers have been turning to renowned healers, like Bobby Klein, a former rock music photographer who went on to study with Tibetan Buddhists

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and the Native American Hopi Tribe, before founding the Wisdom and Mystery School, an international ­pop-up forum that brings together leaders of various industries, including travel.

them without having to make chitchat with the other guests. After the meal, we all settled in around the fire to discuss our lives — and Eremito’s chefs were happy to drop by and share their recipes for our favorite dishes.

“There seems to be a real appetite now for things that get you out of your head quickly and effectively,” McGroarty says. “They might have been called trippy once, but I think they’re answering a call for getting out of the constant bombardment of noise and work and emails and social media.”

Other hoteliers are similarly looking to local traditions to create unique wellness experiences. “Five years from now, spas will look funny in hotels,” says Valéry Grégo, the owner of the hotel Les Roches Rouges in Southern France. He is currently planning to rebuild Les Roches Rouges’ spa in the style of a Roman bath, like the ones you found in the region 2,000 years ago. “In a Roman bath, the whole wellness concept was a mini journey, like a geographical path,” he says. “You would first enter the cloakroom and then you would do sports so that you would start sweating. Then you would go into cold water to stop it and get your oil treatment. Then you would have a massage and then you would relax.” At the same time, hoteliers want to give visitors flexi­bility to pursue their own programs. Many hotels, including Eremito, offer daily yoga classes and meditation. ­“Eremito is a

Of course, these ideas didn’t come out of nowhere. In 1962, Stanford graduates Michael Murphy and Dick Price founded the Esalen Institute, one of the early forerunners of the new wellness, on 27 acres of coastland in California. Influenced by thinkers like Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts, the idea was to create a refuge where people could experiment with alternative methods of exploring human consciousness and learn new skills to help them engage with the outside world. Among the earliest guests to Esalen was Fritz Perle, the German psychologist whose theory of “Gestalt therapy” held that perception is an active construction process that could always lead to deeper understandings. He stayed for five years, and Gestalt therapy became one of ­Esalen’s core philosophies. Over the following years, the Institute became the center of practices and beliefs ­associated with the New Age movement, introducing many ideas around topics of personal growth, alter­ native medicine, and mind-body interventions that would later enter the mainstream — and eventually make its mark on the travel industry. But the current evolution of wellness hospitality also stems from travelers’ desire to learn about and partici­ pate in the unique cultures and histories of the places they visit. The digital world unmoors us from physical spaces — and travel is a way to anchor us back to them. In Umbria, Murzilli discovered old monastic traditions that helped visitors to reflect, and felt authentic to the region. He built a small chapel at Eremito where guests are invited every morning to a brief nondenominational prayer, and he decided to have guests eat dinner together in silence, like Franciscan monks. I felt strange at my first dinner sitting quietly beside the other guests in the ­candlelit dining room, but once the food started to arrive I relaxed and began savoring the flavors. Every night, Eremito’s kitchen prepares four vegetarian courses with ingredients from the garden, and it was easier to enjoy

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“In a Roman bath, the whole wellness concept was a mini journey, like a geographical path” Valéry Grégo, founder of Perseus hotel group


Essay

“Travel can create a space so we can think about who we are and who we would like to be” Andreas Wieser, founder of Lanserhof hotel and health resort in Austria

Franciscan box, but inside, you can mix what you really need in order to find your harmony,” Murzilli says. For me, Eremito’s best wellness treatment was one of the world’s oldest: the company of a kind old dog. Peppo was always available, sleeping on the cold stones or snoring on his own mat in the yoga studio. Eremito’s staff catered to its guests and Eremito’s guests catered to Peppo, taking him for walks, sneaking him snacks, or scratching behind his ears. Peppo captured part of what felt special about Eremito. It was luxurious, but also easygoing, without any of the stiffness you sometimes encounter in high-end hotels. The small staff joined the guests for meals, and afterwards, by the fireplace. It felt like a community. A sense of community is, perhaps, the most healing thing a hotel can offer at a time when people feel increasingly isolated in their everyday lives. Many properties today, from La Granja Ibiza to Les Bains in Paris, offer cultural and communal programming that also links them with an extended local community. Wieser says a good hotel should be like an agora in Ancient Greece: “It was the place where people communicate, where people speak together, where people learn things together.”

In 2017, Design Hotels launched Further, a “traveling laboratory for experiential hospitality” that debuted with four programs, including a week-long artist residency in the hills of Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, where seven artists collaborated and co-created music with an indigenous tribe of the Amazon. In 2019, Further will continue to experiment with the potentials of hospitality, this time exploring unique topics for each destination: from cryptocurrency in the Swiss Alps and agroecology in Ibiza, to poetry and linguistics in the Hudson Valley and sound healing in the Yucatán. Ten new immersive projects will be launched throughout the year. After the first morning in Eremito, I realized I could tune into the sound of my listening whenever I was alone — at dinner, on the forest path, reading on the lawn. It might seem like a minor and silly thing, but it was a part of myself I had not been in touch with in a very long time, and I wondered if I would still be able to hear it in the noisy outside world. Sitting in the airport in Rome, I closed my eyes and concentrated, and faintly, despite all the bustle, my ears began to ring. For now at least, the silence was still with me.  ■

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THE FUTURE of TRAVELING WELL From geolocation technologies and artificial intelligence to the rising importance of culture, community, and conscientiousness, Peter Firth offers a glimpse into the travel of tomorrow

The world of travel is changing fast. Thanks to 4G, the internet is now something that we carry with us in our pockets wherever we go. Added to this, a more globalized society is normalizing the experience of regular travel to far-flung destinations. However, as we head towards the year 2020 and beyond, the way that we travel will undergo a further set of revolutions, as digital natives — people too young to remember a time before the Internet — use new tech tools to make traveling more convenient and ful­filling. As they instigate a new set of trends, they will dial back to the meaning of traveling well. “There is a danger with technology that we overestimate its importance,” says Martin Raymond, The Future Laboratory’s co-founder. “Traveling well has always been about face-to-face encounters, serendipity, culture, and acquiring wisdom. In the future, we will become better at using technologies to reach these ends.”

In the future, reconnecting with the simple joy of travel will be more important than ever, as people long to feel wonderment instead of ambivalence, to feel culturally immersed rather than culturally insulated. Crucially, the successful future traveler will feel like the world is once again a place rich with serendipity and prospect. New technologies will be accompanied by a focus on the themes of creativity, community, and conscientiousness. The future of travel will be revolutionized by new media technologies and apps that allow us to experience ­destinations in a more meaningful way. Serendipity, poignance, and culture will still be the qualities that lie at the heart of traveling well, however, our routes to them will shorten if we use technologies to the best advantage. Meanwhile, a more socially engaged traveler will look for more from trips when it comes to learning and forming opinions.

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Geo-audibles and Virtual Reality It’s no surprise that smartphones are the prevalent tools of communication today, but innovative apps show a glimpse of how the real world will be overlaid with media technologies in the future. Detour is one such app that shows how audible content and geo­location technologies can combine to give travelers an intimate experience of a destination. After turning on the app, the user simply walks and listens. The immersive city guide is triggered by GPS and provides witty accounts of the areas that the user walks in, and features audio accounts from locals. The app, which was acquired in 2018 by Bose, is an early example of how geolocation will one day revolutionize how we experience the world around us, re-­introducing serendipity and chance into travel.

“I asked an eight-year-old how he does multiplications and he replied: ‘with my phone’ ” Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England

We are at the base of colossal growth in new media technologies according to industry statistics. Worldwide revenues for augmented and virtual reality are expected to reach $95 billion by 2022, according to a recent Digi-Capital forecast. Virtual reality is already showing how it will become pivotal to how we gather inspiration and plan trips in the future. Evidence for how this will become the new normal can be seen in innovative projects like Google Expeditions. The initiative launched in schools across the globe in 2015, enabling teachers to take children on virtual tours to inaccessible destinations like Machu Picchu or Antarctica, to even further flung places like the International Space Station. Using a simple cardboard viewer and app, smartphones are turned into ad hoc virtual reality headsets. Since a 2018 update, Google Expeditions incorporates augmented reality, as well. As technologies like this become commonplace, we will become more used to try-before-you-fly travel that immerses us in virtual destinations before we commit to getting on a plane. The current generation of tweens and teens will come to expect this kind of tech-enabled stimulus as they grow into their 20s and 30s. “This generation doesn’t recognize technology as ­technology,” says Sugata Mitra, a senior research ­investigator and professor at the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, ­E ngland. 98

1  Using a simple cardboard viewer and app, smartphones are turned into ad hoc virtual reality headsets 2  Will the current generation of teens and tweens plan trips solely via emoji?

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Trend Forecast

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1  Loof by The Lo & Behold Group is home to Singapore’s creative scene 2  GeoSure Global’s safety ratings cover seven critical categories: overall security, physical harm, theft, political freedoms, disease, specific threats to women, and — as of 2018 — LGBTQ safety

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3  The reading room and tea salon at Looksee Looksee

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The AI Concierge While virtual reality has the ability to immerse people in the experiences of others, meaningful travel will ­always come from getting out there and experiencing things yourself. In the next decade, we will see a new raft of artificial intelligence concierges that draw on data from our online behavior to introduce us to the travel experiences that we crave the most and direct us to them quickly. Journy is a holiday concierge app that provides people with a local’s view of a specific area. Before their trip, users of Journy complete a quick travel questionnaire, which provides a framework for the concierge service to plan around. Holidaymakers subsequently receive a personalized itinerary for their trip, which ranges from food recommendations to activity bookings. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it’s increasingly speaking to humans in our own language. Rather than trawling websites, checking prices, and looking at reviews online, services like Mezi enable people to converse with a semi-virtual assistant using a messaging app. Launched as a shopping concierge, the company eventually branched out from fashion e-commerce into travel. Acquired in 2018 by American Express, Mezi now allows people to book flights and restaurants ­simply by having a one-on-one conversation over its messaging app. Crucially, the app can field complicated requests like, “I need a vegan restaurant near the conference center,” which makes it a very human and seamless journey for the traveler. Currently, Mezi works by combining AI with what it refers to as shopping and travel “experts.” Over time, the AI will learn from how the experts interact with users and be able to field more and more requests on its own, making it a virtual assistant in the truest sense.

In the future, traveling well will also mean learning, adventure, and testing yourself in new environments. A new raft of luxury tours are springing up as travelers become more eager to understand world issues. New York Times Journeys is one such initiative, which ­enables guests to accompany award-winning journalists to learn about topics such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, or women and society in India. The tourists travel in small groups, and the journalists call on the knowledge of previous interviewees and local experts to give real insight. This form of high-end highbrow tourism will chime with consumers of the future as they become more active on social issues.

Conscientious Travel InGalera in Milan is a restaurant inside a prison. Other than the chef and head waiter, the restaurant is run ­entirely by inmates. The restaurant is a creative corporate social responsibility venture that blends commerce and social healing. It’s a trend that many hoteliers are already tapping into, as environmental sustainability and positive local integration become qualities ever more important to the discerning lifestyle traveler. In the face of too many air miles, climate change, and inequality rife in many countries, the modern traveler is yearning for a new kind of experience, which marries conscientiousness with hospitality. Crucially, these experiences must have a concrete, measurable impact on the world. Magdas Hotel in Vienna, designed by architects ­AllesWirdGut, is a high-end hotel which, aside from catering to 88 paid guestrooms, also has two residential suites reserved for up to 25 non-paying refugees. The rehabilitation begins with the hotel employees, as a majority of the present staff are former refugees. “Magdas would not work if it was a ­r un-of-the-mill hotel,” says Gabriela Sonnleitner, head of Magdas.

As luxury travelers develop a taste for trips that are more intrepid, AI will combine with big data analytics to serve as a real-time safety guide. GeoSure Global is an info tech startup that pulls information from a huge variety of data streams such as Interpol, UN, WHO, plus city crime stats, human rights organizations, and crowdsourced reports. Using this, it scores cities and neighborhoods on seven categories: overall safety, physi­cal harm, theft, political freedoms, health and medical, ­women’s safety, and — as of 2018 — LGBTQ safety. 101

“We’re all about real talk — not robots” Leiti Hsu, co-founder of Journy


Trend Forecast

1  Le Pigalle in Paris is a hyperlocal concept inspired by the creative, neon-lit past of its neighborhood. 2 & 3  Neons by Jean André, a celebrated local visual artist who developed Le Pigalle’s logo and signature aesthetic 4  A fantastic collection of work by local artists adorns the rooms, like this specially comissioned black-and-white comic by Parisian illustrator Artus de Lavilléon, founder of the art posthume movement 5  Collaborations with a local tattoo shop also take place at Le Pigalle, which functions as a neighborhood cultural hub, teeming with the characters, stories, and aesthetics of its immediate surroundings

Photos on page 102 and 103 by Benoit Linero

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All About Culture Contemporary travelers are also broadening their expectations of what a hotel should offer, and the traveler of the future wants a stay that is about lifestyle as much as lodging. Flower shops, art galleries, bike shops, and record stores are becoming standard fare for locales that want to imbibe a local culture. Going forward, we will see more hospitality experiences that up the cultural ante to appeal to the modern, discerning traveler. Standout examples include Le Pigalle in Paris, a hyperlocal concept by Valéry Grégo that threads the creative, neon-lit past of the neighborhood through every facet of the hotel. From works by local artists and illustrators and curated music by a neighborhood DJ, to croissants delivered by a local bakery, the hotel styles itself as a collaborative project, teeming with the characters, stories, and ­aesthetics of its immediate surroundings.

Another reference point is Looksee Looksee in the lively Kampong Glam neighborhood of Singapore. Set in an 1820s shophouse in a district steeped in arts and culture, the communal space by leading hospitality business The Lo & Behold Group aims to bring the city’s burgeoning creative scene a step closer to the public. Its evolving library is curated by thought-leaders across various lifestyle sectors as a show-and-tell of titles that have inspired their work and life. These hotels are only the beginning. As the borders continue to blur between work and play, home and away, we will see more hospitality projects that challenge traditional notions and allow us to experience the world around us in new and unique ways. Even as our world becomes more networked and we become inured to the novelty of departing from the places we call home, the three cornerstones of community, culture, and ­conscientiousness will form the basis of all meaningful travel experiences.  ■

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Georgia Rising A voyage through a country that’s shaken off its troubled past to become one of the world’s most extraordinary travel destinations Words Charly Wilder Photographs  Robbie Lawrence


Travel Diary

Part I Arrival It was after dark when we reached Tbilisi, the city a pour of shadow streaming past the windows of the car that carried us from the airport. Down Rustaveli Avenue, the city’s main drag, building façades appeared like specters in flashes of streetlight: curving Renaissance Revival fronts, the domed and striped neo-Moorish ­edifice of the czarist-era Georgian National Opera ­Theater, rows of plane trees bending to an arch.

G R E AT E R C AUC A

RUSSIA Tbilisi Batumi

Still, whenever I would ask a recent visitor what Georgia was actually like, they would seem to get tongue-tied.

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And yet somehow Georgia — and even more so, its enigmatic little capital of Tbilisi — is flourishing like never before, with booming arts, culinary, and fashion scenes, thriving businesses and hotels, and a nightlife said to rival Berlin. Its strategic position at the intersection of major geopolitical interests has made Tbilisi a diplomatic and trade hub, drawing people from across the globe. In the past five years, visitor numbers to the country have more than doubled.

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Stepantsminda

We turned a corner onto a side street and pulled up to the sleek postindustrial façade of Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, once a Soviet printing press, its steel window casings now lined with panels of reclaimed oak. Before we had time to gawk, a bellhop in Wes Andersonian gloves, cap, and double-breasted brass-button waistcoat was escorting us through the front doors, and into another world. I had wanted to come to Georgia for a while, having heard more than a few breathless endorsements from friends and friends of friends who had visited, especially in the past five or six years, as the country has leapt onto the radars of s­ easoned travelers. I knew that Georgia, a small country that sits between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains on the b ­ orders of Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, has a remarkably diverse landscape, ranging from the snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus, to rolling vineyards and semi-desert, to the subtropical Black Sea coast, with its lush palm trees, rainforests, and white sand beaches. I knew that Georgia’s position at the crossroad of Eastern Europe and ­Western Asia, together with its natural b ­ ounty, had made it the site of territorial disputes for millennia — that even in the post-Soviet period, it was embroiled in civil conflicts, secessionist strife, and e­ conomic crisis. I knew that less than a decade ago, the country was at war.

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“It’s hard to explain,” they might say. “It’s not quite European, but definitely not Asian either … ” Does it feel post-Soviet? “Well yeah, maybe a little. But then also, not at all.” And more than once I was told: “You just have to go there to understand.” We walked through the hotel, reddish light pooling over rich leathers, vintage midcentury furniture, modernist Georgian artworks, dark wood, and custom tiles. A glass-walled, atrium-like extension looked out onto the inner garden courtyard, where a crowd was drinking ­cocktails at a freestanding bar built beneath a lattice of lushly overgrown industrial scaffolding. Finally we reached our room, which, with its bespoke wallpaper and lavish, retro furnishings, evoked New York in the 1920s and ‘30s. Steel-frame windows looked out to the surrounding neighborhood, Vera, a central ventricle of Tbilisi’s literary and cultural life. We collapsed onto the vast leather-­backed bed and melted into a first ­delicious sleep.

Part II Old and New Tbilisi The next day we woke up early to meet Alex, the hotel’s “experience guide,” for a tour through Old Tbilisi. He brought us to the ancient bath district, where legend has it the King of Iberia founded the city in the 5th century AD after discovering the area’s many sulfuric hot springs when his falcon fell into one and died (“Tbilisi” is Old Georgian for “warm place”).

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1 & 4  Tbilisi street scenes 2  A sunrise over the city 3  The 13th-century Metekhi

Church of Assumption sits on an elevated cliff overlooking the Kura River 5  Traditional Tbilisi architecture 6  The 19th-century stairwell

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of the former Hotel London, one of Tbilisi’s famous vintage entrance halls

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We opened a door and stepped into darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a vast curving stairwell lined with ornate but crumbling trompe-l’oeil frescoes ...

To the east, on the opposite side of the Kura River, which cuts through the center of the city on its way from Turkey to the Caspian Sea, traditional houses and a domed ­medieval stone church jut out from a vertiginous elevated cliff. Newer futuristic glass-and-steel constructions, like the undulating Bridge of Peace, the swooping Rike Park Concert Hall and Exhibition Center, and the 50-million-­dollar Bond-villain-esque mansion of a Georgian banking oligarch, hover over the city like satellites. After crossing the Dry Bridge, where a kaleidoscopic antique and flea market unfurls daily, we opened a door on Atoneli Street and stepped into darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I saw a vast curving stairwell lined with ornate but crumbling trompe-l’oeil frescoes —  illusionist brick-effect wall ­murals with “windows” ­looking out onto maritime and pastoral scenes — rising to a single skylight, the only source of illumination. One of Tbilisi’s famous vintage entrance halls, it belonged to the prestigious 19th-century Hotel London, the first building in the city to have electricity, said Alex. Tchaikovsky was a guest, as was the great Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. By the middle of the 19th century, Tbilisi had emerged as a major trade and cultural center, attracting artists and intellectuals from across Europe, even as it buckled under czarist repression. But like so many of the city’s historic buildings, the Hotel­ London fell into disrepair in the Soviet era, and today exists only as a run-down residential building badly in need of restoration. Some areas of Old Tbilisi are undergoing revitalization, like Aghmashenebeli Avenue, known for its classic 19th-century buildings, which was recently revamped and pedestrianized. In other areas, new restaurants, bars, and boutiques are bringing increasing numbers of foreign visitors and capital, leading to waves of ­gentrification. The fashion scene has seen a particular boost, especially since the meteoric rise of 37-year-old Georgian ­designer Demna Gvasalia, who in 2014 founded the influential Parisian collective Vetements and the following year was named creative director of iconic fashion house Balenciaga.

1  A Karlo Kacharava painting

hanging at Rooms Hotel Tbilisi 2  Irena Popiashvili, a major figure in Tbilisi’s contemporary art scene, launched Kunsthalle Tbilisi in 2018 3  Valeri Chekheria, CEO of Adjara Group Hospitality, the company behind Rooms Hotels 4  Levan Berulava, the company’s

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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, she said, “it feels that Georgian fashion is growing fast and starting to get a lot of attention.” That afternoon we went to meet Irena Popiashvili, an outsize figure in the city’s burgeoning contemporary art scene who, after 20 years in New York, moved back to her native Tbilisi to become the first female director of the State Academy of Arts. In 2013, she opened the Popiashvili Gvaberidze Window Project, a storefront gallery that is one of the few venues in the city providing a platform for the country’s small but significant current wave of visual artists. “For the general public, the Georgian art market is here, right on these steps,” she said, gesturing across the street, where local craft sellers were hocking knit ­figurines, traditional tchotchkes, and miniaturized

“The past three years have been really successful,” said the designer Tamuna Ingorokva, when we stopped by her showroom and workshop. Known for her brightly colored leather creations, she is part of a wave of young Georgian designers helping to put Tbilisi on the map. After the success of Gvasalia, and the 2015 launch of 108

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reproductions of classic Georgian paintings. The contemporary art scene, she added, is still fledgling but making great strides, and the rest of the world is beginning to take notice. From Window Project, we went around the corner to the former home of Karlo Kacharava, a prolific painter, ­poet, and theorist who died in 1994 at the age of 30 but left behind hundreds of paintings, drawings, and texts, many of which his sister preserves in the home where they lived. We walked through a puzzle-like matrix of rooms hung wall-to-wall with Kacharava works — dreamy ­images of strung-out post-Soviet bohemia, laden with text fragments in a distinct, instantly recognizable punk-­ expressionistic style. “He really created the story of the Georgian underground art movement that started at the end of the 80s,” said Popiashvili, who staged an exhibition of his work in New York in 2012, part of her wider project of ­bringing Georgian artists to the world stage. In 2018 this project reached new heights when she helped launch the Kunsthalle Tbilisi, a roving non-profit art insti­t ution that will exhibit the best of the country’s

c­ ontemporary art together with international works. “I feel that Georgian art needs to be contextualized ­w ithin contemporary European and American art,” she said. “Fashion and music have been happening here. Now art is really about to launch.”

Part III Post-Soviet Kids That evening we headed to Keto & Kote, a restaurant that opened in Vera in 2017 in a lovely traditional ­townhouse. We were there to have dinner with Valeri Chekheria and Levan Berulava, the CEO and managing director, respectively, of Adjara Group Hospitality, the company behind Rooms Hotels. In the years since the casino magnate Temur Ugulava brought them on to run his ambitious new hospitality venture, few people have been more involved than Chekheria and Berulava — both still in their 30s — with Georgia’s recent resurgence. In 2012, Adjara Group launched what they hoped would become an international Georgian brand, beginning with Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, housed in a former Soviet workers retreat in the Caucasus Mountains,

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1 & 3  Tbilisi street scenes 2  A view over Tbilisi, traversed by the Kura River, which runs from Turkey to the Caspian Sea 4  Bassiani, a cavernous techno

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club housed in the basement of Tbilisi’s national soccer stadium, has been at the center of the city’s nightlife boom. Photo by Daniel Flaschar

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followed by Rooms Hotel Tbilisi in 2014. Their success was pronounced and immediate, garnering rave ­reviews across international press and from high-­ profile visitors like Sting, Sophia Loren, and food guru­ Anthony Bourdain. While Ugulava is the company’s creative visionary, ­involved in nearly every major aesthetic decision, ­Chekheria and Berulava are its guiding forces. It’s an auspicious undertaking — particularly for two people who grew up, as they did, amid the turbulence and ­privation of 90s-era Georgia. “We are really these post-­ Soviet Union kids,” said Chekheria, as our wine glasses were filled with an amber-tinged, deep-red Georgian Saperavi. As a child, Chekheria had to flee his family home on Rustaveli Avenue when it was burned down in street fighting during the Georgian Civil War. “This was a very dark period of time — no electricity, no gas, no heating,” said Chekheria. “But we were having fun. The young kids, we didn’t realize it was this big drama. We would wake up in the morning and my sisters and I would be like, ‘Hey Mom, do we have any food today?’ Then we were spending the whole night in a queue to get literally a piece of bread.” Berulava spent his early childhood in the Georgian ­region of Abkhazia, where his family is from. When it erupted into sectarian conflict in the early 90s during the breakup of the Soviet Union, he fled to Kiev with his family. He and Chekheria met in their early 20s while working in Georgia’s Ministry of Finance in the first years after the country’s peaceful pro-Western Rose ­Revolution in 2003. They applied together, and were accepted, to a graduate program at Columbia University in New York City. “This was always my big dream ­because of the movies — I wanted to have my own ­locker!” joked Chekheria. “When I got there, I realized the masters program doesn’t have any lockers.” Chekheria and Berulava were immersed in a rigorous academic environment, and they both worked for the United Nations, where circumstances thrust them into the center of diplomatic efforts at the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008.

Instead of looking for staff trained in hospitality, they recruited from local film schools and art academies, ­hiring young people they liked — people with tattoos, good taste, and open minds — and then sent them on research trips to the Crosby, the Ludlow, Gramercy Park, and Waverly Inn, so they could understand where the bar was set. “Before, in Georgia, it was not so cool to be a waiter,” said Berulava, whose puckish, fast-talking demeanor offsets Chekheria’s relaxed, soft-spoken affability. “We wanted to change that mentality, to make the culture of, ‘hey, you are a student. It’s cool to be a waiter. You will have money, and then we will all dance together with the owner at Bassiani!’,” he said, referring to Tbilisi’s best-loved techno club. After the success of Rooms Kazbegi and Tbilisi, they opened Lolita in 2016, a buzzy bistro and late-night hangout, and Fabrika, a hip 400-bed hostel and arts and retail complex housed in a Soviet-era sewing factory, which includes a skate shop, a vintage boutique, and a ramen bar. There are other projects in the works, from a beachside bungalow complex set amid the lush tropical Black Sea coastline near Georgia’s second city, ­Batumi, to a ski resort, Rooms Hotel Kokhta, in the central B ­ orjomi region. In 2018 Adjara launched its most ambitious project to date — Stamba Hotel — a five-story property with a glass-bottom ­rooftop pool, an upscale casino, and a basement-to-sky, plant-filled “jungle lobby” built in High Line-esque, wild-urbanist style in the S ­ oviet-era printing press that houses Rooms Tbilisi. Before the year’s end, Stamba would find its way onto countless best-of lists. Time magazine called it “One of the World’s Greatest Places,” and it was named “Concept of the Year” at the Ahead Awards in London. Beyond hotels, Adjara Group has been instrumental in supporting the country’s cultural scene, from filling its hotels with works by Georgian artists, to sponsoring events such as Stream of Unconsciousness (SOU), an ambitious two-year-old festival of contemporary music

Living in NewYork, they were also exposed to art, ­culture, and luxury at levels they had only dared imagine. So when Ugulava put them in charge of Adjara, they were determined to return home and do something extraordinary. 112

Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, a 125-room property melding 1920s New York with old-world Tbilisi charm, opened in 2014 in a former Soviet printing press


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and visual arts that most recently brought Björk to Georgia for a nine-day tour that included two concerts in the capital. As our evening wore on, our table was laden with a ­dazzling spread: fresh cucumbers and plump, deep-red tomatoes served in a crushed-walnut vinaigrette. There were hot kidney beans stewed with coriander, walnut, garlic, and onion served in a clay pot, and, of course, khachapuri — Georgia’s most famous culinary export — oven-baked bread with fresh sulguni cheese either cooked into the dough or melted into the center with butter and a sunny-side-up egg. I had been waiting for this, having lived for a year in Russia, where Georgian cuisine is as beloved and ubiqui­tous as Mexican in the United States or Indian in the UK. Georgia’s diverse terrain, fertile, mineral-rich agricultural lands, and its position on ancient trade routes like the Silk Road, resulted in a singular national cuisine, rich with spices and aromatic herbs and bearing influences of Persian, Turkish, Russian, East Asian, and ­Western European culinary traditions. Lately, Georgian food has been making its way to hip enclaves of New York, London, and Berlin. Meanwhile, Georgia’s dining scene is being reimagined, as new restaurants, like decadent Keto & Kote, refined Alubali, French-inflected Cafe Littera in the historic Writers’ House of Georgia, and Ezo, in a Sololaki ­courtyard, are taking bold, sophisticated approaches to classic recipes. Many source their products from once-­ languishing independent growers through the upstart

Georgian Farmers Association, a platform partially supported by Adjara Group that connects small farmers with restaurants and hotels and has helped to kick-start the country’s ascendant farm-to-table movement. “Without the development of Georgian products, it’s impossible to develop hospitality,” said Chekheria. Just as our glasses were being refilled, more dishes ­arrived. We raised our glasses to the chef and to the ­future and, naturally, to friendship old and new. Meals in Georgia can last hours, with many courses, free-­flowing wine, and copious toasts.There’s even an official ­Georgian feast ritual not tied to any particular celebration — the supra — officiated by a designated toastmaster, or ­tamada. The great hospitality of the Georgian people may be a cliché, but it was one of the most visceral, ­undeniable facts of being in the country. “I think people are missing this in Europe and America,” said Berulava. “That’s why whenever they come to Georgia, this is one of the main reasons they love it here.” A long decadent meal led, as it often seems to, to drinks around the corner at Rooms. On the way, we stopped to wave through a window at Kakha Kaladze, a friend of the guys and a former soccer star who was running for mayor and had headquartered his campaign in a vacant section of Rooms Hotel Tbilisi (a few weeks after our trip, he won the election). Back at the Garden Bar, more friends began to arrive. One of them, a lithe jewelry designer named Tamara Khoshtaria, presented Chekheria with a delicate geometrical lapel pin of sterling silver that she had made

Georgia’s diverse terrain, fertile, mineral-rich agricultural lands, and its position on ancient trade routes resulted in a singular national cuisine. Photos by Daniel Flaschar

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Artists and diplomats, DJs and executives, waiters and politicians share social circles, ideas, inspiration

that day in her workshop. “We get together every single day,” said Berulava. “Georgians are very much into friends and family culture.” But this was more than a mere sense of community. What was so extraordinary about being here in today’s Tbilisi was that the communal spirit felt tied to the very destiny of the country. Artists and diplomats, DJs and executives, waiters and politicians share social circles, ideas, inspiration. Some have experienced success abroad and then returned home to give back. Others stayed, working to remake Georgia from the inside, embracing the spirit of transformation pulsing through the country. Berulava began to order chacha, a strong Georgian brandy made from grape pomace, and the head mix­ ologist invited us to a new electronic music festival she was launching with some friends. Soon we were joined by two Americans in town on business — specialists, one of them said, in “pre-emerging markets.” Pre-emerging? He gestured grandly toward Rooms, as the bartender cranked up the music: “Well, here is ­already emerged.”

The air was cold and clear as winter as we walked toward the hotel, once a Soviet-era workers’ resort, and into the open-plan lobby, which had been recast with raw timber, antique Georgian rugs, iron chandeliers, and deep leather armchairs — an interior motif I recognized from Rooms Tbilisi — offset by vintage Soviet posters and teeming bookshelves. But all of this was dwarfed by the jaw-dropping view through floor-to-ceiling windows: Mount Kazbek and the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. On the closest summit, hung in silvery mist, I could just barely make out the stone Gergeti Trinity Church, a popular destination for intrepid hikers, with a history dating back to the 14th century.

Part IV Mount Kazbek The next day we woke up, hungover but happy, and loaded a car for the mountains. We followed a storied route once known as the Georgian Military Highway, which crosses the Caucasus on its way to Russia. We drove along the right bank of the Kura River, past the country’s historic capital of Mtskheta, then over the wide floodplain of the Tetri Aragvi and past the medieval fortress of Ananuri, stopping only occasionally to buy dried, pressed fruit from a roadside grandma or drink ice-cold water from a mountain spring. The temperature dropped as we drove, winding higher and higher into the Georgian Caucasus, gray-green rock cutting against a watery cobalt sky. I saw milling sheep, towering skeletal oil rigs and, once, wild horses running across a hill flank, their manes whipping wildly in the mountain air. Finally we crossed the Jvari Pass into the village of Stepantsminda, and there it was, perched 1,800 meters above sea level amid a spectacular terrain of gorges, ridges, and snow-covered slopes: the Brutalist glass-and-wood structure now known as Rooms Hotel Kazbegi.

We dropped our bags in the room and headed to the hotel’s subterranean wellness area, built into a slope so steep that even here underground, giant windows looked west onto the mountains, letting the sunset drench the swimming pool in shimmering gold. Guests lounged in white robes along the terrace, sipping herbal tea and the night’s first glasses of Saperavi. Eventually we headed for dinner at the hotel’s groundfloor restaurant, which is popular for its hearty regional fare, all sustainably p ­ roduced and locally farmed. We had a chicken-and-­tarragon soup renowned as a hangover cure (I can vouch: it works), then worked our way to khinkali, the glorious Georgian dumpling, which must be eaten by hand. Local etiquette demands diners grab it by its doughy knob and take a bite, first sucking out the savory broth, then d ­ evouring its juicy center of minced meat, onion, chili pepper, salt, and cumin. After dinner, we decamped to the vast, wrap-around wooden terrace where the jagged mountain skyline ­darkened against the last vapors of daylight. Hotel guests had clustered on lounge chairs under woven blankets to

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1  The 14th-century Gergeti Trinity

Church can be reached via a rigorous hike or with the help of a local driver with a high tolerance for bumpy rides 2  The lush Black Sea coastline near Georgia’s second city, Batumi, where Adjara Group is building a beachside bungalow complex 3  The road to Rooms Hotel Kazbegi in Stepantsminda, a sleepy village high up in the Georgian Caucasus 4  A farmer hauling hay. Photo by Daniel Flaschar

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By the time we arrived, upwards of 1,000 bodies were already moving with abandon in the emptied-out Soviet-­era swimming pool

drink and laugh as stars twinkled awake across a black Caucasian sky. Finally, blissed out on food and wine and mountain air, we fell into bed in a haze of contentment.

Part V Wine and Music On our way back to Tbilisi the next day, we made a detour through the wine region of Kakheti in eastern Georgia, passing rolling, amber-hued vineyards stretching to the Azerbaijan border where Persian invaders once entered the kingdom. We stopped at Temi, a ­winery and social organization that was then in the midst of a harvest festival. We watched as brawny, sunburned men pressed giant vats of grapes, pouring the juice, skins, stalks, and pips together into large clay vessels called qvevri, to be sealed and buried underground to ferment. It’s a process that’s been used to make wine in Georgia’s fertile valleys for millennia. As of 2017, when archeologists discovered several 8,000-year-old clay wine vessels similar to today’s qvevri near Tbilisi, Georgia is officially the oldest wine region in the world. We arrived back in Tbilisi after dark, did a quick ­costume change at Rooms, and were out the door by midnight on our way to the official season opening of ­Bassiani, a cavernous techno club in the basement of Dinamo ­Arena, the national soccer stadium.

to a scene that, many say, maintains the sense of enthusiasm and transgressive adventure that can be hard to find these days in more established clubbing cities like London and Berlin. Just don’t call it the next Berghain. “We really want to have our own thing,” said Zviad ­Gelbakhiani, 27, who since opening Bassiani in 2013 with two friends, has overseen an ambitious program of local DJs and international acts like Nina Kraviz, Speedy J, and Ben Klock. By the time we arrived, upwards of 1,000 bodies were already moving with abandon in the emptied-out Soviet-­ era swimming pool that serves as Bassiani’s main dance floor. Steam rose toward the towering ceiling as Irish DJ Sunil Sharpe, perched over the deep end, blasted hard techno through the club’s world-class Funktion-­ One sound system. Upstairs, in the smaller room, the Detroit dub-techno DJ Luke Hess presided over a ­raucous, upbeat crowd. We saw so many of the people we’d met over the past days on the dance floor. Everyone greeted us like old friends. Seeing them all there together — artists and entrepreneurs, workers and students, designers and hoteliers — we knew we were witnessing something extraordinary. This was a country coming together to cast off its ­troubled past and rewrite its own future. And they were succeeding. We danced into the morning, leaving the club as a pale sun rose over Tbilisi. Soon we were headed for the airport, the city already a fading, halcyon blur. I knew that later, back home in Berlin, someone would ask me what Georgia was really like, and I would tell them the only true thing I could. You just have to go there to understand.  ■

Despite rigid drug laws and lingering, albeit lessening , homophobia, Tbilisi’s club scene has exploded in recent years, with Bassiani at the thumping center of the action. Complemented by smaller venues like gay-friendly Cafe-­Gallery, open-air Vitamin Cubes, and newer venue Khidi (all of which use varying door policies to protect a spirit of liberal tolerance), Bassiani has been drawing party people and techno heads from across the world 118

Rooms Hotel Kazbegi looks out on the towering peaks of the Greater Caucasus, a spectacular terrain of gorges, ridges, and snow-­covered slopes


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Profile for Design Hotels™

Directions — The Magazine by Design Hotels™ (Retail Edition 2019)  

New Sanctuaries Go there now with Directions, an annual magazine that looks at movements underway in art, design, food, wellness and fashi...

Directions — The Magazine by Design Hotels™ (Retail Edition 2019)  

New Sanctuaries Go there now with Directions, an annual magazine that looks at movements underway in art, design, food, wellness and fashi...

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