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The Principal Madrid

When you are next in Madrid, look up and you’ll notice something strange. It’s a five-storey city. The Spanish capital sits in its own charming space, neither ancient nor modern, not overwhelming but no shrinking violet. It must be a candidate for Europe’s most relaxed metropolis.

A city that generally stops climbing at five gives the six-storey Principal (seven, if you count La Terraza) a distinct advantage. This beautiful boutique hotel is a sublime expression of Madrid itself: elegant, grand in an unassuming way and, though it’s relatively new, already feeling comfortably lived-in.

The almost-secret entrance off a corner of the Gran Via gives a clue to its particular qualities. A doorman directs you to the lift, in which you ascend to the sixth floor that hosts the reception, dining area, lounge and Ático restaurant, all drenched in natural light by day and stellar panoramas of the city by night.

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The entry of The Principal Madrid Hotel

These distinct elements hug the circular floor plan, which surrounds the staircase and atrium. The real trick of this curious layout and the atmosphere it generates is to give the hotel the feel of a private members club, in which discerning visitors or Madrilenians will feel both at home and in exclusive company.

The Ático is overseen by Ramón Freixa (whose two- Michelin-starred Único is just around the corner in the well-heeled Salamanca district) and offers top-end Spanish/ bistro fare, such as croquettes of baby squid in black ink, monkfish with chicory and herb mustard, and cheesecake with candied pine nuts and honey.

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The Ático Bar & Restaurant – The Principal Madrid Hotel, Spain

It is wise to copy the Madrilenians’ love of long lunches, and food halls provide an atmosphere that restaurants and tourist traps may lack, while still serving the very best tapas and traditional Spanish food. Otherwise, tucked away in the Platea food hall – a converted cinema in the edge of Salamanca – dishes such as the deconstructed flounder and the veal tartare ensure that Arriba is packed for lunch from 2pm.

After-hours Madrid

The on time you can guarantee the city will truly stir is after 10pm, so if you can retune your body clock, the Mercado de San Miguel is lively, young and stylish, with a wide range of superb seafood, meat and snack stalls, plus bars, sherry and cocktail seller.

As any boutique hotel with ambition would, the Principal has a spa, sauna, gym and welcoming and discreet staff, but the real joy comes from that feeling of relaxed exclusivity on the sixth floor. So when you’ve had your fill of Madrid’s nocturnal buzz, take your bucket-sized gin and tonic in hand and make the trip up to La Terraza for 360-degree views of the city from its (slowly) beating heart.

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La Terraza – The Principal Madrid, Spain

Sunshine Estate – Florida

Get ready for a Key-naissance…Or how Netflix show Bloodline put the Florida boondocks back on the map.

Tucked away behind a hot, humid tangle of orchid-filled mangroves, an unexpected celebrity hideaway has been left undiscovered for years. Models, fashion photographers and Hollywood A-listers have been quietly meandering down US Route 1 to the heart of the Florida Keys for The Moorings Village experience since the Nineties – as the framed thank-you notes covering the walls of the hotel’s subterranean games room attest. From Kate Moss and Billy Joel to George W Bush and Heidi Klum, this little-known hotel boasts quite a visitors’ book.

Now the secret is out. Thanks to a Netflix summer hit, The Moorings has a not-so-quiet cult following. And visitor numbers to the long overlooked Florida peninsula were up 20 per cent in 2015 as fans flocked to the sleepy fishing community of Islamorada – the location of the Emmy award-nominated drama Bloodline, starring Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard.

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The original plan had been to film the show in the buzzier Key West – a four-hour drive further down to the state’s southernmost tip.

But when the production team came across The Moorings on their way to scout locations, there was only one thing for it: rewrite the script.

It is easy to see why the decision was made. The 18 individual Keys-style villas that make up the sprawling 18-acre hotel

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look out onto a picture-perfect white-sand beach and one of the most photographed jetties in the world – used as a location for everything from Victoria’s Secret calendar shoots to Charlize Theron’s June 2014 US Vogue cover.

Blue Charlotte, the largest of the villas and the one used in Bloodline as the central characters’ family home, has now become something of a Florida Keys icon thanks to its striking white wraparound verandas and blue shutters.

The property’s swimming pool, private cinema and, in particular, that games room are all great add-ons.

 

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But it takes some hotel to maintain an 80 per cent renewal rate on bookings when there is no bar or restaurant on site. Instead, The Moorings is twinned with Pierre’s at Morada Bay, a laid-back restaurant within walking distance where tables are set up on the beach.

If a long overdue renaissance of the entire Keys region comes to fruition, thank Bloodline – and then the real star of the show, The Moorings.

New Year, New Travel

The where, when and why of your next globetrotting adventure begins right here. These unspoiled and unexplored destinations will be hot property soon (according to The Lonely Planet Best In Travel 2016 guide), so get packing.

1. CUBA

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Viñales Valley – Cuba

Place to visit: Viñales Valley
When: July to October

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Viñales Valley in the Sierra de los Órganos mountains of Cuba is home to iconic tobacco plantations and outstanding Karst landscape—keep an eye out for cigar-chewing guajiros ploughing fields, a great photo-op for Instagram, while on your hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Viñales enjoys a lasting relationship with tourism (like rock climbing, salsa dancing, cycling tours, hiking and cave exploration) but still maintains its position as a slow-paced settlement surrounded by some of Cuba’s most striking natural beauty.

2. LATVIA

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Gauja National Park – Latvia

Places to visit: Gauja National Park and Riga
When: April to August

Gauja National Park was established to protect the valley of the Gauja river and its unique environs. In numbers, we’re talking about 500 cultural and historical monuments while one-third of all natural preserves are found here. The capital city of Riga is situated at the mouth of the Daugava river. It houses an Old Town with a labyrinth of cobbled streets, a complex system of canals, a buzzing central market and a gorgeous art nouveau district. You’ll need to sip on some Riga Black Balsam, Latvia’s signature drink, to make it through the day.

3. BOTSWANA

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Okawango Delta – Botswana

Place to visit: Okawango Delta in Maun
When: July and August

Picture this: The wildest African safari you can imagine coupled with one of the most luxurious experiences of your life. Touch down in Maun and head to the Okawango Delta for a taste of the good life overlooking hippo lagoons, elephant herds, lions, leopards and cheetah. We recommend staying at camps run by wilderness safaris such as Jao and Kings Pool that are situated deep in the waterland of the delta. Don’t forget your binoculars.

4. FIJI

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Viti Levu – Fiji

Places to visit: Viti Levu and Kadavu
When: April to May, October to November

Experience a majority of what Fiji has to offer in Viti Levu—visit Kula Eco Park, trek Mount Tomanivi, kayak down the Navua river and picnic in the traditional village of Nacala. Head to Kadavu for a more prehistoric experience as this Garden Island has no real roads or establishments—it’s just you, the expanse of ocean life and terra firma.

5. GERMANY

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The Bavarian Alps – Germany

Region to visit: The Bavarian Alps
When: May to August

Long known for its grandiose mountains, beautiful lakes and magical forests, Germany’s Bavaria is every nature-lover’s dream come true. Hike to the top of Germany’s tallest mountain, Zugspitze (or more realistically, take a scenic train ride starting in the typically Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the mountain summit), and enjoy breathtaking views of around 400 snow-capped peaks spread across four countries—Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Second on your list should be taking the steam ferry across Chiemsee Lake to visit the castle of the infamous “mad” King Ludwig II.

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