By Janette Ewen, The Huffington Post
Ever since Frank Gehry’s spectacular Guggenheim Bilbao put its sleepy namesake city on the radar of architecture buffs two decades ago, design has became an integral aspect of travel and tourism, joining food, culture and climate when it comes to visitor draws. This year, the list of destinations sure to entice design fans includes spots from the West Indies to North Africa. They offer a wide range of aesthetic attractions, from cutting-edge urban design to exquisite historical gems.
OLD HAVANA, NEW URGENCY
Whether the recent detente between the United States and Cuba will result in an onslaught of American visitors to the island or not, Canadians aren’t waiting to find out: According to KAYAK, a world-leading travel search engine, Havana is one of the year’s top 10 trending destinations among travellers from the Great White North, whose online inquiries about the city skyrocketed by 230 percent compared to last year. In anticipation of more visitors, hotels in Havana are being modernized and restaurants given new polish, but it’s the bustling metropolis’ status as a living design museum that no doubt appeals to most foreigners. For architecture fans, hotels like the Nacional offer glimpses into long-gone eras, while automobile buffs would be hard-pressed to find a greater parade of vintage cars. Speaking of moveable feasts, bars like La Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway indulged his fondness for daiquiris, are modern-day links to literary and artistic legends. Clearly, the time to visit Havana is now, whatever your aesthetic bent.
Over the past several years, restaurant-rich Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, has been nurturing a reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. Now, its growing foodie cred is being matched by its design cachet. In November, the ultra-sleek Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, designed by U.S. firm SB Architects, opened on Seven Mile Beach, bringing a welcome shot of global chic (plus four more dining options) to that pristine stretch of coastline. Not far away, Camana Bay, an ambitious mixed-use development, has been heralded as a rare example of new urbanism in the region, its 500 acres encompassing high-end shops, office and residential space, interactive fountains and a pedestrianized main street called the Paseo. Situated between the Kimpton and Camana Bay is the Caribbean Club, a luxury apartment hotel and ideal base for exploring the area; it also houses one of Grand Cayman’s foremost eateries, the trattoria Luca.
ROAD TO MOROCCO
Another top trender among Canadian travellers according to KAYAK is Casablanca, the romantic Moroccan city that has long offered a beguiling mix of French and Arabic cultures. Nowhere is this hybrid allure more visible than in its architecture, which ranges from the art deco elegance of Place Mohammed V to contemporary showstoppers like the Four Seasons Casablanca on the oceanfront Corniche. At bustling Marche Centrale, the Moorish-style setting is as enticing as the fried fish and grilled vegetables, while L’Atelier 21, the city’s leading modern art gallery, showcases emerging and established artists in an au courant space. New air links to Casablanca from Canada this year make visiting even easier.
The British capital has always been a magnet for design aficionados, but 2017 offers an extra-special reason to visit: the recently transplanted Design Museum, which has been moved from its previous home on the south bank of the Thames to much larger digs in Kensington. Ten years in the making, the $140-million wood-and-concrete marvel, reimagined by minimalist architect John Pawson on the site of the former Commonwealth Institute, is the Brit superstar’s first public building in London. Visitors must pay to see special exhibitions, but the museum’s extensive permanent collection, which includes everything from a 2012 Olympic torch to a full-size Tube car, is free to view. Another area museum completing a major update this year is the venerable Victoria and Albert, which will unveil a new underground gallery and a new entrance on Exhibition Road in July. Even the city’s best watering holes are offering new eye candy: Check out the restored blue walls in The Berkeley’s expanded Blue Bar.
*The trending destinations for Canadians are based search dates Sept. 9, 2015 – Dec. 1, 2016, with travel dates from Jan. 1, 2016 – Dec. 31, 2016.