Top Luxury Travel Destinations for 2012

Top Luxury Travel Destinations for 2012
As 2012 draws near, luxury travel network Virtuoso® turned to its expert travel advisors to get the inside scoop on where those 'in the know' will be venturing in the year ahead. One thing is for sure: 2012 is the year to travel, whether it is near or far.

Virtuoso shares a taste of their advisors' top 2012 destination choices below, with an additional full report to follow in the January issue of VIRTUOSO LIFE magazine. Here are eight enticing options:

TASMANIA (pictured above)
Located on the other side of the world, and then a two-hour flight from Sydney, Tasmania offers wild and dramatic landscapes for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure-seekers. Because of its remoteness and the currents that flow from the Southern Ocean, the island has some of the planet’s most pristine coastal and inland waters. Tasmania’s unspoiled environment has proved remarkable for everything edible that grows there; turning the destination into a gourmand’s paradise. Favorite activities include harvesting oysters and visiting the many wineries. Virtuoso exclusive trip: Guests will see both the refined and wild sides of Tasmania on The Tailor’s four-night exploration on the island’s eastern side. The itinerary includes gallery tours and wine tastings before embarking on bushwalks in Freycinet National Park and a half-day excursion to Schouten Island (an exclusive perk for Virtuoso guests; typically $250 each). Departures: Any day through March 31, 2013 with rates starting from $2,005.

Travelers looking for exotic, yet affordable locations will find the ideal destination in Southeast Asia. Bordering countries, Thailand and Laos, offer startling contrasts from mountainous regions with hill-tribes, little towns with lively markets, to densely populated cities such as Bangkok. Virtuoso’s experts say not to be deterred by the recent flooding in Bangkok. The north of Thailand remains unscathed, and the recent misfortune may cause prices to tumble this year. Need extra incentive to go? The highly anticipated Siam luxury retreat, a Virtuoso Preview hotel, opens this spring with 39 suites and villas along Bangkok’s River of Kings. Virtuoso recommends: Absolute Travel’s customizable 11-day journey, starting from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand’s Golden Triangle, and floating peacefully down the Mekong River to reclusive Laos. Guests have the opportunity to travel on both a Lao river barge and a floating boutique hotel, also visiting the new cultural hotspot, Luang Prabang, Laos, and the temples at Vat Phou. Departures: Any day through 2012, with rates starting from $5,660.

For Europe first-timers or travelers seeking an English-speaking destination, Ireland offers rolling green countryside, quaint bed and breakfasts and hospitable locals that extend warmth and friendliness to visitors. From old to new: Ireland takes on a Robin Hood-esque feel amongst crumbling medieval castles for history buffs and site-seers, to world-class golf courses and resorts, offering some of the most renowned links in the world. Virtuoso advisors recommend it as an alternative in 2012 to London, which will no doubt be bulging with Olympic enthusiasts. Virtuoso recommends: Brendan Vacations arranges accommodations in formidable fortresses during its 11-day tour of some of Ireland’s most iconic spots. Departures: May 3 to October 4, with rates starting from $3,285.

"River cruising is really emerging as the one of the preferred modes of travel around Europe,” says Bill Smith, Virtuoso vice president of cruise sales and exclusive product. “It’s an efficient way for cruisers to see a lot of the destination without having to deal with confusing train schedules and roadways, or currency fluctuations.” Virtuoso advisors agree and have included river cruising as one of their top travel excursions for 2012. A Virtuoso advisor tip: Book river cruising cabins early, as they tend to sell out. Virtuoso recommends: Avalon Waterways’ 14-night cruise from Holland to Hungary along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers with stops in Amsterdam, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. Departures: Multiple dates March 28 to October 23 with rates from $3,799.

Split almost directly in half by the Equator, the French-speaking Republic of Congo sits in the western region of central Africa. The country’s consistent temperate climate and heavy rainfall allows for heavily forested regions with large populations of gorillas. According to safari expert and Virtuoso advisor Ryan Hilton, “It’s the first time a safari of this nature is being offered to travelers, so no matter how many times you’ve visited the continent, it’s unlike any African experience you’ve had.” Virtuoso recommends: Travelers can book a seven-day safari with Wilderness Safaris to the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, where two new tented camps allow guests to either trek to see completely wild groups of gorillas or to spend time up close (as near as 22 feet) with gorillas that are habituated to humans. Departures: May 3 – January 9, 2013 with rates starting from $6,000.

After a 21st-century makeover, Colombia's reputation has certainly changed due to improved security and a significantly reduced crime rate. From the regal coffee plantations, dense jungles, snow-capped mountains and gorgeous beaches to the bustling capital, Bogotá, the country offers a wide variety of landscapes. Colombians share a deep pride in their country and are not afraid to show its visitors a good time. Virtuoso advisors urge travelers to visit the reformed country and admire it as a historical and fascinating destination. Virtuoso recommends: Adventure Associates offers a 16-day trip that begins in the capital of Bogotá, before travelling to the UNESCO World Heritage city, Cartagena. The real showstopper, though, is a two-day trek to the Lost City of the Tayrona, fifth-century ruins that rival Machu Picchu – except for the crowds. Departures: Any day through 2012, with rates from $3,947.

In preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazil is gearing up for a tourism surge. The largest country in South America offers travelers a wonderful array of sites from deep Amazon jungle to samba-dancing seaside cities. Brazil’s sunny beaches, culinary scene and nightlife culture are among the best in the world, according to Virtuoso advisors. Virtuoso recommends: Travelers start their Brazilian adventure in Rio with Ladatco Tours’ eight-day beach getaway. The tour includes a climb to Christ the Redeemer and a visit to Ipanema’s Hippie Fair before a journey 800 miles north to Kiaroa Eco-Luxury Resort. Departures: Any day through 2012 with rates from $4,975.

Although it is a small country – about the size of the state of Indiana – Jordan is a destination with much variety. It is a land of great beauty and even greater history, where medieval castles meet ancient ruins amongst a landscape of rolling hills, expansive deserts and dramatic mountains. Well-known sites include the Dead Sea, the ancient city of Petra and Aqaba. According to Virtuoso advisors, it is also extremely easy to get around, which means a trip of a week or 10 days is enough to experience many of the country’s highlights. Virtuoso recommends: Cox & Kings’ eight-day itinerary through Jordan’s cultural stops, like the spot on the banks of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, and the scenic ones, such as Wadi Rum’s desert sands. Departures: Multiple dates through 2012 with rates starting at $1,835.