New hotels, attractions beckon visitors to the Southeast in 2020

Maison de la Luz is one of New Orleans’ many exciting new hotels Contributed by Maison de la Luz

Maison de la Luz is one of New Orleans’ many exciting new hotels Contributed by Maison de la Luz

The great big world beckons travelers to choose vacation destinations in far flung locales from Antarctic to New Zealand, but there’s something to be said for vacation experiences closer to home in 2020.

Getting there is not always half the fun, so taking a trip that requires a short flight or a few hours’ drive is the preferred getaway for many today.

Travel professionals note that vacations fall into two buckets, just don’t call it a bucket list, says Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, a luxury travel network of advisers and partner destinations worldwide.

“If a bucket list is what people want to do before they die, a wander list focuses on how they want to live now,” says Upchurch. “Our research found that people’s wander lists are made up of two things: places they want to go and experiences they want to have.”

Happily, for residents of the southeastern United States, there are lots of nearby destinations they can explore to satisfy those two desires.

Keeping track of travel trends, including where to stay, what to do and where to dine, is a top priority for professional travel advisers, so we spoke to a few to find out where we should travel in the Southeast in 2020.

The recently refreshed 200-foot-long lobby of The Breakers Palm Beach was originally built in 1926. Contributed by The Breakers Palm Beach

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Melding past with present

Founded in 1896, The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, is one of America's classic grand, luxury resorts. But the 140-acre oceanfront property has recently undergone a $30 million facelift including a refreshed 200-foot-long lobby by celebrated designer Adam D. Tihany, who added modern touches of color and décor to the Italian Renaissance style space.

Balancing preservation with modernization is a mission for the hotel’s restaurants and bars as well. “Our guests want foods they understand and are familiar with, but it must be exceptional,” says executive chef Anthony Sicignano. “Today that means we must find the freshest and the best ingredients, so we work with local farmers to grow what we want on our menus.”

Dining styles are updated too with the addition of Seafood Bar, which focuses on lighter fish dishes, and HMF restaurant, where long handled forks facilitate reaching shared plates across the table.

In early 2020, a new restaurant will join the hotel’s culinary collection. Henry’s Palm Beach is named after the resort’s founder Henry Morrison Flagler, whose descendants still own and operate the hotel. Henry’s is also designed by Tihany and will be located at Via Flagler by the Breakers, an alfresco plaza of boutiques, eateries and residences.

The Breakers. $360-$690. One South County Road, Palm Beach, Florida. 833-211-9143,

Executive chef Anthony Sicignano in the herb garden of The Breakers Palm Beach. Contributed by The Breakers Palm Beach

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New in New Orleans

The 50-year-old Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) debuted its billion-dollar renovation in November 2019. The new terminal design consolidates security into one checkpoint, linking what had been four separate terminals, and welcomes travelers to New Orleans with live music and local restaurants.

Also new is the Sazerac House, a museum in a restored historic building on the corner of Canal and Magazine streets that describes itself as "one part micro distillery, two parts interactive cocktail experience." Visitors take a journey through New Orleans' spirited history starring the making of Sazerac rye whiskey and the world-famous Sazerac cocktail.

Recent hotel openings include the Hotel Peter & Paul, creating new life in what was an historic church, schoolhouse, rectory and convent. Also built on the foundations of New Orleans architectural history, the art-filled luxury guesthouse Maison de la Luz is a design delight within a renovated 1908 building.

Just opened earlier this month, the Higgins Hotel New Orleans, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, is the official hotel of The National WWII Museum. Located in the New Orleans Art District, it features 1940s-era décor and restaurants that pay homage to the history of WWII, including the Café Normandie and Rosie's on the Roof. Packages include entrance to the museum.

Expected to open in early 2020, the Hotel Chloe, a small boutique hotel operated by local hospitality group Leblanc + Smith, will open on Uptown at Saint Charles Avenue, and later in the year the Four Seasons Hotel will offer guests views of the Mississippi River and beyond from an iconic World Trade Center perch high above Canal Street.

Sazerac House. Free, 21 or older. 101 Magazine St., New Orleans. 504-910-0100,

Hotel Peter & Paul. $200-$700. 2317 Burgundy St., New Orleans. 504-356-5200,

Maison de la Luz. $250-$1,200. 546 Carondelet St., New Orleans. 504-814-7720,

Higgins Hotel. $150-$500. 1000 Magazine St., New Orleans. 504-528-1941,

Firetower restaurant at Blackberry Mountain features locally sourced foods. Contributed

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Ultimate wellness escape

Demand for destination spa vacations grew by 11 percent in 2019, but what travelers want in the wellness category is changing, says Jack Ezon of Embark, a New York-based luxury travel company.

Pampering is still key, but with the addition of more active physical adventures and mental stimulation.

"For people who have 'been there, done that', the newest of the new is Blackberry Mountain, sibling to the renowned Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee," says Jennifer Falk Weiss of Atlanta-based Currie & Company Travels Unlimited. "Blackberry Mountain is truly unmatched with wellness and outdoor activities and an endless number of experiences available that highlight fitness adventures from trail biking and rock climbing to mountain top yoga and meditation."

At Blackberry Mountain, there are experts on site to help guests choose the activities that suit their needs, even if their goal is simply to relax.

“Most people live in a state of constant stimulation. How rare is it to actually slow down and pause?” says Dr. Jill Beasley, holistic health specialist at Blackberry Mountain.

“There’s a societal shift, and people are acknowledging that it’s OK to rest. There is wisdom in finding balance and it’s refreshing.”

Wellness isn’t just about physical activities and fitness. Healthy and delicious food is part of the appeal at Blackberry Mountain. To stimulate the palate, cooking and mixology classes featuring locally sourced ingredients, including those foraged from the wild, are among the activities guests can enjoy.

Blackberry Mountain. $1,045 and up, double occupancy, including breakfast, dinner and activities. 1041 The Loop Road, Walland, Tennessee. 800-993-7824,

Farm comfort, pet friendly

Highlands, North Carolina, remains a popular getaway for Atlantans, and the Old Edwards Inn has a been a long-time favorite for overnight stays. But Currie & Company advisers identify two additional hotels worth checking out.

One is Half-Mile Farm, an adult-only country inn sibling of the Old Edwards Inn where the day starts with a "chef-inspired" breakfast and ends with complimentary hors d'oeuvres for wine hour, or cocktails and light bites in the bar. Guests also have room-signing privileges at the restaurants at Old Edwards Inn.

The other is Park on Main, a welcoming hotel for people traveling with their canine family. In addition to a lobby decorated with portraits of every dog imaginable, guests can bring their dogs with no weight limit and no extra fee. Pet amenities include Orvis therapeutic dog beds, special towels for pets and free all-natural dog treats.

Half-Mile Farm. $300-$700. 214 Half Mile Drive, Highlands, North Carolina. 828-475-2236,

Park on Main. $339-$404. 205 Main St., Highlands, North Carolina. 800-221-5078,

Blast from the past

The Savannah Historic District debuted a new hotel this year. Named after Alida Harper Fowlkes, one of Savannah's early preservationists, the Alida Hotel is a property by Marriott that features the largest penthouse in Savannah, three restaurants including a rooftop bar, a heated salt-water swimming pool and unique design elements including pillows crafted by students of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

And in February 2020, the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District is scheduled to open. With more than 400 rooms, the luxury hotel will be part of The Kessler Collection’s mixed-use development transforming an industrial zone anchored by an abandoned power plant, which will extend the city’s public river walk by more than 1,000 feet.

Savannah's liquid history can be explored at the American Prohibition Museum, which will be especially lively in 2020 as the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act, prohibiting the sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages, will be recognized. The museum offers cocktail classes and a Speakeasy featuring drinks popular during the Prohibition era.

The Alida Hotel. $195-$379. 412 Williamson St., Savannah. 912-715-7000,

The American Prohibition Museum. $15. 209 W. St. Julian St., Savannah. 912-220-1249,