An expat friend of mine, who has lived in Europe for decades, recently returned from a trip to Mykonos raving about the “shoulder season.” He loved being there at the fashionable height of summer: no desperate musical chairs on Psarou Beach, no waiting for tables at the island’s best restaurants, and available rooms at the most for considerably less than in August. “Traveling during the shoulder season is like going out on a Thursday night,” he enthused.
Make your vacation feel like a Thursday night for your entire stay with these vacation destinations that are so much better in the off season.
The Doge’s Room at Ca Maria Adele hotel in Venice.
Last year, when my husband and I went to Venice in late October, our eyes were opened to a feast of autumnal pleasures — including spectacular seasonal additions to local menus, like delectable or soft-shell crabs. One afternoon, we took a vaporetto to the island of Torcello and ate an unforgettable pumpkin-and-truffle pasta dish at the elegant Locanda Cipriani, which is still owned by the original famous family . Another evening, we walked into Al Covo without making a reservation.
And the hotel everyone was raving about — the Palazzo Vernat, an ornate 18-room hotel so gilded and Baroque it’s hard to focus your eyes— had rooms available for a relative bargain. So did the serene Aman and the stately Ca Maria Adele, a small palazzo in which each guest room is lavishly decorated in a distinctly different style. As if having the surreal floating city to yourself is not enough, its cultural calendar is always a draw. Check out Damien Hirst at the Palazzo Grassi, or the “Intuition” exhibition, curated by Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti, at the Palazzo Fortuny during the Venice Biennale, on through November.
Parador La Huella in José Ignacio, Uruguay.
Of course, shoulder season doesn’t just mean autumn. My first encounter with its pleasures, in fact, was during the spring. Four years ago, after a friend’s wedding in Argentina, I tacked on a trip to Uruguay. Everyone told me I was crazy to go in March; the beaches of José Ignacio peak during its summer season, between Christmas and New Year’s. But I dragged my family there anyway, and we spent our days on the pristine dunes of Brava Beach practically alone. At night, we danced into the perennially sold-out Parador La Huella, deservedly one of the most celebrated beach restaurants in the world, and were shown to the table of our choice.
Estancia Vik hotel, José Ignacio.
Nobody knows the Uruguayan resort scene better than Norwegian billionaire Alexander Vik and his wife, Carrie, who own two of the area’s most celebrated properties. Playa Vik, the futuristic stone-and-glass, 19-suite hotel with its own James Turrell installation, overlooks Playa Mansa — I still can’t stop thinking about a bathroom sink there made out of a giant amethyst geode — and Estancia Vik, a colonial-style cattle ranch, is filled with contemporary Uruguayan art and giant geode crystals. Vik recently told me he prefers to visit in the other quiet season (October and November), during that heady moment of anticipation before the high-season rush, when the area’s Parador La Caracola beach club and cultish restaurants—La Olada and Francis Mallmann’s Restaurante Garzon—are open but not yet jammed with porteños from Buenos Aires.
Bahama House on Harbour Island.
José Ignacio shares spring and fall shoulder seasons — and more than a few of the party-loving regulars, for that matter — with Harbour Island in the Bahamas and St. Barts, the Caribbean’s most established society destinations. As a New Englander, I have a soft spot for Harbour Island, where, by day, you’ll find old-school WASPs weaving around in golf carts with rum cocktails and shopping for Wiggy Kit caftans at local celeb India Hicks’s boho- luxe boutique, theSugar Mill Trading Co.By night, they’ll be dancing barefoot in the sand at Gusty’s nightclub.
The hotel’s pool.
The newly opened Bahama House a circa-1800 property, is smartly kitted out with rattan furniture by West Palm Beach–based designer Paul Aronson, a chic tiki bar, and a cabinet of underwater wonders filled with remarkable coral and shells. It’s closed for the storm season in early fall but highly desirable when it reopens in early November.
A suite at Villa Marie in St. Barts.
In my opinion, St. Barts became too glitzy in the early aughts and lost some of its bohemian charm. But now it’s back, with two stunning new properties: At Le Barthélemy, the resort conceived by French designer Sybille de Margerie on a quiet cove in the north of the island, even the indoor spaces feel en plein air. And then there’s VillaMarie Saint-Barth, full of impossibly tasteful vibrant colors and details, which was opened last winter by the stylish Sibuets, the French hoteliers who operate the most charming inns in Provence and the French Alps. It closes during autumn but is open in the spring.
Hero Beach Club in Montauk, New York.
When my New York friends start to pack up their summer houses on Labor Day, I happily anticipate the slower pace and golden light of the Hamptons in late September and October. The usual long drive to the East End takes about half the time, making a last-minute stay twice as appealing at Montauk’s Hero Beach Club, a clever reinvention of the old Oceanside Beach Resort, or the laid-back Crow's Nest, which is owned by celebrity hotelier Sean MacPherson. “The season in the Hamptons is artificially short,” MacPherson says. “Memorial Day to Labor Day — that’s arbitrary, since it is just as beautiful in October.”
The stables at São Lourenço do Barrocal in Monsaraz, Portugal.
The off-season Hamptons of Portugal — but with better wine — is Comporta, a protected coastline flanked by vineyards south of Lisbon that suddenly goes quiet at the end of the summer holidays. The area’s nearly 40 miles of white beaches are the most beautiful I’ve seen in Europe, and I’m not alone: Designers Jacques Grange and Christian Louboutin both have houses in Comporta, and Vincent Van Duysen, the Belgian architect and creative director of Molteni&C, is building a home nearby.
Sublime’s suites and villas in Comporta, Portugal.
I like to base myself at the Sublime, a hotel surrounded by sand dunes, cork trees, and umbrella pines. It opened three years ago and has a restaurant modeled after traditional rice warehouses, as well as several villas — the most beautiful of which are the dark-wood Cabana Villas. The Food Club, the hotel’s pop-up dining room set in an organic garden, will stay open through October.
Vineyards in Monsaraz, Portugal.
About a two-hour drive from Lisbon is São Lourenço do Barrocal, a striking rustic-modern hotel designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, located on a 2,000-acre estate that has been in the same family for eight generations. There’s a spa operated by cult Austrian brand Susanne Kaufmann, a winery, biking and hiking trails, and, of course, a farm-to-table restaurant. Plan to stay for a couple of serene, unhurried days. It’s that time of year.
This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Siweb.