With Memorial Day weekend signaling the unofficial start to summer, a sense of excitement and anticipation infuses the whole month of May. Just a few more weeks to go before the arrival, even if only in our imaginations, of a season characterized by long weekends out east, leisurely afternoons on the beach, backyard BBQs, grand tours of Europe, white linen pants, summer Fridays. While dreaming up trips for MDW and beyond is tempting, why not get ahead of the crush and plan a jaunt for the first few weeks of May? This tail end of shoulder season has the best of it all: beautiful springtime weather with destinations straddling that sweet spot between being buzzing with life but not overflowing with it. So, where to go? Here are 15 wanderlust-worthy vacation ideas to put on your radar for May.
Practically everywhere on the French Riviera is a hard reservation to get come summer. Our advice? Go in May—and stay at La Réserve Ramatuelle. Just minutes from St. Tropez yet seemingly worlds away, the cliffside retreat unveiled a little refresh of its lobby, two-Michelin-starred restaurant (La Voile), and terrace last summer courtesy of Jacques Garcia, who took inspiration from the heyday of the Riviera in ’50s and ’60s, when the likes of Picasso and Cocteau were regulars. For those in want of both zen and a scene, the hotel also has a beach club, La Réserve à la Plage, a wood and rattan paradise designed by Philippe Starck—and right on famous Pampelonne Beach.
Catskills, New York
New Yorkers love nothing more than to escape the city in the summertime, which makes for some stiff competition at popular weekend retreats on Long Island and upstate. Get a head start and head up to the Catskills, where you can be one of the first to experience the brand new Chatwal Lodge, which opens in April. There are just 11 rustic-chic Adirondack-style accommodations on 100 acres of land on the edge of Toronto Reservoir Lake. You can partake in stargazing, birdwatching, and horseback riding, or take it out on the lake for fishing, paddle-boarding, canoeing, and kayaking. Rates are all-inclusive of activities plus three meals per day, all farm-to-table, of course.
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One of the best hotels in Bali comes courtesy of the Italians—specifically, the Bulgari Hotels brand. Its outpost in the Indonesian destination is a seamless blend of traditional Balinese architecture with contemporary design, Southeast Asian culture with an Italian sensibility, all of it nestled high on a cliff jutting out of the Indian Ocean. In keeping with the Bulgari Hotels ethos of prioritizing suites and villas, the smallest accommodations here measure 3,000 square feet. There is both an Indonesian restaurant and an Italian restaurant, plus a seafood spot down on the private beach. As if you needed another reason to visit Bali now: as of March 14 vaccinated travelers are exempt from quarantining.
COURTESY OF SCHLOSS ELMAU
Situated in the heart of the Bavarian Alps, Schloss Elmau is one of the most luxurious spa resorts in Europe. There are actually six separate spas, featuring everything from ancient Chinese medicine to cutting-edge treatments, plus an extensive list of wellness activities, luxurious outdoor pools, and the largest hammam this side of Istanbul. Add to all this the spectacular environs of dramatic mountains, meditative forests, and soothing streams and you get the perfect playground for a spate of outdoor experiences for any season, whether it’s hiking and mountain biking in the warmer months, to skiing and dog sledding in the winters.
COURTESY OF BELMOND
While Porto and Lisbon get much of the tourist love in Portugal, Madeira also deserves attention, particularly in May with the Festa da Flor (flower festival) taking place on the island. Expect flower carpet-making in the streets and award ceremonies for the best-decorated shop windows—in other words, Instagram gold everywhere. Check in to Reid’s Palace, a Belmond hotel located in Funchal on a mountainous promontory that stretches out into the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by lush subtropical gardens, the 130-year-old gem has historical bragging rights, too: George Bernard Shaw learned to tango here, while Winston Churchill came to write his memoirs.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
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If you’ve already checked Iceland off your bucket list, how about a trip farther north, to the Lofoten Islands in Norway? The scenic archipelago, which is famous for its dramatic peaks (and death-defying hikes), storybook fishing villages, ocean wildlife, and the country’s legendary fjords, is breathtaking in May. While this time of year may not guarantee sightings of the Northern Lights, it does fall just before peak season, affording you a preview of the region’s Midnight Sun, a two-month-long period when the sun shines for 24 hours a day. As for where to stay, head to the well-situated Reine Rorbuer, located in its namesake village and right in the backyard of the Reinefjorden.
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If there could be just one O.G. wellness retreat in the world, it might have to be the Ranch Malibu in California. For more than a decade, it has sculpted, slimmed, detoxed, and boot-camped a glittery roster of Hollywood celebrities with famously grueling programs characterized by 5:30 am wake-up calls and daily 14-mile hikes with nothing more than 6 almonds as a snack. This month, they are taking the program overseas with the opening of the Ranch Italy, a new permanent international program at the Palazzo Fiuggi Medical Retreat outside Rome. The itinerary here will be no less intense in the land of la dolce vita, except that you’ll be trading the California farmhouse-like digs and Pacific Ocean views of the Malibu outpost for a historic hilltop property with hiking in the Apennine Mountains and access to medical consultations by Palazzo Fiuggi’s physicians.
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For those in want of an Italian holiday sans aforementioned boot camp, Rome is perfect this time of year. As the country’s most popular destination, the capital city is teeming with tourists during its peak season so go this month and you’ll have a much better—and more authentic—experience of the Eternal City. There are a number of exquisite hotels to choose from but the Hotel de Russie, one of two Rocco Forte properties in town, is particularly enticing thanks to its iconic tiered Mediterranean garden which bursts with roses, orange trees, and pine. In even better news, the hotel recently unveiled 7 new suites inspired by its verdant grounds—done up in soothing tones of blues and greens, the chic spaces are filled with Fontana Arte lamps, Fornasetti furnishings, and Calacatta marble bathtubs.
Sonoma County, California
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If you want fantastic weather and less competition at the best wineries, May is the time for a trip to Sonoma County. Over the past few years, Healdsburg, in the heart of the region, has emerged as the veritable culinary capital of Napa’s less pretentious sister. There is Michelin-starred dining, like SingleThread, which has three, and longtime favorite Barndiva, which earned its first star last year. Also joining the list this spring is the restaurant at the 24-room Madrona, a Victorian institution that has been redesigned by Jay Jeffers. Prefer a resort vibe? The sprawling, 258-acre Montage Healdsburg made its debut in town last year.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Though the resort city in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is idyllic year round—it gets 350 days of sunshine annually—ask a local, and they’ll recommend May, when the winter crowds have dwindled and the weather is perfect. Activities in the area run the gamut, from surfing to shopping, and the contemporary art scene is more vibrant now than ever. There’s also a farmer’s market in town three days a week, surfing on the Sea of Cortez, and a booming dining scene to boot. Stay at the ultra-luxurious and serene Las Ventanas al Paraíso, a Rosewood property with 84 expansive suites and villas, which start at 960 square feet and all come with butler service, plus 8 pools, 6 restaurants, and a spa menu inspired by the ancient healers of Baja.
Charleston, South Carolina
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Get in a trip to one of America’s most romantic cities now, before that famously humid Southern summer sets in. The charms of Charleston are innumerable: pastel-colored architecture, much to learn about its complex history (at Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, the Gibbes Museum of Art, and the Aiken-Rhett House), incredible food (Fig, 167 Raw, the new Brasserie at La Banque), and warm hospitality everywhere. The lovely 16-room Zero George celebrated its 10th anniversary with a little refresh of its spaces. And it has also opened a Caviar Bar, which means its lush gardens and courtyard just may be the hottest place to be this season.
Newport, Rhode Island
Feeling inspired by The Gilded Age? Newport may be a summertime playground for a certain set but the town’s legendary mansions are best experienced without so many tourists—plus, it’ll be much easier to get around its tiny downtown area. For your own taste of the robber baron life, stay at the Vanderbilt, a newly renovated Auberge Resort in the heart of Newport that was originally built for Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt in 1909. The 33-key hotel is full of old world charm—cozy nooks, a romantic palette of dark greens, teals, and navy, vintage furnishings—yet has all the modern accoutrements for 21st luxury, from indoor and outdoor pools to a roof deck.
This time of year is referred to as green season in Costa Rica—as long as you’re okay with the occasional rain shower, you’ll get to experience a country coming to life and bursting with bright foliage. To really get up close and personal with its natural wonders, book one of the wildlife itineraries offered by Classic Journeys, which includes expert-guided tours of both Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Parks. Think naturalist-led hikes through magical waterfall-strewn rainforests and frozen lava flow, river safaris in search of crocodiles and scarlet macaws, bird-watching, ziplining, snorkeling, and whitewater rafting, with even time left over for coffee plantation tours and tastings.
As if the region wasn’t a major culinary and wine hotspot already, this month Burgundy’s capital city of Dijon welcomes the Cité Internationale du Vin et de la Gastronomie, a sprawling 30,000-square-foot temple for foodies and oenophiles housed in a series of historic buildings from the 15th-18th centuries. The center will host masterclasses and exhibitions, plus offer tastings of the 250 wines housed in its 3-story cellar. Make home base Le Relais Bernard Loiseau, a charming countryside Relais & Chateaux in the town of Saulieu. The property boasts a 2-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Côte d’Or, and is celebrating the 40th anniversary of current Chef Patrick Bertron’s tenure in the kitchen.
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Early May is prime time to get a taste of all the stunning raw natural beauty and local culture that Ibiza has to offer, just before the revelers start descending on this party island for a summer full of champagne soaks and all-night ragers. At the Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay, the focus is on serenity and wellness: think sunrise Pilates sessions, guided hikes to hidden gems, a rotating roster of visiting practitioners, and masterclasses in breath work and sound healing. Of course this being Ibiza, should you want even a little bit of a scene, the property has that too, with a new lounge that features local DJs and a menu of inventive cocktails