Luxury Vacation Guide 2012: East London

London, a perennial tourist favorite, is no stranger to the luxury travel market. What’s relatively new is the proliferation of luxury hotels and other venues in traditionally working-class East London.

In 2012, East London’s reputation as luxury territory will intensify. Why? The Olympics, mostly. London hosts the Summer Olympics from July 27 through August 13. The Olympic Village along with many Olympics sites are are located in London’s East, far beyond the capital’s traditional tourist sites.

London’s East has seen significant high-end hotel development over the last several years. Luxury hotels like Hoxton Hotel, Andaz Liverpool Street by Hyatt, Boundary, Shoreditch House, and Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel have transformed East London’s hotel scene.

Edgy fashion, weekend markets, and various creative venues will continue to characterize East London, but there are luxury shopping opportunities as well. East London is packed with galleries and specialty shops, with particularly interesting hubs in Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

For dining, there is the outstanding Viajante, a Michelin-starred restaurant, located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. Other Michelin-starred restaurants not far from the East London hubbub include St. John Bar and Restaurant in Clerkenwell (with a less formal outpost, St. John Bread & Wine, in Spitalfields) and Club Gascon, located just inside the City of London, across from Smithfield Market.

[flickr image via Harshil.Shah]

Luxury Vacation Guide 2012: Baku, Azerbaijan

Alternately called the Paris of the East and the Next Dubai, Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is poised to become the Middle East’s next big luxury travel destination.

Once the busiest harbor on the ancient Silk Road, Baku is the largest city on the Caspian Sea and in the Caucasus region. A recent flood of oil money has led to massive development in anticipation of a 2020 Olympics bid, and early 2012 will mark the opening of the Flame Towers, an iconic complex which will significantly alter the Baku skyline. With a design inspired by the natural gas-fueled fires that once sprung spontaneously from the Azerbaijan landscape, the towers will house offices, high-end apartments, and a new luxury property from Fairmont.

As a country, Azerbaijan is no stranger to progress, having been the first Muslim country to build operas, theatres, and a democratic republic. Baku’s walled inner city, which contains Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, and the city’s cultural agenda includes world-class ballet performances and philharmonic concerts. To boot, Lonely Planet recently ranked Baku one of the world’s top destinations for urban nightlife, alongside Buenos Aires, Dubai, and Cape Town.

[flickr image via teuchterlad]

Luxury Vacation Guide 2012: Istanbul

Travel like a modern sultan with design-conscious hotels, bespoke shopping, and high-end dining at the crossroads of two continents: Istanbul, Turkey.

In 2010, Istanbul made headlines in every travel magazine and newspaper as it was home to one of the European Capitals of Culture. The influx of cash and visitors meant dozens of new hotels, art galleries, museums, and world-class restaurants. As many European countries’ economies have seen trouble in the last year, the Turkish Tiger is booming. Visitors today can relive the glory days of travel in the restored Pera Palace Hotel, built for the Orient Express passengers, or luxuriate in modern style with a water view at the House Hotel Bosphorus. Marvel at the jewel-encrusted treasures at Topkapı Palace and pick up something for your own royal residence at Paşabahçe, where home goods run from a few lira for a çay glass to thousands for a mosaic-tiled Ottoman-inspired vase; or invest in artisanal, limited-edition jewelry and textiles at Armaggan. Sample Turkish classics with a modern twist at Lokanta Maya for shared mezes or at the Michelin-standard Mimolett restaurant and wine boutique. If you haven’t put on too much weight from all the fantastic food, you can commission a bespoke suit, leather jacket, or customized pair of shoes at the Grand Bazaar or on the back streets of Nişantaşı, Istanbul’s fashion district. While no longer a budget travel destination, Istanbul has something to offer every taste, from an elaborate dinner aboard a private yacht to the simple (and cheap) pleasure of a ferry ride between continents.

[flickr image via Witt Istanbul Suites]