La Scala Opera House, Milan, Italy
Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s great rival — we really don’t remember the runners-up, do we? — opened Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, as it was then known, in 1778. This was actually a replacement, for the one that burned down a couple of years earlier. With a couple of exceptions, like being bombed in the Second World War and (voluntarily) renovated in 2002, it has been pretty much continuously open ever since. Before electric lighting, the stage and hall were lit by oil lamps, and, as fire prevention, several rooms were kept full of pre-filled buckets of water.
La Scala is the pre-eminent and truly greatest Opera House in the world, and going there, even if you don’t like opera, is transcendent. Well, if you don’t like opera, you won’t find it as transcendent, I suppose, but go in the afternoon! Just see the place! Visit the museum, which has the historical artifacts you’d expect, puts on exhibitions and workshops, and gives guided tours of the theater and where they make their famous costumes. To say you’d be stepping back in time is a cliche, so I won’t say it.
But hearing an opera here is one of life’s great joys. Every performance is someone’s Super Bowl of Opera. You’ll never forget it.
Tengile River Lodge, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa
This opened recently and is a small, 9 suites, unfenced lodge smack in the middle of the majestic Sabi Sand Game Reserve. You will find yourself in an improbably luxurious oasis among the animals. Each thatched suite is above the ground, air conditioned and shaded (mercifully) by the forest and with a spectacular view of the Sand River. The public spaces are mostly open air. Cleverly and beautifully the owners repurposed materials from the area, including parts of the old Selati Railroad which pave the lodge’s terrazzo floors.
You can have the leave-the-property safari experience of course, taken by their guides and you can, they tease, engage with locals on “community visits.”
Located in the Aegean Sea, closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, is an actual bizarro world. Ikaria, one of the world’s so called Blue Zones with an unusually high concentration of centenarians, is named after Icarus, the impulsive son of Daedalus who in the Greek myth flew too close to the sun. Here time does not exist. Nobody’s in a hurry — they’re always on “Greek time” as they say — so stress is virtually non-existent, and most businesses are closed during the day, opening at night. This upside-down world may seem weird, but you’ll get used to it realizing this is the way to live…forever. One in three Ikarians live into their 90s — they’re the local youth — giving this paradise the moniker, “the island where people forget to die.”
Once you settle in to your new life, seek out one of Ikaria’s many festivals, probably celebrating some saint. In between dancing, imbibe on jugs of homemade red wine that will make you think you have gone blind. (You’ve never had hooch like this before.) But you’ll need it to wash down all of that tasty roasted goat, which is sold by the kilo. Just go with it. And don’t fly too close to the sun. Hahaha! A Greek myth joke!
Owl Café Wata Wata, Nara, Japan
Japan has been at the forefront of the coffee culture for the past decade and it seems they will come up with every kind of marketing ploy to get you to come and have a cup. The Owl Café Wata Wata is one such different and unique way. Have your morning, midday or afternoon caffeine fix or drink of your choice and pet an owl or have a photo taken with them.
The cafe, which is open when owls should be asleep, has about 14 different owls and even a falcon. Not all are around at one time, but you are sure to have a choice of four or five. Entry fee is ¥1300 ($12) for which you get an hour with the owls and, of course, a cup of coffee.
Fontenille Menorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
On the second largest Balearic island, off Spain, you can stay in a 17th century palace or a 19th century finca (country estate), collectively known as Fontenille Menorca, just opened. One hotel, two experiences. There’s a working farm with vineyards, fig, olive, pomegranate and orange groves. There are gardens, terraces, white sandy beaches and yoga. A distillery makes the essential oils that are used in the spa which is set in majestic 18th century cisterns, and there’s a winery. See you there!