The destinations here are not easy to get to, but that’s part of their appeal. In an era when the world is flooded with selfie-stick-carrying tourists and everything has a “been there, done that” feeling, it’s exhilarating to think of the road less traveled. Indeed, the best part of any journey is the romance of it, whether that involves scaling Bhutan’s vertiginous cliffs, past sacred temples and fluttering prayer flags and achieving your own sense of nirvana in the happiest nation on the planet; spending the night under the darkest sky in Chile’s Atacama Desert and taking in the whole Milky Way; or stepping into someone else’s dream, like that of the creative fabulist Ramdane Touhami, who has reimagined a mountain chalet in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps as something out of a fairy tale. Isn’t that the fantasy?


As with so many travelers, Bhutan, often referred to as the last Shangri-La, has loomed large in my imagination. So when the country reopened for tourism post-pandemic in fall 2022, I was aboard one of the first flights landing on its mountain-flanked airstrip. The occasion also marked the start of a bold new approach to sustainable tourism. Following a “high-value, low-volume” model with a levy for visitors, currently $100 per person per day, this Himalayan kingdom keeps numbers relatively low— which meant that during my two-week jaunt around its main valleys I had mountain trails and frozen-in-time dzong fortresses almost entirely to myself. That thrill, combined with the deep-rooted Buddhist culture, some of Asia’s most luxurious resorts, and temples steeped in history, made this tiny nation one of my favorite places in the world

Photographer and text CHRIS SCHALKX


The Swiss are known for many things: their precision, elegance, and efficiency; their banking, cheeses, and chocolate. Among these many positively held attributes, however, excitement rarely ranks. (Though this depends, of course, on how you feel about banking, cheeses, or chocolate.)

So when a new hotel called the Drei Berge opened its doors in the Bernese Alps in the sleepy, postcard-perfect village of Mürren in the summer of 2023 you would have been forgiven for not considering it news. Except you’d have been the only one—design titles from across the world clamored to cover the refurbishing of the 19-room chalet that had first opened its doors in 1907. And with good reason: It was the latest feat from the indefatigable serial entrepreneur and multidisciplinary creative force Ramdane Touhami and his Parisian art direction agency, Art Recherche Industrie.

Touhami has been known in creative circles for decades for a particularly inviting kind of world-making, having previously been involved in the revival of the 380-year- old candle company Cire Trudon, and more recently, the 19th-century-inspired beauty company Officine Universelle Buly, along with a smattering of other start- ups in between and since. After Touhami and his wife and partner, Victoire de Taillac-Touhami, sold Buly to LVMH in 2021, rather than relax into his successes, Touhami expanded his sense of storytelling into new genres, including a podcast company, a publishing studio, and a bookstore in Paris’s seventh arrondissement, as well as plans for a plastic-free line of outdoor clothing. But there’s no storytelling quite like hospitality.

“I like having a hotel. It’s very strange. I really like it, actually,” Touhami tells 10 USA during a phone call in December from Basel, where he is working on an exhibition for Fondation Beyeler’s summer show, opening in May. He had been looking for a mountain hotel for more than a decade before he found the Drei Berge, then an inexpensive classic hikers’ lodge (cotton lace-trimmed curtains, bleached-pine beds, a coin-operated laundromat in the basement) called the Bellevue, nestled in a perfect spot at the foot of the Schilthorn peak. Mürren has for years been something of a gatekept paradise for mountaineers, accessible only by cable car and narrow-gauge electric railway, with views of the Eiger and Mönch mountains and access to some of the world’s most spectacular hikes. (Should you be thinking that when you’ve seen one Swiss mountain range, you’ve seen them all, the views from these hikes are so stupendous that JRR Tolkien took inspiration from the landscape for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.)

“I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t like holidays,” Touhami says. “I like mountains. The idea was to find a good balance.” Balance at the Drei Berge means a hearty Swiss breakfast buffet and a silver samovar of the sumptuous hot chocolate Touhami created for the Buly stores, followed by thigh-burning all-day outdoor endeavors, or a visit to Mürren’s insanely picturesque cliffside red clay tennis courts in the warmer months. For the aerially inclined, the hotel can help you arrange a helicopter ride to walk across a nearby glacier, or a paragliding adventure over the Lauterbrunnen valley. Back at the hotel there’s a petite in-house sauna waiting before a decadent dinner from the Japanese-Swiss menu: think katsu-style lake trout and chips, udon bowls, and thick wagyu steaks. (Touhami imported his own chef to design the menu.) There’s a crepe stand outside, too, where passers-by can grab a drink or a treat in a Drei Berge-printed paper cup or cone. The Touhami- designed black, yellow, and red hotel logo features a bear in various acts of Swiss mountaineering, like downhill skiing or sitting with a stein in hand, always wearing his backpack.

During a visit a week or two before the hotel’s official opening this summer, visitors were stunned by the array of deeply cool and typically Touhami decorative touches that had been airlifted in for installation. The the custom carpet was printed with flags for various global mountain peaks; the hand-carved wooden reception desk was framed by vintage ski-themed posters; the hallways and room doors were boldly patterned and painted. An enormous JBL sound system and DJ set had pride of place in the lobby, surrounded by furniture by Carlo Mollino and Charlotte Perriand. Inside the rooms the beds were perfect, with hand-carved wooden frames and monogrammed linens designed by Art Recherche Industrie. The malachite green exterior and red and white chevron-painted shutters that Instagram’s Wes Anderson-themed design accounts were already drooling over seemed both uniquely Touhami and like they could have been there for years. It felt like the ski house of the coolest person you’ve ever met, which it basically kind of is. The whole place is proof that what Touhami has demonstrated with his retail career could be expanded upon, and that his special kind of luxury, which feels like an entrée into a particularly enviable secret, makes you want to do more than open your wallet. It makes you want to drop your bags and stay awhile.

There have been a few new additions in the months since the hotel’s opening, Touhami tells me: Aaron Aujla, of New York’s Green River Project, has designed two new guest rooms; and, just this winter, a new bar opened, inspired by the James Bond-themed restaurant atop the Schilthorn, only the Drei Berge’s is inspired by The Eiger Sanction, a campy and deeply politically incorrect Clint Eastwood mountaineering-style shoot-’em-up from 1975 that was filmed in the region. (“Have you seen it?” Touhami asks, gleeful. “It’s maybe one of the worst mountain movies ever made! We have all the posters and everything.”) There’s also another new bar, Street Trash, which serves what Touhami says is exceptionally strong local booze and takes its name from the 1987 cult-classic horror film in which a toxic batch of alcohol melts people. Perhaps more traditionally invitingly, there’s also a new fondue and Swiss cheese spot inside the hotel called Cheese on the Top. “I know,” Touhami says, “I never stop.”

And on that topic, there’s the possibility of more hotel projects to come, though when we talk Touhami is reluctant to commit. For one thing, he’s never been busier. For another, it’s not worth doing if he can’t do it exactly how he wants. He defines his hospitality ethos this way: “It’s fancy but not fancy. You have luxury services but it doesn’t have these automatic gestures that you find at Aman or the Four Seasons. It’s luxury but it’s casual, cool, chill.” But not too chill. “I don’t want to do an Ace hotel thing or shit like hipster.” The typical five- star hotel, Touhami says, is full of over-the-top, florid touches. “It’s all bonjour monsieur, bonjour madame, it’s all bullshit.” The hipster options offer an annoying kind of feigned casual: “It’s, ‘Hey, what’s up dude? What do you want?’ I want to have something in between. Everyone is nice to you but there’s some distance. Warm distance.” You know you’re being taken care of, and by professionals.

That kind of thing is trickier than it looks, especially in a world where staffing seems to be harder than ever. Touhami spent part of his summer on a sailboat with friends cruising around the Mediterranean. “I said, ‘What’s the best in management and service?’ And in front of me is this super-beautiful yacht.” He hired the entire team from the boat to run the Drei Berge, he says, “because I want to take my hotel to the top.” The results, he says, have been hugely successful, with a staff who know exactly how to make a stay seamless. “The thing about a hotel,” Touhami says, “is you welcome all your clients like your friends.” The smart money says he’s about to be more popular than ever.



Instagram: @hoteldreiberge



“When you arrive in Atacama, Chile, it’s like landing on the surface of another planet,” says Tom Marchant, the co-founder of Black Tomato, the luxury travel company that leads curated trips through the region. “There are salt flats, geothermal pools, bioluminescent lagoons, and active volcanoes everywhere.” And, of course, there are the towering Andean mountains looming over it all. “You’d have to travel to so many different places to see all these elements, but it’s all here,” he continues.

Marchant first learned about this region in northern Chile as a child poring over old encyclopedias. “It looked so otherworldly,” he recalls. “And when I first arrived here on a research trip I felt like I was on a Star Wars set. There were these vast copper pit mines and huge observatories.” Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth and, with its relative emptiness, it has one of the clearest, darkest night skies; many countries have built huge telescopes here to study the stars. “It’s the best place in the world to see the Milky Way,” Marchant says.

NASA has also set up shop here in Valley of the Moon, a barren landscape. Engineers and scientists test rovers and other instruments on Atacama’s arid land because it resembles the surface of Mars. They also study the flora and fauna here to see what could live in a Martian landscape. Not much, save for the pink flamingos that bathe in the shimmering lagoons, the wild vicuñas that graze in the dry red rock, and adventurous backpackers that make their base in the small town of San Pedro de Atacama (where there are luxury accommodations including the 12-room Awasi Atacama lodge, the all- inclusive adobe-like Nayara Alto Atacama, below, and the newer Our Habitas, with 51 rooms and a spa). “It’s just you and the elements,” says Marchant, who thinks getting away from it all in one of the most remote places in the world is the ultimate luxury these days.



Instagram: @blacktomatotravel


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