Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? The Standard, London, the brand's first location in Europe, opened in July 2019 in a distinctive Brutalist building. A pill-like red elevator, visible from the exterior, sets the tone for the bright interiors with outlandish decor and greenery.
What's the backstory? Standards are renowned for their always-on-the-verge-of-a-party vibe, and by locating the London outpost in a unique building in a rapidly regenerating part of the city, they’ve established, yet again, their signature edgy tone. The building was once part of Camden Town Hall—so both the interiors and the conversations used to be much more subdued.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? Pod-like rooms come in an array of sizes, from train carriage–style singles to spacious suites with terraces and outdoor bathtubs. The style is varied, too, from kitsch '70s-style swirly carpets to pink-and-black-tiled bathrooms in the smaller rooms to wood paneling and emerald leather in the suites. All come with a cocktail shaker and local mini bar snacks, such as Camden Hells lager.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi, and how is the quality? It's free and fast.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? Isla, the funky, ground-floor restaurant with carpeted walls and leafy alfresco tables in summer, offers small plates and natural wines. For something a bit grittier, you’ll find gherkin martinis and oozey burgers in the mosaic-tiled bar. Up on the roof, Michelin-starred chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias serves Mexican tapas alongside glittering city views.
What type of travelers will you find here? The sort of people who describe themselves as "creatives"—exactly who might conceivably use the in-house recording studio.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The Standard crowns this young, rapidly changing part of London with its signature brand of hip. Nearby, you’ve got the chic students of Central Saint Martins, the designer shops of newly developed Coal Drops Yard, and St. Pancras station, which offers quick trips to Paris.
Any other hotel features worth noting? There’s a DJ booth in the lounge—don’t come for an early night. Or bring earplugs.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? This is the hippest place to sleep in a newly cool part of town.
The Newt in Somerset
It might have been enough that The Newt in Somerset, the sister property to South Africa’s much-loved Babylonstoren, occupies one of the area’s prettiest estates, Hadspen House. And that its already-famous gardens have been extensively reimagined and replanted. Or that its food-and-drink ambitions are vast: a state-of-the-art cider-making facility, seasonal produce delivered straight onto plates (or made into pickles, ferments, and preserves), and a herd of buffalo that supplies milk and butter to the team of chefs, bakers, pâtissiers, and gelato-makers. But the honey-colored, proportionally perfect Georgian home at the heart of the estate has been brought up to date too, mixing the traditional with the playful. Portraits of the Hobhouses (the property owners for 230 years) hang on the walls of the double-fronted sage-green drawing room, where jewel-toned velvet chesterfields are draped with reindeer skins and colorful stuffed birds perch in a glass dome on the mantel. Sash windows frame a parkland view that is dotted with black-faced sheep grazing under mature ash and chestnut trees. This is the West Country rural idyll in its most spectacular form, a gift of the best of England made fresh by newcomers’ eyes.
Cheval Blanc St-Tropez
There are good reasons why, in the first half of the 20th century, the French Riviera in general and St. Tropez in particular became the stuff of legend. This is one of them. When it opened in 1936, La Résidence de la Pinède, as it was then known, was an elegant, uncomplicated maison by the sea, a short distance from the town centre. When it reopened in 2019, having been acquired by LVMH, it had been transformed into Cheval Blanc St-Tropez. Though outwardly still the same elegant, uncomplicated maison by the sea, things had actually changed beyond recognition. The new interiors by Jean-Michel Wilmotte manage to be at once soothing and startling, with Provençal art everywhere you look. A 20th-century classic has turned into a 21st-century one, with no loss of charm. Cheval Blanc makes for an intriguing contrast with its sister property on St. Tropez’s main square, White 1921 (another LVMH gem), as well as with much-loved Hôtel Byblos, and it holds its own in spite of competition from the likes of Michel Reybier’s La Réserve Ramatuelle and Jocelyne Sibuet’s effortlessly stylish Villa Marie(https://www.cntraveler.com/hotels/france/st--tropez/villa-marie).
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J.K. Place Paris
Could this be designer Michele Bönan’s finest hour? The Florentine interiors guru has always gone the extra mile in his work for Italian-Israeli hotelier Ori Kafri’s J.K. Place stable, which launched in 2003 with the much-imitated J.K. Place Firenze. For J.K. Place Paris, the group’s first hotel outside Italy, a 29-room conversion of a maison particulier located among the galleries and government offices of Paris’s Latin Quarter, Bönan raided antiques shops and flea markets for post-Cubist canvases, African chairs, and discarded sketches for old Hermès collections. Spread over three interconnected buildings and five floors, the handsome rooms come with perks that help to soften the muscular rates, including bathrooms so big you could take your morning coffee in them. Downstairs, the glass-roofed Casa Tua restaurant serves up good Southern Italian food, while a small but serviceable spa pool invites lazy lengths before negronis at the bar. Though the real sell may be that the owner of the building loans out his own bateau-mouche riverboat for private Seine cruises.
Cour des Vosges
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? Blink and you might miss the entrance; apart from one modest sign, there is little that signals you've arrived at this hotel. Buzz at the large wooden door to enter an intimate courtyard, where you'll be ushered into the building by hotel staff. Once inside, it feels more like a guesthouse than a standard hotel: there's no lobby or formal reception desk. The first thing you see is a grand staircase and an elevator, and to the left, the back entrance to the hotel's tea salon. It's all very confidential and intimate which, if you've booked this place, is what you're after.
What's the backstory? This is the newest opening from Evok Hôtels, which is best known for its buzzier, showier properties, including Le Brach, Sinner, and Nolinksi. The group never takes over hotels, but rather, creates hotels from buildings in need of an overhaul. In this case, the building was once a school and more recently a textile warehouse—nothing resembling its royal origins. Lecoadic & Scotto architecture redesigned the space with the help of Bâtiments de France. Given the structure's historic landmark status, preserving heritage was of utmost importance.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? Talk about grand (that might be the high ceilings)! Entering the superior suite (one step down from the suite de luxe) was akin to entering an apartment, if that apartment were imagined entirely by an art collector with keen design sensibilities. It's hard to miss the four-poster bed with its aluminum alcove, and the sleek kitchenette on the left. Floor-to-ceiling windows, double-paned with blown glass à l'ancienne, reveal the Place des Vosges and its leafy Louis XIII square. This is the only property that offers such views from all rooms. Hand-painted wooden beams were discovered during the renovation, though the designers couldn't interfere with or touch them in any way; as a result, the bathroom is obscured by a black-ribbed screen, a sort of homage to the sculptor Pierre Soulages. Marble and glass surfaces abound, as do velvet fabrics, rugs, and exposed (original) terra cotta floors. The space is sexy and chic, a masterful mix of heritage style and 1970s design.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? Free Wi-Fi! No issues at all.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There's no formal restaurant or bar but there is a tea salon on the ground floor, which is also open to the public until 8 p.m. It's an annex of Le Brach hotel's restaurant and is called Le Brach - Pâtisserie by Yann Brys. All of the pastries and breakfast items are made by Meilleur Ouvrier de France Yann Brys. Le Brach's savory-food chef is also in charge of the light canteen menu here. After-hours, the food can be ordered in-room and ranges from quiches to terrine and comforting stews. I loved the fact that the pastry chef was the draw, not the chef de cuisine. It also means that while the experience overall at the hotel is about discretion and privacy, there is at least one space where guests can potentially mingle with locals—that is, on the terrace of this tea salon.
And the service? Excellent service—non-invasive but helpful and respectful. Check-in happens in the room which makes everyone's life easier. Every staff member plays the role of concierge and can be tapped for advice, insights, and recommendations, including unique and under-the-radar experiences and tours of the city.
What type of travelers will you find here? An experienced world-traveler who is no longer interested in scenes or conspicuous displays of wealth or expertise. Their simplicity in dress masks their tremendous success. They may be the CEO of a company, a beloved actor, a respected artist, or a well-known designer, but they all want the same thing: privacy.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The hotel blends neatly into the soft landscape of Place des Vosges, known for its public garden and red-brick pavilions. It's the only hotel to offer direct views of the space, itself a destination, making it an ideal location for travelers looking to be in the heart of the city but just removed enough from the bustle.
Is there anything you'd change? I'd forgo the plastic Guerlain amenities in the bathroom and opt for a more sustainable option. At the hotel's scale, it can be done.
Any other hotel features worth noting? There are two electric bikes available for guests; everything else is an add-on. Devialet Phantom speakers in each room are a very nice touch. Music lovers will appreciate such quality sound.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? One-hundred percent. It's got all the trappings of high luxury with the benefit of privacy and royal gardens at your doorstep.
Monsieur George Hotel & Spa
Set the scene. Piles of fashion books in reception, velvet chairs, gigantic fans in the window and exotic potted plants set the razzle dazzle scene instantly. Rooms are decorated in four different styles: Chequers, Windsor, Benjamin Franklin, and Marly; collectively they create an image of a modern Fitzgerald novel, all classic Hempel; lavish, contrasting fabrics from plush satin to taffeta. The color scheme is strict; greys, biscuit, ebony, and lots of deep greens, bar a respite from the top-floor rooms which are refreshingly (and shockingly for Hempel) white-on-white. The beds are ridiculously comfortable, while bathrooms are defined by crittall windows and sliding lighting (which is, in fact, a huge deal for Lady Weinberg—she’s added a Perspex filter to bedside lamps and fought tooth and nail for just the right dim glow throughout the entire hotel).
What’s the backstory? The latest string to actress/model/fashion designer turned hotelier Anoushka Hempel’s bow; known for Blake’s in London (her first outpost that opened in 1978) then Singapore’s The Duxton, landscape gardens in Wiltshire and London, and various Van Cleef & Arpels stores and the Louis Vuitton flagship in Paris, she was charged by Greek financier Umbert Saltiel and his son Nicholas to transform their newly acquired space on Rue Washington. It took three years from start to finish, with Anoushka putting the French production team through their paces with her exacting standards every step of the way.
What can we expect in our room? Thick padded slippers, small wardrobes, gorgeous views of Rue Washington below, heavy-to-lift draped velvet curtains. And mirrors. Lots of mirrors. Plus, a mini bar high on drinks, low on snacks.
How about the food and drink? The small menu evolves constantly to avoid regulars losing interest, the general aim is to concentrate on a few dishes and do them exceptionally. Stand-out starters include a delicate prawn ravioli or sliders of beef Tataki, while main course highlights are cod with Japanese mushrooms and octopus on sticky black rice—sauces are poured with much fanfare from little jugs. Drinks-wise, it’s classic cocktails all the way; the cool mirrored bar by the restaurant is one of the best parts of the hotel. Lady Weinberg’s tipple of choice is a Whiskey Sour, but there’s also a wine cellar with tables and chairs where people fall on cheese platters and clarets of Bordeaux.
What’s the crowd like? Smart. Well turned out affluent French locals, and those operating in the elevated Weinberg world. Many come for the specialized food and wine, though it’s also a draw for couples as the lighting is so low and the space small it instantly feels sultry and romantic.
Anything to say about the service? Like the entire operation, it’s exacting. Every member of staff will know your name, and if you have an obscure request they’ll fulfill it for you. On the double. Acting as if Lady Weinberg is watching over their shoulder for a slip up.
What’s the neighbourhood scene like? The street is classic Paris (Rue Washington with its tabacs and chocolate shops) found on the right bank in the heart of the 8th district. Art museums aplenty nearby (most notable is the Grand Palais) along with the Champs-Élysées’ shiny office fronts, shops, and cafés packed with tourists.
Anything else to add? Book a massage in the spa; it’s like being engulfed in a glorious cocoon for over an hour. And do order room service, as standards don’t slip from restaurant to bed. In fact, it’s almost improved.
Anything you’d change? The food could be more reassuring and include some French classics like a croque Monsieur, steak haché, frîtes. Puddings are delicious but fussy, the bowl of chocolate-covered salted almonds served with coffee is the real hit. As long as service remains friendly and family-style and not OTT it will thrive.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. It’s exceptional attention to detail, with a modest starting fee.
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Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé
__Set the scene __ A 30-minutes' drive south of Le Mans, through the French countryside, leads to the little limestone town of Le Grand-Lucé. Wind past the 15th-century church, the busy bakeries, and salons de coiffure, and there, behind giant iron gates and medieval limestone walls, lies what’s known as one of the finest examples of mid-18th-century neoclassical architecture and garden design in the country. Its original owner—Jacques Pineau de Viennay III, who administered eastern France for Louis XV—apparently dropped dead on its threshold before it was finished. (Though, that might have been due to the cost of the acres of limestone and crystal chandeliers...)
__What’s the back story? __ Having been passed down through the Viennay family, the French government, and private owners—at times being used as a hospital, at others a safe-house during World War II for art from the Louvre—the château was bought by American hotelier Marcy Holthus in 2017. Two years on, she opened it as a boutique hotel (her second, after The Washington School House in Park City) with 80-acre gardens peppered with original statuary, a round heated swimming pool, gym, spa, and boules area.
__What can we expect in our room? __ It depends which you take; each is individually decorated. While attic rooms are cozy, those on the first floor have enormous windows overlooking the garden, damask wall coverings, Louis XV antiques, and gilded armchairs. The American designers Paul and Shannon Wehsener, along with Provence-based Hugh and Susannah Cameron of Chez Pluie, have made sure there are all the bits and bobs a spoiled guest might expect—marble showers and monster tubs, master switches and Wi-Fi—as well as furniture and fabrics from some of France’s finest, from Jean-Paul Gaultier to Pierre Frey.
__How about the food and drink? __ French, naturally—and very polished, the work of acclaimed chef Maxime Thomas, who worked under Anne-Sophie Pic in Lausanne. Crusty bread and featherlight croissants come from the village bakery; vegetables, fruit, and eggs from the kitchen gardens; and organic meat from nearby farms to create dishes that range from a perfect Niçoise salad for lunch to a light foie-gras terrine with red-pepper chutney and multi-layered apricot Opera cake. Plus, as expected, there’s a very good French wine list.
__What’s the crowd like? __ Hermès-clad Parisians escaping for the weekend, tourists wafting about in Melissa Odabash exploring the Val de Loire, garden lovers wanting to lie by the circular pool or stroll amid Versailles-style topiary and statuary.
__Anything to say about the service? __ Young, efficient—both local and American. Having been greeted at the door with a flute of Champagne on a silver tray, the service is subsequently more relaxed: more like a house-party than a hotel—a feeling that’s aided by a self-service kitchen, packed with snacks and drinks.
__What’s the neighborhood scene like? __ This is the lesser-known "Loire," dotted with small family-owned châteaux. The friendly tourist office of the pretty village of La Chartre-sur-le-Loir—with its cavernous Quince Gallery full of antiquities—can suggest routes to take in little-visited sites such as Le Lude, Château de Poncé in Poncé-sur-Loire, the sculpted box garden of the Prieuré de Vauboin, and France’s oldest apothecary within the Hôtel-Dieu at Baugé-en-Anjou. Or there's the Bercé forest and winding country to explore on e-bikes, with picnics, 27 domaines, in which to taste wines, and the antiques shops and brocantes of Le Mans to browse.
__Anything else to add? __ The ground-floor Baron’s Suite is more like a palatial apartment, with its own library, 17-foot ceilings, and exquisite Salon Chinois, with Chinoiserie-painted walls, Versailles-patterned parquet, and the sorts of antiques you might expect of a house that once welcomed Voltaire and Mozart as guests. The original murals are by Jean-Baptiste Pillement and found only in one other place: the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s private garden palace at Versailles.
__Is it worth it? __ It’s the closest thing possible to living in a French palace, but with 21st-century benefits: marble bathrooms, a swimming pool, light local food—and friendly young staff who don’t even blink when you stroll into the gardens in the morning in pajamas.
Hôtel Le Coucou
Set the scene. Bird-spotting becomes a fun game here. Artist Matthieu Cossé’s frescoed dome of owls in tree-tops on a sky-blue backdrop splashes color into the circular reception, in the public cloakrooms there’s a background audio loop of cuckoo songs and the walls in the bar are graced with avian artwork. It’s clear that designer Yovanovitch’s hand is everywhere, from his exclusively manufactured furniture and carpets to the displays of vintage alpine jugs personally sourced by him from Parisian flea markets. There’s work by an eclectic line-up of contemporary artists and sculptors including Ugo Rondinone and Alexander Calder, set off by strong, matte wall colors (rich greens, taupes, blues, and deep reds).
What’s the backstory? The hotel was opened in December 2019 by Maisons Pariente, a small family-run company headed up by French owner Patrick Pariente (the 1970s founder of prêt-à-porter brand Naf Naf) and his daughters Leslie Kouhana and Kimberley Cohen. Their portfolio of three properties includes Hôtel Crillon le Brave in Provence, reopened after refurbishment in May 2019, and Hotel Lou Pinet in Saint Tropez, newly opened in June 2019. Next year, 2021, sees a fourth property opening in Paris’s Le Marais neighborhood. From planning to completion, the Pariente family has worked closely with Pierre Yovanovitch, who started his career with Pierre Cardin in men’s couture before launching an interior design agency in 2001. Predominantly specializing in private commissions from his offices in Paris and New York, Le Coucou is Yovanovitch’s first hotel project.
What can we expect in our room? There’s plenty of quirky humor: light shades resembling ice cubes, chair backs carved with cuckoo beaks, owl-shaped coat hooks, furniture legs shaped like ski poles, polka-dot carpets. Tactile velvet and wool fabrics combine with warm salmon-pink and mustard-yellow wall colors, and rooms are strong on practicality, too: plenty of space for ski gear in pale-wood cupboards and generously sized bathrooms with deep baths and Le Labo goodies.
How about the food and drink? The Beef Bar is open for lunch and dinner, and focuses on, yes, beef, cooked in all sorts of exceptionally delicious ways: oven-grilled, teppanyaki, wok-fried, barbecued, tartare, and boeuf bourguignon served with the silkiest signature mash flavored with truffle, lemon, caviar or jalapeño pepper. The star dish in the Italian Bianca Neve restaurant is the risotto al tartufo, and this is where breakfasts are set up with squishy fresh breads, cakes, and pastries alongside fruit, cheeses, and yogurts. Plates of cooked eggs are only an ask away.
What’s the crowd like? Serious off-pisters and first-track fans who want a ski-in, ski-out location (few properties offer this here), millennial groups from Lyon, plus plenty of Brits who come to Meribel in droves (the resort was founded by a British skier in 1938). Families like the dedicated playrooms for children, and non-skiers like the spa treatments, poolside reading, and the sun terrace.
Anything to say about the service? Some of the staff are still finding their feet, but there’s a feeling of tight teamwork and attention to detail.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Not good for late-night clubbers hoping to stagger back from Meribel center in minutes. The hotel is a 10- to 15-minute zig-zagging drive up the hill, through the chalet clusters that are spread over Meribel’s steep slopes, but it’s close to Le Rond Pont Bar (affectionately known as “The Ronnie” with its rocking après scene).
Anything else to add? Groups of family or friends wanting more privacy and the option to self-cater can rent one of the hotel’s two "chalets." These aren’t standalone, but discretely integrated into the hotel building. Named Eleonore and Eglantine after characters from childhood stories invented by Patrick Pariente for his daughters, these sleep up to eight people and come with a kitchen, small pool, mini-spa, and ski room with direct access onto the slopes.
Anything you’d change? Opening glitches which need ironing out include the lighting in the restaurants, which lack atmosphere, especially by night.
Is it worth it? Yes it’s worth it, if only for its exceptionally good ski-in ski-out location, bang in the center of one of the world’s biggest and best ski areas.
Il Palazzo Experimental
Not exactly a hipster hub, the home of Casanova and the Bridge of Sighs might seem like an odd splashdown for the Experimental Group, an expanding empire that began in 2007 with a nouveau speakeasy in Paris and has since launched more hit bars, restaurants and hotels in London, New York, Ibiza, and Verbier. But that’s exactly why the 32-room Palazzo is so inspiring. Based in a former shipping-company head office on the sunny Zattere promenade, it's a fresh lagoon breeze in the city of heavy brocade and historical baggage. Long-time collaborator Dorothée Meilichzon’s retro design scheme, which flits from the 1920s to the '80s, brings a touch of the fairground to town: there are candy-striped doors and baby pinks played off against deep canal greens. But here’s the novel aspect: the soul of the place is the ground-floor restaurant, cocktail bar, and delightful hidden back garden, while the rooms feel like very pleasant afterthoughts. In an airy ambience where floor tiles wink at Carlo Scarpa’s wonderful 1958 Olivetti showroom in St. Mark’s Square, a menu curated by the team behind London’s Italian Supper Club works light, creative variations on traditional dishes from the country’s Adriatic region. Like the rooms, they’re also pretty good value for money, which is decidedly unusual for Venice.
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Hotel de la Ville, A Rocco Forte Hotel
Set the scene. In the 18th century, Rome was full of young, northern aristocrats bent on improving their minds, seeing some ruins, and perhaps flirting a little along the way. Italian architect Tommaso Ziffer has taken this Grand Tour theme for a playful walk in his design scheme in which pompadoured ladies and improving landscapes have been digitally copied onto Napoleonic yellow wallpaper, repro micro-mosaics (popular souvenir purchases back in the day), adorned coffee tables, and nests of convex mirrors add a surreal touch. It all makes for a fresh, unpretentious take on the Roman luxe hotel genre.
What’s the backstory? Rocco Forte shook up the Rome hotel scene when he opened the suave De Russie in 2000. Twenty years on, the Anglo-Italian hotelier has returned to the Italian capital with the same designer in tow, Tommaso Ziffer, to transform a staid five-star, the InterContinental De La Ville, that for years had been running on Dolce Vita fumes. Only the last part of the name remains in Ziffer’s engaging top-to-toe makeover.
What can we expect in our room? Once beyond the slightly alarming red embossed leather-effect doors, rooms are delightful refuges that play on neoclassical, antiquarian, and archaeological motifs, from the geometric patterns in the plush velvet headboards to fabrics printed with Piranesi’s etchings of Roman pine trees. Don’t count on sweeping views over Roman rooftops, though: only the three glamorous top-floor hideaways Canova, Roma, and De La Ville, plus a handful of other rooms offer those (find the word "panoramic" in the room category). Most look onto a quiet inner courtyard or straight and narrow Via Sistina.
How about the food and drink? All of Rocco Forte’s Italian properties—plus the Hotel Amigo in Brussels—have a single creative director of food, celebrated Roman-born, Tuscan-trained chef Fulvio Pierangelini. In Mosaico, the restaurant situated a little awkwardly at the center of the hotel, Pierangelini pushes the Mediterranean east via the Bosphorus to India and beyond in a menu that mixes up naan bread, manakeesh, and burrata. However, we were much more taken by streetside Da Sistina, its décor and food both giving a fresh twist to the traditional Roman trattoria—so, for example, the traditional sheep’s cheese and black-pepper pasta topping known as cacio e pepe is done with three different peppers, and the addition of Sicilian red prawns.
What’s the crowd like? The film stars and fashionistas are still likely to gravitate towards the De Russie, the hotel that more than any other has become the must-book address for those invested in Rome’s new Dolce Vita. This younger, more laid-back cousin is for global millennials, moneyed but still value-oriented, who respond to the hotel’s sophisticated but light-hearted spin on Rome’s weight of history.
Anything to say about the service? Only that they seem to be quite good at building warmth into the professionalism you would expect from a hotel of this level.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Unless headed to Villa Borghese, your default direction will be down the Spanish Steps and into the heart of Rome’s centro storico, a shopping and art-gallery zone—a saunter that should take all of three minutes. Make sure to graze and grab a tipple around here, as the restaurants at the top of the Steps are mostly stuck in a Via Veneto time warp.
Anything else to add? One big draw is the Sicilian-themed basement De La Ville Spa, it’s got five single treatment rooms and one double kitted out for Rasul mud rituals, plus a thermal area with all the usual hot and cold spaces.
Anything you’d change? We would perhaps have sacrificed one of the large rooftop rooms to create a restaurant with a view—a privilege currently enjoyed only by the lovely but surprisingly small Cielo Bar terrace.
Is it worth it? For Rome, yes—and it’s also better value than its nearby Rocco Forte cousin, the De Russie, though it lacks the gorgeous garden and the celebrity kudos.
Hotel Chapter Roma
Kick us off with a description of this place: What's the vibe? Urban and artsy Chapter Roma feels like your coolest friend's very stylish townhouse. The turn-of-the-century palazzo has maintained its original design—including its fabulous staircase and exposed walls—even though it's now a hip pad, complete with works by local and international artists.
What's the backstory? This is the very first hotel by Marco Cilia, an alum of several hip hotel start-ups in the United States and Europe. Cilia brought in designer-of-the-moment Tristan Du Plessis to actualize the urban-hip-vibe concept.
What can we expect from the rooms? Rooms are among the largest in Rome, with equally large and very comfortable beds. The design melds contemporary details with steampunk; think, custom iron-rod furniture and rich hues. The best room is 404, a top-floor corner room that gets incredible light.
How's the Wi-Fi? Free and fast.
What's the dining and drinking scene like? The downstairs bar hosts breakfast: a spread of Roman pastries and cakes, with a simple à la carte menu.
How'd you find the service? The service is focused and efficient. Playing up the hotel's overall theme, the concierge can organize street art tours.
What's the crowd like? If Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele were to make a film, he might pull extras from this hotel.
How's the neighborhood? The hotel is on the edge of Rome's historic Jewish quarter in the old Regola neighborhood. It's local and friendly, with lots of home-grown businesses and shops.
Anything you'd change? We'd love to see a few more options at the breakfast buffet.
What else should we know? Should you need a Sbagliato fix without going far, there's a bar on the ground floor.
Got it. So what's the bottom line on this hotel? Enjoy Rome as an artist would—a successful artist, at that.
Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa
Set the scene. A coastal track meanders alongside wild forest, where wood pigeons coo among the Mediterranean pines and wisteria tangles wildly about the lemon trees. Round a corner and there it is: a blood-red Aragonese castle, built as a watchtower in the 17th century and spruced up to Italian elegance, out on a rocky limb in the electrifying blue-green Gulf of Naples. Stone terraces tumble down the hillside around a fingernail of a bay, set with oversized terracotta pots of palms, seating in the nooks, Indian parasols riffling in the breeze. The suncatcher pool deck has shades of Slim Aarons, day beds dressed up in blue and white stripes.
What’s the backstory? On a mission to create a third hotel, Il Pellicano’s driving force Marie-Louise Sciò (CEO and creative director), spent 10 years searching la tutti Italia for a doer-upper. It had to be just right—"a place that has a soul, and a bit of a story; the right elements that just need to be polished." In Ischia, she found it. "A little bit run down but so charming, with so much potential."
Mezzatorre is a tower built (or half built; literally, "half a tower"—typical, says one islander, of Ischians—they never finished it) as a look-out for marauding Saracen pirates. Then owned by dukes, yada yada, until centuries later, in the 1930s, it wound up as a simple hotel. One owner, writer Luigi Patalano, built a villa on the grounds, bought by film director Visconti. Then along came Pellicano Hotels in 2019, which bought the whole shebang, injecting some va-va-voom and sprucing it up to Italian diva levels.
What can we expect in our room? This being a watchtower, almost all of the rooms have magnificent views of the sea. Ceilings are vaulted, breezy verandas crenelated. Walls run 6.5-feet thick in places. Its solid quietude envelops, like the deeply comfortable beds. Scio curates everything herself and is obsessive about detail, from in-room reading (modern classics and offbeat journals) to artisan treats (chocolate, olives, juices) from the best makers in Italy.
How about the food and drink? The island has a hyper-local food scene and Mezzatorre embraces that. They kept the chef on, an island gent who cooks very fine unfussy food using the local ingredients, allowing the superb quality to shine through. Seafood and the daily catch, cooked simply, is so delicious it makes you want to move immediately to the seaside and take up fishing. There’s a long wine list of purely Italian wines, and the staff’s recommendations never fail to delight. A formal restaurant in a tower-like room is done up richly in Pierre Frey L’Esterel wallpaper; while for brighter, breezier daytime dining, the pool bar and restaurant is a delight, with no less accomplished cooking, wines that can make you cry into your lobster ravioli, and tunes with RPM to match the time of day.
What’s the crowd like? Low-key high-earners. Stars taking a break from the spotlight. Elegant Italians, British, and French, and the Americans who have loved Il Pellicano since an American heiress and her handsome Brit husband built the place. Discerning couples and a few very well-behaved families.
__Anything to say about the service? __ Staff are all local, with an easy warmth about them, and a willingness to chat about this island they love so well.
__What’s the neighborhood scene like? __ Ischia is the down-home sister isle of flashy Capri, whose charms—hot springs, fertile grounds, knock-out beaches—once lured Greeks, Romans, and Golden Age Hollywood. Its more ramshackle corners posed as Capri as the backdrop for The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now it’s a beachy escape for weekending Neapolitans, and Germans taking the waters.
Mezzatorre’s nearest neighbors are La Mortella botanical gardens (created by composer Sir William Walton, who had Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh to stay, among others), and a beach with supernatural green-blue water, a half-hour walk through the property’s seven forested acres—where hidden behind bushes there’s glimpses to be had of Visconti’s abandoned mid-century villa.
Anything else to add? A thermal spa, lined in jungle-green tiles, has its own springs: pools of mineral-rich water and seawater, hot-hot-hot Kneipp pools and a steam room. The lists of treatments and wellness journeys involving vats of healing mud last anywhere from half an hour to six days.
Ask for Tony to take you out on his boat—the same boat he took out "Mr. Matt" during the filming of The Talented Mr. Ripley—shot on Ischia, to represent Capri. Which sums it up, perhaps. This is the Italian island where Italians go, and Brits in the know.
Anything you’d change? The formal restaurant’s tented sides feel a bit like a wedding marquee, and heavily patterned textiles detract from the heart-stopping view.
Is it worth it? God, yes. We could happily spend all summer long on that pool terrace alone. Plus, we love the fact it’s possible to get a double from $270.
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Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como
Set the scene. It comes as no surprise to learn that this stripey lakeside residence with its eclectic tower was built for a 19th-century opera singer. The main building, fronted by a pool that seems to float in the lake, is just one of nine villas that emerge from verdant gardens landscaped like a set design for La Donna del Lago by Rossini—who was a frequent visitor back in the day. It’s a lovely, dress-for-dinner kind of place but somehow laid-back at the same time, glamorous yet also discreet. Mandarin Oriental has now put its signature swish on everything, making it perhaps slightly flashier and more traditional than, say, nearby Il Sereno, but not as formal and grand as family-run Villa d’Este.
What’s the backstory? The main villa was built for an opera singer with the delightful name of Giuditta ("Judith") Pasta. After changing hands several times over the years, and adding outbuildings, the estate opened in 2010 as a rather solemn hotel called CastaDiva Resort, which never really hit its stride. Taken over by the Mandarin Oriental group in 2018, it reopened in April 2019 after a major refurb.
What can we expect in our room? Most rooms have lake views and, quite rightly, don’t try to compete with them. The décor is very calming, with pale earth tones dominating and lots of natural wood (for example, oak parquet floors) and textiles. The Mandarin imprint comes through in a few East Asian touches, including framed works on cotton paper by Milan-based artist Shuhei Matsuyama.
How about the food and drink? Chef Vincenzo Guarino is from Vico Equense, near Naples, and for all the global influences, showy technique, and presentation there’s something very rootsy and Southern about his approach. In a signature dish at L'Aria, he takes Carnaroli rice from a small local producer and turns it into a sapid risotto with a base of yellow tomatoes and baked milk, topped with basil shoots and red prawns cooked shabu shabu style. It’s no wonder the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star at the end of its very first season in 2019. Aperitivo time is a real treat, thanks to the bravura of head barman Luca De Fillipis (who the hotel’s engaging GM, Samuel Porreca, brought with him when he moved here from J.K. Place Roma).
What’s the crowd like? Pretty international. It also skews younger than expected, and is a mix of honeymoon or anniversary couples, European long weekenders, small family groups, and the occasional fashion-obsessed socialite combining a stay here with a few days in Milan, a 45-minute drive away.
Anything to say about the service? It’s everything we've come to expect from the brand, but with a light-hearted Italian touch.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? With its own lake frontage, the hotel is a private enclave that most guests never leave, except maybe to take a motorboat cruise across to Cernobbio on the western shore or north to pretty Bellagio. There are plenty of walks on offer though, including an easy stroll to the nearby village of Tornio, whose church bells mark the passing hours.
Anything else to add? The green details extend to the parts of the resort guests don’t see, like the offices (no plastic water coolers, each member of staff has their own refillable aluminum bottle) or the kitchens, where even the cling wrap, made from sweetcorn starch, is biodegradable and compostable.
Anything you’d change? Though impressive, the pool that "floats" in the lake, with its teak decking and ship's railings, is a little incongruous.
Is it worth it? The dollar count might seem high, but it does stack up when looking at the return on investment, namely the lakeside location, the reliability of the brand, and the top-notch service. And by Italian ultra-glossy standards, the two entry level categories (Superior and Deluxe) aren't even that pricey—though for a full lake view you’ll need to start with a Vista Lago room, which sells for $860 a night in low season. The Penthouse and Panoramic Suites are as spectacular as their elevated price tags suggest.
Finca Serena Mallorca
Set the scene. This is the sort of place where people set off, novel in hand, to wander through the orchards looking for a shady patch to read or cover their faces with a hat for a snooze, all before heading back for a local gin cocktail under the poolside pergola. Everything about the surroundings is authentic. Wonky windmills revolve in the distance, and lemon, orange, and cypress trees line the driveway. The farmhouse itself is somehow both rough and smooth, laid-back and stylish, a rambling old Finca with a chic attitude. The price compares favorably with long-established country house hotels on the Tramuntana coast, making it an exciting new offering.
What’s the backstory? The hotel is the first rural outpost from Pau Guardans i Cambo of Barcelona-based Único group who own Grand Hotel Central Barcelona and the Hotel Unico Madrid. Gaurdans is passionate about creating a portfolio that is constantly evolving, so this two-year transformation of a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, which is totally different from his big city hotels, makes sense.
What can we expect in our room? Armchairs are upholstered in mole-grey linen, bedside lamps are lightbulbs cocooned in wicker that hang from the ceiling, cool cement floors are soothing, and thick Hessian rugs are tucked under the beds. Although on first sight it appears minimalist, there’s more detail than meets the eye (Gaurdans loves details). There's plenty of hand-made pottery; a stack of pool towels, slippers, and bathrobes; a pillow menu; and wardrobes that glow with soft light when opened. Some rooms have terraces, and one faces the vineyard. Bath products are presented on an olive-wood cheeseboard.
How about the food and drink? Chef Celia Martín (ex Santi Taura) does modern Mallorcan at Jacaranda (named after the trees found on the estate). It’s a clever and unshowy space, but what comes out of the kitchen is a changed-daily six course tasting menu that could easily sit on one of London’s or Madrid’s latest restaurant tables. Chargrilled octopus, shrimp, or squid is a speciality, the pumpkin and miso soup is delightfully sweet and salty, and the Mallorcan lamb ribs should be washed down with a red-wine spritzer. Breakfast is beautifully laid out in the original farm kitchen—figs and fresh goat’s cheese, pastries from Forn Can Salem in Algaida—and is particularly stand-out.
What’s the crowd like? Mallorca regulars tired of La Residencia and Europeans looking to chill for a few nights (they’ve left their children behind and are finally getting through The Mirror & The Light) are the types of guests here. This is a spot for couples who want fields and forests, not sand and sangría.
Anything to say about the service? For a hotel so easy-going and encouraging of slow living, the staff sure dart around hastily: placing an Aperol spritz on a chunky wooden side table by the pool, fixing a parasol, dusting leaves off the crooked cobbles, twisting fairy lights in the trees, fetching bicycles, organizing personal training sessions…they are always on the job, always trying to make each stay exceptional.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Pleasingly absent. You might see a tractor on a winding country lane, but that’s about it. In the day time, there’s a couple of homely Spanish tavernas a quick drive away serving simple but exquisite bread and olive oil, perhaps with wafer-thin Iberico ham and piquant peppers. The only nightlife to speak of is a quiet beer in the snoozy village of Pina.
Anything else to add? The Finca’s former cowshed is now a Natura Bissé spa with wide-screen views. A post-treatment swing in a hammock under palm tree leaves almost as big as canoes is pretty soporific. There’s also a couple of running routes purposefully plowed into the estate especially for guests.
Anything you’d change? The atmosphere pool-side is a little awkward: a touch of Mozart or Metheny might loosen things up.
Is it worth it? The silent star-lit nights, the Finca’s feeling of away-from-it-all tranquillity, are beyond price. And in much the same sentiment as the group's flagship, Grand Hotel Central Barcelona, the price isn’t even that out of reach. So yes, it’s very, very worth it.
Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens
Set the scene. Screened by pine trees and security gates, this 1960s landmark has made a glorious comeback. All glittering blue views and subdued glamour, Greece’s first Four Seasons has put the dated hotels lined up along the Athens Riviera in the shade.
What’s the backstory? A string of seaside resorts within easy reach of the Acropolis and the Aegean islands, the Athens Riviera was conjured up in the late 1960s when the Astir Palace opened on the Lemos peninsula. The Modernist hotel was an instant hit with celebrities, sheikhs, and shipping magnates. King Saud booked a whole floor for his crew and Brigitte Bardot sent a lookalike to the beach to dodge the paparazzi. The Athenian elite would reserve the cabanas sprinkled among the pine groves for the entire summer; they’re still the most covetable keys in the resort, which has recovered its long-lost cachet after a look-at-me makeover.
What can we expect from our room? Standard Four Seasons swank in a calm, coastal palette of white, sand, and dusky blue. Everything from the bed to the bath to the mirrored TV and Le Labo treats is super-sized. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in the sunshine and sea or woodland views. Greek paintings, prints, and books, evil eye coasters, sesame and honey bars, and mastic-flavored liqueur add dashes of local color.
How about the food and drink? Never disappointing, but not destination dining—a roll call of global classics to appease the most extravagant or intolerant palate. Waterfront Taverna 37 mimics the easy-going atmosphere of a Greek taverna, with trays of mezze brought to the table. Waitresses in gingham outfits dispense burrata and anchovy bruschetta and linguine vongole at Mercato, a trattoria with electric blue banquettes and plenty of pizzazz. Poolside Helios serves pricey steak and ceviche to off-duty big-wigs. Our pick is Pelagos, decked out like a yacht in pearly fish-scale tiles, polished bronze, and gleaming wood. The sea urchin on sourdough and red mullet tartare are superb. All three bars are surprisingly staid, but the cocktails beautifully composed.
What’s the crowd like? International jetsetters from America, Greece, Russia, and more—some with their families. Influencers who take over the pool for photo shoots.
Anything to say about the service? Lots and lots of staff—mostly young and charming, if a little unsure of themselves. The attitude is approachable and chatty, rather than poised confidence. The unstuffy staff uniforms, designed by the late Sofia Kokosalaki, are a poignant testament to her talent.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Vouliagmeni is the most desirable area on the Athens Riviera for good reason: a glossy bay enclosed by wooded hills where shipowners vie to build the biggest beachfront homes. Off season, you can swim in nearby Lake Vouliagmeni, a livid green, mineral-rich swimming hole surrounded by chalky cliffs.
Anything else to add? The light-filled spa is really sensational, with potions using plants picked from the hotel grounds and therapeutic sea views. Pre-teen kids will go wild for the (blissfully unmotorized) water-sports and underwater music in the main pool, which also comes with a floating olive grove.
Anything you'd change? Unless you’re holed up in one of the cabanas, it’s tricky to find a secluded spot for an afternoon doze. Why not switch off the loud pop music at Taverna 37 and let the waves make the music?
Is it worth it? Prices shoot up with demand in high summer. You’re paying as much for the privilege of privacy as the pull-out-all-stops trimmings (which can really ramp up the bill if you get carried away at the spa, bars, and on-site boutiques, or decide to take a spin around the Saronic islands on a speedboat).
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Set the scene On the northeast coast of Paros, an easy walk from the sandy coves of Kolymbithres beach, this contemporary opening is attracting a wave of design-driven travelers. It’s one of a tiny batch of properties starting to blossom on this lo-fi island, as hoteliers switch their focus from the crowded hot spots of Santorini and Mykonos. Wooden shutters are thrown open in the morning, couples snooze under cream umbrellas, and the silence is punctuated by the whoosh of cocktail shakers.
What’s the backstory? There was already an existing hotel on this plot of land when husband and wife owners Antonis and Kalia Eliopoulos bought it in 2018. They employed Athens-based studio Interior Design Laboratorium to rejig the spaces and trim down the number of rooms. Now arched doorways and windows contrast with crisp, geometric lines; there are clusters of earthy oversized urns and cacti in concrete pots dotted about the place; and a peaceful pool.
What can we expect in our room? Porcelain floors are paired with a serene palette and an abstract, embroidered wall hanging by Marrakesh-based lifestyle brand LRNCE. Those on the upper level have a hot tub on the balcony; those on the ground floor come with a palm tree-shaded terrace. The best are the Sun Suites, which have their own private pool.
How about the food and drink? Expect Greek flavors with a twist at Mr E restaurant, which is named after a fictional aristocratic explorer: moussaka croquettes, grilled halloumi cheese with fig marmalade, stuffed courgette with quinoa. For dessert, the tart made with lemons from Chios island is divine. Mojitos are the drink of choice.
What’s the crowd like? Grown-up island hoppers who tend to stay horizontal after spending a few days in Mykonos; long weekenders exploring the Byzantine churches and rural villages; beach-goers who want to reboot.
Anything to say about the service? Knowledgeable staff at the front desk will give the lowdown on the must-visit sights and the best fish restaurants by the harbor in Naoussa.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? The town of Naoussa is a 10-minute taxi ride away (the hotel also runs free shuttles during the day), where smart boutiques and decent restaurants are easy to find. For a long, lazy lunch, the Kolymbithres Taverna (there are two with the same name but it's on the left-hand side of the road as you approach the beach) is the best. Order grilled calamari, Greek salad and baked eggplant saganaki.
Anything else to add? The pool bar is a great spot for a surprisingly strong Aperol spritz. And there’s a small gym that’s nearly always empty.
Anything you’d change? There are two subterranean spa treatment rooms, but they feel like a bit of an after-thought compared to the rest of the beautifully designed spaces.
Is it worth it? The pared-back design and serene setting make this feel like an authentic Greek getaway.
Dexamenes Seaside Hotel
Set the scene Two lines of concrete bunkers might seem like an unlikely beach retreat, but for this reason alone, Dexamenes has a one-off architectural appeal worth traveling for. This offbeat idyll lies in a sandy-toed setting right on the golden grains of Kourouta Beach, gazing out over the silvery blue Ionian Sea towards the island of Zakynthos. What’s heart-soaringly lovely about its location though, is that it’s on the northwestern tip of the Peloponnese, which is the preserve of locals rather than tourists. The tranquil landscape is mainly given over to agriculture with watermelons, sunflowers, olive groves, vineyards, and citrus trees carpeting the countryside.
What's the backstory? From a young age, local boy Nikos Karaflos had always dreamt of converting this cluster of industrial wine storage tanks built in the 1920s into a place to stay. The wine was pumped directly from the beach onto the waiting ships, so the tanks are tantalizingly close to the water. Athenian architectural practice, K Studio, were responsible for the sensitive transformation and while the result is uncompromisingly modern, it somehow feels welcoming and warm too.
What can we expect in our room? The bedrooms housed in the individual tanks are silent, shady spaces offering respite from the glare of the Greek sunshine. The nine sea view rooms are the most desirable, but there is also a thrill, if not a slightly intimidating one, in sleeping in one of the rooms facing the two mammoth, steel silos. The look is functional modernism with an eye on the building’s industrial heritage. Walls are totally unadorned, fittings have been custom-made using materials like poured concrete, powder-coated steel, glass, and terrazzo, while marine ply and canvas pull it all together to create a very subtle nautical vibe. The lack of color, can, at times, feel a little cheerless, but it’s clearly purposeful; it lets the tanks do the talking.
How about the food and drink? The sea-facing terrace serves an all-day menu starting with simple breakfasts of local watermelon and cooked to order egg dishes, lunches of deep-fried calamari and grilled cheese sandwiches, and there’s also an ice cream stand and beach service. The lantern-strewn restaurant is housed in the old engine room, or a table can be set up in one of the steel silos, just for fun. This is one of the largest wine producing regions (surprise, surprise) in Greece so there is a mind-boggling list of wines rarely tasted beyond Greek shores.
What’s the crowd like? Curious. It’s obvious that a lot of people are here to stare at, and study, the striking framework that makes this hotel unique. People who adore architecture and interior design, but also in-the-know couples, perhaps Athenians on a weekend away. The hotel also has a three-bedroom, 19th century villa which is ideal for the sort of families who can’t stand the primary-colored, packed-with-Brits resorts in other areas of Greece. Karaflos sees the project as more than just a place to stay but also a hub reflecting youthful Greek culture, so there are regular events with wine tastings from local vineyards, poetry readings, yoga, meditation, and holistic retreats.
Anything to say about the service? It genuinely feels like the staff here enjoy their work, which is uplifting to witness. Karaflos and his team take pride in their local area and have reams of recommendations, from visits to vineyards to teeny taverna lunch spots.
What's the neighborhood scene like? The residents of this rare, quiet corner are experts in slow living. The type of town where the bus timetable probably hasn’t been updated since the '80s. Think of this trip as a chance to reset to a soporific, unhurried pace of life. Location-wise: Kourouta is a small seaside colony with a few houses and restaurants near Amaliada about an hour south of the port city of Patras. A must-do is a visit to the Unesco World Heritage-listed site of Ancient Olympia, 40 minutes’ drive away, just take it slow (and don’t attempt the bus)…
Anything else to add? There’s no pool, but being able to swing your feet straight from a terrace hammock to the sea more than makes up for it.
Anything you'd change? Sometimes dishes at supper seem a little over ambitious and less in keeping with the laid-back, beachy feel.
Is it worth it? Considering the price it absolutely is, it might not be somewhere to return to again and again, but it’s an extraordinary place that will leave its mark far longer than any other traditional Aegean hotel ever will.
Quinta da Comporta - Wellness Boutique Resort
Set the scene The coastal Comporta region is a calming combination of shifting sand dunes and tiny villages, pine forests and rice fields. However, hotels worth staying in here have always been slim pickings (the best villas and shacks were privately owned and only let to friends of friends–it’s that kind of place), so the opening of Quinta da Comporta last year was big news.
What’s the backstory? Until 2014, this area was owned by the Espirito Santo banking family; now small parcels of land are slowly being sold. One such plot in the village of Carvalhal was snapped up by Portuguese architect and designer Miguel Câncio Martins who realised his long-held dream of becoming a hotelier where he once holidayed as a child. He has stayed true to the roots of the place: the restaurant and spa are set around an original, burnt-orange terracotta courtyard where the old grain stores once stood and rooms are housed in low-slung white buildings, accented with the occasional royal-blue stripe.
What can we expect in our room? A gorgeously homespun, pared-back design that’s perfectly in keeping with the location. White walls with plenty of natural materials: honey wood, wicker, sisal rugs. Some rooms come with a private sun-trap terrace facing the garden, others a rooftop balcony with rural rice-field views.
How about the food and drink? Breakfasts (which are included) have everything imaginable, from just-picked garden figs to freshly baked marble cake. Evenings kick off with a glass of the palest rosé from the nearby Herdade da Comporta wine estate. Pair it with seafood; the lobster linguine is especially good, although the teriyaki salmon and sea-bass risotto come a close joint second.
What’s the crowd like? Well-dressed 30-something Parisians, young families whose exceptionally well-behaved toddlers seem right at home ordering ceviche from the adults' menu, couples on a long weekend who don’t move from the poolside.
Anything to say about the service? Staff are ever so nice, especially at the entrance gatehouse where check-in happens. Drinks service by the pool can be on the slow side occasionally though it all adds to the easy, breezy, beachy vibe.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Carvalhal beach is a 15-minute bike ride away. Or hop in the car to Comporta for a morning browsing the boutiques in the village, followed by a seafood platter for lunch at the beachfront Comporta Café.
Anything else to add? Don’t miss the lofty spa, in its own vast airy building with soaring reclaimed wood beams. The treatments are inspired by rice (a peppermint body scrub, for example, ends with a full-body rice wrap) and there is an indoor-outdoor pool separated by floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the fields.
Anything you’d change? There are plans for a cinema, wine cellar and family pool, but what’s really missing is a smart boutique. Being able to take home the decorative seagrass baskets, graphic-print cushions and even the Balinese bedside lampshades would be a joy.
Is it worth it? Yes. The whole vibe is laid-back, and there’s nothing more lovely than drifting between the pool, spa, and restaurant terrace on a sunny day.
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Bairro Alto Hotel
Set the scene. The distinctive, primrose yellow exterior of the 18th-century building that houses the Bairro Alto Hotel has an impressive perch on the edge of Chiado’s landmark square, the Praça Luís de Camões, in one of Lisbon’s most sought-after neighborhoods. Its recent revival is rooted in the architectural heritage of the buildings, so the aim was to renew and refresh rather than to radically reinvent. There are smart terrazzo floors, a soothing palette of greys, greens, pink, rusts, and whites, and specially commissioned pieces from Portuguese artists like Vasco Araújo and Rui Chafes.
What’s the backstory? First opened in 2005, before Lisbon became one of Europe’s hot spots, Bairro Alto was arguably one of the city’s first boutique hotels. It reopened in 2019 following a three-year renovation. The original team reunited for the re-boot, which included the Pritzker Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura, who was a regular guest in its previous incarnation.
What can we expect in our rooms? The hotel is larger and now spans four Pombal-era buildings, so no two rooms are the same. The original design team, Atelier Bastir, did the public spaces and guestrooms, and each one is an elegant assemblage of antique and contemporary furniture, thoughtful touches of tradition with glazed tiles, woven fabrics, rattan, ceramics, and art by Portuguese makers. Special mention goes to the soundproofed windows, which block out the rumble of the city’s yellow trams as they pass.
__How about the food and drink? __ London-based Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes was called upon to reinvent the hotel’s F&B. The fifth-floor BAHR with its open kitchen showcases his distinctive flavor combinations with plates like prawn rissoles (a Portuguese snack) as well as his riffs on traditional dishes like pork with clams. Thanks to the stunning views, its adjoining bar and terrace is extremely popular with locals who crowd in. Fortunately, only hotel residents can use the sixth-floor bar, a secret spot where blue skies stretch out over the rooftops to the River Tagus. There’s also an in-house, ground floor Pastelaria with tea, coffee, the obligatory pastéis de nata and savory pastries. The hidden-away Mezzanine Bar serves an all-day menu and cocktails; the 18.68 cocktail bar with small plates promises to open soon.
What’s the crowd like? Weekending couples and some families from both sides of the Atlantic, although there are no especially child-friendly corners.
Anything to say about the service? Many of the original staff, like the welcoming doorman, Rui Jose, were re-employed after reopening and are obviously delighted to be back. There’s also a useful guide to Lisbon with some genuinely off-radar suggestions.
__What's the neighborhood scene like? __ Bairro Alto Hotel sits on the boundary of two of Lisbon’s most captivating districts, Chiado and Bairro Alto, with their steeply, sloping cobblestone streets and intriguing nooks and crannies, so you’ll never be stuck for something to see, a place to eat, or a boutique to browse. It’s a steep stroll down the hill to the banks of the River Tagus.
__Anything you would change? __ Even with its on-trend Susanne Kaufmann spa, the wellness center, which also includes a gym, still feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Is it worth it? The hotel's upgrade, along with its history, gives it plenty of personality, but it’s the location that will always keep this property current.
Torel 1884 Suites & Apartments
Set the scene Portugal’s fortunes have reversed in the past few years, with a growing appreciation of its wine, design scene, and landscapes, and a resulting boom in independent, artfully designed hotels. Much of the attention has been on Lisbon, everyone’s new best friend, but while Porto still has many empty, Miss Haversham-like facades, cranes have been marching on the horizon and the art nouveau city center has been revived. It’s smaller than the capital, much of it walkable—though there are photogenic wooden trams to hop on—and with the Douro running through it, spanned by several bridges including one by a certain Gustave Eiffel.
What’s the backstory? The Torel is part of a small group that cut its teeth on the Avant Garde hotel, opening in 2017 above the Douro, with a quirky interior that takes in a living wall of moss in the spa, topsy-turvy faux-flower ceilings and rough-edged homages to famous painters. This is its second hotel in Porto and is more cohesive, classically structured in a former palazzo-turned-bank, with three floors of bedrooms linked by a dramatic central staircase, illuminated by the skylight above. The team invited in local artists and a design studio, with the brief riffing on the country’s seafaring Age of Discovery—you know, those intrepid 17th and 18th century explorers who battled sea monsters and charted far-off lands. Walk along the plant-potted entrance and there’s a gallery of sculpted heads looking down, antlered gods and spirits to one side, mere mortals on the other; large, deeply textured oil paintings by Jorge Curval—an elephant here, a cigarello-smoking woman there—are hung all about the building, alongside bespoke details such as door tassels and wooden cabinets. A third hotel opened in town earlier in 2020.
What can we expect in our room? Each of the 12 bedrooms are individually designed, and imaginatively themed so each floor represents a different area of exploration—Africa, the Americas, Asia—defined by silk, raffia, cane, linens, and cotton, parrot-bright colors, tobacco browns, tiger prints, and wallpaper painstakingly made from banana leaf. The duplex Tea suite has a standalone bath rub beneath botanic prints, for example, while the two ground-floor Africa rooms have outdoor terraces; all rooms are high ceilinged, so even the smallest feels spacious; bathrooms tend to be dark, glittery spaces with brass taps and dramatic, lightning-strike marble.
How about the food and drink? The dining room is a green-tinted conservatory-style space with jungle-sized fronds and tropical wallpaper prints. Breakfast is ordered the night before to avoid food waste, but can be added to in the morning, with colorful, handmade ceramic dishes bearing cheese, pastries, and quince jam. Later in the day there’s a short menu of tostas and tapas to choose from, such as cured meats and cheeses, pork cheek in a red-wine sauce, carob crepes and tuna ceviche. The bar’s more about discovering local wines than cocktails.
What’s the crowd like? Small families and couples thrilled to have discovered this place, who keep to themselves apart from an occasional encounter in the library or bar. And locals are frequent visitors to the bar and bistro, which helps to create an atmosphere.
Anything to say about the service? Low-key but bright, with the concierge desk set at the bottom of the stairs—this is a small hotel and most requests involve pointers to local restaurants and bars. Ask about a reservation at the rooftop bar across the Douro, owned by the same hotel group.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Turn right out of the hotel, walk up the hill and you’ll reach the railway station with its incredible blue-and-white ceramic murals, depicting historic scenes in the nation’s life; turn left and there’s the Victorian market, currently being restored. All around are small, family-run restaurants, wine shops, and workshops worth peeking into, with the rippling waters of the Douro, the neon-signed port houses and the Eiffel bridge just a short traipse away.
Anything we missed? The top-floor library is a beatific, parquet-floored space flooded with natural light from the lozenge-shaped skylight—the sort of room you fantasize having yourself to shelve your own collection. Many of the titles—Rimbaud, Javanese architecture—may not be holiday page-turners, but it’s a lovely place to hole up in, particularly if you find the honesty bar in a vintage trunk. The main wine cellar, meanwhile, is housed in the former bank vault, with vintages worth planning a heist for.
Anything you’d change? Very little. Perhaps put a few towel pegs in some of the bathrooms; USB chargers and Bluetooth speakers would be handy.
Is it worth it? Yes, this a characterful hotel that pins you right in the fabric of Porto—though take a look at the group’s other two places in town.
La Réserve Eden au Lac Zurich
The Eden au Lac has been a Zürich institution since 1909—a fine figure of a lakeside hotel. But now, having had some serious work done and reopened as part of Michel Reybier’s La Réserve portfolio, it has been reimagined completely. The ground floor is almost entirely devoted to the bright main restaurant and bar. There is a DJ booth and a sneaky little fumoir off to one side behind an unmarked door. The bathrooms are in a hall of mirrors of which Stanley Kubrick might have been jealous: half Versailles, half Studio 54. Indeed, the overall aesthetic is difficult to characterize—approximately mid-century modern but with a woody, chromey, nautical twist—designer Philippe Starck claims to have been inspired by “an imaginary yacht club.” The only significant difference between the 40 rooms is size. Splash out on one of the larger lake-facing ones, where the light bounces in off the water, and from which, if you step onto the balcony, you can admire the rippling silhouette of the not-too-distant Alps.
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Set the scene. Many people will know Oslo through the Harry Hole thrillers of Jo Nesbø, but until recently the Norwegian capital wasn’t an obvious weekend destination, with most visitors passing through on way to ski slopes or the Northern Lights. That’s started to change. While it isn’t the prettiest of cities, it’s gaining a reputation for its contemporary art, architecture—check out Snøhetta’s glacier-like opera house, and the almost-finished Munch Museum and National Library—and an intriguing foodie scene that makes ample use of the country’s incredibly fresh seafood.
What’s the story? Well, this is a central landmark that dates back to 1919, when it was the square-jawed, neo-Baroque HQ of the Norwegian American Line—a time when Norwegians were jumping ship to seek their fortunes in the New World. It’s been reimagined by Nordic Hotels, which is one of the largest groups in Scandinavia but keeps a low-profile presence at the Amerikalinjen and its older sibling The Thief, the (literal) art hotel that caused a commotion when it opened in 2013. Original details have been kept intact, such as the art nouveau wooden carvings above doors and the sculptures of a sea god and spirit above the entrance, and the ground-floor space turned into a flowing segue of bar, bistro, and restaurant, as well as a glass-covered courtyard conservatory with fireplace and faux foliage. Throughout, ocean-going memorabilia such as menus and vintage snaps—look out for one of a walrus-mustached King Haakon the 7th—are gathered two by two alongside Pop Art-bright works by Shepard Fairey and Alex Katz, swarms of dangling pendant lights, and less obvious Scandinavian design classics including Torbjørn Bekken’s Veng armchair.
What can we expect in our room? The rattle and hum of the occasional tram outside, the ring of bicycle bells, people-watching from a cushioned window seat. All rooms have light parquet flooring and beds of deep-sea blue, with matching velvety sofas and Scandinavian designs evident in the lamps and jaunty chairs; there are framed ocean-liner photos and menus on the walls, bedside carafes filled with filtered water. Bathrooms are neatly boxed off behind industrial-chic iron frames, with monochrome tiles and locally made Sprekenhus potions. The biggest rooms are the suites in the former company board rooms.
How about the food and drink? It’s possible to graze throughout the day, with flexible menus that splice New York classics with Norwegian ingredients, from smoked-salmon bagels to deer tartare and pavlova with lingonberries, whole baked turbot and truffle mac. There are some inventive kitchens in Oslo, but the menus here play it a little safe—though it’s very fairly priced in a city where eating out can be eyewateringly expensive. Damn fine coffee too. The cocktail menu trips through historic moments for the country and the U.S—Emigration stirs up tequila with rooibos, lemongrass and wine, for example; Discovery of Oil is more martini-style, with a slick of black coconut oil floating on mushroom-and-cheese infused aquavit.
What’s the crowd like? Quite a local scene at weekends—the city’s brunch scene is still in its infancy, but jazz Sundays in the bistro reels them in, with Al Green and A Tribe Called Quest on the soundsystem in between sets and eggs Norwegian on the menu. Many people may have hopped here on the boat from Copenhagen; others from London, already familiar with Stockholm and other Nordic city breaks.
Anything to say about the service? Almost Fifth Avenue in its attentiveness—no need to tip the bell boy though—with plaid jackets in the bar.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? The hotel is right on central Jernbanetorget Square, facing the main railway station for frictionless transfers to the airport. The square used to be Oslo’s Times Square, but has smartened up its act and while a little banal, leads easily to interesting parts of town, such as the harborfront— where the opera house, Munch Museum, and new Library are—and boho neighborhoods such as Grunerløkka. Ask the concierge to point you the way to Svanen bar, in a former pharmacy, and Katla restaurant, the new project from the former chef of foodie favorite Pjoltergeist. Walk towards sister hotel The Thief, on the Tjuvholmen island, and you’ll find enough contemporary art galleries for a weekend of browsing.
Anything else to add? The basement jazz lounge, named after the shipping line’s founder, Gustav, has a regular line-up of homages to Peggy Lee, Sinatra, and other greats. Also seek out the small but perfectly formed gym—which has a punching bag and one of those rowing machines with real water—and the timber-roofed reading room, which resembles an old-fashioned railway carriage.
Anything you’d change? It's a shame the jazz gigs downstairs are only on Fridays.
Is it worth it? Oh, yes. Oslo’s on the rise, and this has ringside seats.
Arctic Bath Hotel
Game of Thrones hideaway? Warrior den from a Norse saga? Pick-up sticks? The idea for this frosty-donut design in the Swedish Lapland stretches back a decade, but the hotel’s opening in January felt like something of an event in a place where time is usually measured in millennia. Created by Bertil Harström, one of the architects behind the quirky Treehotel, and Swedish designer Johan Kauppi, Arctic Bath comprises six jaunty wooden cabins with pared-back interiors of pale pine and Baltic limestone near the edge of the River Lule and a half-dozen larger ones on the tree-lined shore. In the restaurant, smoked wood grouse, cured trout, and slow-cooked reindeer are served by Maarten De Wilde and Kristoffer Åström, the latter known as “the Sámi chef” for taking the community's flavors to kitchens across Sweden. But the real reason to make the pilgrimage is for total immersion in the landscape, whether that’s an immune-boosting plunge in the open-air cold tub, forest-bathing in the summer, or ice-skating on the frozen river. The stillness and light feel meditative—during the few hours of daylight in winter, the sky is pink and purple, the only sound is the crunching snow. The grass-covered roofs shift color through the seasons, attracting bees and birds. This is like nowhere else on earth.
Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)
Set the scene. A slice of New York in Dubai, everything about this smart, shiny hotel says big-city heavyweight, from its location in the towering Burj Daman building to its 18th-floor lobby and knockout views of the city skyline. Waldorf Astoria DIFC is the second opening from the brand in Dubai—but the first urban hotel (the other one is a sprawling beach number on the Palm Jumeirah). It joins other big hitters like the Four Seasons DIFC and the Ritz-Carlton DIFC in the area, though unlike those two, the Waldorf Astoria is across the street from the major thoroughfare of DIFC, so it feels ever-so-slightly away from the heavy footfall of bar-hopping Friday night city folk. It has a less strictly business vibe, leaning more towards a yes-there’s-work-to-do-but-let’s-have-a-cocktail-or-three-first atmosphere.
What’s the backstory? The hotel occupies the 18th through 55th floors of Burj Daman, a skyscraper complex that already houses apartments and offices, so it’s part of a community from the get-go. That might explain the apartment-like feel of the rooms. Interior design was largely by American firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates, Inc (who are also behind the likes of The Langham, Jakarta and Crowne Plaza Resort Phu Quoc in Vietnam), while Dubai-based LW Design Group were responsible for two restaurants: Bull & Bear and St. Trop. As the financial heart of the city, DIFC is Dubai’s most buzzing Manhattan-esque neighborhood, and so a hotel that pays homage through design to the New York original makes total sense in this bubble of financiers and the moneyed elite.
What can we expect in our room? A fresh take on an upscale '60s style Manhattan apartment. It’s easy to picture the cast of Mad Men draped about the place; rose gold bedside lamps placed on deep mahogany mid-century tables glint in the sunlight and brass or glossy black light installations hang overhead. The corner suites are the ones to bag with two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. The travel-trunk-inspired minibar is better than most, but the star is the bathroom with an enormous circular bathtub.
How about the food and drink? The general idea in restaurant Bull & Bear is to replicate the original in New York, so there’s reassuring dishes to order like slow-cooked beef cheek and apple pie (and a Waldorf salad, naturally), but there're also vegan bowls to please those who want something less meat-heavy. Bar manager Raven Rudolph has created a name for himself among those immersed in Dubai’s cocktail culture, and his skill and creativity is shown off here, where the Waldorf Astoria classics are named after its famous guests. (Try the Hepburn, named for Katherine, a mix of pineapple juice, vodka and dried red chili pepper.)
What’s the crowd like? Loafers and loosened skinny ties, kitten heels and French manicures. The latest season of Ozark is next up on Netflix, the FT saved as morning-paper guest preferences. A fondness for small jazz bars.
__Anything to say about the service? __ Aside from being escorted to the 18th floor lobby, check-in can be totally seamless if you’ve got a Hilton digital room key on your phone, which is always a bonus if fanfare and fuss isn’t your thing. A member of the concierge team is a bit of an artist and often surprises guests with a pencil-drawn likeness cribbed from a photo on social media.
__What’s the neighborhood scene like? __ DIFC is where power-suit dressed execs pace around hurriedly in the daytime and off-duty high-rollers party in the evenings. There’s tons of big-ticket restaurants with packed-to-the-gills bars, like Burger & Lobster and Boca. Waldorf Astoria’s metropolitan feel slots right in with the area’s other urban hotels, whilst having the advantage of being set a tad away from the hubbub.
__Anything else to add? __ When it comes to the conference rooms on the ground floor, they’ve cleverly tried to inject a bit of fun into what, let’s face it, is a hugely boring part of any business hotel by including a show-kitchen for more interactive sessions. There's pleasing art-gallery feel throughout the property with works by Lebanese artist Imad Bechara.
__Is it worth it? __ For people that live in the city, it’s an elegant spot for drinks or dinner, as a here-for-fun visitor it places you on the fringes of Dubai’s most happening part of town. For business travelers, it’s got all the work necessities with none of the associated blandness, so yes, it serves a few purposes very well.
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How did it strike you on arrival? It may well be that no hotel is more closely associated with its city than Raffles Singapore. It has gone through various mutations in the 130 or so years since it opened, as a modest 10-room bungalow, in 1887. By the early 20th century it had pretty much assumed the physical form that it retains today and attained something like mythical status.
What’s the story? Long and complicated. The sort of story that people write books about. (As a matter of fact, the great Pico Iyer has just written a brilliant book about it, a copy of which you may, I suspect, find on your bedside table on your next visit to Raffles, as well as in the Writers Bar and the Hamleys-like Raffles Boutique.) Long story short, though, the old bird needed a bit of zhuzhing-up. The zhuzhing-up took closer to three years than two to complete, and repeated delays along the way had some observers and Raffles loyalists—including me—more than a little twitchy. Would it all be OK in the end? Had something gone terribly, terribly wrong? It would, and it had not. The good bits have all been preserved. The less good bits, or in any case those that simply had to change, have been given the treatment. Most of that treatment has come courtesy of Alexandra Champalimaud, who previously waved her hard-to-define, contemporary-classic wand over the Plaza in New York and the Dorchester in London, among many other hotels. I cannot help thinking that this is the best of the lot.
The good stuff: Tell us about your room. An extremely pleasant surprise. (And by the way, it is not a "room." Suites only, almost all of them arranged according to a typically tropical "tripartite" design, whereby you pass from veranda to parlor to bedroom and bathroom). Out with most of the Victoriana, in with the hard-to-define, contemporary-classic style mentioned above—though with enough echoes of what went before that you will not feel freaked-out. The brass bell buttons–turned–light-switches? Still there. The ceiling fans, wicker chairs, ceramic lamps? Present and correct, just in smaller quantities than previously, and now obliged to make polite conversation with Alexandra Champalimaud’s additions.
How about the food and drink? How about it. The most radical changes all concern food and drink one way or another. Anne-Sophie Pic’s exquisite La Dame de Pic has elicited gasps of delight; my claim to first-in status rests on having been the first member of the press to be dazzled by Jereme Leung’s Yi (whose otherworldly little entrance area is destined to be more photographed than the vast concrete banana atop Marina Bay Sands); and Alain Ducasse’s BBR is the newest opening. Meanwhile, the Long Bar continues to dispense Singapore Slings like they are going out of style, though I doubt they ever will. The Raffles Courtyard has been transformed from a place where, as the hotel’s unflappable general manager, Christian Westbeld, put it to me, "you might have been afraid to run into your grandparents," into a flexible, relaxed outdoor space where you can sip Champagne or chug beer by the bucket, as you prefer. And best of all, in my opinion, the old Writers Bar, which was barely a bar at all and hardly worth writing about, has been shifted to the front of the main building, greatly expanded and transformed into one of the most charming bars in a city that is full of charming bars.
What sort of person stays here? Very spoiled, very happy people. People who like luscious heritage hotels packed to the rafters with stories. People who could not care less about heritage or stories but who like lusciousness. And all kinds of people in between. One of Singapore’s most attractive qualities is its cosmopolitanism, its openness to the world; Raffles embodies that spirit.
Anything stand out about other services and features? Not a bad word. The sunniness outside is eclipsed by that inside the hotel. Every guest has a butler. Mine was called Gin. I like to think that Gin will be Secretary General of the United Nations in the fullness of time. Minister of Labor and Employment in the Singaporean government at the very least. One morning she brought tea to my room and heard me addressing threatening remarks at my laptop through gritted teeth. A certain amount of deadline-related bad language might, I am afraid, have been involved. "Sorry, Gin," I said, realizing what a fool I was making of myself. That afternoon, deadline met, Gin found me by the hotel’s swimming pool in a much-improved frame of mind. "Mr King!" she said. "I am pleased to see you here! A good work-life balance is so important!"
What’s the neighborhood scene like? There is an old saying that goes something like: "You don’t come to Singapore and stay at Raffles; you come to Raffles and see what you can of Singapore." All great hotels are universes unto themselves, and this one more than most. That is not, of course, a reason not to leave your room and go forth and explore the outside world. But it is a reason not to feel too rotten if, on your way toward the front door, you never make it past the Writers Bar.
Anything else? A note on the Long Bar. I love it. Some people do not. Make up your own mind. But what I would urge you to do is to follow the compulsory Sling (after making a few complimentary remarks to the bartender about how pleasantly different it is from the last time you were here—less sweet, less syrupy than before) with a Million Dollar Cocktail. Bizarrely, this is not even on the menu. But it was invented by the same guy who invented the Sling, Ngiam Tong Boon, in the same year, 1915. Funny, isn’t it, how people latch onto one thing and not another? The Singapore Sling and the Million Dollar Cocktail are sisters who share the same DNA and many of the same qualities but possess quite different temperaments and have gone on to enjoy different lives. One is beautiful and famous the world over; the other is even more beautiful yet content not to have to put up with all the fuss and attention.
And anything you’d change? Some of the contemporary artworks on the upper stories of the main building. Just four or five of them—inexplicably jarring. I have nothing against contemporary art. Love the stuff. But if those absurdities are still there on my next visit, I will remove them myself, hurl them into the Singapore River and live with the consequences.
Bottom line: worth it? This question is a vexed one. Worth what to whom? According to which criteria? Given the overall cost of the renovation and the number of rooms—I mean suites—it comes out, I believe, at something like $1.9 million per room. I have been coming here since I was eight years old and, based on what I have seen with my own eyes, I can say, hand on heart, that the joint has not looked better in my lifetime. Having studied piles of old photographs in the company of the hotel’s resident historian, Leslie Danker, I would venture to say that it has probably never, ever looked better. Ever. So. Is it worth it? Damn right it is.
Rosewood Hong Kong
Set the scene Celebrated interior designer Tony Chi's steady hand is plain to see throughout, from the rich fabrics to the nickel-plated copper sinks. The artworks—Damien Hirst, Joe Bradley, et al.—fit seamlessly, and the hotel manages to pull off a neat blend of East and West (placing a rather traditional Chinese restaurant next to a tapas-inspired gastro market, for instance). The hotel is very Hong Kong in that it’s confident in its high-end status, almost bordering on flashy, yet innovative and youthful and fresh.
What’s the backstory? The Cheng family owners originally came from Shunde in China. They did well in jewelry and real estate, and redeveloped the site to accommodate an office tower, a mall, and a Rosewood (they bought the group back in 2011, with Sonia Cheng, then 30, as its CEO). The hotel is a trophy project, for sure, but one that’s been achieved with more than a little panache.
What can we expect in our room? The views—mainly harbor but some over the city—can be enjoyed from the freestanding tub, while in the more expensive rooms bottles of spirits line the drinks table and arresting artworks speckle the walls. That the soaps (Maison Caulières) and similar amenities change to reflect the seasons is the best indicator of the attention to detail applied in putting together a very superior home away from home.
How about the food and drink? There’s nothing random here—everything has been carefully thought-out to cater to all possible tastes. Breakfast at Holt’s Café skips about between Western, Asian, and the ultra-healthy; the list of teas at the Butterfly Patisserie runs to dozens of pages; breezy Bayfare Social is seemingly but half a step down from the Food Hall at Harrods and is complemented by Henry, a grill piloted by the multi-tattooed, multi-talented British chef Nathan Green (it’s very meat-centric, the artisanal sausages are sublime). The list goes on though; minced fish soup with fungus and tangerine peel spice up the menu at the Legacy House and Harley-Davidsons park up to hit DarkSide for live jazz even on Monday evenings.
What’s the crowd like? The Cheng family is so wealthy as to be remarkable in Hong Kong, a fact reflected by the clientele—be they residents dropping by for lunch or drinks or visitors from overseas flying in on business.
Anything to say about the service? When the waiter spilled a couple of drops of wine at lunch (it happens), both apology and clearing-up were swift and deft. Such professionalism.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? The Rosewood’s opening marked the final act of a highly theatrical renaissance in the area that’s seen both the nearby Hong Kong Museum of Art and the harborfront promenade revamped, as well as the advent of K11 Musea, an inspiring mix of retail and entertainment that is so much more than a mall. Both metro and ferries are more or less on the doorstep.
Anything else to add? Asaya, occupying an entire floor, describes itself as an "integrated wellness center," which although sounds rather gimmicky is fair enough as "spa" would be woefully inadequate. Treatments are holistic in nature and delivered with real passion. The option of staying overnight and dining in situ is a clever addition.
Anything you’d change? Of course, it’s sheer indulgence to suggest Asaya’s heated marble lie-flat shower should be widened to accommodate a couple.
Is it worth it? It’s quite the smartest (in all senses of the word) hotel in Hong Kong, and likely to remain so for some time to come.
Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? I approached a sleek low-rise exterior on a street I used to frequent for Beijing's best Peking duck as a student. The chic architectural exterior—which reminds me of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong—was a stylish surprise as I approached. Fashionable locals were exiting as I walked in, each carrying this season's Celine bags in one hand and an extremely well-groomed poodle in the other. The lobby reminded me more of entering a very posh post-war apartment building in New York City than the usual gilded, marble overdosed, and chandeliered luxury lobby which is common in Beijing. I was mesmerized by the swirling goldfish sculpture overhead and only later learned it was specially commissioned by Frank Gehry. It draws people's attention to the point that if you hang out awhile in the lobby you will see people walking around underneath it in circles just as the three fish seem to circle one another. Staff made eye contact and were engaged with everyone, which is not always the case here in China.
What's the backstory? On the night of February 9, 2009, an illegal fireworks display burnt down the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental Beijing. I arrived from a trip to Mongolia two days later and my room at the Park Hyatt Beijing faced the blackened chimney. Fast forward to a few years ago. MO tried again to open in the Qianmen gate district, but that too fell through. So this opening has been a long time coming. With regards to design, there is the specially commissioned Gehry sculpture in the lobby and Adam Tihany's old school New York steakhouse design in the hotel's bar and grill.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The swirling jade hues in the carpet and layout reminded me of the Mandarin Oriental in New York at Columbus Circle more than the feeling of being in Beijing. But when I sat down on the bed and promptly eased into fetal position, it was so comfortable, as was the Begg & Co Scottish cashmere throw at the foot of the bed. Then there was the very spa-like bathroom with a beckoning bathtub shaped like an eggshell. Beijing is so smoggy that a great bathroom is a huge perk. Smaller amenities here are very thoughtful: the Diptyque toiletries, the Mavis toothpaste, the Bose speakers, the Wedgwood tea sets, and the Vera Wang glassware. Tech is notably streamlined and intuitive—one iPad controls everything without hassle. Rooms that don't overlook the Forbidden City are a bit of a letdown here, so I would only come back for a Premier Suite or better. Some Mandarin rooms face the Forbidden City but also overlook the rooftop, which would not suit lighter sleepers like me.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No charge; good quality.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? Not all rates include breakfast, which was a rather overly edited (translation: too small) buffet when I visited, but I am told it has since blossomed. The "celebrity" is Michelin-starred consultant chef Wong Wing-Keung, who heads the kitchen at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong's Mah Wa restaurant and used to be the only reason to go to the Excelsior Hotel in Hong Kong—also managed by Mandarin Oriental—before it was torn down some years ago. He's considered one of the most creative Cantonese chefs working today. His innovative takes on dim sum are a visual and edible delight. I recommend the black truffle dumplings and the wok-fried lobster with garlic. Both taste like true luxury.
And the service? Having stayed at all of the surrounding competitors, what especially impressed me at the Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing was the service—it was outstanding without needless formality. I watched and listened while I was there and repeatedly heard guests and locals alike address people like Mandy at the concierge desk by name and talk to the bartenders like they were all out for the evening together. I was impressed by the unfussy delivery of this service, which made me feel not like I was in a hotel where my grandparents might have stayed but somewhere decidedly more contemporary and relevant.
What type of travelers will you find here? The hotel's location within the WF Central complex means it attracts Beijingers fresh from the retail boutiques, so I saw shopping bags aplenty and almost as many pampered pooches. This was not a hotel where guests lounge around in their workout gear. Ladies lunching at Cafe Zi sport this season's French and Italian fashions, with a sprinkling of Yeezy sportswear among the younger guests. I was amused to remember what Wangfujing looked like when I was a student—all bicycles, birdcages, and restaurant windows hung with upside down ducks, back when Beijing wore Mao suits and pajamas in the streets. Equally amusing is how close we are to Mao's massive portrait in Tiananmen Square, yet everyone here has clearly embraced Deng Xiaoping's mantra "to get rich is glorious."
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? Wangfujing runs north-south through the center of old Beijing, a former warren of princely estates on the outskirts of the Forbidden City. It has turned into a humble food mecca in recent years, and most Beijing-bound tourists come to eat "real" Peking duck, if not the skewered scorpions, starfish, and other rare edibles still offered nearby. The hotel sits on one of the commercial hub's many high-end shopping malls. One need not go far to meet the competition, the longstanding Peninsula hotel and the newer Regent and Waldorf Astoria hotels.
Is there anything you'd change? Oh, how I wish all the rooms had Forbidden City views! I would have handed the room design to someone other than Hirsch Bedner and Associates. Their designs are predictable, although utterly comfortable.
Any other hotel features worth noting? Barmen at the MO Bar will make traveling solo feel anything but lonely, and the 50-page art book cum drinks list is quite engrossing. There is even zero-proof baijiu on the menu for non-drinkers. It's worth stopping en route to admire the fifth floor double-height library. Art-oriented travelers and history buffs should seek out the vintage black-and-white photographs of Mao’s China by Jin Shisheng and Louis-Philippe Messelier in the Mandarin Bar + Grill. Guests have access to the spa's 27-yard indoor pool with natural light streaming through the glass skylight and warmed loungers poolside. I would like to go back to experience one spa treatment in particular: Emperor’s Longevity, which takes place on a bed of warm quartz sand and uses Xiuyan jade massage tools, traditional Chinese medicine, and gua sha meridian techniques.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Definitely worth it for the exceptional service, myriad comforts, strategic location, fabulous bar drinks, and innovative dim sum, all while staying in the thick of what makes Beijing a singular experience.
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Set the scene The hotel is located in the city’s northern suburbs and feels light-years away from everyday stresses and humdrum concerns. The moment you pass through Aman Kyoto’s gates and along its tree-lined drive, you are surrounded by hilly woodland, crisscrossed by fast-running streams and moss-covered rocky paths. Arriving here is as likely to cause mouths to gape in astonishment as it is at the lobby of its elder sister, Aman Tokyo, with its staggering scale and its stupendous views, but for completely different reasons.
What’s the backstory? The short version: In centuries past, the site of the hotel was an imperial hunting ground. In the mid-20th century it was acquired by the Asano family, celebrated textile manufacturers, who intended to build a museum to display their collection of kimono sashes. Later, architect Kerry Hill learned that the Asanos had changed their minds and were keen to sell; he relayed this to his friend and Aman’s founder Adrian Zecha. The deal was done, plans were made, Zecha left Aman, work on the hotel continued under the new management, Hill died before its completion. Aman Kyoto encompasses quite a bit of local history, stands as a fine tribute to Zecha and Hill’s friendship and creative partnership, and serves as a bridge between old and new Aman.
What can we expect in our room? An effortless fusion of traditional Japanese and western design elements. The tatami mats, sliding panels, hand-painted scrolls and just-so vases for one seasonal bloom are all there. But so too are the big, squishy, and decidedly un-mat-like beds; lavish rain showers; and underfloor heating. A similarly fine balance between ancient and modern is struck in the superb, spring-fed onsen bathhouse and spa.
How about the food and drink? This is a small hotel and there are only two restaurants, both marvelous. Taka-An holds its own against the best traditional omakase restaurants in the city; the all-day Living Pavilion caters, seemingly effortlessly, to practically all tastes. Despite the life-enhancing Japanese breakfast available, we quickly became hooked on the chef’s French toast, as good as, if not better than, let’s say, Claridge’s in London and whatever no-frills chrome-edged diner in New York City you care to think of.
What’s the crowd like? Open to and appreciative of something a little left of center. Spoiling and sumptuous as it is, Aman Kyoto is also discreet, low-key, and subtle.
Anything to say about the service? Unfailingly courteous, efficient, and charming.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? More interesting than it might appear from the back seat of a taxi on the way to the hotel. The city reveals its splendous willingly to those who seek them out—but seek them out you must. Aman Kyoto provides both excellent advice and the chicest bicycles for this precise purpose. The famous Golden Pavilion, possibly the prettiest temple in town, is just a few minutes away.
Anything else to add? Another couple of nights, please.
Anything you’d change? No, though we look forward to returning to see the completed teahouse, which was in the planning stages at the time of our visit.
Is it worth it? An emphatic "Hai!"
Park Hyatt Kyoto
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? A compact, Jenga-like structure built cleverly into the maze of Kyoto's temple-dense Higashiyama ward.
What's the backstory? The structure is a partnership of the Pritzker, Takenaka (a 17th-generation construction family responsible for many of Japan's temples), and Kyoyamato families, with Tony Chi as interior designer.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? I stayed in the Higashiyama House suite, an airy 970-square-foot penthouse with sloped tamo wood ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views of Higashiyama and the Yasaka Pagoda. The king-sized bed was spacious and extremely comfortable, and the bathroom had a circular two-person marble tub stocked with Japanese bath salts and double sinks. Furniture included two modern, heather gray wingback reading chairs with lamps, wicker ottomans, and beautiful wooden shelves and tables.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No, Wi-Fi was free and fine.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The five food and beverage spots are highlights. Yasaka is the Japanese teppanyaki restaurant, with modern takes on grilled wagyu and seasonal Japanese vegetables. Pair it with a glass from Kyoto's Tamba winery or a Japanese chardonnay. Kyoyamoto, Kyoto’s famed Japanese kaiseki restaurant, has been around long before the hotel and is worth visiting even if you are not spending the night. Expect an ornate presentation of seasonal dishes in exquisite plates, which the restaurant has such a big collection of that they have to keep it in a storage facility. Kyoto Bistro is the casual, contemporary café with its own entrance, making it a neighborhood favorite. It holds its own food-wise with steaks, gratins, and salads, though for visitors seeking Japanese classics, this may not be the best bet. The Living Room is a lounge space where guests can enjoy seasonal, coursed afternoon tea pairings—the upgraded menu includes foie gras and truffles. And lastly, there's the Kohaku bar. Breakfast can and should be served in your room at least once—it's prepared by the Kyoyamoto team, featuring charcoal-toasted nori, grilled fish, chawanmushi, tofu, simmered beef, and a rotating seasonal items.
And the service? Service was straightforward and excellent, and sets a new standard for Kyoto. The urban and cordial staff remember your name and will answer you in either Japanese of English, or a seamless mix of both. The staff can anticipate your needs in a practical way, whether you need a taxi, umbrella, or help holding a bag while you fish out your business cards. The concierge is extremely plugged into the dining Kyoto scene, but don't expect casual restaurant picks.
What type of travelers will you find here? This tribe is a mix of affluent, designed-minded families from China and the U.S., wealthy creatives from Japan, and artsy travelers seeking Kyoto's combination of traditional and modern. The afternoon tea seemed to be a hit with many Asian visitors, less with Westerners.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? The construction is a stroke of genius the way in the way it fits seamlessly into the neighborhoods, stacked on a hill with a maze of hallways and corridors and garden paths that you cannot see until you're in them. It's unlike any other chain hotel and more like many of the traditional ryokan in Japan. The bustling and slightly tourist-filled streets are just outside the structure, and it's not gated, but pleasantly open to the public. This set up is a model for hospitality. For those who want to sightsee and temple hop, this is probably the city's best option to do so. The views of the pagoda remind you of your whereabouts, and keep things grounded.
Is there anything you'd change? The spa feels like a bit of an afterthought. We had a couples massage and it was great, with excellent therapists, but the spa area, with a sauna, seto bath, and steam room is cramped.
Any other hotel features worth noting? Don't miss spending time in the garden, which is not easy to find. The ancient tea house, perched on rocks, is also worth seeing. Breakfast in the room is a must.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The current price is probably too steep for casual everyday travelers. For those who have the money, the views here are sublime and the construction and architecture detail are museum-worthy. For those who want to experience Kyoto's temples and be close to the action, you can't beat the location and the views.
Set the scene Dubbed a "one-room hotel," this former geisha house in Tokyo’s residential Kagurazaka area has been transformed into what feels like the private home of a design-loving Tokyoite. Firmly delivering on the founder’s dream of making a hideaway where folks would yearn to host artsy salon-style gatherings, it has every comfort for hunkering down, but works equally well if you're inviting pals over for an impromptu party. Most thrilling is the hidden-behind-a-door, tech-heavy, soundproofed tiny disco room, with curved white leather banquettes, neon-lit dance floor, karaoke machine, and well-stocked bar (it’s said to have cost approximately $10 million yen to kit out).
What’s the backstory? For its second opening, the team behind quirky, 15-room boutique Trunk (Hotel) in Shibuya has delivered something equally exciting and offbeat—a take-over-as-your-own, exclusive crash pad that's half an hour from the original. Trunk's founder, Yoshitaka Nojiri, along with in-house design team Trunk Atelier and local design outfit Tripster, painstakingly restored this 70-year-old geisha house, from the external black fencing and close-to-the-entrance pine trees (these are historical signifiers of a geisha residence) to the fully revamped split-level room inside. It sleeps up to four, but plenty more can pop in and party.
What can we expect in our room? Everything, from Stephen Kenn metal-framed tan leather sofas to dark terrazzo floors and cotton-covered shoji windows, is astonishing. In the ground floor’s dining-room slash high-tech kitchen, Japanese-French dishes are served atop vintage ceramics from nearby Mikado boutique, and a long oak table looks out to a courtyard garden. Upstairs, there’s a tatami mat–lined tea room with a central irori and Eames table, and a sofa den and master bedroom with a low-level bed. Plus, there's that disco room.
How about the food and drink? Quality ingredients—including organic vegetables from a farmer in the Ishikawa prefecture—are snipped, whipped, and precision-plated onto mismatched ceramics (some adorned with temples; others jade-hued, gilt-edged, and intricately lacquered) by chef Masashi Okamoto, previously of Trunk (Hotel). Highlights include a sophisticated Jerusalem artichoke soup with soy milk foam, a rainbow-bright salad of lettuce, shigiku, bitter radish, and frilled maitake mushroom, followed by forkfuls of creamy cacio e pepe. Oh, and the brilliant butlers, who speak excellent English, do sake or whiskey tastings, and shake up cocktails with ease.
What’s the crowd like? Fun-loving, discerning creatives who dislike over-the-top bling; skinny-jean-clad music producers who listen to Babymetal on Bose noise-canceling headphones, offbeat artists (Kaws left a doodle on the disco-room walls), and Comme des Garcons–wearing couples and families looking for a pitch-perfect private city break.
Anything to say about the service? Checking in is a brief property tour: informal, interesting, and fuss-free. Butlers—Youn-Hee (a rapper in his other life) and Yusuke (a lover of the great outdoors)—dress in dapper monochrome outfits by avant-garde designer Yohji Yamamoto and are masters of all things Tokyo. Want to sip drinks in a book-lined library-esque bar? Purchase some of those one-off ceramics used at the house? See a geisha dance or have a grandmaster perform a tea ceremony in the comfort of the house? All arranged in a friendly flash.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? The locale is often-overlooked Kagurazaka, a historical geisha district close to what would have been the fringes of the Edo Castle. It's well-connected to the city’s busiest tourist spots by the subway. Today, it's is a thrumming residential area, with narrow criss-crossing side streets known as "hide and seek alley," where you’ll see platinum-haired obaasan (grannies) stocking up on matcha, professionals slipping into old-school ryotei restaurants, and families walking pampered Shiba Inu pups clad in harajuku-style tutus. It suits second-timers who’ve stayed in the thick of the city before, and those who want to experience a secret slice of a city.
Anything else to add? Snuggly, navy wide-leg pajamas with white piping are provided. A deep, cypress wood bathtub set underneath naughty shunga wall art in the white-mosaic-tiled bathroom is another masterstroke. Kids under three stay for free (but that’s got to be within the maximum four guests in total); it’s also worth noting that the only additional sleeping spots are two tatami mat beds, sleeping one apiece.
Anything you'd change? The add-on fees for additional guests seems a little steep—for two it’s $5,625 a night, then each additional person (up to two extra) is another $562 per person.
Is it worth it? There’s no doubt about it, this is blow-the-savings territory. However, if finely crafted Japanese surrounds, faultless service, and something rather unique are what’s needed, despite the price tag, Trunk (House) adds up to a very special stay.
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Jaya House Angkor Park
Set the scene Blink and you’d whizz straight past the whitewashed buildings set a little way back from the puttering tuk-tuks and horn toots of Siem Reap’s Street 30, a 10-minute drive from Angkor’s splendid temples. Two metal doors with cut-out palm frond patterns set inside a squared-off stone archway swing open to reveal a Buddha statue holding court over a paved pathway, which leads to this unexpected boutique hotel in a petite, manicured garden. Pleasingly, it’s a little less in the thick of things than the likes of grande dame Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and Amansara on rue Charles de Gaulle.
What’s the backstory? This is the second boutique hotel from the team behind Cambodia’s first plastic-free property, Jaya House River Park. Managing director Christian de Boer, former general manager at Shinta Mani and co-founder of the Refill not Landfill initiative, has once again placed sustainability and community at the heart of this little-sister outpost. The all-Cambodian team (dressed nattily in flint linen get-ups by local couturier Eric Raisina) are chosen for their passion over formal qualifications, then given regular training opportunities. This place is as stylish as it is soulful; Cambodian architect Si Sokvann has transformed an abandoned hotel project into a small-but-wonderful tropical modernist outpost, all clean lines and rustling fan palms, with a high-drama greenhouse restaurant, a spa with a fern-fronted façade, and an eye-catching chrome-tiled swimming pool.
What can we expect in our room? There’s a silvery sofa heaped with mint, pearl, and ash-gray cushions, as well as a marshmallow-soft bed set underneath a geometric frosted mirror. Monochrome paintings of inspiring Khmer creatives—from greats such as Sinn Sisamouth (aka "Cambodia’s Elvis") to modern-day chanteuse Laura Mam—are hung on the walls. Striped laundry bags by Rehash Trash (which transforms roadside rubbish into stylish homeware), dappled-pink Buddha statues, and refillable bottles of house-made Jaya Organics toiletries all root you firmly in Cambodia.
How about the food and drink? At Deco restaurant there isn’t a dish which we can’t rave about; from smashed avocado and perfectly poached eggs sprinkled with a crunchy pistachio dukkah at breakfast to suppers of traditional Khmer fish curry amok reimagined as a sophisticated mushroom- and chickpea-packed vegan pasta dish. Cocktails—such as raspberry-mint lemonade with a gin, vodka, and elderflower kick—are refreshing and delivered with panache. Chef Bunna Arthireach’s sensational cooking combined with a dramatic glasshouse make Deco is a pull in its own right.
What’s the crowd like? Book-smart groups of NGO-worker pals chatting cult novels and art on weekend mini breaks, couples in Dodo Bar Or fringed halter maxi-dresses and Vilebrequin swim shorts, and bohemian families who explore Angkor at dawn and spend afternoons larking around in the pool.
Anything to say about the service? Genuine and exacting; the staff takes the time to get to know each guest, meaning their recommendations (say a jaunt to one of Angkor’s lesser-visited temples through the countryside at golden hour, past thatch-topped restaurants and lotus-flower-filled lakes) always feel personal.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Street 30 is ever so slightly away from the main tourist drag, but everywhere you’d want to go is an easy five- to 20-minute tuk-tuk ride away—be it the Angkor National Museum, the world’s most famous temple complex, astonishing acrobatic performances at Phare circus, or the neon-lit bars of Pub Street. Our suggestion: Skip the main drag and sip kombucha Mojitos at Shanghai-sultry speakeasy Miss Wong instead.
Anything else to add? In a brilliant, more-hotels-should-do-it touch, laundry and an hour-long daily spa treatment are included in the incredibly reasonable room rate (a foot massage is just the thing after a day’s temple-hopping).
Anything you would change? Honestly, we don’t think so.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. It's a feel-good hotel through and through, from the light and breezy tropicana decor to the delicious Cambodian fusion food. Plus, a stay genuinely contributes to the community, as profits support four local NGOs. Prepare to wax lyrical to friends when you get home (but don’t tell too many people, otherwise getting a room on a future visit could prove tricky).
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? The drive in takes you up a long, winding mountain road, past several hot springs resorts. But when you pull up to the Hoshinoya, it's clear the hotel is unlike any other, with its landscaped entrance; sleek, black walls; and immediate calming effect. Like a traditional Japanese hotel, the staff greets you outside the door with hot towels and beverages, and the entire check-in process is seamless.
What's the backstory? The Hoshinoya Guguan is the Japanese chain's first opening in Taiwan. With several properties in Japan, as well as hotels in Bali and Oahu, Hoshinoya has recently begun spreading its wings beyond its home country. Hoshinoya's CEO was originally skeptical about bringing his onsen resorts to Taiwan—but then visited the Guguan region and discovered the onsen waters were as impressive as the ones found in Japan.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? There are 50 rooms total at the hotel. The bedrooms are minimally decorated with low beds, and the living room area features plenty of seating space—either two tables and a chair or an area with low-slung sofas around a coffee table—and large daybeds that face out to the valley view. Depending on what floor you're on, stairs lead up or down to each room's onsen area, which provides additional privacy if you're sharing a room with family or friends. Two smart design touches we loved: lighting panels with a variety of mood settings, and the ability to turn just about any room setup into two twins or one larger bed.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No charge, and it's strong and fast.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There's only one restaurant here, and it serves a mix of Taiwanese and Japanese food, with a strong Japanese design and vibe. For breakfast, you can choose between Japanese (grilled fish and tempura), Taiwanese (congee and local condiments), and American (eggs, bacon, yogurt). Lunch is a very fancy bento box of tempura and fish, and dinner is either served a la carte or as an eight-course prix fixe. All the ingredients were spectacular, including fresh tofu, seasonal Taiwanese figs, and other local delicacies.
And the service? The kitchen was still working out some timing kinks when we were there, but the staff was proactive about addressing any issues. Check-in and check-out were easy and painless. The hotel can organize several activities, from lei cha (grinding your own tea) to an onsen introduction. And don't skip the Shaolai hiking trail—the hotel has built its own entrance onto the local trek, and it's a moderate, hour-long hike that will make your onsen dip feel even better.
What type of travelers will you find here? Taiwanese families on a quick weekend getaway to visit this new international resort, and devoted Hoshinoya lovers who are here to see if the hot springs in Taiwan match up to those in Japan (yes, they do).
Is there anything you'd change? I'd love to see more lunch options. The hotel can arrange for an a la carte lunch ordered off the dinner menu, but visitors who stay for more than a long weekend might want more food variety.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The outdoor spaces are absolutely stunning. The main grounds are landscaped with pools, walkways, and gardens, and even the hotel hallways are outdoors, so you feel a breeze as you're walking to your room. Aside from the private onsen areas in every room, there are indoor-outdoor hot springs for all hotel guests (in Japanese tradition, no swimwear is allowed), as well as a shallow pool to splash around in.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Absolutely. This place should remain somewhat under the radar for a while, as most international visitors stay in Taiwan's larger cities. But expect Japanese travelers to flock here first given the Hoshinoya ties, followed by other travelers from Asia and Australia.
Kimpton Da An
Set the scene This former residential tower in Taipei’s buzzy Da An district blends in with its apartment-building neighbors and can easily go unnoticed for those strolling by. The interior, however, is a different story. Underneath the crimson-and-teal double-height statement ceiling in the lobby, a straight-lined visual feast plays out in a cozy living room and concrete-clad seating arrangements (where an honesty bar is stocked with ice-cold soda pops and beer on tap). Upstairs, rooms are spacious, teal-toned sanctuaries away from the city’s rush, while the 12th-floor restaurant is a destination in its own right for the fried chicken with seaweed mayo alone.
What’s the backstory? For a city bursting with creative energy, Taipei has always been astonishingly short on exciting design hotels. The boutique-hotel savvy Kimpton group saw a gap in the market and transformed a former apartment building into the brand’s first Asian outpost. Shanghai-based architects Neri & Hu were enlisted with the interior design and created a minimalist masterpiece where typical Taiwanese architectural staples (tiled walls, window grills) mingle with arched walkways and a dash of mid-century modern–inspired bits and pieces, like the exposed orb-like bulbs hanging from metal pipes.
What can we expect in our room? Rooms are pared-back but far from basic. Lots of blond wood with deep teal as the statement color, while bathrooms are white-and-steel affairs (save for some of the suites, where you can expect hot spring–like terrazzo to cover the floor and walls). There are other thoughtful touches too, like yoga mats and massage tools, as well as eco-friendly details: toothbrushes, combs, and other single-use items will only be given if you ask for them.
How about the food and drink? Even if you’re not staying overnight, The Tavernist restaurant is worth a visit. Nomadic chef and Noma alum James Sharman has been given free rein over the kitchen and delivers an eclectic and ever-changing menu of dishes inspired by his travels around the globe: think ostrich tartare, scotch eggs, or snail-studded pork terrine. On the same floor, a cocktail bar continues the global theme with playful East-meets-West creations such as a Sichuan peppercorn–spiked sangria and a fresh riff on a whisky sour with black tea foam and scallop powder.
What’s the crowd like? Despite the high-end feel, the hotel is remarkably casual. Everybody’s welcome, even furry friends, as long as they fit through the door. Instagram-snapping young things zip past elderly couples in the lobby and suited-up business bigwigs mingle with socks-in-sandals tourists during the daily social wine hour or free-flowing morning coffee.
Anything to say about the service? The team is genuinely friendly and totally tuned-in. Whether checking in or coming back after a day traipsing around the city, a staff member will be waiting to welcome you back.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Da An is one of Taipei’s most cosmopolitan districts, and you could easily spend a day wandering around its grid of alleys packed with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants ranging from smart dining affairs and sceney drinking dens to local noodle joints. The hotel’s free rental bikes make exploring a breeze.
Anything you’d change? Most rooms are entered through the bathroom. While it’s not a deal-breaker, it does feel a little odd. Also, a swimming pool would be nice in Taipei’s steamy weather.
Is it worth it? Yes. Design junkies will love it, but the warm, switched-on service and restaurant dishing up comfort food from breakfast to dinner are the stand-out reasons to come here.
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Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa, Uttarakhand
Set the scene Tectonic forces set the scene 50 million years ago, when the Indian and Eurasian plates collided, giving rise to what we now know as the Himalayas. And what a scene it is, of forest, hills, river, and distant snow-capped peaks.
What’s the backstory?Rishikesh has been prime Hindu pilgrimage territory for centuries, and is familiar to Westerners wishing to follow in the footsteps of the Beatles, who came here in a blaze of publicity in 1968. Still, this is not a part of India that tends to be at the top of many travelers’ lists, though it should be. This thoughtfully designed hotel, with its rooms peppered across a steep hillside, all facing the Ganges and incorporating local materials and design touches, will do much to help the cause.
What can we expect in our room? A view of the river and the sheer hillside, which is not too shabby for starters. Otherwise, a generously proportioned, well-appointed, entirely spotless space with floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors that open onto a little terrace where macaque monkeys are eager to make your acquaintance.
How about the food and drink? A revelation. The state of Uttarakhand has its own distinctive twist—pulse-heavy and coarsely textured, not zingy and saucy—that is little known elsewhere in India, let alone in the world. Taj Rishikesh provides the perfect introduction to these flavors, both at its main restaurant, Rock Flour, and at its smaller Riverside restaurant, which specializes in what it calls "Gangetic and provincial Himalayan" dishes. If familiarity is needed, by way of pizza or pasta or Punjabi butter chicken, all that is available elsewhere in the hotel too.
What’s the crowd like? A mixture of well-heeled Westerners whose backpacking days are behind them and well-heeled Indians who may have bypassed the backpacking phase altogether. A significant proportion of guests are likely here to take advantage of the Jiva Spa—the largest of Taj’s signature spas, administering the treatments that have made the brand beloved.
Anything to say about the service? What it may, at certain moments during our stay, have lacked in polish, it more than made up for in warmth, enthusiasm, and kindness. We suspect the wrinkles will have been ironed out by now.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? The neighborhood scenery, you mean. Despite its name, the hotel is in fact some distance from Rishikesh, or any other town that might have a neighborhood scene to speak of. Instead, it is surrounded by magnificent forest and steep hills, bisected by the Ganges, which, at this point early in its course, flows fast and cold and pure.
Anything else to add? Do explore Rishikesh. It's no longer the blissed-out sanctuary the Beatles wished it to be, if it ever was, but has its own curious aura of slightly frantic holiness. Also spend time in Devprayag, the town at the confluence of three rivers and the starting point of the mighty Ganges.
Anything you’d change? The hotel offers daily meditation and yoga classes, and guests are invited to attend Ganga Aarti, a moving ceremony that honors the river every day at sunset. Sung prayers are traditionally accompanied by a harmonium; however, the accompaniment comes not from that ancient and wonderful instrument but Bluetooth-enabled portable speakers, which rather kiboshes the romance and grandeur of it all.
Is it worth it? You might say it is a bargain, actually, considering its remote location, its high level of comfort, the excellence of its kitchens and spa, and the absence of anything else even vaguely like it for many a hilly mile in any direction.
Six Senses Punakha Bhutan
Set the scene The Punakha valley landscape is lush and tropical, all forest-covered mountains hidden behind low-lying early-morning mist, terraced rice paddies, and vivid green patchwork hills. This lodge is part of the new Six Senses Bhutan five-strong circuit, a hugely long-awaited addition to the kingdom’s other similarly aligned hotel brands, including COMO and Aman. Now that it’s here, Six Senses fits in as beautifully as expected, and even though the Punakha lodge is technically much larger than the two previously mentioned big-hitters, it still manages to pull off an extremely intimate feel.
What’s the backstory? Six Senses has long been known for its wellness-first approach and culturally considered design, both of which neatly align with the spiritual beliefs of the Bhutanese (they focus on putting other people first, rather than material possessions) and the nation’s Gross National Happiness index. Built in collaboration with Bangkok-based Habita Architects, each lodge takes design cues from its surroundings. In Punakha that translates to a living room and bar (named the Flying Farmhouse and based on nearby traditional farmhouses) cantilevered over the pool, a simple restaurant with a pool-facing terrace, and a spa.
What can we expect in our room? The handful of rooms are split across a series of buttermilk-colored buildings that zigzag up a hill. Birch-white wood reigns; there’s a traditional bukhari stove for chilly nights (it gets surprisingly cold), yellow-cushioned armchairs for lounging, and a private balcony with knockout views down into the emerald valley.
How about the food and drink? There’s a help-yourself fruit station in the restaurant for breakfast plus made-to-order dishes such as lodge-baked granola, pancakes with maple syrup, Bhutanese thup (pork and red rice porridge with Sichuan peppers), or a masala omelette. Supper is a choice of an international or Bhutanese set menu. Word of warning: The food is spicy—even a basic scrambled egg dish is extra punchy.
What’s the crowd like? Intrepid. Keen to get up early and head out to explore. Or wellness-focused spa goers. Backpackers are a rare, if not wholly absent, sight as the country encourages high-value, low-impact tourism.
Anything to say about the service? There’s always somebody on hand with a golf buggy if you can’t face the uphill walk back to your room after dinner, and they always have a tale to tell (and the stories tend to take on an ethereal, fairy-tale quality).
What’s the surrounding area like? The hiking through the rice paddies is out of this world and, apart from the odd farmer or gaggle of children on their way to school, you won’t see another soul. White-water rafting on the Mo Chhu River is hugely fun and the Punakha dzong is particularly impressive.
Anything else to add? A Six Senses guide and driver travel around the lodge circuit with you and will tailor your itinerary on the go—whether that’s eating momos (dumplings) at the best local restaurant or making an impromptu visit to a temple. Their personal anecdotes and spiritual stories make the trip so much more special. Tashi Choden, who was the first female guide when she started 21 years ago, is one of the very best, but she only works part-time now, so cross your fingers and you might just be lucky enough to have her by your side.
Anything you’d change? No. However, the lantern-lit terrace is so pretty in the evening that it’s easy to forget the loveliness of the Flying Farmhouse looming in the dark over the water, which (if you ask nicely) would make a spectacular setting for a romantic supper.
Is it worth it? The Punakha scenery is wildly different to Paro and Thimpu, and the lodge more snug, so this is a real must on a journey around Bhutan.
__Set the scene __ Driving through the grasslands of the western Okavango Delta in the back of a smart LandCruiser, an odd construction comes into view beside the water: the shape and color of a golf-ball, but made of bleached tree-branches. It’s the pool-house, the guide explains. Behind it, poking out of trees, are elevated decks, the shape of lily pads. And scattered among them loom giant thatched treehouses that look part set from Raiders of the Lost Ark, part Balinese temples, with trunks growing through the floors, branches extending through the walls—and, to greet guests in the reception, a full-size model of a giraffe skeleton. This is the latest jewel-in-the-flashy-crown for the safari-masters at Wilderness.
__What’s the back story? __ For decades, Cathy and David Kays, fourth-generation Botswana, have had a camp here, and have turned it, with the help of Wilderness Safaris, into one of Africa’s finest. But, like many lodges, it needed constant repair: thanks to termites, torrential storms, and high winds that regularly roll through. Rather than rebuilding it yet again, in 2019 they took on the renowned South African architects Lesley Carstens and Silvio Rech and spent $11 million creating a 21st-century designer camp that’s as fabulous as it is eco-friendly. Gone are the wood poles and in its place is a steel structure holding up decks made of recycled wood and resin, and thatch that looks authentic, but is in reality recycled plastic that keeps both critters and water out.
__What can we expect in our room? __ Spaces that are more like villas than bush bedrooms. Although Jao now has a pair of two-bedroomed family villas, its five capacious suites, set among trees beside a wooden walkway, are far sexier: curvaceous and open-plan, beneath the soaring faux-thatch roofs. Inside, every piece has been made to order, whether that’s the king-sized bed, swathed in sand-hued linens and elephant-colored nets, the Scandi-style wooden furniture or the lights, with their bulbous handblown glass shades. Even the basics are inventive: basins cast in black steel to resemble the Delta’s lily pads and clothing rails hewn from metal and hung from thick leather straps.
__How about the food and drink? __ Like most swish African safari camps, going hungry here is impossible. There’s plenty of waist-expanding choice: whether that’s fruit salads or creamy scrambled eggs for dawn breakfast, salads and rich dishes such as beef schnitzel with gorgonzola fondue for brunch or a set six-course blow-out at dinner. Tea is a highlight: the table is set out with savory and sweet treats, including enormous cakes adorned with fresh roses. The Kays enjoy their wine, so the list is pretty huge, of both inclusive bottles and (additional) collectors’ items.
__What’s the crowd like? __ Wealthy safari-lovers who want both outstanding plains game—wild dogs, cheetahs, lions, enormous herds of buffalo—and, in wet season, to explore the Delta on the water. Plus, of course, social media stars who want nothing more than to post Instagram selfies: by the nest-like pool house, the lily-pad-shaped swinging chairs, the giraffe skeleton.
__Anything to say about the service? __ Camps like this are miles from anywhere, so their staff often have to spend months together, living like a giant family. Here it’s clearly a happy one, from the jolly barman to the young women who deliver lunch.
__What’s the neighbourhood scene like? __ Jao’s airstrip is a 30-minute flight from Maun, so it’s an easy hop on one of the dozens of flights that nip across the Delta. It’s well-known for its water activities, although poor rains across southern Africa since 2018 have curtailed those here.
__Anything else to add? __ The spa: two nest-like rooms, roofed, like the pool house, in crisscrossed poles, and set within shady trees. The guides: trained by Wilderness Safaris to focus minds not only on the big creatures, but the bigger picture in Africa: from conservation to job-creation for communities. The eco-credentials: power is solar, water filtered using reverse-osmosis and air cooled by energy-efficient Climate Wizard systems—all disguised, as you’d expect from Rech and Carstens, within Conran-esque African interiors
__Is it worth it? __ Yes, if you want to jet in and be sipping fine wine within 30 minutes of landing.
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Singita Volcanoes National Park - Kwitonda Lodge
Set the scene. Preceded in the area by Wilderness Safaris’ tiny Bisate Lodge, and more recently One&Only’s much larger Gorilla’s Nest, Kwitonda is another competitor for those looking for something more close-knit, more intimate. Volcanic-stone pathways meander through lush, flowering meadows and cross rushing streams, linking eight statuesque rooms (villa-sized) to the main lodge. Architecture is boldly scaled, many of the building materials locally sourced—oven-fired red clay bricks, river stones, bamboo and eucalyptus poles. The foundations are steel, rather than concrete, to leave the lightest possible footprint on the land. A sense of mystery pervades, knowing that the mountain gorillas are deep in the mist-shrouded cloud forests of the Volcanoes National Park.
What’s the backstory? Singita’s debut in Rwanda, on the very edge of Volcanoes National Park, makes for a compelling reason to add gorilla-trekking to a classic Serengeti safari. With a well-established network of cleverly curated lodges in the choicest wild places in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, Singita has brought its brand of turbo-luxe design and slick, generous hospitality to Rwanda. Gorilla-trekking has suddenly become very comfortable and accessible, and devotees of the brand, who include Ellen DeGeneres, couldn’t be more pleased. Sustainably built from top to toe, it’s 100 percent aligned to Rwanda’s vision of low-impact, high-yield tourism. Paul Kagame, the president, personally invited Singita to invest here, after all.
What can we expect in our room? Rich, molten lava colors, a mix of textures, and bold design in everything from the armchairs to the chunky, handmade pottery mugs enhance the experience of being ensconced indoors, while floor-to-ceiling, double-glazed glass is a window to the forest. A living room with a stuffed-to-the-rafters pantry—this is no mere mini-bar—leads one way to a covered veranda with an outdoor fireplace and heated pool, the other to a bedroom and bathroom. There’s dozens of touchy-feely details too, such as scented candles, aromatherapy oil burners, woody incense sticks, and organic bath products.
How about the food and drink? Less is more in the mainly plant-based small plates and bowls that seem to flow from the open-plan kitchen with dizzying speed, at any time of the day (food is flexible here, whenever and wherever you want it). There’s also a deli fridge in the lodge bar for snacking with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Dinner may be a velvety cauliflower soup and herb focaccia, fall-off-the-bone lamb and fresh pea risotto, and finally a delicate baked pudding with homemade vanilla-bean ice cream. It’s all scrumptious and paired to Singita’s legendary wine list.
What’s the crowd like? Erudite, very interesting and supremely well travelled—if you ever get to meet them. Gorilla-trekking is an introspective, deeply personal experience, and most guests spend the majority of the day in their room, even eating privately.
Anything to say about the service? Singita’s reputation for informed, proactive service feels reassuringly intact. The Rwandans are generally reserved, though, so if you’re used to the confident, gregarious lodge staff you usually encounter in Kenya or Zimbabwe, they may seem a little shy. It’s fun to sit at the kitchen pass for an informal lunch and chat with the chefs.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? Rwanda is widely considered to be the most accessible and safest destination to see mountain gorillas in East Africa. The business of gorilla-trekking sustains the local community who live on tiny, intensively farmed plots of fertile land. There are several other lodges in the Musanze district, although most are low-key and modest. In the early mornings, guests from all the lodges converge on the national park’s headquarters to sip excellent local coffee while they wait to be assigned to a guide ahead of the day’s trekking. Permits have to be booked well in advance, as a finite number are issued per day. It’s all highly regulated and organized.
Anything else to add? A gear room is kitted out with everything needed ahead of a trek, from weatherproof jackets to gaiters and even thermal undergarments. Families are accommodated in Kataza House, a four-bedroom private villa on the same property. There’s also an on-site tree nursery (part of Singita’s extensive reforestation program) and vegetable gardens.
Anything you’d change? The rooms are well spaced, which means they are extremely private. However, it can be a trek in itself to walk to the main lodge. Being at high altitude can be a bit breath-stealing sometimes, so the less fit should definitely request the closest to keep the commute as short as possible.
Is it worth it? Without a doubt. Gorilla trekking is a pretty unforgettable experience for most, so if you’re going to splurge make sure you’re checking into this lodge – the only one that directly borders the national park.
One&Only Gorilla’s Nest
Set the scene. Tiny Rwanda has gone unapologetically upmarket, with a raft of top-notch lodges and camps making it possible to do a circuit of game driving at Akagera National Park, chimpanzee tracking at Nyungwe Forest, and mountain-gorilla viewing at Volcanoes National Park, on the border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, Gorilla’s Nest is the last of a trio of lodges in the foothills of the country’s Virunga Mountains where the primatologist Dian Fossey worked—the much smaller Bisate from Wilderness Safaris and Kwitonda from Singita are nearby.
What’s the backstory? Known for its beach hotels, One&Only has been building a small portfolio of nature retreats. Gorilla’s Nest is a five-hour drive or short helicopter trip from One&Only’s Nyungwe House, where chimpanzee trekking is the main draw. Guests can now not only tick off both of the great apes with a two-stop trip, but also have plenty of other things to do in between—perhaps mountain biking and archery, or, for something more chilled out, basket weaving and coffee tasting.
What can we expect in our room? The stilted wooden lodges incorporate local volcanic stone in the decor, which mixes a palette of browns with traditional black and white Rwandan imigongo prints (geometric patterns originally created from cow dung). Designed to draw the outside in, some rooms have bath tubs or showers on their wooden decks; others have baths looking onto the greenery that’s so close it almost reaches out to tickle your face. There’s a cosy gas fire too.
How about the food and drink? While the food in all Rwanda’s lodges is impressive, One&Only’s is consistently a cut above the rest. Carrot soup, fresh salad, and chicken may not sound that special, but it’s so fresh it zings with flavor. If you don’t like what’s on the menu, they’ll cook you something different.
What’s the crowd like? It’s all walking boots and rain jackets here. The chatter in the restaurant and the bar is almost wholly gorilla-related: whose foot was stood on by a silverback gorilla; who had to jump out of the way of play-fighting adolescents, and who got the muddiest being helped up the slope by a porter.
Anything to say about the service? After an early start and a long trek, dirty boots are eased off feet and swapped for soft slippers. They emerge later in your room, mud-free and gleaming, along with cleaned rain garments. Staff pride themselves on serving from the heart—and it shows.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? There are primates aplenty in the area, but further down the slopes are traditional Rwandan villages, where locals farm the volcanic-rich soil. Little children wave and call out, while their parents work the soil with hoes and the smell of eucalyptus floats across the air. A steep, sweaty hike leads to Dian Fossey’s tomb and the nearby gorilla cemetery at her Karisoke Research Camp.
Anything else to add? Children of 10 and above can stay in the hotel but they must be 15 to go gorilla trekking or 12 to see the golden monkeys.
Anything you’d change? If you don’t like being in the spotlight, the greeting on arrival, when staff turn out to play drums and sing as guests draw up.
Is it worth it? It’s impossible really to put a value on a gorilla-viewing experience; Gorilla’s Nest offers that with all the five-star trimmings, including a swimming pool and a rather lovely spa.
What's the backstory here? It's an independent hotel, and took several years to come to life because it's the merging of two distinctive adjacent buildings—an Art Deco building and an Edwardian building— that took a long time to restore. I've had my eye on it since before I moved back to the States in 2016 from South Africa, and after many hiccups and delays, I'm excited it's finally here. And I lament the fact that it didn't exist when I lived here, because it's just the kind of original, design-focused, intimate hotel a design-obsessed city like Cape Town needs and deserves, and is the only property taking advantage of the striking architecture and setting of the city's Central Business District (CBD) in a creative, luxurious, chic way.
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? First, some context: I lived in the CBD, a block away from the hotel (I can see my old apartment building from my room's window), and I know the area well and love it. That being said, it can feel dicey after dark, which would not be a problem if you could get dropped off directly at the front door, as you can at the nearby Taj Hotel. But since St. George's Mall, where Gorgeous George is located, is a pedestrian street, the nearest drop-off point by car is half a block away—which, though it's just a matter of a few feet, did not feel optimal when I arrived from the airport at 11 p.m.. Knowing the area, I was prepared for this and called ahead to make sure someone would be able to come meet me at my Uber (they have doormen standing out front who keep an eye out for hotel visitors), but for a guest who might be unfamiliar with the area and arriving at night with lots of luggage (and not thinking they might need to call ahead), it can feel intimidating and is not the best first impression. I'm told they do have plans to have a more visible presence at the nearest curbside though, and they are aware of the concerns. The hotel entrance itself is discreet and easy to miss.
Once inside, though, there's a small reception area, with the standout being a beautiful map of the Cape Town city center done entirely in distinctive blue-and-white ceramic tiles by local artist Lucie de Moyencourt. The staff is friendly and warm. The elevator and floors are dimly lit and cozy, with bold floral carpeting from Moooi Carpets.
Tell us all about the accommodations. There are 32 rooms spread out over four floors, and I'm in 208, a Studio room. It is spacious while still feeling cozy—super-high ceilings with industrial exposed pipes contrasted with warm colors and accents, like a plush burgundy couch, a round blue-and-white rug from Moooi Carpets reminiscent of Delft tiles, sumptuous bedding, and a rich leather headboard. Lucie de Moyencourt's tiles make another appearance in the rooms as the backsplash for the bar, where local wines and Amarula are stocked. There's an array of different light fixtures, all industrial inspired, including a cool pendant lamp suspended from the high ceiling to just above the nightstand. Despite being on the second floor in the center of town, I didn't really feel like noise was an issue, but earplugs are helpfully provided just in case. My view was directly into an office building and a KFC below, but if I looked to the left I could see the action at Greenmarket Square (and if I looked to the right, Adderley Street and my old highrise). The phone was a cute rotary situation and there's a retro-style Marshall radio, and the TV has Netflix included, which was nice.
That said, the bathroom was not optimally designed. It looks great, all gleaming white subway tiles, a fabulous rain shower, and marble topped vanity by famous local designer Gregor Jenkins (he also did the long, narrow desks in the bedrooms). But storage is limited, with not much room on the vanity and no drawers or shelves either by the sink or in the shower to put much of anything. The bath products, made for the hotel by the Scentuary, are lovely, with bright, herbaceous tones.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? Good Wi-Fi is often an issue in South Africa, but at Gorgeous George it's strong and ubiquitous.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There's one restaurant at Gorgeous George: Gigi, the indoor/outdoor rooftop space. Breakfast here is included, and ranges from avocado toasts and omelettes stuffed with pancetta, chili, and feta to decadent pancakes with berries and cream. The space is beautifully done: there's a lounge area with cozy mismatched furniture, lots of old volumes and new design books on the bookshelves, and knickknacks ranging from porcelain parrot-shaped candleholders to a giant buffalo skull. The indoor dining area, next to the wood-paneled bar, has blue-and-white-tiled tabletops that, upon closer inspection, are a whimsical sendup of the traditional Delft tiles found across the city. (Keep an eye out for modern-day vignettes on the tiles, like yoga poses and selfie-taking friends.) The crown jewel is the outdoor area, with a beautiful, if tiny pool, with one half in a covered area painted by artist David Britz, a lit-up sign that says "Hello Gorgeous," colorful green/black/yellow stools, and pots and pots of plants in every corner, giving a nice lush environment while you're surrounded by the city skyline. It's promising to become quite the hangout for Capetonians and visitors alike, especially come summer. If this had been around when I lived next door, I would have been on the rooftop every single day.
And the service? People here are warm and helpful. I especially loved the staff at the restaurant, they're fun and friendly, and everyone I encountered at the front desk had a big smile and was lovely to interact with.
What type of travelers will you find here? My first impression when I first saw the rooftop was that this is Cape Town's Soho House set—a hip, creative crowd that makes the glamorous setting look even more glamorous. It's also a bit more diverse than most places in Cape Town—though definitely not diverse enough, as the numbers while I was there still skewed 90 percent white. The actual hotel guests have to be a bit more savvy than the average tourist to have chosen to stay at a place like this, since most visitors tend to stay at the standard resorts and cookie cutter options at the touristy V&A Waterfront—if you've chosen to stay at a new, small boutique hotel in the heart of the CBD, you have to be cut from a different cloth than most visitors.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? As I've mentioned, I love the CBD, and often lamented that there weren't many great options for travelers to stay here—there's the Taj around the corner, which is nice but more of a business/luxury hotel model, and there are scores of backpackers and more basic options. But true luxury and high-design rooms taking advantage of the striking architecture that prevails in the CBD—it's about time! You're steps from everything here: touristy finds at Greenmarket Square, the rapidly evolving Buitenkant and Harrington streets just a few blocks east, the divey bars of Long Street, the chic boutiques and restaurants of Bree and Loop Streets. And now the rooftop of Gorgeous George itself is becoming a destination for locals popping by for lunch or late night drinks (or the soon-to-start Sunday brunch/DJ vibe), so staying here is a great way to mingle with the who's who of Cape Town.
Is there anything you'd change? As I mentioned, the entrance situation feels iffy, especially if you're unaware of Cape Town and arriving late at night. It sounds like the hotel is very aware of this and has plans to make the arrival more clear-cut and secure, but guests should still be advised when they make a booking that they should call the hotel when they're on the way so the front desk can keep an eye out.
Any other hotel features worth noting? There's no gym, but guests get a pass to go to the Ignite Fitness gym next door, which is huge and fully equipped and great. The rooftop pool is tiny but beautiful—more an Instagram-only kind of spot as opposed to anywhere you'd want to swim laps, but it's really distinctive.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Yes, yes, yes. Finally there's a place to stay in the city's coolest neighborhood that does its architecture and design sensibility justice. No one should stay at the Waterfront again!
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Lekkerwater Beach Lodge at De Hoop
Set the scene. On the longest undeveloped beach you’ve ever clapped eyes on—almost four miles of private cream sand, within a 30-mile-long stretch of pristine coast—is one of the most remote lodges in southern Africa: a string of square, raised clapperboard rooms surrounded by dense fynbos scrubland, empty beaches, and wild seas. The glass-fronted, open-plan living-and-dining-room sits at its heart, with a 16-seater communal dining table, carved from a single tree trunk, and lamplit lounge dotted with books, modern art, and fascinating local bits and pieces, from shells and whale bones to ropes.
What’s the back story? Once a vast private farming estate, the area was procured by the South African government in 1983 for the Department of Defense. A few years later, when they realized they didn’t need it all, they released 34,000 hectares, fringed by 30 miles of coastline, and created a nature reserve. Because it’s 150 miles east of Cape Town and accessible only via dirt roads, it’s a part of the world that was rarely visited. Given its limited stocks of game it didn’t attract many wildlife enthusiasts. And with waters teeming with some of the world’s biggest sharks, it wasn’t a place for swimmers or surfers. What the area did have, the conservationist Colin Bell recognized, was one of the greatest stretches of pristine coastline in southern Africa. He and his three fellow Natural Selection founders were granted a lease to build a low-footprint lodge on the site—and in December 2019 they opened Lekkerwater as a seven-bedroom beach hotel.
What can we expect in our room? The white, wooden-walled, glass-fronted rooms, set along a cliff like a spine of boxy sheds, are hardly architectural marvels. But they’re airy, light, and comfortably furnished—between bamboo ceilings and wooden floors—with a queen-sized bed in crisp blue and white linens, slouchy blue poufs, coir carpets, and modern marine art. Thanks to Natural Selection’s green credentials, the rooms are reassuringly eco-friendly. Walls are built from softwoods and floors from recycled Rhino Wood; water and heating are solar-powered; water, in glass bottles, is pumped from natural boreholes and filtered. A wide balcony fronts the room: a perfect spot to sit with Swarovski binoculars and a bird book.
How about the food & drink? The chef, Marieclaire Day, owned the well-known Barefoot Cook restaurant in Hermanus and her food is proudly South African. It's also as pretty as it is tasty, whether that’s slithers of rare beef with orange honey served on dramatic black ceramics; chunks of Cape cheese and sweetened black figs on wooden boards; or stewed, herbed apricots and cream in mini Kilner jars. Barbecues feature heavily: deliciously smokey boerewors sausage and Malay-spiced fish kebabs—perhaps after a fynbos-scented gin sundowner by a beach bonfire. Her home-made muesli, thick with seeds and cashews, is so deliciously crunchy that most guests beg for the recipe.
What’s the crowd like? Capetonians escaping the city; nature-lovers wanting a blast of sea air and long walks in the dunes. And anyone interested in good South African food and wine. There are few people who know more about local ingredients—and using fynbos herbs—than the chef here. Barbecue fans will flock, too, for giant prawns and lobster, cooked over aged wood, in the sea air.
Anything to say about the service? The lodge is run by a handful of staff—so the chef is as likely to take your bag as the manager. Marieclaire has instilled her kitchen staff with great pride, so they’re thrilled when you praise something. Her husband, Burt, is Lekkerwater’s Mr Fixit, so between them they can sort just about anything, whether that’s bikes to go exploring, nature walks, outings to visit rock pools, or a telescope to star-gaze.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? There isn’t one. This is three hours’ drive from Cape Town and a good hour from the nearest farm town. On the other side of the reserve, there are places to stay—Morukuru hotel and the De Hoop Collection of rental villas. But around Lekkerwater, the only visitors will be an occasional ostrich, eland, or bontebok wandering the hills, or a group of hikers walking the 35-mile Whale Trail.
Anything else to add? The lodge is built on raised decks, so unsafe for children under six. Because the roads are rough, Lekkerwater prefers to collect guests in a 4x4 from a reserve car park and take them the rest of the way. Pick-ups are at 2 p.m. and the park closes at 4 p.m., so this isn’t a place where people just rock up when they feel like it.
Is it worth it? It’s a pretty fabulous wild spot for a digital detox: to wake at dawn, watch whales, then spend the day walking, biking, exploring—or just sitting on a deck, marveling at dolphins’ surfing skills. An honest hideaway that feels like a welcoming family farmhouse by the sea.
The Royal Farmstead at Royal Malewane
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? Modern day Karen Blixen. You arrive down a driveway with a fountain and hanging lanterns and enter into a living room rather than a lobby with bold hued furnishings and modern African art. If you know Liz Biden's work you know you're in her home. It was so refreshingly different than any safari stay I've ever visited. The peacock blue bar pops and the two bartenders were at the ready to mix a fresh G&T with a side of olives and nuts.
What's the backstory? The Farmstead is the intimate sister property to Royal Malewane, part of the Royal Portfolio owned by Liz and Phil Biden. In a pioneering partnership with the local community, the Royal Portfolio built the Farmstead at Royal Malewane and manages the lodge while paying lease fees to the community and employing their members. After 40 years, the community will own the lodge outright. Most hotels in the portfolio were former homes of the Bidens that Liz transformed. The Silo in Cape Town and the Farmstead are new builds.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? I stayed in a Farm Suite. I loved the paintings of neon caricatures from artist Ralph Krall’s series Karoo Ladies that are in the rooms and the canopied beds with floral patterned headboards. The bathrooms are palatial and have clawfoot bathtubs as well as outdoor showers on the decks. The design would have easily fit in in Cape Town but somehow still made sense in the bush.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No, and it was speedy.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? I love the bar area. There's something very glamorous about it. You also have a lovely deck and hanging daybeds that overlook the bush and the barmen bring out G&Ts or lovely South African Chenin. The food is excellent. All meals are included and evening meals are multi-course affairs. The drunk prawns in white wine sauce are a favorite at lunch. The lead tracker is vegetarian so they do a lovely job with vegetarian dishes. Breakfast is a large buffet of granolas and cheeses and meats, but you can also get eggs cooked to order.
And the service? You truly felt like you were in a friend's home and she had staff looking after you. Check-in was fluid—guests are greeted with a cold towel and iced tea. The guides are some of the best in the business and Royal Malewane employs three of only seven living master trackers in the world. Nicola and Bennet were our guide/tracker duo and they blew me away with their knowledge. We even saw a pangolin.
What type of travelers will you find here? Safari fashionistas. They are some combo of Karen Blixen and Finch Hatton meets Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. They talk about the other safaris they have been on, the art they collect, and the design of the space.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? It is set amid 30,000 private acres in Thornybush Game Reserve on the western fringe of the Kruger Park. It is only a 12-minute drive from the sister lodge so you can also have meals and use the spa there.
Is there anything you'd change? Maybe a bigger gym but you can use the facilities of the sister lodge, which I feel makes up for the tiny gym.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The spa room is small, but they bring in therapists they use at the Silo who are excellent. I had a collagen rejuvenation facial and looked years younger after. The office doubles as a shop and they have very cool locally made jewelry and furnishings.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Best safari I've experienced. The trackers made me rethink what a safari should be.
The Oberoi, Marrakech
Set the scene. The Indian family group, known for its intuitive service and up-close palace views of landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, resurrect the refined elegance of La Mamounia’s heyday with this marble-and-zellige-tile retreat, setting a lofty new bar for the upmarket Marrakech scene. It’s up there with the Royal Mansour. What the Oberoi adds is front-row seats to the Atlas, a resident Ayurvedic doctor, and birdsong in rustic gardens designed by Jardin Majorelle director Madison Cox. A transcendental air reigns under 17-foot-high cedar domes, halo arches, and carved paradisiacal foliage. Inside, Berber and Moghul paintings, studded sofas (handmade in Casablanca) and arabesque-tiled fireplaces lend the atmosphere of a grand noble home in which you feel like the family’s personal guest.
What's the back story? It was a labour of love (and pain). For its 33rd hotel, Oberoi partnered with the Casablanca-based Alami group in 2007, which had ambitions to build "the best hotel in Marrakech" on a plot of land it owned. Construction took several years under architect Patrick Collier; the monumental task was made more difficult by a world shortage of Carrara marble due to expansion of the Haram Mosque at Mecca. For the final two years, 250 of Morocco’s best artisans (zellige tilers from Fez, nejjarine carpenters from the Atlas, and craftsmen from Marrakech's Sidi Ghanem) worked solidly.
What can we expect in our room? All rooms and suites have heated pools, butler service, and widescreen Atlas views from baths and wet rooms; it beats Netflix. Seventy-eight are spread in villa clusters in the gardens, and another six housed on the first floor of the palace building like a private theatre box. Saffron and chili Art Deco sofas lift spirits; cedar wood fireplaces emit coziness. Chairs deliver the perfect relaxed posture; towels are placed within an arm’s reach of the shower, room lights are controlled by a central brass switchboard. It’s these exacting details that really count.
How about the food & drink? Meticulous sourcing is conducted for all three restaurants: lamb from the Atlas, spices from Jewish market, Mellah, and vegetables from the hotel’s garden. Chef Jérémy Jouan who worked at Jumeirah's Burj Al Arab oversees Tamimt (which offers both Indian dosas and Moroccan m’semen for breakfast) and Azur, a healthy-eating restaurant by the ink-blue outdoor pool. At Siniman, the Moroccan restaurant, homey pigeon pastillas, eggplant zaalouk, lamb tagines, and argan-oil parfait are paired with tannin-y local wines. Moroccan tapas and classic cocktails are served in the Art Deco bar in all the elegance of a Belle Epoque gentleman’s club.
What's the crowd like? This is not the place for cool-hunters or cavorters; nor subscribers to the more is more philosophy of interior design. Guests are understated Indians, Moroccans, and Oberoi fans in recuperation; appreciators of the finer things in life who notice the quality of nejjarine carpentry, say, and understand that service is absolutely everything.
Anything to say about the service? With its enlightened idea of hospitality as a high art form, the Oberoi delivers some of the best service in the world. Each year, half a million candidates apply to the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development in Delhi with only the most impassioned winning a place. Staff here are a mix of Moroccans handpicked from the high Marrakech scene and long-standing employees: head concierge Samir Atalaoui came from La Mamounia; charming general manager Fabien Gastinel transferred from Dubai. All seem genuinely enthralled to predict your every need. The effect is like floating along all day on a nurturing current of warm rose water. Spontaneous gift giving is not unknown.
What's the neighborhood scene like? It’s just you and the mountains here in this quiet corner, for a 28-acre stretch anyway. If you must venture out, the nearest neighbor isn’t bad either: the Aman’s peachy Amanjena. The calm, collected and spectacularly well-connected Samir arranges cars to Marrakech (15 minutes away) at a moment’s notice where you will skip queues and walk free into museums and gardens at his behest. The same service is offered at the airport.
Anything else to add? The calligraphy engraved on plaster on the palace building reads Eternal Health. And the focus of the spa is deep wellbeing rather than beauty. Secluded in the grounds on a sparrow-skimmed, reeded lake, it is equipped with a gym, indoor pool, hammams, and flying yoga apparatus, and employs a resident Ayurvedic doctor and therapists from the lauded Oberoi Sukhvilas. The hotel boutique is one of the best around with an exquisitely curated selection of ceramics, teas, candles, and kaftans from local designers.
Anything you would change? The Oberoi family have been in business since R.B.M.S Oberoi rose from a desk clerk at the Cecil in Shimla to lease the Grand Hotel in Calcutta in 1939. Today, every single detail in the group’s hotels is personally signed off by his son, 91-year-old Biki, the current chairman. So no, nothing needs changing. They really know what they are doing.
Is it worth it? For nurturing service, privacy and a deep steam-clean of the soul: yes, yes, yes.
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andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? The first impression of this lodge comes from the sky, as you drop down after about 1.5 hours in the air, over craggy canyons and khaki desert, barren save for the occasional leaf-less tree and ribbons of dried riverbed. Landing on the private airstrip (more sand, just with rocks organized to form an extra-long rectangle) the central building looks like a rusted sail, breaking out of the side of the lone hill and point in the direction of the equally burnt orange dunes directly opposite. From the strip, you can barely make out the 11 suites, peppered on either side of the lodge.
What's the backstory? Part of the andBeyond family, this lodge got a nine-month, $3 million rebuild—with only a few walls remaining from the original lodge and suites—to accommodate the dwindling animal population. While others lean into the excitement and energy of traditional safaris and game drives, andBeyond’s lodge leans into the overwhelming quiet of southwestern Namibia, with a focus on relaxing (peppered by adrenaline-pumping ATV rides and dune hikes).
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The lodge has 10 one-bedroom suites and a singular two-bedroom suite. I was in one of the one-beds, which offer floor-to-ceiling, frameless windows that enclose nearly three sides of the suite (including the indoor shower) offering unfettered views of the passing wildlife and sparse flora. The interior decor is subdued, to match the exterior environs, with khakis, browns, and a few pops of black spread across the natural fabrics and furniture. There's plenty of room to spread out when the days get too hot, from chaise lounges alongside your own private plunge pool (kept at a nippy temperature to slow evaporation in the strong sun), to enveloping armchairs inside, pointed out towards the desert. My favorite feature was the turndown service, which includes opening the in-room skylight, offering a view of the Milky Way from bed.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? Wi-Fi is free but restricted to the rooms, so that no rogue guest answering emails in the central lodge building can ratchet up your stress level. Mind you, the Wi-Fi isn’t exactly strong in the rooms either, just enough to send texts and emails—but that's alright by me.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The food was great—if over-portioned. Breakfast involved build-your-own-omelettes and crepes, as well as pastries and a few small entrees. Lunch and dinner ranged from meat-heavy braais (or barbecues) featuring boerewors and gemsbok to steak tartare, with desert-cured egg grated on top. While meat-heavy, there were enough of salad options for vegetarians to make do. The best meal for us was cooked out in Deadvlei by our guide Dawid, who popped out a table cloth and full dining set-up from the back of his truck after we hiked the dunes in Sossusvlei. All meals are included.
And the service? Because there are only around 24 guests at any given time, service is personal and focused. You'll have the same housekeeper, guide (shoutout to Dawid!), and waiter throughout your stay, which makes creating a routine in such a foreign environment easy. At each meal, the lodge’s activities manager Vernon Swanepoel will stop by your table to check in on what you want to do that day, as there’s no set schedule for guests. Instead, the choose your own adventure-style menu has opportunities for e-biking around the lodge’s 12-mile path, hiking up to rock paintings in surrounding caves, driving quad-bikes over the dunes, or taking a sunset nature drive through the reserve. He is also on hand each night in the lodge's on-site observatory to answer interstellar questions.
What type of travelers will you find here? I visited just a few days after the lodge had reopened, so guests included a mix of American honeymooners, German retirees, Hong Kong vacationers, and travel specialists scouting the space for their own guests. Since it's a choose-your-own-adventure style lodge, you won't be spending your time with other guests like you would on a traditional safari drive scenario. Instead, we spent maybe two afternoons with other guests—the rest of the activities were on our own. (With that in mind, I would not suggest it as heartily for solo travelers as I would other safari lodges.)
Any other hotel features worth noting? While you'll be treated to plenty of sundowners, you can imbibe in your room, too, thanks to the fully stocked, full-sized bar filled with Namibian gins, South African rums, Amarula, wines, and more. Take advantage!
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? The lodge’s stark surroundings, filled with seemingly endless valleys and mountain-sized, five-million-year-old burnt orange sand dunes, is a playground for extreme outdoor adventure—while also offering ultimate relaxation and detachment from the outside world. It's a beautiful combo in a jaw-dropping setting. You can't ask for more.
Anantara Tozeur Resort
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? The first thing I noticed was how hard it seemed to be trying not to attract attention: The earth-toned resort rises from the sands that surround it like, well, a mirage, and it took a moment as we were approaching for me to realize exactly where it was. It's the perfect setting for a desert hotel, seamlessly blending into its surrounds. That being said, I was surprised by the proximity—it's a five minute drive from the bustling town of Tozeur, but it feels like it's far removed. Once I got out of the car, exhausted after a seven-hour drive (there are quick flights from Tunis to an airport 15 minutes away that most guests would use, I just wanted to see more of the country so I requested a car transfer), the grand lobby, with a soaring ceiling, marble floors and pillars, a water feature, and soothing neutral tones, was immediately calming. When you cross through the lobby to the back where a golf cart awaits to take you to your room, you get a great view of the hotel grounds—it looks like a little oasis of its own, with palm trees, swimming pools, and a village of standalone suites.
What's the backstory? It's part of the global Anantara brand, known for luxurious spa-focused resorts all over the world, often in remote, stunning settings like this one. It's the brand's first hotel in Tunisia and one of the biggest luxury openings the country has ever seen, following the 2017 opening of the Four Seasons Tunis. In the days I was in Tunis leading up to my visit, anyone I told about my upcoming visit, most of whom were not related to hospitality in any way, always responded with widened eyes and amazement—this opening is big news in the country. It's also the most luxurious option by a long shot for anyone wanting to visit the Sahara—and given the number of movies that are shot in the area (the abandoned set of the original Star Wars' planet Tatooine is now a major tourist attraction an hour and a half away), you can expect visiting celebrities to be staying here when they're in the area.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? I stayed in a one-bedroom pool villa on the outer edge of the resort, which meant I had an uninterrupted view toward the Chott el Jerid salt pan, the largest salt lake in the Sahara. It was, in true Anantara style, beautifully done—a spacious, comfortable living area, a massive bedroom with a comfortable bed, a separate dressing room, a large bathroom with a standalone tub, and an outdoor shower. Everything was in a neutral earthy color palette, with locally woven kilim rugs and wooden furniture to accent it. The main draw was the outdoor area, which featured a wide patio with lounge chairs and a private pool. The TV, Wi-Fi, and iPhone dock were all straightforward, but full disclosure, I was there a few days before opening and there were definitely little kinks in getting the room ready—no trash can anywhere, for instance, or tissue boxes. But I would write that off to flustered housekeeping. Anantara trains local staff and many of them haven't worked in luxury resorts before.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? It's included, and it was good.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There are multiple dining options: Sarab, the all-day dining restaurant, with buffet style food for all meals; Mekong, the Southeast Asian restaurant that's a staple in the Anantara brand; Arabian Nights, an alfresco dining experience in a special pavilion set apart from the main resort, with live music; and poolside and a lobby bars. They also offer Anantara's Dining by Design, which are personalized dinners in picturesque outdoor settings, either somewhere on property, as mine was, or out in the desert. When I was there, Mekong and Arabian Nights weren't fully functioning (though the spaces were completely finished and I dined inside Mekong one day—the chef wasn't there yet so the Southeast Asian menu wasn't ready). Breakfast in Sarab every morning was excellent, a big array of your usual pastries, eggs, yogurts, fruits, charcuterie, and waffles, but also delicious local specialties like shakshouka. And the harissa is amazing, and a staple at every meal. I was primarily eating Tunisian cuisine here—one night they made delicious seafood jarra, cooked in a clay pot that's sealed and placed in a fire and then cracked open, and they even made elevated versions of local street food classics like brik and lablabi.
And the service? Since I was there just before opening, and they've been training local staff for most of the roles, I was expecting it to be a bit rusty. At times it was—as evidenced by the housekeeping hiccups I mentioned before. For the most part, though, I found the staff endearingly earnest and trying almost too hard to anticipate every request and be standing by at all times. Ragab in dining in particular was one of my favorite people ever. They will work out the right balance of attentiveness over time.
What type of travelers will you find here? There were no other guests when I was there, just friends of the management who were there to help them figure out the kinks as they were doing a major grand opening ceremony five days after I left. So I can't speak from experience, but I imagine there will be a mix of intrepid globe-trotters as well as a lot of the well-heeled Tunisians who've been very curious about the hotel.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? Tozeur is one of the gateway cities to the Sahara, and so it's a busy little town with lots of low-budget restaurants and hotels. If you're the standard Anantara guest, you likely won't find much you'd want to do nearby in terms of restaurants and nightlife. The Tozeur medina (old city) and surrounding palm grove are can't-miss landmarks. The 14th-century medina is known for its distinctive brickwork, which has been replicated in the Anantara buildings, and the palmery is a beautiful and scenic place for a walk (or a horseback ride, as the hotel arranged for me)
Any other hotel features worth noting? There are three pools (adults only, family, and kids), a great gym and yoga studio, tennis court, and kids club. Since this is Anantara, there's also a massive spa with its own hammam. Unfortunately the spa wasn't open yet (it was finished and I got a tour—it's beautiful), but they will be having both Asian and locally inspired treatments. There's also the Arabian Nights pavilion—it's an outdoor dining area with live music and performances every night, but the really cool aspect is that it also has its own souk, which will be carrying fashion, accessories, and housewares from Tunisian artisans and contemporary designers.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Definitely. Tunisia is a stunning and remarkably diverse country that's been off the travel map for far too long, and hopefully an opening like this will make people sit up and take notice.
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? Sonop caught my attention by being nearly invisible. The tents blend almost perfectly into the massive pile of boulders on which they're constructed, so after driving for five hours through the desert, I felt like I was just looking at more desert. I like the humility in not needing to make the hotel special from the outside, just the inside. You're first met at a reception outbuilding and then driven in a Land Rover to the boulder pile, transferred to an electric golf cart, and driven up a steep, winding path to a welcome area strewn with rugs, overlooking the vast desert.
What's the backstory? Sonop is the fifth hotel opened by Zannier Hotels, their second in Namibia after Omaanda. A sixth hotel, in Vietnam, was slated to open this summer. Zannier Hotels is owned by Arnaud Zannier, who's the scion of a French business family known mostly for apparel and vineyards. All the Zannier hotels are decorated by Geraldine Dohogne. Angelina Jolie was the first guest at the Zannier resort in Cambodia, Phum Baitang, when she and her family took it over for five months, and she suggested to Arnaud that he visit Namibia. So, she's indirectly responsible for the existence of Sonop.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? My room was a very large canvas tent with large mesh windows overlooking the desert. It was decorated in a distinctly colonial style—there was an actual pith helmet, among other antiques—that read as warm and luxurious. The bathroom had a beautiful claw foot tub that I couldn't bring myself to use because of a severe drought. The hotel is run on solar, so some amenities are pleasantly old school, like the actual ice chest that was kept supplied with cold drinks. The bed was a dramatic four poster and very comfortable. I wouldn't mind trying a different tent, though they are all separated from the dining area by winding staircases, so I'd stick to the higher ones.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? There was no charge, and it was quite good given the remoteness of the location.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? When I went during the soft open, they were still figuring out the food. The local staff were still being trained, so the bartenders were a bit slow, but diligent in a winning way. The bar tent and the pool were spectacular locations for a cocktail. The dinner was communal and multi-course, though not every guest was loving that, so I suspect the model may shift. Breakfast was included, and the local jams and fresh pastries were particularly delicious. Lunch was also included (it would be an epic journey to eat anywhere else) and was family style, with several small dishes.
And the service? Almost everything went smoothly, and hiccups were due to the staff still being trained. The general manager, Brian Gardiner, was a delight, so kind and thoughtful, and obviously invested in his staff and the property. When I arrived, I was in the middle of an aura migraine, and he understood immediately and hustled me to my tent, rejiggered the itinerary, and didn't make me feel weird for being incapacitated. They seemed very able to organize special excursions—I know there's a hot air balloon breakfast on offer, for example. Brian had a movie screen set up by the pool one night at sunset for me to watch Casablanca, and I thought it would be cheesy, but it was magical.
What type of travelers will you find here? They are affluent and a little Bohemian. They were probably brought to the lodge by privately chartered bush plane and are bopping around Africa by air. They are very well traveled. Their tastes run toward the nostalgic, and they are focused on landscapes.
Is there anything you'd change? Just note that the layout of the hotel is challenging for anyone who's not good with stairs and impossible for anyone with true mobility issues.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The pool is so very spectacular. It's an infinity edge at the bottom of the hill on which the hotel is built, and you can lie in the warm breeze on these amazing giant beanbags under umbrellas, enjoying snacks and a beverage, surrounded by the awe-inspiring landscape, and watch the oryx and springbok pass by. It had that pleasant tension of luxury in a very harsh place.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? Yes, but not for everyone. It takes work to get there, and there's not a ton to do. The point is to soak up the place. If you look at photos of the setting and are filled with longing, then it's for you.
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Mount Mulligan Lodge
Set the scene Set in the shadow of Mount Mulligan–a sandstone monolith 10 times the size of Uluru–on a 70,000 acre working cattle station in remote Far North Queensland, it’s the sort of place that inspires outback fantasies.
What’s the backstory? This is the third lodge and the missing link for the Northern Escape Collection, a family-owned group that owns high-end lodges in Queensland’s most coveted natural corners: rainforest (Daintree Ecolodge), reef (Orpheus Island Lodge), and now the outback. It may feel like being in the middle of a vast nothingness, but there’s significant history etched into this rambling patch of landscape. It has been occupied for some 37,000 years, and the Mount Mulligan township, which boomed on the back of the gold and coal rush in the 1920s, is now a relic town. The few hundred locals dispersed when the mine shut in 1957, but the bones of a few buildings remain as a reminder of a once working community. Mount Mulligan Lodge opened in 2019 and is now in its new pastoral era as a cattle station and beautiful lodge allowing guests to partake in the going ons of a working farm.
What can we expect in our room? All eight bedrooms, spread across four pavilions, offer a super-preened take on the quintessential Australian farmhouse, with iron roofs and timber verandas. Inside, it’s modern and handsome with chestnut tones and dark green timber finishes, butter-soft leather and generous brass and stone bathrooms. The sliding doors lead to private decks with deep corrugated iron bathtubs that look like old abandoned water tanks, overlooking the eucalyptus-fringed weir and beyond to Mount Mulligan. Each room gets its own electric buggy to whizz around the property. There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms and that is intentional—this is meant to be a switched-off experience—though digital diehards can wander to the main pavilion to connect.
How about the food and drink? Everything is included and emphasis is placed on local ingredients with 80 percent of the produce from the region and lots of wonderful Australian ingredients like wattle seed, finger limes, kangaroo, and even Vegemite on the menu. For supper, guests can choose to dine under the stars, by campfire or in the main pavilion. There’s also a huge variety of mostly Australian wine and spirits. If you choose to do excursions during the day, there will be picnics with homemade scones, jams, and just-warmed pastries.
What’s the crowd like? With a maximum of 16 guests at one time, you may not see any other people. It’s not unusual for visitors to be doing two if not all three lodges in the Northern Escape Collection and you might even find that some have flown in on their own helicopter.
What’s the neighborhood scene like? It sort of goes without saying that there isn’t one, but oh, the surroundings. They root you so firmly in your destination, the almost incalculable miles of eucalyptus forest… It’s a little head-spinning in fact, the sheer expanse of burnt-orange sandstone mixed with the endless scrubby green trees can feel a little overwhelming at first, but you quickly get used to the cosmos-like space. The difficult part is coming home, anywhere else feels slightly suffocating after a spell in the outback. Prepare for your street to look like toy-town in comparison.
Anything to say about the service? Multi-talented. The small team is hands-on and are part ranger, part concierge, and part waitstaff. You can be on a cattle muster and served canapes by the same person on the same day. The staff all live on site so this is a lifestyle, not simply a day job, and you can feel that energy with everything they do.
Anything else to add? Activities like cattle mustering, fishing, hiking, four-wheel driving, and scenic helicopter flights may be the draw card, but don’t miss spending a couple of hours by the pool doing nothing.
Anything you’d change? A spa would be a welcome addition.
Is it worth it? Yes. The Australian outback is hard to reach and few people have traveled it, so it feels like a privilege.
Castle Hot Springs
What was it like to arrive at this hotel? The final 10 miles of the 50-mile drive north from the Phoenix airport to Castle Hot Springs follows a dusty, boulder-filled road that, when the summer monsoons rip through, can go from sandy way to rushing river in minutes. It's like you've landed on the set of a John Wayne movie. There are wild burros on the side of the dirt road—descendants of donkeys set loose in the 1890s after the gold and copper mines in the Bradshaw Mountains went bust. There are steep canyons dense with Saguaro, a cactus that only grows in the Sonoran Desert and whose individualized arm positions make it impossible not to anthropomorphize (there’s a disco dancer, that one’s doing King Tut). The driveway into the resort is lined with every imaginable type of citrus tree and seeing the main lodge—a lemon yellow, almost victorian-feeling building—you can't help but feel like you've gone back in time to some sort of dessert oasis, a respite for passengers traveling by stage coach. A closer look reveals modern, mid-century-esque bungalows. There is an overwhelming sense of being far, far away. Of slowing down. Of going back in time.
What's the backstory? This place has a wild backstory. The hotel first opened in 1896, as Arizona’s first wellness retreat. Before that, the indigenous Yavapati journeyed here to bathe in the property’s mineral-rich hot springs. And in the early 20th century, America's industrial elite, the Roosevelts, Wrigleys, and Astors wintered here, taking the waters, horseback riding, and sun bathing. After WWII, the U.S. Government leased the property and turned it into a convalescent retreat for wounded soldiers. JFK spent time here recovering. It then went back to being a resort for wealthy sun seekers and it would have kept on as such if a fire hadn’t shuttered the resort in 1976, leaving the springs for trespassing, skinny-dipping teens. Now, fifty years since it saw its last paying guests, a local Phoenix couple has reopened the hotel.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? The majority of the rooms are free standing bungalows or cottages. Mine was by a little hot spring-fed creek that runs from the source through the property (and also fills the swimming pool). The cottages have a mid-century feel and each have indoor and outdoor fireplaces and a smart nouveau-southwest look. Many have outdoor soaking tubs with hot and cold handles, and then a special faucet that delivers water directly from the hot springs for an ultra-private soak. I would definitely come back to this room—it felt totally private, but also right between the main lodge, where the bar and restaurant and lobby are, and the hot springs.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No charge for Wi-fi. There is Wi-Fi in the main lodge area, but not it's strong throughout the property, which is intentional. The hotel is hoping people disconnect while they're here.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The restaurant Harvest is fantastic and led by chef Christopher Brugman (young, energetic, was on the show Chopped). He's very into foraging and using what the onsite farm grows in inventive ways, and pickling or fermenting any unused produce. He works closely with the farm team and they have created a really cool, interactive farm to table program. The property is putting up a new building near the farm where there will be cooking classes and other immersive food/farm experiences. The farm team leads fabulous tours where they walk guests around and let them taste the different vegetables and herbs they are growing.
And the service? The staff is friendly and easy going. You are really in the middle of nowhere, so most of the staff lives in nearby housing. There is almost a summer camp feel among them, and many do more than one job. It's the sort of chat-while-you-drink place and a bartender will likely be experimenting while talking to you and pouring you a little sample of their work in progress. There are a few characters—the cowboy who leads horseback rides through the canyon (straight from central casting, but totally legit), or the guide who takes you hiking into the dessert who knows how to survive on cactus and insects and also feels the presence of Navajo ghosts.
What type of travelers will you find here? Well off professional Phoenicians, late-30s and older. Sun-kissed, fit, no strangers to long hikes through the dessert but who appreciate good food and wine.
What about the area? What else is here? There is absolutely nothing around. It is the antithesis of the hotel scene in Scottsdale, where day drinking on rafts in huge swimming pools, golf courses, and afternoon shopping trips rule the day.
Is there anything you'd change? Nope. I loved it.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The hot springs are really, really special. They are simple pools carved from the rock and flow right back into the canyon. There are lovely lounging areas with showers and water and towels. The play is to go late at night. It's about a 5 minute walk from most bungalows and is lit just enough that you can see where you're walking, but it's not at all bright. You're likely to have the pools to yourself and you just float and look up at the stars (there's no light pollution) and breathe in the desert night air.
Bottom line: Worth it? So worth it. Cannot wait to go back. It's wellness without feeling wellness and the natural setting is magnificent.
Rosewood Miramar Beach
Why did this hotel catch your attention? What's the vibe? With rows of white roses and trim boxwood and clapboard cottages that look so pristine they surely must be touched up with fresh paint nightly, I felt like I had landed on Wisteria Lane on the set of Desperate Housewives (in a great way and without the drama) or some manicured neighborhood in Cape Cod than at a hotel in Central Coast California. It’s a delightfully unexpected departure from the haute hacienda architecture and sprawling Cal-Med gardens of lemon trees and prickly pear that dominate Montecito, the tony town just south of Santa Barbara. It felt a bit like going back in time when people dressed for steak and martini dinners, when kids were thrilled with an ice cream cone and an afternoon at the pool or the beach. It definitely has a throw back vibe, but it's not at all stuck in time.
What's the backstory? The former Miramar Hotel occupied these 16 acres of prized oceanfront property from 1889 until it closed for renovations in 2000. The hotel sat half-demolished for years, jumping between owners—hotelier Ian Shraeger followed by Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner—its renovation plans stalled by red tape. It took SoCal billionaire-developer Rick Caruso and Hong Kong-based Rosewood Hotel Group to push the project through.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? I stayed in a Bungalow Queen room. The property is sort of divided into areas. There's the main building, one of the restaurants, the lobby, spa, Goop boutique, and a few rooms. Then there are the bungalows that are scattered around the gardens and the pool areas. Train tracks separate these two areas from the beachfront zone, which has a bar, restaurant, and ocean facing rooms. I loved being close to the pool and sitting outside on my little brick patio; however, one of the Beach House Suites, which are a little bit bigger and have ocean-facing terraces, might be what I'd chose if I were return. The vibe of the rooms is more swank than comfortable (although the beds, linens, and robes are quite plush and coddling): lots of white, subtle beachy tones (soft blues, sand, gray), bathrooms are done up in sleek white and black and are very chic. The gardens, pools, beaches, on-property restaurants and bars and the nearby town of Montecito are so lovely and the weather predictably perfect—you don't really come here to hang out in your room.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No charge. Wi-Fi is strong and easy to access.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The f&b game is sort of a dream come true. There's an outpost of Malibu Farm, which is great for veg-forward, locally sourced everything and the best for breakfast and lunch. There's also Scoop Shop at the family-friendly pool that serves up fountain drinks, ice cream cones, and burgers. A liveried crossing guard escorts you across the railroad tracks that separate the main property from the beach and the hotel’s Pacific-facing Miramar Beach Bar, which looks a bit like a ship with polished teak and shuffleboard courts and is absolutely where you want to be for a sunset cocktail. Also overlooking the water is Caruso’s, where the Michelin-starred chef (who hails from Harry’s Bar in Rome) takes on Italian classics with modern flair. Caruso's is wonderfully old school—there's an enforced dress code, white leather chairs, lots of dark wood, strong drinks, and tuxedoed waiters. If it weren't for very on-trend touches like chardonnay pickled fennel, you might think you're on the Amalfi coast in the early '60s trying to glimpse Sophia Loren at the next table over.
And the service? So slick. So professional and attentive and low profile. Rosewood at its best.
What type of travelers will you find here? You're going to see a celebrity and you're going to play it cool, it's that kind of place. Maybe a Baldwin brother or Sophia Vergara (we did actually see her at dinner), or aging directors who you might not recognize but seem to emanate power. Well dressed parents (Zimmerman dresses, Izods...) with kids in Bon Point.
What about the area? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? This stretch of California is about as tony as it gets and the hotel fits right in. The beach out front, Miramar, is one of the loveliest in Central Coast. The town of Montecito is beautiful, if not a tad Stepford-esque. The number of celebrities that own houses here or in nearby Santa Barbara is sky-high. While Montecito feels white and wealthy, Santa Barbara (about five miles north) feels more like a real life town with UC Santa Barbara, a historic downtown, the newly reinvigorated Funk Zone (terrible name, but it's got some cute new-ish restaurants and hotels, like the Martyn Lawrence Bullard-designed Hotel Californian).
Is there anything you'd change? No. It is just lovely.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The pools are lovely, but the wide, sandy beach out front is one of the most beautiful in the area; a beach butler sets up umbrellas and chairs and can hook guests up with boogie boards and just about any beach game imaginable.
Bottom line: Worth it? Yes. For most of us, it would be a splurge, but it's definitely the type of place you'd go to celebrate some major life moment or if you really wanted to indulge.
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1 Hotel West Hollywood
Why did this hotel catch your attention? It'll take a second for your Uber to find the right pull-in for the 1 Hotel: It's on a busy Sunset Boulevard corner, and its concrete exterior decorated with sprawling lush plants are easy to miss compared to the surrounding sparkling billboards. It makes sense then that you feel as if you've stepped far from L.A. when you walk into the lower-level lobby, with exposed wood beams on the ceiling, natural-toned fabrics on the couches and chairs and the lobby bar, and, yes, even more plants. (Most of the timber, from the ceiling beams to the benches to the planters was felled by Angel City Lumber in a 26-mile radius of the hotel.)
What's the story behind the space? Besides good looks, the hotel's natural, leafy decor serves a greater purpose. (Be sure to check out the petrified moss Hollywood sign mural.) The WeHo location is 1 Hotel's first West Coast outpost—and it maintains all of the brand's sustainable initiatives. It's a floor-to-roof mission: from the carpets made of repurposed ocean plastics up to the chef's rooftop garden of herbs and veggies. Recycled materials abound, including items as small as hangers and room keys.
How about the room itself—given the choice, what should we book? I would recommend any of the Skyline rooms for the view alone or splash out on the 1,297-square-foot Panoramic Two-Bedroom suite, which offers views of both the skyline and the eight-story rope art between the hotel's two towers.
I booked into a Skyline King and, boy, did it have a great view of downtown L.A. With floor-to-ceiling windows, fronted by a comfy natural fiber couch, I barely wanted to leave my room. The wood-heavy decor extended into the space, too, with a wooden headboard, bench that I used as a luggage rack, and large armoire with hanging space and shelves (and a pair of complimentary cream socks to add to the cozy, slightly hygge vibe). As with all 1 Hotel rooms, mine had plants, this time hung above the bed. I'm still trying to figure out where I can find the floor mirror to install in my own home.
The bathrooms were modern with a counter free of tchotchkes and mini toiletries. Instead, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and the like are in less wasteful large, refillable bottles.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? The Wi-Fi is free and works well. Don't believe me? Visit the lobby area, with its couches, armchairs, and bar area in the middle of the day, and you'll find plenty of Angelenos diligently taking advantage of the service, taking meetings and writing their next screenplays.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? You have four options when you're here: the main 1 Kitchen by Top Chef Chris Crary, the lobby bar Juniper, the lunch-friendly Alice, and then Harriet's Rooftop, an indoor-outdoor joint with panoramic views of the city. You'll likely eat at 1 Kitchen the most (it's where breakfast is served each morning, which isn't included in your room rate), but don't miss out on the scene—and view—at Harriet's during your stay.
And how was the service? It was seamless and friendly, from the front desk for bag drop-off before our rooms were ready and check-in to the clerks at the hotel's chic gift shop. 1 Hotel also uses its app for most communication, in-room dining, and check-out, which, with a few taps was complete and we could whisk out the door to LAX.
What about the neighborhood? Is there much to do nearby? I was zipping all over the place on this trip, from Los Feliz to downtown to Bel-Air and back. Sure, it was an Uber drive to get anywhere I needed to go—but it's L.A., so being smack in the middle of West Hollywood meant it wasn't that long of a drive, even with traffic.
Any other hotel features worth noting? Two things: First, if you're keen on staying active while staying here, you have plenty of options. There are complimentary classes in the gym, trainers you can book, and even pet-friendly free canyon runs. Second, the hotel prioritizes accessibility, evident in the adaptive lift at the rooftop pool and roll-in showers. Many of the rooms are accessible on their own, but if this is a concern for you, call ahead so you get put it one that's best fit for your needs.
Bottom line: Worth it? You can travel sustainably without even noticing you're doing it. And that is always worth it.
The Prospect Hollywood
What were your first impressions on arrival? Walking into the oversize, London-style red front door at Prospect, you’re transported into what feels more like a luxury apartment stay than a hotel. Diptyque Philosykos gently wafts through the diminutive lobby adorned with emerald green walls, jewel toned curtains, and golden palm sconces. (The lobby doubles as a private cocktail bar.)
What's the backstory? Originally built in 1930s, the Prospect has maintained its historic facade, adding modern, high contrast touches like lacquer four poster beds and lively wallpapers by British designer Martin Lawrence Bullard. A former actor himself, Bullard is sought after by celebrities for his eclectic, over-the-top style. He recently designed The Sands Hotel in Indian Wells and the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, both of which also draw on their local history for inspiration as well.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? Each of the 24 rooms is themed off Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, and Steve McQueen, and during Oscars weekend filmmakers made it a home base, channeling the energy of stars past. Timeless touches are added throughout, including framed vintage Academy Award invitations in the Monroe suite and a gilded mini bar stocked with Spiegelau crystal glassware. Sipping champagne while soaking in the clawfoot tub, you’ll definitely feel that old school Hollywood magic.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No Wi-Fi charge, and it's solid.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? There's no official food and drink program as yet, but eventually the lobby will have a full service bar. In the meantime, the mini bar is stocked with smart, local nibbles to tide you over until your dinner at Musso & Frank down the street. And don't forget that complimentary Tartine brekkie in the morning.
And the service? Being a low-volume hotel, the service is personal and attentive.
What type of travelers will you find here? You'll be staying with screenwriters and set designers—folks in town to do real Hollywood business who don't want to sacrifice style.
What about the neighborhood? What else is nearby? The Hollywood area gets a bit of a bad rap for being overrun with seedy nightclub promoters and overly sunblocked tourists traipsing the Walk of Fame. But the newly minted hotel, located just off the Boulevard, beckons a bygone era of old Hollywood with regency-style glam. It’s part of a larger movement to bring back the class to the nabe, with local restaurants like APL (Adam Perry Lang's steakhouse) drawing on the staying power of places like Musso & Frank and the Pantages.
Is there anything you'd change? Only thing we wished is that there was a pool in the backyard area to complete that Hollywood dream home vibe. We're California water babies after all. But guests do have access to the nearby Equinox, which does have an indoor lap pool.
Any other hotel features worth noting? The property is incredibly pooch-friendly, with luxe beds, treats, and even fancy Italian water for doggie's bowl.
Bottom line: Worth it? Why? It's absolutely worth a spend if you're into old-world regency style.
Why did this hotel catch your attention? Drawing inspiration from the Angeleno artists' community that set the scene for Downtown LA, SoHo Warehouse puts a major emphasis on the art displayed, with pieces from names like Fairey, Brian Bress, and more.
What's the backstory? The SoHo House has become the gold standard when it comes to exclusive, modern day members only clubs, and this is their first hotel in the London-based brand's West Coast portfolio, which also includes LA locations in West Hollywood and Malibu.
Tell us all about the accommodations. The 48-room property, inspired by the deco period, has options ranging from Cosy to Medium, Big and Large, with the latter boasting soaking tubs, sky high ceilings and room to entertain. Each has a very home-away-from-home feel, with jewel tones, and warm velvet accents that ease the eye after a day's work.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? That's kind of the wrong question. There's a steep membership fee just to be able to stay here. But you don't pay for the Wi-Fi per se.
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? The bar/restaurant called House Kitchen is located on the lush rooftop terrace, and includes the greatest hits from the other SoHo properties, with a menu that's focussed on elevated American comfort food like burgers, mac n cheese, and wood-fired pizzas.
And the service? Service is thoughtful and high touch, and you'll feel just as important as any of the A-Listers that make this space their own.
What type of travelers will you find here? Unassuming elite. There's a suggested no-suit rule at SoHo, and everyone seems impossibly cool and equally as important. You just never know who you might be rubbing elbows with.
What about the neighborhood? Does the hotel fit in, make itself part of the scene? With the emphasis on art and the nods to the local Arts District history, this definitely fits into what Downtown LA has been developed into as late, with other hotels like The Nomad, Proper, and the Hoxton also opening within recent years.
Any other hotel features worth noting? You don't want to miss out on the opportunity to utilize your access to the members-only Soho Warehouse public spaces, typically reserved for members only. And don't skip on the gym, in and of itself a design and art haven worth noting.
Bottom line: Worth it? Absolutely, a small price to pay to be in the thick of one of the city's most exciting neighborhoods, and with the access to the club, it's well worth the price.
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Santa Monica Proper Hotel
Why did this hotel catch your attention? The effortlessly chic lobby lounge sets the stage for a warm welcome, (or, TBH, an impromptu Instagram shoot), with its laid back beachy aesthetic (indoor palm trees included) and a sandy, neutral color palette courtesy of famed Angeleno interior designer Kelly Wearstler.
What's the backstory? Former Viceroy Hotel Group founders Brad Korzen, Brian De Lowe, and Alex Samek have been on a tear recently, expanding the lifestyle-driven boutique hotel brand Proper to San Francisco, Austin, and Santa Monica, with an outpost in Downtown Los Angeles expected to open across from the Hoxton this summer, and a property in Portland coming down the pike in 2021. Their Santa Monica hotel is just blocks from the beach, and couldn’t possibly be any more California cool.
Tell us all about the accommodations. Any tips on what to book? Wearstler's signature flair for mixing and matching wallpapers, textures, and eclectic pieces from around the globe is apparent in both wings of the hotel—old and new—which each have their own distinct but equally beautiful style. Beds are a dream to sleep on, and the oversize tubs make the space totally staycation-worthy.
Is there a charge for Wi-Fi? No charge, the perfect place to work
Drinking and dining—what are we looking at? After you’ve had your sundowners on the rooftop, there’s thankfully no need to cross the 405 for serious dining. The hotel’s restaurant Onda, a collaboration between Jessica Koslow (of L.A.’s iconic breakfast spot Sqirl) and Gabriela Camara (of Mexico City’sContramar and San Francisco’sCala) embodies LA’s Cali-meets-Mexico ethos. The menu is expansive and quite creative, but you don’t want to miss their signature dish, an “inside out” turkey quesadilla, done with al pastor flavors and the burnt herb hoja santa. Don't skip on their breakfast offerings either, where Koslow's cooking really shines.
And the service? Service is smooth and efficient without feeling overwrought.
What type of travelers will you find here? The bohemian jetset of Ibiza goes West.
Does the hotel fit into the neighborhood? The property couldn't possibly be more SoCal, with locals taking meetings in the lobby and first dates up on the rooftop to prove it.
Is there anything you'd change? Only wish is that I lived on the Westside. #goals
Any other hotel features worth noting? Though the 3,000-square-foot on-site Surya Ayurvedic spa isn’t set to open til later in 2020, you can still get a treatment from Martha Soffer—a doctor, chef, and herbalist frequented by the likes of Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow — at her home. Think four-handed therapeutic massages, steam and oil treatments, cooking, yoga, and meditation, all centered around the ancient Indian form of healing.