A holiday bucket list is pretty much the go-to, but I can never bring myself to whittle down my most-wanted destinations; there is nowhere I wouldn’t be thrilled to discover (after years of turning up my nose at cold-weather destinations, I’m even quite keen on the poles at this point). But hotels, they are another story entirely. Dominated by familiar chains and characterless atmospheres, sometimes finding truly extraordinary accommodation is akin to finding the needle in the haystack. A sought-after five-star rating is often just not enough to cut it. In my experience, it’s the little, locally owned four-star boutiques that often stand out the most. Sure, they might lack the hundreds of rooms, varied dining options and vast spa area, but do you really need all that when a whole new world is calling out to be explored (and tasted) beyond your hotel room? Give me thoughtful, interesting design, personality – and ideally a bit of history – and my bank account is yours.
five six hotels around the world that are on my must-check-in list. Where are your dream stays?
1. Le Sirenuse
Clinging to the steep coastline of Positano on Italy’s Amalfi coast, I think this may have been the first hotel to worm itself into my desires. With windows framing views of the charming seafront village, this family-owned hotel was previously a summer house. Comprised of just 58 guest rooms, the airy Mediterranean destination brims with a selection of artwork, and rooms include stunning views over the bay, with whitewashed walls, vaulted ceilings and hand-made tile floors. Swoon-worthy.
Dream room: With the delicately painted tiles, Renaissance-style art over the bed, accent frescos on the doorways and ceilings – and of course, that incredible Positano view from the terrace, it would have to be the One-Bedroom Sea-View Suite.
Cuixmala walked into my life when I was writing for a luxury travel magazine, by a way of a press release announcing its refurbishment after suffering damage from a hurricane. It was love at first sight. A fantasy palace rising out of the jungle on Mexico’s Pacific coast, it’s nestled within a lush 25,000-acre estate and decked out in exotic international style inspired by India, Morocco and Moorish palaces. Pristine, jungle-backed beach is steps away, and hey, the 47-foot sailboat is just the cherry on top of it all.
Dream room: Here, I’ll take what I can get, but the cute and colorful little Casitas look just my style, with spacious terraces and sprawling views over the coconut plantation to the sea.
It looks like Ewoks built a resort in Asia. I mean, c’mon! Look how cute! Keemala is pretty new, having opened less than a year ago, but I just can’t get over its funky-luxe, boho-alien style. In the Phuket jungles, the all-villa accommodation is inspired by various “clans” (yes, it’s a bit hippy-dippy, but I can get over it) and appears to be floating at the treetops, each in distinct, but earthy style. There’s a bunch of spa junk that I’d ignore, but I think I’d be happy just lazing in my villa snuggled up with various bottles of wine and champagne. And maybe doing some damage in the resort shop. I have a feeling there would be plenty that would look right at home in my wardrobe.
Dream room: Hands down, one of the alien-bird-nest-looking Tree Pool Houses. I love the caged look of it all, the stone and wooden accents, and the private pool (although all villas here appear to have private pools). Part of the resort’s (*resigned sigh*) “We-ha (Sky) Clan”, it’s fun and mod and fabulous – somewhere I could potentially pretend to be Barbarella on vacation.
4. Cottar’s 1920s Camp
One of my eccentricities is that I love any opportunity to dress up like an asshole (see Barbarella reference above). And it has long been a dream of mine to go on safari looking like an old-timey turn-of-the-century explorer. I suppose this 1920s camp is as good a place as any. It’s in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, which I’ve already been to, but again, this is more about the hotel than the destination. This camp, with just 10 tents and established nearly a century ago in 1919, is replete in old-school luxury with wonderful antique travel trunks, writing tables, quirky accents (such as pith helmets), type writers, phonographs, and even the odd fireplace, all within sumptuous tents open to sweeping savanna views. Barman, a G&T?
Dream room: I don’t have a family, but it’s the Family Tents that boast the fireplace, and I can think of few things better than cozying up next to crackling flames as the nighttime chill sets in.
5. The Gritti Palace
Venice has never been high on my list, but wild horses couldn’t tear from the opportunity to stay at The Gritti Palace. Recently restored and taken over by Starwood’s Luxury Collection Hotels, the Grand Canal-front hotel is a history-lover’s delight with original wooden ceilings, entrances and furnishings, and 18th-century decor.
Dream room: It’s totally OTT starting from €9,100 per night (What good is a budget bucket list, though?) but the Terrazza Redentore Suite includes a rooftop terrace and lovely affrescos within. And I am nothing if not a sucker for a rooftop terrace.
6. Chalet Eagle’s Nest
While off on a work story a couple years ago, I had the pleasure of staying at Scott Dunn-serviced Chalet Husky in Val d’Isère, and it was an experience so nice, I absolutely must have it twice. And what’s a ski holiday without a party, so the pre-eminent Eagle’s Nest (also with Scott Dunn), sleeping 13, is just the thing with an indoor pool, private chef, outdoor hot tub, bar area, integrated sound system (Après at mine, everyone!) and astonishing views (it was named “Eagle’s Nest” for a reason). And while all the mod cons are present and accounted for, the chalet still retains the charming regional look with Savoyard antiques and rustic timber.
Dream room: Well, the chalet was my idea, guys, so clearly I’ve got dibs on the master suite.