50 Epic Places to Stay
Lord it up above the turquoise waters of the Amalfi Coast and play king of your very own castle with a stay at Torre Trasita. Jutting from a rocky cliff near the Italian town of Positano – once a small fishing village favoured by Romans on vacay – this former watchtower has been part of the landscape since the sixteenth century. Restored this year with all the trimmings of a seaside hotel, the torre sleeps six in style. Order insalata di frutti di mare (seafood salad) to be delivered to the blue-tiled terrace up top, and wash down 360-degree views of the town that inspired Picasso with a chilled glass of bubbles. If your creativity stirs there’s even a piano for you to play – after all, all nobles fancy a tinkle on the ivories from time to time. From about US$1212 a night.
Wellness and nature come together at Playa Viva. Set on 80 hectares of beachfront land, the resort has 12 beachfront eco-luxury rooms, from casitas to suites, but the Treehouse is our kind of adventure. This tubular bamboo structure, surrounded by palm trees, features a king bed, private bathroom and lounge area, and stares directly at the Pacific Ocean. Salute the sun at a morning yoga class, devour organic meals, go horse riding along the beach, take a snorkelling or surfing excursion or get up close to nesting turtles at La Tortuga Viva, a protective sanctuary. There’s so much to explore, you might never want to leave. Treehouse from US$390 a night, inclusive of everything except alcohol.
Wattle Hill, Australia
It’s one of the greatest drives in the world, but luxury accommodation along the Great Ocean Road is rare. Thankfully, we’ve discovered Alkina Lodge, a trio of four-bedroom villas designed by Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin. Positioned in a clearing above the Southern Ocean, they offer every facility you could need plus luxuries like a fireplace, Bose sound system and a huge, freestanding bathtub. The lodges are positioned to offer the utmost privacy while allowing guests to wake to the sight of kangaroos grazing on the lawn. Sky windows in the bathrooms and living spaces encourage lying back and enjoying a view of wafting clouds or twinkling stars. Best of all, this is a prime jumping-off point for the region’s attractions, from the 12 Apostles to the koala-rich area around Cape Otway. From US$266 a night.
It speaks volumes that on its FAQ website page the number one suggestion for what to bring to this resort is a good book. With private terraces perched over the water at each of Punta Caracol’s bungalows – there are just nine in all, each spread across two levels – there’s plenty of temptation to just sit and stare at the Caribbean Sea’s frolicking dolphins. You’re in one of the most environmentally pristine parts of Central America though, so grab a mask and flop off the balcony onto the reef. There is superb snorkelling all around here, as well as the chance to go on boat expeditions to local Indian communities, hikes in the rainforest and tours by motorised canoe to spot sloths and white-face monkeys. Bungalows from about US$309 (for up to four people).
The idea of a cruise is enough to make us want to jump overboard, but we’d make an exception for this beauty. Once this pinisi (a traditional Indonesian sailing boat) carted backpackers around the Indonesian islands, but with a change of owner – Amanda Zsebik used to run private villas and a restaurant in Bali – came a complete refit. Now there are just five king-size bedrooms, all with an en suite, plus one family bunk room, to accommodate a maximum of 16 people. But it’s the places you’ll see – itineraries include a cruise to West Nusa Tengarra, Komodo or around the uninhabited islands near Lombok and Gili – that will take your breath away. There’s plenty of time for snorkelling, lying on deserted beaches or visiting far-flung attractions like pearl farms. Prices start at US$1279 a person for the seven-day Island Explorer cruise. During 2017, anyone booking a sailing itinerary will also receive three nights’ complimentary accommodation in a private two-bedroom Bali villa.
Noonu Atoll, Maldives
Remember being a kid and wishing the stairs in your house could be swapped with a slide? Live the dream at the new Soneva Jani, where you can select a deluxe overwater bungalow with a chute that takes you from bed to lagoon in an instant. From Malé airport in the Maldives, a private seaplane will whisk you over some of the nation’s 1190 coral islands to your own wooden castle perched out over crystal-clear water. Here the hardest decision you’ll have is deciding between an afternoon in your private pool or joining the fish in the ocean. One-bedroom Water Retreat from US$2693 a night.
Diani Beach, Kenya
There is an islet in Kenya so private and romantic that even Cupid couldn’t have dreamed of it. The Suite on the Rocks, a thatch-roof natural beauty exuding tranquility, is connected to the Sands at Chale Island resort by a stone bridge. The centre of the room will have you lost for words. There’s a walled garden beneath an open roof that lets rain trickle in to create an atmosphere resembling that of an indoor rainforest. Spend the days watching fishermen in dhows sailing by as you sprawl on the sun terrace. Then, as the evening arrives, pop the champagne and immerse into your hot tub on the cliff face. From about US$848, including meals.
Malpais, Costa Rica
You’ll feel like you’re part of the family of chattering monkeys that live in the surrounding trees in this beautiful home perched over the jungle and facing the Pacific Ocean. Shortlisted for House of the Year by World Architecture News, the residence designed by local architect Benjamin Garcia Saxe is constructed in three individual sections, each linked by walkways. It’s made from teak and bamboo and utilises solar panelling and UV water systems to minimise the environmental impact. Three bedrooms sleep up to seven people, plus there’s a pool positioned below the house for soaking while the sun sets. There are some spectacular surf beaches just down the road too, and the town of Santa Teresa is a 10-minute drive away for when you need to restock your supplies. From about US$589 a night.
Most presume the Bali of old was sucked into Kuta’s juice bars, but pockets exist that still offer the same magic travellers fell for many years ago. One such place is the Hideout, a double-storey bamboo abode for up to four guests perched between a rice field and a river in the mountains near the Gunung Agung volcano, a 90-minute drive from Denpasar. Decked out with musical instruments, art supplies and a resident kitty, it is the ideal place to relax and let creativity flow. Cool off in the river with huge butterflies kissing your skin and watch the waterwheel churn to give the Hideout extra electricity. Visit the nearby Campuhan, the sacred confluence of two rivers, where the Balinese go to cleanse body and soul and perform spiritual ceremonies. At night, ride the house’s scooter to a warung (casual restaurant) in a nearby village and return to laze in the hammock, listen to frogs and spot fireflies blazing in the jungle. From US$98 a night.
After getting stuck in a storm on a 1850-kilometre scramble across Antarctica, a team of explorers decided to set up a camp with everything they lacked during those four gruelling days. Situated next to an ice cliff, deep in the interior where few travellers ever venture, Camp Witchaway offers six luxurious domes, where guests lounge on leather and nosh on gourmet food rather than voyage rations.
Its zero-impact policy means waste is flown out, emissions offset and the 24-hour sunlight harnessed for power. Away from base you’ll visit ice caves and 6000 penguins in Atka Bay, and even jet to the South Pole if you choose. Nine-night trips start at US$43,450
Stop, sit and breathe. Notice how quiet it is? That’s because the nearest lodge is a hundred kilometres away and the desert, pocked with prehistoric rock formations, flows past the Brandberg Massif – Namibia’s highest mountain – and out to meet the horizon. There’s no wi-fi, phone reception or worries. Perfect. Nine bright and luxurious suites – think walls of stone and rammed earth, pale wood interiors and creative lighting – sit among a dramatic pile of balanced granite boulders. A lounge rises above the rocks and the pool offers respite from the heat. Desert-adapted elephants romp in the dusty bed of the Ugab River system nearby, and you’ll have the chance to watch them search for underground water – if you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the resort, that is. From about US$804 per person, all inclusive.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
Hide away in your own slice of heaven. There are two PurePods about 20 minutes from Kaikoura (a third is located an hour from Christchurch), but each is located in a different spot to ensure complete privacy. And you need it, since the walls here are all made of glass. On a warm day, throw them open to completely surround yourself in fresh air and birdsong. In winter, you can lie in bed and stare out over snow-capped peaks. The pods are off-grid, but have everything you could need, as well as excellent extras like binoculars, reference books and board games. Bring food with you or have breakfast and dinner hampers delivered. About US$316 a night.
Enniskillen, Northern Ireland
If spending a night under the stars excites you, but pitching canvas does not, experience Northern Ireland’s lush landscape from a Bubble Dome. The sphere’s transparent walls and ceiling offer 180-degree views of the surrounding forest, making you feel like you’re in your own world. As darkness falls, sink into your four-poster bed or kick back in a lounge chair by the fireplace and, if the weather gods are on your side, turn your eyes skyward to marvel at the Milky Way. For the ultimate stargazing experience, enjoy a glass of bubbly while soaking in a luxe stone bathtub in the Premium Bubble Dome. From about US$228 a night, including breakfast.
Travel often takes us back in time and Norden Camp is no exception. Built by Tibetan nomads, the retreat has been designed to share the heritage of the land and people with its guests, fusing comfort and eco-sustainability with culture. Eight log cabins constructed from pine found in the woodlands and four hand-spun yak-hair tents dot the countryside, each featuring timber floors, luxe bedding and local antiquities. The land is untouched by mainstream development so the seasonal produce – herbs, yak milk and black pig – is completely organic and used to create unique delicacies. Immerse yourself in the quiet surrounds with yoga, go horseback riding across the valley, or visit the famous monastic village of Labrang. Out here, it’s all about disconnecting from modern society – after all, you’ve got nothing but time. Tents from US$259 a night, log cabins from US$424 a night; both including meals.
Snag a front-row seat to watch the sun set and stars sparkle over the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Dolomite Mountains without ever leaving your bed. Dropped into the snow at an altitude of 2055 metres above sea level, this sled-turned-glass cube bedroom (don’t worry, the skis are just for show) immerses guests in the snowy peaks of northern Italy. Col Gallina ski resort is a few kilometres away and the room is accessible via snowmobile or by strapping on a pair of snowshoes and traipsing there. The angle of the double bed is adjustable, so you can get the best view of the constellations while you’re toasty under the covers. From US$298 per night, including breakfast and dinner.
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Springbok, South Africa
Listen carefully when you’ve settled on the deck outside your domed suite. What you hear is the sound of nature. That’s the attraction of this property located on 600 hectares almost 30 kilometres outside the town of Springbok. When you’ve toured Cape Town and safari’d to your heart’s content, it’s the perfect spot to reconnect with yourself and the wilderness. There’s a restored farmhouse and cottages, as well as these three mountain suites, created from rock and thatch and wedged between boulders. You can go hiking, loll about the pool or head out to explore the area. Namaqualand is a barren landscape on South Africa’s west coast, best known for copper mining and the spectacular profusion of wildflowers that blankets the red earth after the winter rains between August and October. It’s a sight you’ll never forget. Mountain suites from US$203 a night.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Strip everything away and the mind begins to clear. That’s the thinking behind Sri Lanka’s first wellness retreat, where the doors opened in August. Located in the countryside about an hour from Kandy, it overlooks lush hills and terraced tea plantations. The design is minimalist in the extreme, although the concrete bunker styling of the saltwater soaking room and sleek lines of the infinity pool will dazzle lovers of architectural form. There’s no wi-fi or televisions, encouraging guests to reconnect with their sense of self and the world around them. Days are filled with hikes, yoga, swimming in the river, mountain biking and indulging in massages, reiki and ayurvedic treatments. Programs run for between three and 14 days, although Santani can accommodate shorter visits. Double rooms from about US$440 a night, including meals and activities (treatments extra).
For those who like the idea of being at one with the great outdoors, but can’t imagine life without a hot bath, there’s glamping on this Colorado property about 50 kilometres from Telluride. Eight tents – each with handcrafted beds, gas fireplaces and full-sized tubs – are located either on the banks of the Dolores River or in a forest tall with blue spruce and ponderosa pines. Meals are served at the renovated farmhouse, where there’s also a bar on the veranda overlooking the Wilson Range. Guests can also get a shuttle to the nearby Dunton Hot Springs resort, built in a former ghost town, to soak in the healing waters. Go horse riding in the High Rockies, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, fly fishing (there are guides for beginners) or relax with a massage or body treatment in the spa tent. About US$1286 a night.
Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Epic doesn’t always have to equal expensive. These simple bamboo raft houses in southern Thailand, about halfway between the Andaman and Gulf of Thailand coasts, are about as basic as you can get (no hot showers, shared bathrooms, electricity for only a few hours each evening), but the vast expanse of Cheow Lan Lake outside the door and the jungle beyond are like another world. There are kayaks aplenty for exploring the shoreline, where karsts erupt from the lake, waterfalls cascade in the jungle and the rainforests, home to elephants, deer, gibbons and bears, are some of the oldest in the world. It is one of the wettest parts of Thailand, so best to plan your adventure between December and April. Overnight private tours from US$291 a couple.
Regular readers of get lost may have noticed our slight obsession with auroras. Imagine our delight (read: insane frenzy) when we discovered you could spend a night in an igloo with just the icy wilderness and dancing colours of the northern lights as company. Guests who stay at Blachford Lake Lodge, located in Canada’s northern wilderness and primo aurora-viewing territory, have just this option. During the day you can go snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, ice fishing or skating, then bed down beneath the night-long entertainment. Just let the booking people know you want to have the igloo experience – it doesn’t cost any extra – when you make a reservation. Cabins from US$812 for two nights, all inclusive.
Elche de la Sierra, Spain
Want to escape the city’s hustle and bustle and commune with nature, but can’t be bothered with tent pegs and sleeping bags? Otro Mundo is your answer. Located in the hills of the Sierra del Segura in Spain’s south, these two eco-friendly pods – one for a couple, the other for a family of up to five – look a little like igloos with hip retro-inspired interiors. Around the camp, there’s a natural swimming pool overlooked by hammocks, fruit trees where you can pick a snack and loads of hiking trails. Take to two wheels to make the most of the 2000 kilometres of mountain bike trails or wander to isolated waterfalls. Experience this wild part of Spain for yourself because, after all, there’s no place like dome. From US$71 a night.
Bring out your inner Viking with an adventure deep in a Swedish spruce forest. Twelve tiny charcoal huts, covered with earth to protect them from the elements, each house two single beds covered with animal skins, an open fireplace and candles for light (there’s no electricity or running water). Spartan? Yes. But that’s part of the joy. The rest is found in the activities: wilderness hikes, a moose safari, swims in the lake followed by time in the floating sauna, trout fishing and snowshoeing in the winter. You chop your own wood and cook your own meals, so it’s pretty much the perfect destination for anyone wanting to get back to basics. You still can, of course, bring chocolate and wine. About US$55 per person a night.
Makasutu, The Gambia
What began as a reafforestation project has culminated in a luxuriously rustic eco-lodge deep in the African wilderness. There are river and forest lodges at Mandina, but the most elegant by far is the Stilted Lodge, perched over the Gambia River. Spread over two levels, there’s a four-poster bed in the main room, a hammock on the deck and a day room from where you can watch life on the river. Live the life of a modern-day Tarzan and Jane and explore with your own guide. A favourite trip is the Bush Trackers Breakfast, where you rise at dawn to follow baboons into the forest then have a breakfast cooked the traditional way – on a shovel over the campfire. Stilted Lodge from about US$1490 a person for a seven-night stay.
San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
Step into the future – a world of clean lines and of white, black and blue – at Mar Adentro Cabos. With a whopping 198 rooms, the hotel is way bigger than the type of stay that usually catches our attention, but, somehow, this architectural wonder manages to make it feel as though you’ve got the place to yourself. Its white, cubic buildings rise from a lagoon, with a black-tiled infinity pool and the nest – a lounge partially sunk beneath the liquid – accessible via an inky walkway that cuts across the water. When the light is right the buildings cast reflections, giving the illusion that you’re floating somewhere in the middle. It’s all rather fitting for a place with a name that means ‘sea inside’. In the rooms wood softens the monochrome palette and your lighting, music and curtains are all controlled with the swipe of a tablet. When you’re not lazing on your terrace or on the white sands that stretch between the hotel and the Sea of Cortez, there’s a lounge and art gallery to keep you entertained. Doubles from US$365 per night.
Ahoy, me hearties! What have we got here? In the maritime town of Umea, Stora Hotellet has been a refuge for salty ol’ sea dogs since 1895. Then, the Seaman’s Mission built what was the grandest hotel in the city, and soon members of high society were mixing with sailors on leave. To celebrate Umea’s anointment as the European Capital of Culture in 2015, these historic digs were given a full nip and tuck. The six room categories are named for sailors’ preoccupations and elements of the decor – a chandelier made from rope and plexiglass that resembles a ship’s rigging and antique scientific equipment on display in the drawing room – represent the hotel’s former life. The Superstition rooms, although compact, have deluxe bunk beds inspired by a boat’s cabin tucked into the hotel’s eaves, while the larger suites are more like you’d expect on the upper deck of a luxury liner (although one from a grander age). The super-cool restaurant, named after the hotel’s first manager, Gotthard Zetterberg, serves dishes given the names of other seaports around the world. Double rooms from US$104.
The brutal architecture of this hotel leaves no doubt as to its provenance. With a spectacular backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains, this former Soviet resort has left all other traces of its past behind. An extensive renovation saw the whole exterior clad in timber, while the 156 rooms are simple but comfortable. It’s the public spaces – an epic indoor pool, extensive library, casino and lounge bar and patio – teamed with a landscape like nothing you may have ever seen before that give this spot the edge. After dinner, take a seat by the open fire, vodka in hand, and be mesmerised by the scene of snow-capped mountains that rise to the stars. All you’ll be missing is a cigar. Luckily, they’re rolled right in the hotel lobby. From US$108 a night.
Look out at the Mediterranean Sea and over the ancient city walls from the rooms of this historic hotel in Israel’s far north. Well-known local chef Uri Jeremias spent eight years meticulously merging and bringing two ancient houses – the homes of Ottoman rulers in the nineteenth century, built on ruins dating back as far as the sixth century – back to life to open Efendi. Over three levels, each with its own communal salon, are 12 rooms exhibiting many of the original features, from arched windows to restored wooden ceilings. The grandest even have sun terraces and claw-foot baths beneath the windows. In the hotel’s spa you’ll find a 400-year-old Turkish bath, and a wine bar, featuring Israeli drops, is located in a Crusader-era cellar. Jeremias’s popular restaurant, Uri Buri, is just a five-minute walk away. Double rooms from about US$281 a night.
You may not have heard of this Chinese city, but we’re going to give you an excellent reason to add it to your itinerary. Sure, its Old Town is listed by UNESCO – it has some of the best preserved Ming and Qing architecture in the country – but you can pretend you’ve entered another era in this renovated mansion once owned by a silk merchant. Its 19 rooms, all arranged around a courtyard, have a local air: bed heads are crafted from lacquer or silk, floors are made of bamboo and ceilings of rice paper, and beds are fashioned like traditional kangs, the heated, raised sleeping platforms of northern China. Take part in a hotpot meal in the courtyard, relax in the spa or spend some time wandering the streets of Pingyao and browsing in the curio shops. From US$200 a night.
Torres Vedras, Portugal
It’s easy to feel drained in our overstimulated society, but here the motto is sem hora marcada – take your time – and Areias do Seixo delivers in spades. The design and architecture ooze intimacy and ambience in the hotel’s 14 rooms and three villas, creatively transforming each space using elements of concrete, steel, wood and glass. Here it’s all about savouring the moment, so you won’t find TVs and gadgets in your abode – they’ve been swapped for a private jacuzzi, plush bedding, stylish fireplace and waterfront terrace, all carefully curated for a sensory experience. Wander through the dunes to the beach, enjoy wine and nibbles at the nightly bonfire, or catch some rays by the infinity pool. Expect to embrace what it means simply to feel; don’t expect a desire to leave. Rooms start from about US$475 a night.
Famed for its castles, palaces and wild gardens, the tiny town of Sintra is one of Portugal’s shining stars. Experience it just like a royal, with a stay at the luxurious Tivoli Palácio de Seteais. Built on a hillside in the 1780s, this five-star, 30-room estate has been lovingly restored to resemble a palace of worlds past. Days can be spent soaking up the Portuguese sun by the infinity pool, with fresh lemonade, crushed from the fruit in the gardens, delivered to your day bed. This is a prime spot to see the sun set over the ocean too or, better yet, opt for a suite with your very own terrace, and watch as the Atlantic sends mist swirling over Pena Palace on the mountain above you. Wander the halls lined with priceless antiques and carpets worth as much as your university degree and kick back with a book – perhaps by Lord Byron, who wrote of Sintra as a “glorious Eden” – in one of the sitting rooms. At night, chandeliers illuminate the frescoes on the walls and music from a harpist dances in the air. You’ve probably guessed it by now – Seteais is so beautiful you won’t want to leave, but exploring the UNESCO World Heritage town before the crowds arrive is one of the best parts of a stay. Then there are the hotel’s activities... Helicopter flights and horse riding adventures are all on the cards, but if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground head to the striking cliffs that form the westernmost point of Europe. Your guide, selected from Walk Hike Portugal, will share secrets of the area with you, including lunch at a local haunt where you’ll devour a feast of clams, prawns and fish chosen from the day’s catch, before rolling you back to the pool. Yep, a day trip to Sintra is far from enough. Doubles from US$281 a night, including breakfast.
What was originally a family home is now an extraordinary estate in the heart of Provence. Surrounded by lavender fields, cypress trees and olive groves are 10 separate guesthouses. Although each boasts contemporary design and art and antiquities chosen by the owners, they are completely different. There’s one decked out like a safari lodge, and another with a high-gloss floor the colour of the Mediterranean sky and provocative photography on display. On a sunny day, the meals created at the restaurant, using locally grown fruit, vegetables and olive oil, are served on a deck beneath a centuries-old plane tree. Find a lounger by the pool or book a relaxing massage at the spa. From US$190 a night.
Enniskillen, Northern Ireland
Swish resorts don’t usually tug at our heartstrings, but sometimes a property comes along that breaks all our rules. Located in the Fermanagh Lakelands on a private 250-hectare peninsula, this resort blends heritage and modern extravagance. Lodges and turrets, featuring decadent trimmings and spectacular views, line the glassy waters of Castle Hume Lough. For golfers there are two championship courses. If swinging isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to do. Sail across Lough Erne to little isles for a picnic among historic ruins then treat yourself to a massage at the resort’s Thai-inspired spa before an evening of farm-to-table fine dining at Catalina Restaurant. Doubles from about US$170 a night.
Those who’ve travelled around Rajasthan will tell you that around every bend in the road you’ll see an ancient fort. This, after all, was the land where local tribes fought off invaders and each other for centuries. Alila Hotels and Resorts has recently converting a 230-year-old fort into a luxury hotel, with 59 suites, a wellness centre, pool, four restaurants and juice bar. Like all Alila properties, there will also be an on-site concierge team organising guest activities, from culinary expeditions to cultural journeys. Plus, the hotel is just an hour from the pink city of Jaipur. Double rooms from about US$152 a night.
Imagine, if you can, people living in caves dug into the side of a ravine 7000 years ago. That was how this hotel began its existence. The sassi are ancient cave dwellings that, until the late 1980s, were inhabited by the poor of Matera, a village in Italy’s south. With the rise in tourism, some have been transformed, including Le Grotte Della Civita, which is now a unique 18-room boutique hotel. The whole town is UNESCO World Heritage listed, so each of the caves housing a suite has been carefully conserved and retains its original shape and materials. The interior design is minimal and true to the formation’s origins, the candlelit restaurant is set in a former church and even the spa is housed within rough-hewn walls. Double rooms from US$250 a night.
It’s easy to be distracted by the amazing decor – a clever blend of tribal and modernist – of this amazing four-bedroom villa near the old medina in the coastal town of Essaouira, but it’s the little things that make it exceptional. When you and up to seven of your closest friends arrive, the owner will be there to offer a guided tour of the surrounds and tell you exactly where all the best local restaurants, hammams and activities can be found (they’re also listed in a handy booklet). And while the rooms are definitely a sight for sore, travel-weary eyes, there are plenty of opportunities to catch a few rays even without strolling to the nearby beach. Nomad House is built around a central courtyard, there’s a large terrace complete with hammock on the second floor, and the top floor bedroom also has a private patio. From about US$1015 a week.
Cape Town, South Africa
Like everywhere else in the world, the working waterfront in Cape Town isn’t working as hard as it once did, so for the past three decades – give or take a few years – there’s been a move to convert sections of it into mixed-use residential, tourism and retail developments. The latest addition is the Silo luxury hotel. It has just 28 rooms located in the elevator tower of a grain silo that was decommissioned in 2001. It sits above the six-storey Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, with views of the harbour, city and Robben Island. The glass rooftop swimming pool and bar is sure to become the must-chill destination for the city’s most stylish denizens. Double rooms from about US$795 a night.
You already know Berlin is one of the coolest cities in Europe – if not the world. With its creative culture, gritty bars and high-octane nightlife, the place has urban style sorted. Enter Hotel Provocateur, a new 58-room Design Hotels member shaking things up since its opening in 2017. Forget the industrial look that’s swept through the design scene lately and enter a world of burlesque that channels the glamour of 1920s Paris. Once your eyes adjust to the light you’ll spot glimmering chandeliers, shadowy corners perfect for whispering sweet nothings, blood red, onyx and gold furnishings, and fabrics begging for your touch. A restaurant run by star chef Duc Ngo will open on site, because playing temptress is ravenous work. Doubles from US$120.
When we first went to Italy’s capital as teenaged backpackers, we stayed in spare rooms in a nun’s quarters. Not exactly party central. You can understand, then, our excitement arriving at this treasure. Around the corner from Piazza Navona and with five-star features, G-Rough is anything but. Within the raw concrete walls of each of its 10 suites, set in a building from the 1600s, are pieces of furniture by famed Italian designers including Gio Ponti. The wine bar is a much more luxe space, but its best-kept secret is the tiny roof terrace. Wait until the sun is dropping from the sky and head up here with an Aperol spritz to watch the sky, with its horizon of tiled roofs and cathedral domes, turn golden. From about US$305 a night.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
We’re all up for a bit of urban redevelopment and this is one of the best examples happening anywhere in the world at the moment. The 22 storeys of the Toren Overhoeks are undergoing a complete overhaul with a musical edge to become A’DAM Tower. Here, you’ll find music schools, nightclubs and a number of restaurants, including Moon, which revolves to offer 360-degree views of the city. Be close to all this action at Sir Adam, which opens in 2017. Not surprisingly, there’s a music theme to its low-key luxe rooms, with Crosley turntables, vinyl records, original artwork and mirrors etched with lyrics. The huge windows are also decked out with benches so you can look out over the city while listening to some fresh beats. From about US$142 a night.
For all the artists, designers, adventurers and wanderers, this is a home away from home. Urban Cowboy was originally a historic Victorian mansion until it was transformed into the alternative B&B it is today. There are eight studio rooms all featuring claw-footed bathtubs and dream-like king beds. The design, something the owners like to call Southwestern Deco, is bold, and communal lounge areas are created to forge connections. Whether you’re a musician, artist or whiskey connoisseur, you’ll be right at home. The mansion, in hip East Nashville, is surrounded by farm-to-table restaurants, craft coffee and live music. It’s also only a five-minute drive to Downtown, where honky-tonks pump out songs and shots till the early hours. From about US$175 a night.
Tin Hau, Hong Kong
Patterned marble, galvanised steel, textured concrete and raw timber are the over-riding materials used in the 66 rooms of this boutique hotel. It seems like minimalism in the extreme, with local architects Design Systems using a series of photos of a Swedish lake – rocks partly submerged and mists swirling – as the unlikely inspiration. Natural light is also utilised, with translucent wired glass, a material more often seen in offices, separating bed and bathroom. In the ground floor restaurant, Silver Room, where folds of metal create privacy between tables, the menu has a decidedly Japan-meets-Italy vibe. It won’t be everyone’s stripped-back glass of fizzy water, but it’s certainly a game changer in bigger-is-better Hong Kong. From about AU$110 a night.
Imagine soaking in a tub and watching clouds unravel from Japan’s most iconic site, the snowy cone of Mount Fuji. Set in a red pine forest marked with craters and ice caves, the concrete cabins of Hoshinoya Fuji blend the worlds of camping and luxury with a minimalist Japanese aesthetic. Echoing an American summer camp, the glampsite offers horseback riding, tours through the infamous Aokigahara Forest, star watching and whiskey sipping near the campfire at night. Rise with the sun and set out in a canoe to paddle Kawaguchi, one of Mount Fuji’s five lakes. If you’re lucky you’ll witness the famous volcano mirrored in the glassy water. Doubles from US$555 a night.
Get your motor running in one of the themed rooms at this ode to the engine. Located in the heart of Motorworld, where there’s a museum, flight simulator, indoor theme park, restaurants, a brewery and outlet shopping mall, this former airport hotel has smart suites with artwork bearing an automotive scene. It’s the beds set up between car wash brushes or kitted out like a roadside camp on Route 66, however, that really rev the beating of our hearts. Top of the line is the Mercedes Suite with a car bonnet at the end of the bed and a sundeck overlooking the countryside. Themed rooms from about US$180 a night.
Buttala, Sri Lanka
Dumbo would be proud to know that one of the world’s most unusual eco-hotels takes his shape. This two-storey villa has an open lounge on the upper deck and two extra-large bedrooms downstairs, all crafted from wood and straw. With its lush river location, about 260 kilometres from Colombo, guests can take advantage of all the resort’s activities, including nature walks, bird watching and rafting. If living inside an elephant doesn’t soothe your pangs for pachyderms, take a day trip to Yala National Park where you can spot leopards, water buffalo, sloth bears and, of course, Sri Lankan elephants. From US$125 a night for two people.
It’s time to add ‘stay the night on a crane’ to your bucket list, just so you can tick it off here. Perched beside the Wadden Sea, the crane, which was built in 1967 and unloaded timber until 1996, offers 360-degree views of historic Harlingen from its retreat for two in the machine room. Head up a set of stairs and you’re in the cabin. Here, you can tentatively swing from left to right like you’ve always seen but never done. If you can pull yourself away from your real-life Tonka truck, head down the lift to the ground and explore the beautiful ports and Harlingen lighthouse. From AU$470 per night.
Valle de los Chillos, Ecuador
Ecuador may be famous for the Galapagos, but there’s another attraction just as great as blue-footed boobies – volcanoes. In fact, the country does them so well there’s an entire Avenue of Volcanoes, a 320-kilometre stretch that runs south from the capital, Quito, with seven huge peaks sprouting from the earth. The luxurious, 20-room CotopaxiPungo is set among them, carefully positioned to escape any hot magma that might ooze a path of destruction should one monster mountain blow its lid. It is, however, within view of some of the finest, including the snow-capped cone of Cotopaxi, which rumbled back to life last year sending whorls of smoke into the air. The hotel itself resembles a traditional hacienda (colonial estate), complete with wooden floors, antiques and cosy fires to warm those chilly nights. And, sitting at 3350 metres, it does get cold up here. Spend your days exploring the Andes on horseback, visiting waterfalls, spying hummingbirds and testing your photography skills with tips from manager Juan Carlos, who’s an expert at snapping the giants. Return for honest, local cuisine in the dining room with 180-degree views of the landscape and the lights of Quito glimmering in the distance. Doubles from AU$224 a night.
Anything designed by Grayson Perry is sure to have more than a touch of the kooky about it, and this holiday house, inspired by fairy tales, shrines and baroque architecture, is no exception. Perry, in conjunction with architectural firm FAT, created the two-bedroom home based on a character called Julie, for whom he produced an entire backstory. It’s just one of a number of homes in a series by Living Architecture, an organisation that aims to increase appreciation of architecture by offering immaculately designed properties at reasonable rates. We love everything about it, from the ceramic green and while tiles (depicting safety pins, cassettes and hearts) covering the exterior to the Lego-like kitchen. From $1285 for two nights (for up to four guests).
Toubkal National Park, Morocco
It may not be easy to get to, but its location makes Kasbah du Toubkal exceptional. Meet your hosts in the little town of Imlil, a 90-minute drive from Marrakesh, and travel on foot to the hotel perched on the top of a hill facing the snowy peak of Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. Your luggage will follow on the back of a mule – the same method used by the community to cart the stones and building materials up to the ruins of an old kasbah on which the hotel is founded. For those wishing to become more acquainted with nature, Berber guides take treks into the surrounding Atlas Mountains, with overnight stays at the hotel’s trekking lodge. Return back to base to steam your sore muscles in the hammam and sip mint tea on the terrace. Salons for two and four start at AU$235 per night.
Get the best of both worlds at Isleta El Espino. This off-grid island eco-lodge feels far from civilisation but is, in fact, just a 10-minute boat ride from the historic city of Granada. With only three boho-luxe rooms – two in thatched tree houses, the other in a bungalow – dotting the island, staying here is all about blissful exclusivity. Wake to birdsong, welcome the day on the yoga deck with monkeys watching from the trees above, and keep your eyes peeled for the chef in the garden gathering mangoes for your breakfast. Once you’ve fuelled up, take your pick of adventures: head out with a local fisherman, go to the artisan markets in Masaya, or take a cocoa plantation tour on horseback. Or you could while away the day prostrate on a deck chair overlooking Lake Nicaragua and the dormant Mombacho volcano. From about US$115 a night.
Imagine a house that resembles something out of The Jetsons. Now think about how difficult that would be to build. Not only has it happened on the banks of Bali’s Ayung River, but this spectacular six-storey abode has also been created entirely from bamboo. Up to 11 people can be accommodated in its four bedrooms. Many of the living areas are open at the sides, allowing guests to feel at home in the forest, and there’s an office space (just in case you feel like you have to stay forever), media room, kids’ play room and a private garden with a pool. It’s part of a planned sustainable community only 25 minutes from Ubud, so you can head into town if you feel the need to escape all this peace and quiet. From US$630 a night.
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