A wine-lover’s fantasy, this converted 12th-century abbey two hours north of Madrid comes with its own award-winning vineyard, cellars crammed with Grand Cru plus a top-notch Michelin-starred restaurant. There’s actually a sommelier installed in the spa – “I’ll have the Sauvignon with my deep-tissue massage please…”
Rooms are the essence of religious cool, hung with century-old Christian tableaux and zingy Miro prints, and because there are only 30 of them, the hotel never feels busy. The surrounding pine-scented terrain is ripe for hiking, biking and helicopter rides, or if your idea of a good time is stretching out by the pool. LeDomaine’s is hard to beat. ledomaine.es
The latest ‘House’ to fling open its doors, Soho House Barcelona is located in the city’s Gothic quarter and has 57 rooms, two restaurants, a Cowshed spa, cinema, and best of all, a pose-tastic rooftop pool. Featuring all the usual Soho House trimmings: vintage Chesterfields, burnished brass lighting and staff who wouldn’t look out of place on a catwalk, this seductive Spanish bolthole has all the qualities for a sizzling speedy city moon. Be the first to check it out…
Room key: One of the corner suites with a balcony overlooking the marina at Port Veil.
A mass of 15.000 sweet-scented rose bushes surround this rustic country club turned hotel. Rooms are stripped back and simple, fitted out with stripy Berber bedcovers, giant terracotta urns and antique Moroccan chests. No minibars, nothing whirrs or blinks. Everything, from the mud-based pisé walls to the polished concrete floors, is inspired by the ancient Berbers. Dining is a highlight. Plates, tablecloths, glasses, even the bread and the olive oil, is hand-made on the premises: Beldi has its own recycled glass factory, pottery and embroidery atelier plus a hefty veggie garden. Arrange a private candlelit dinner in the greenhouse (jazz pianist optional) or dinner a deux among the roses. Nothing quite compares.
Honeymoon high: Beldi’s sister hotel Kasbah Beldi is surrounded by 15 hectares of grapefruit trees on the banks of Lake Takerkoust (45 minutes away). Head over for a picnic with wondrous views of the Atlas Mountains.
Room key: Number 38 is larger than most and comes with a private terrace and outdoor bathtub.
Occupying a former banking HQ a stone’s throw from Vienna’s oldest cafes and boutiques, this statuesque hotel is one of the grandest in the city. Soaring marble columns in the former cashiers hall spell real wow factor, and rooms are perfectly polished with parquet floors, gilded bathrooms and views of the baroque buildings lining Am Hof square. At teatime, the hotel’s Art Deco cafe comes to life with some of the prettiest patisserie in the city (raspberry eclairs and pistachio-nougat gateaux), and after 6pm, oysters and Champagne are rolled out.
After exploring Vienna’s boulevards, museums and art galleries, the spa beckons. And what a spa. With a wink to its former incarnation, what was once the bank’s vault is now a glittering swimming pool lined with real gold tiles.
Honeymoon high: Riding a fiaker (horse-drawn carriage) through the streets of Vienna.
In a city known for romance, there’s no shortage of seductive hotels but the Royal Monceau, walking distance from the Champs Elysees, is a cut above. First opened in 1928, it’s since been spruced up by Philippe Starck and become the go-to for well-heeled Europeans. Home to Matsuhisa Paris and Il Carpaccio, two of the city’s top restaurants – and with pastry legend Pierre Hermé installed in the kitchen – this is one place you’ll need to loosen your belt.
For design aficionados, it’s hard to fault the quirky opulence and sheer vibrant wonder of the place. Boudoir-like suites come with fawn leather sofas, ceiling-to-floor mirrored walls and trademark Starck lighting.
Elsewhere, you’ll find an impressive modern art collection, private cinema and cocoon-like Clarins spa. For those with a spirit of adventure, the Royal Monceau is the most exciting address in Paris.
Room key: The pink and grey Presidential Suite (designed by Philippe Starck).
Want to steer clear of other honeymooners? Hole up in this rustic private villa and you won’t have to deal with anyone else – except that is for your private chef, oh, and the maid (who comes daily). With a huge pool all to yourselves, terraced gardens, a sprinkling of palm trees and a hot tub, this bijou villa close to the Sicilian city of Syracuse has “do not disturb” written all over it.
Honeymoon high: Climbing Mount Etna for a sunset aperitif.
Port Antonio used to be one of the most popular destinations among the Hollywood glam set, but with the rise of cruise-ship ports and all-inclusives in other areas of the island, it was forgotten. Now its making a comeback — and you can be one of the first to know.
There’s no better way to feel uncool in Jamaica than to show up early for the Thursday-night Roadblock Party, which is exactly what we’ve done. Killing time, my friend and I saunter over to buy a shot of rum from a dreadlocked gentleman who appears to have sampled too much of his homebrew. He entertains us by explaining, at length, that having dreadlocks does not mean you are Rasta. Being Rasta is a way of life that requires purity of mind, spirit and body, not just a hairdo.
Eventually, the music booms extravagantly, and local revelers — men with gleaming muscles, women wearing sparkling miniskirts — drift up the road. An enormous man wearing a headscarf and medallion necklace strides over and clasps my friend in a bro-hug; he remembers him from a past visit. This party is infamous in Port Antonio, a forgotten slice of northeastern Jamaica that has it all: welcoming locals, gorgeous beaches, cultural authenticity — and, recently, a quiet revival.
Port Antonio has a long history of receiving Americans. Legend has it that in 1946, a storm hit the coast of Jamaica, and Zaca, the opulent schooner of movie heartthrob Errol Flynn, was forced ashore in Port Antonio for repairs. Until that point, the area’s claim to fame was being the banana capital of the world, made so by wealthy Boston businessman Lorenzo Dow Baker in the late 1800s. A consummate wheeler-dealer, Baker cleverly broadcast this verdant stretch of Jamaica as an untrammeled paradise, filling his empty banana boats with hardy tourists from America’s Eastern Seaboard. Port Antonio became a retreat for a few nature lovers who reveled in the jungle and beaches surrounding the town.
But when Flynn — reputedly a decadent bon vivant — arrived, everything changed. He was enamored with the place, so he bought land, imported champagne by the crate, invited Hollywood’s glamour set and put the tiny town on the map. Villas shot up behind wrought-iron gates, hotels appeared, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor arrived in heels and oversize-hats. The Aga Khan built a villa, and Baroness Elizabeth von Thyssen built a Gatsby-esque “castle.” For decades to come, Port Antonio, the formerly sleepy seaside town, was abuzz with music, laughter, beautiful people and the pop of champagne corks.
Then in the late 1980s, Gilbert, Ivan and Dennis arrived and trashed the joint. All three hurricanes of enormous ferocity, they tore apart the infrastructure so thoroughly that, to this day, it has not fully recovered. Once-luxury resorts above perfect coves sat abandoned and smashed, the iron-gated villas were left for the jungle to reclaim, the baroness’ castle fell into disrepair. The glitterati stopped coming.
“Port Antonio, a forgotten slice of northeastern Jamaica, has it alb welcoming locals, gorgeous beaches and cultural authenticity. ”
But within the last decade, revitalization has been slowly building, and the celebrities — without as much fanfare — are now returning. The castle has reopened as the Trident Castle, an eccentric and huge rental where bands come to film edgy music videos on the black-and-white checkerboard floor, and models host their weddings.
A derelict oceanfront hotel had an expensive face-lift and has morphed into the hip, St. Barth-worthy Trident Hotel.
Outside of town, glass-front villas are going up on hillsides overlooking the Caribbean Sea. What’s more, the likes of Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Grace Jones visit frequently to record in the state-of-the-art music studio inside the discreetly jet-set Geejam hotel, owned by British music executive Jon Baker (no relation to Lorenzo).
Baker, who has been here for 30 years and was the first to open a hip hotel, is very much a part of the “Renaissance of Port Antonio,” as he calls it. “Portie [as it’s affectionately known] is the safest part of Jamaica,” he tells me. “Crime here is virtually unknown and limited to petty theft.” There are fewer tourists, no cruise ships, no chain hotels or restaurants and better beaches. And the locals are friendly to outsiders. “This is the kind of place people visit and end up moving to,” Baker elaborates. “It’s a real draw for creatives because of its relaxed vibe.”
A two-hour drive from Kingston or a four-hour drive east of Montego Bay, Portie is not for the visitor who wants the all-inclusive with the swim-up bar or shops selling stylish bikinis and sun hats. It’s for the person who wants to hike up a spectacular river, listen to traditional Jamaican music, eat jerk and drink white rum with the locals. In other words, it’s not the Jamaica most people know.
Baker was here in 1986, drawn by the beauty and seclusion. In 1990, he opened the recording studio, where the likes of Amy Winehouse, Bjork, Drake, Katy Perry and Florence and the Machine have since recorded. In 2007, he built more cabanas and opened the doors to the public. Keeping the Geejam hotel open was a slog — at first.
“A little-known artist called Banksy came to stay,” says Baker. “He stenciled some art on the walls of one of the villas [Sanwood — still there today] and left us with a painting as a thank- you.
We sold that painting just to keep open.” Now the Geejam is so booked up that Baker is adding 15 cabanas (more affordable than those there now) and has refurbished two sprawling, more high-end villas above the hotel for those who want to come with a family or an entourage and remain private.
At the three-bedroom Panorama Villa, so named for its 180-degree view of the sapphire Caribbean, ocean breezes waft between the orange designer chairs, and pop art dots the walls. It comes with a pool, a chef and a staff of its own.
But not all sides of Portie’s renaissance involve glitz, celebrity and money. Locals are also bringing back excellence, and a great example is Soldier Camp restaurant. To get there takes navigating the dirt backstreets of the town, but it’s worth the search to end up in Everold Daley’s backyard restaurant, sitting on bamboo benches, eating crayfish or shrimp cooked in fresh coconut. “I came home from serving in the U.S. military and was sad at what had happened to Jamaican food,” Daley says. “I couldn’t find meals like my grandmother made; everything was cooked with oil and MSG.
And so I built some tables out back and use recipes from the old-timers. The freshest meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables. That’s all it takes.” A meal for two cost us $45 (with several rum cocktails) and was the best meal I had in Jamaica.
East of Portie is Boston Bay, the itty-bitty town that claims to be the original home of jerk spice. There’s a cluster of colorful, cobbled-together roadside jerk shacks serving chicken, pork, sausage and homemade white rum at rickety wooden tables.
All Jamaican guidebooks will insist you eat here, but pay heed: The persuasive vendors are smooth, and it’s easy to forget to inquire about pricing and portion sizes — and be oversold and overcharged. (We didn’t ask, and the lunch cost more than $100.)
Another tourist staple is the Blue Lagoon, known as the backdrop for movies like Cocktail, Club Paradise and, you guessed it, The Blue Lagoon.
But a more genuine experience is driving east to Reach Falls, wearing a bathing suit and running shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. Hire a guide and hike up a spilling waterfall with a series of swimming holes and underwater tunnels.
Unlike the Blue Lagoon, where the touts are ferocious, the infrastructure here is earnestly government run (part of the new money arriving with revitalization), and no touts are allowed. It’s a verdant tropical setting, like you can imagine all of Jamaica once was.
“This is the kind of place people visit and end up moving to. It’s a real draw for creatives because of its relaxed vibe.”
Returning from the waterfall, head to the Bushbar at Geejam for some celebrity spotting and, on a Friday night, to hear the newly reassembled Jolly Boys, a mento band named by Errol Flynn himself, back in the day when they played at his private parties.
This group of septuagenarians is, as lead singer Albert Minott says, “bringing back the glamour to Port Antonio. We made Errol Flynn jolly, and now we’re going to do it again.” Having lived through the heyday and the collapse, no one better represents the spirit of this place than these four men. “We’ve waited a long time for Portie to come back to life,” Johnny Henry, the grinning 78-year-old mento-box player, says.
He’s just in time.
HOW TO GET THERE
There is no airport in Port Antonio, which is part of its charm. Fly to Kingston (KIN)and drive north for two hours through the Blue Mountains. Or fly to Montego Bay (MBJ) and drive four very curvy, but pretty, hours.
When you see one of the colorfully painted roadside-shack bars, screech to a halt. Each neighborhood has one, and they’re busy at all hours. This is where the real cultural discovery goes down over Red Stripes, along with a chaser of someone’s uncle’s homemade 80-proof white rum.
WHEN TO GO
Port Antonio gets more rain than most of Jamaica, which is how it stays so lush. The best time to visit is January through April, when the days are relatively dry and the temps are manageable. Plan your trip in November and you’ll probably get a few more showers, but prices are more reasonable, and you’ll get the waterfall to yourself.
WHAT TO BRING
If you’re staying at the Trident Hotel or Geejam, pack a floaty caftan and hang out with the beautiful people by the pool. Remember to bring some old tennis shoes for the waterfall hike, and a rash guard never hurts in the stinging sun (when it appears). Even if you’re not staying at the Trident, make sure you stop by for a cocktail and to soak in the stellar art collection and modern interior design.
DOLLARS AND CENTS
The currency is the Jamaican dollar ($1 USD = $126 JMD). There’s no reliable ATM in Port Antonio, so be sure to get cash at the airport. In a pinch, most locals will accept USD. Hotels will accept credit cards.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK?
This small Dorsoduro hotel is a celebration of the very Venetian art of decadence, and has its own private jetty to boot. Located inside the walls of a 16th century palazzo, traditional décor abounds – flocked wallpaper, marble, velvet curtains and carvings in dark woood – but charming eccentricities (liket he vases that contain swimming goldfish as well as lilies) stop it feeling over the top.
WHICH ROOM IS MOST MEMORABLE?
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK?
Spread across ten 18th-century havelis (private mansions) built for the queens of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Ranvas retains an air of regal elegance. Conceived as a pleasure palace, its common spaces (like the courtyard above) are just as lovely as its bedrooms – from the open dining pavilion, to the central courtyard with fountain and preening peacocks.
WHICH ROOMS ARE MOST MEMORABLE?
Possibly the one place in London where you can’t see The Shard is in The Shard itself; instead, stellar views of the capital – from Battersea Power Station to Canary Wharf and beyond – spread out from every side of the glass pinnacle.
These are best enjoyed at sunset, with a cocktail at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Gong bar on the 52nd floor or at the viewing platform open to the elements on the 72nd floor. To see the personality of the city change from on high as night falls, book in for dinner at the Ting restaurant; better still, splash out on a hotel room and have the spectacle all to yourself.
It’s difficult to focus on the food when staring agog out the window, but Ting’s Asian-influenced menu is full of beautiful distractions, such as langoustine risotto and lamb loin with sake.
Shangri-La’s bedrooms all face out, which makes pulling down the blinds and sinking into the plump mattresses a challenging prospect at the end of the day. Best to sleep with them open and wake to the city coming back to life at dawn.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard occupies the 34th to 52nd floors of the Shard building, and has 202 guestrooms, a ground-floor deli, restaurant, bar and infinity pool. Mains in the restaurant,Ting, start at £20.
The View from The Shard, on the top floors, opens daily from 10am (to 10pm April to October and Thursday to Saturday year-round, and to 7pm Sunday to Wednesday November to March). It’s best to book your time slot ahead, to avoid possible queues.
The nearest Underground and national train station is at London Bridge, on the Northern and Jubilee tube lines and with train services from southeast England.
There are no road signs for this 2,500-hectare private estate, set back on a wild peninsula near Sartène; discretion has always been key since the Corsican owner Paul Canerelli started developing the hideaway on a hefty chunk of family property (10 times the size of Monaco) back in 1994.
Once guests have set foot in the grounds (leave stilettos and Gucci loafers behind) they might not venture out again. There’s a positive extravaganza of things to do, including all possible nautical sports, fishing, horse-riding, mountain biking, botanical walks, hunting (for those who fancy whipping up a wild boar stew) and teeing off on a nine-hole golf course.
The maze of red-dirt roads leads to 16 isolated, rustic stone cottages hidden away in verdant mini-valleys, or at the edge of crystalline coves. All of them – from the romantic sheepfold for two to the sprawling villas for up to 13 – have pools, fireplaces and proper kitchens, although it’s difficult to resist the temptation to eat at all three restaurants.
With a vegetable garden, fruit orchards, olive groves, 150 resident cows and 500 goats (the domaine’s fromagerie churns its own brocciu, a soft, creamy ewe’s-milk cheese), Murtoli’s farm-to-table food is the real deal.
Whether you land on the rooftop helipad or glide up in one of the hotel’s Rolls-Royce Phantoms, any arrival here will always involve a delicious sense of theatre. Opened in 1928, and transmogrified in 1994 with the addition of a 30-storey tower, this grandest of Asian dames is a triumphant marriage of old and new.
The 300 rooms and suites were given a vigorous makeover in 2013, shifting the interiors to pared-down Oriental chic while upping the technology. But glorious as the nail dryer, free international-call phone and bedside tablet fluent in 11 languages may be, The Pen’s killer appeal is traditional service. Chief concierge Echo Zhu is a Beijing-born, 21st-century, female Jeeves; sommelier Dheeraj Bhatia is on first-name terms with the cellar’s 1,000-plus labels.
And who could be left unmoved by the pillar-box-hatted pages’ cheery salutations as they swing open the main doors? Otherwise, the spa and Roman-themed pool are inspirational, and the restaurants remain unchanged and as popular as ever – in particular Gaddi’s, where the roasted pigeon breast sets the benchmark for fine French food in this city. A tried and trusted institution? Yes, and thank goodness for that.
The one too many cooking shows flocking television channels worldwide might just be an indication that food has long moved from being a necessity to an art form, of sorts. The Pullman Hotel at the Aerocity in Delhi, embraces this new culture and prides itself on its ‘artsy’ ambience.
As my chauffeur-driven Innova pulled into the Aerocity to the tunes of Wakhra swagni, I glanced out at the impressive facade of the Pullman. Nothing too spectacular from the outside, I was prepared for just another run of the mill five-star hotel experience. And so, not too enthusiastically, I waited to see what I would uncover inside.
It wasn’t until I had checked in that I got around to taking a look at the lobby and the intricate raindrop shaped chandelier that hung from the ceiling. The plush couches strewn across the lobby were in shades of green and blue; each table decorated with a splash of the good old modern-meets-traditional style lamps. I was later told that the space was designed with a peacock theme in mind and the colours represented the feathers of the bird dancing in the first rain; poetic, to say the least.
Udaipur is one of the most romantic palaces in the world. Seemingly floating atop Lake Pichola, be mesmerised with delightful boat rides, historic rooftop views, gourmet meals curated in royal kitchens and fine living in suites that are timeless symbols of eras gone by. Enjoy a once in a lifetime experience at the Jiva Spa Boat. The only one of its kind in the country, the regal spa on a boat blends the aura of Taj Lake Palace and the rejuvenating experiences of Jiva Spa.
It is the last of India’s great palaces and one of the world’s largest private residences. This golden hued monument, made of desert sandstone can be spotted from anywhere in the city. Designed by the famed Edwardian architect, Henry Lanchester, from art deco-inspired interiors to traditional Rajputana concepts of luxury, Umaid Bhawan Palace is a timeless testimony to extravagant living. One must experience the private dinner at The Baradari Lawns. A beautiful white marble structure stands in the middle of the lush green expanse and gives you a breathtaking view of the palace and fort. Walk down a candle-lit pathway, ushered by traditionally turban-clad attendants to the majestic dining area.
Extravagance has always been a way of life. Once the residence of the royal family, even today, peacocks strut in the evenings and a buggy passes you by. Butlers are at your beck aid call and luxuries include private meals in tents lit by flaming torches. The theatrical interiors and ceremonial suites make Rambagh Palace deliberately lavish. Discover rooms adorned with crystal chandeliers, arched stonework, textured drapes and gold-leaf frescos. From the Sukh Niwas Suite to the Maharani Suite and Peacock Suite, the Historical Suites and Palace Rooms, step in and live the good life.
Small, stylish hotels have been quietly springing up around Bangkok for a few years now, especially near the Chao Phraya River. Some are in heritage buildings, while others are purpose-built. Many aren’t five-star (or even four-star for that matter), but visitors seeking somewhere more intriguing than brand-name hotels, these nostalgic boutiques are romantic, unforgettable and fun. To get started, here are some of the best.
THE ASADANG & THE BHUTHORN
These intimate bed-and-breakfast guesthouses occupy century-old shophouses on different streets in Bangkok’s original Occidental business district. Both are therefore subject to strict conservation guidelines and have been refurbished to period authenticity – with the addition of mod cons such as air conditioning, Wi-Fi, television and modem plumbing. Each of The Asadang’s nine guest rooms is decorated with antique, vernacular furniture and Thai fabrics. The Sino-Thai ambience of its dining/sitting room and the heritage architecture throughout are delightful. With an eagle-claw tub in your bathroom, plus the guesthouses’ location – adjacent to two khlongs (canals) – you’re immersed in old-time Bangkok, so to speak. The smaller property, The Bhuthom, offers three guest rooms in the heritage-listed Phraeng Bhuthom enclave, and while far less spacious is equally authentic. Western and Thai breakfast options at both places are delicious; however service standards still have a way to go to match the competition. Be sure to try the po-tong-go donuts and sticky rice balk if they’re on the menu,
The Cabochon Hotel located in the Walpole Building, is tucked away discretely at the end of Sukhumvit’s Soi 45. oblivious to the restless boulevard beyond. Designed by Taiwan’s Eugene Yeh, the Cabochon has four suites and four studios, all of which – along with its restaurant bar and library – tip their Panama hats and fascinators towards wicked, between-wars Shanghai. The decor is an exercise in smart postcolonial sampling, sans kitsch: wickerwork, teak flooring retro light-switches and antique bedsteads, with the addition of free Wi-Fi and other mod cons. Dine in the Thai Lao Yeh restaurant where the food is as authentically local as the bentwood chairs, tiffin holders and abacuses, or enjoy a nightcap in the intimate Joy Luck Club’s library lounge bar.
LOY LA LONG HOTEL
A night at the two-storey Loy La Long Hotel, perched beside the River of Kings, really brings the Leonard Cohen lyrics: “You can hear the boats go by. You can spend the night beside her,” to life. Barges, ferries and long-tail boats, plus water hyacinths and a classic Chinese pagoda are right at your window in this century-old, wooden hideaway. Each of the six unique guest rooms are creatively decorated in retrofunk-steampunk – a style that defies description. Loy La Long (which means “let it be, let it go, let it flow”) has a small cafe and bar plus sunny river-view decks where you can snooze, dine and allow your mind to drift downstream. Situated in the grounds of a riverside Buddhist monastery, Loy La Long also has romantic credentials as the setting of a memorable love scene in the 2009 chick flick, Bangkok Traffic Love Story.