Everyone has a different idea of luxury but for me it’s not necessarily marble bathrooms, infinity pools and utterly polished service. Here are my five things that make the perfect luxury hotel.
1. A Sense of Place
My favourite luxury hotels allow you absorb the culture and feeling of the place without even leaving the confines of the building. For example The Gritti Palace, located right on the Grand Canal and decorated with local fabrics and glassware embodied the very spirit of Venice, there was no where else you could possibly be. The hotel itself has so much wonderful history, being one of the oldest buildings in the city and once owned by the Doge of Venice. Staying there also offers affords the opportunity to try indigenous experiences such as a Riva trip and a cookery class to even further immerse you in the spirit of the city.
Though it was a new hotel, Hemingways in Nairobi was constructed and designed in a plantation-style allowing the guests to feel like they were being taken back to colonial Kenya with beautiful columns and Africa art and artefacts in the lounge. Even the rooms were named after famous people who have a connection with Africa, we were in the Meryl Streep rooms, named after the actress who starred in the film Out of Africa.
In terms of style and use of African motifs, Hemingways reminded me very much of another favourite hotel of mine; The Saxon in Johannesburg. The Saxon had the added historical element that it was where Nelson Mandela completed his memoirs after being released from prison.
Sometimes the sense of place is created more with small touches, and I love this too. For example The Ritz Carlton Kyoto fuses contemporary hotel design with touches of Japanese style. Designed with concepts of harmony in mind, our room reminded me of a traditional ryokan and included pretty Japanese touches such as cherry blossom designs and a bonsai tree but it still had all the modern amenities.
For me one of the best way of achieving a sense of place is having a room with view. One of the most interesting hotels that I’ve stayed in was Cavallo Point in Sausalito, San Francisco. Not only did this stunning boutique hotel have an incredible history, as it was a converted from an army officer’s quarters, but it also boasted an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
2. A Unique Proposition
Some hotels are so much more than a place to stay, they can often a unique and once in a lifetime opportunity. One of the best examples is my recent stay at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya. Here you can interact with the giraffes that roam the property; feeding them from your room and enjoying breakfast and afternoon tea with them.
The Four Seasons Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai is another such unique hotel, it lies adjacent to an elephant sanctuary and staying at the hotel offers a unique opportunity to interact with elephants, watching them bathe in the morning, feeding them at breakfast and enjoying sun rise walks with the gentle giants.
Other hotels are singular owing to their location. For example the wonderful tented camped, Longitude 131 is the only hotel in the world where every room enjoyed a perfect view of Ayers Rock.
I’ve also loved experiencing the hospitality only available in the country of origin. For example when we stayed at Gora Kadan, a traditional Japanese inn in Hakone. This inn or ryokan gave us the chance to fully enjoy omotenashi or Japanese hospitality as we had the chance to swap our western clothes for yukata, sample a traditional kaiseki dinner served in our room and bathe in a private onsen.
3. Beautiful Architecture and Interior Design
I firmly believe that hotel doesn’t need marble bathrooms, glittering chandeliers and gilded fireplaces to make it luxurious but what it does need is something special about the architecture or interior design.
One of the most architecturally stunning hotels that I’ve ever stayed in was Jade Mountain in St Lucia. The maze-like staircases and walkways embellished with original glass artwork made the main area of the hotel appear visually stunning….
But what was really special about this hotel was that the room only had three walls and was totally open on one side where an infinity pool lies with an incredible view of the Pitons.
Another hotel I want to mention is Singita Boulders in Sabi Sands South Africa, which is also my favourite hotel of all time. The hotel is decorated with organic materials (think tree stumps for chairs, stone walls and wicker furniture) so that the indoor / outdoor space appears to blend seamlessly together.
Once again a sense of place is really felt and use of African artwork can leave you in no doubt as to where you are.
There is really something incredibly magical about staying in villa perched above the water and we had that opportunity at Four Seasons Bora Bora. Glass floors in the bathroom allow you to see the fish below and you can dive right off the terrace and into the sea.
4. Amazing Food
I know not everyone is a foodie but trying new restaurants and local cuisine is (obvs) one of my favourite things about travelling. While some hotel restaurants can be a little bland, some are sensational! The best one of all time for me was three Michelin star Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée with it’s stunning dining and delicious seafood menu.
But actually a hotel restaurant doesn’t need a Michelin-star to astound me, it’s more about the love and care that goes into the food. For example the chef at Jade Mountain sources all his produce from the hotel’s Emerald Farm, and guests are even taken on a tour there.
Also unique to this hotel is that it’s the only place you can stay, to my knowledge, that includes a working chocolate factory, though you are unlikely to bump into an umpa lumpa!
At Ellerman House in Cape Town, guest are encouraged to go right into the kitchen and talk to the chefs in order to create your perfect menu. The hotel also has a pantry fully stocked with treats which you are welcome to raid and a gorgeous wine gallery to tour.
I’ve also stayed at two hotels that are situated on a working vineyard and serve their own wines in the restaurant. The gloriously opulent La Residence in the South African Winelands and beautiful Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley.
5. Nothing is too much trouble
Luxury hotels will always offer a fantastic service but I’ve been to a few where nothing is too much trouble and there’s fantastically minute attention to detail. For example at Alila Villas Ulwatu we filled out a questionnaire detailing how indulgent we wanted the service and based on the questionnaire your room is transformed to suit your preferences. The fridge is stocked with your favourite snacks, magazines suiting your interests placed around the room, the iPad is stocked with you music preference and even your pillow is changed to suit your needs.
At Soho Farmhouse, my favourite UK hotel, there is so much incredible attention to detail. Fresh bread and cheese in your room on arrival, a pint of milk is delivered every morning and in the evening you can book a cocktail float to your room!
Our recent stay at Mnemba Island was another great example. You’re transported to the island by boat and greeted straight away by the manager, chef and your personal butler. From there nothing is too much trouble coffee arrives straight to your room every morning, your own private table is set and laid for you at every meal and your favourite drink and snack is bought to your room at sundown.
The chef talks through the suggested lunch and dinner with you every morning over breakfast in order to guarantee that you’ll enjoy every mouthful of his delicious food. It’s often that totally bespoke experience that really makes it for me.
Everyone has their own idea of luxury but for me luxury is a feeling. That warm fuzzy feeling that you get, the tears that you shed because you don’t want to leave, the memories that last forever. That’s when you know you’ve found the perfect luxury hotel.
What makes the perfect luxury hotel for you?
PIN FOR LATER: