For me a a luxury hotel is so much more than a beautiful room and great service, it’s about an overall experience and the feeling that you get when you stay there. For the last two years I’ve recounted my top ten hotels of the year, this year I’ve decided to remember my favourites through the incredible experience that we enjoyed there.
1. Best Beach Hotel
I thought I’d start on a high by remembering my favourite hotel of the year and one of my all time favourites. &Beyond Mnemba Island, a lodge situated on a private island in the Zanzibar archipelago was basically paradise on earth. With only 12 rooms we experienced utter privacy and the highest levels of service during our stay.
The rustic-luxe room design was utterly flawless, the beach was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the food was just incredible, with a menu of the freshest seafood. Our favourite part of the day was sunset when our favourite cocktails were bought to the room and we’d settle down with a platter of sushi to watch the sunset.
Also located on a private island was Amanpulo, a luxury resort accessed by private plane from Manila airport in the Philippines.
Our gorgeous timber room had a private beach and a hammock to swing on during the lazy days spent relaxing or you could jump straight in the sea just a thirty second walk from your room. The food served at the four restaurants (one was closed while we were there) was excellent but what really stood out at this hotel was the high level service, which is a signature of Aman Resorts.
A drink at the Kawayan bar is unmissable as are the rather special spa treatments offered by the hotel.
2. Best Safari Lodge
Our holiday to Kenya was one of the best trips Mr S and I have ever taken together and that’s in part owing to the incredible experiences offered by our very special accommodation. In Maasai Mara was stayed at Angama Mara, a new luxury lodge which seems to cling from the cliff top with a view over the lush Mara plains.
Our room was a beautifully fitted tent that also boasted an incredible view and with the binoculars provided you could see elephants traversing the land. As well as the incredible safari (we saw the big five on our first drive!) the hotel offers amazing unique experiences such as a bush breakfast, a barbecue in the wilderness and the amazing Out of Africa picnic.
I’ve stayed in stayed in luxury tents before but our room at Sasaab in Samburu took glamping to another level.
Our amazing room was designed in a Moroccan / Swahili style with a beautiful four poster bed, a huge open air bathroom and a private plunge pool! Owned by the Safari Collection, the company’s goal is to create tailor-made experiences that allow guests to see the very best of Kenya in a totally unique way. Mr S and I had an incredible safari in the Sasaab National park where we saw cheetahs for the first time in the wild, ate a freshly cooked bush breakfast and saw lions up close. We were also able to visit a traditional village and our excursion riding camels to the peak of a stunning vista was one of the pinch me moments of the trip.
3. Best Hotel with History
Having visited Venice all too briefly as a child, I was incredibly excited to return on a press trip to The Gritti Palace. Renowned as one of the City of Water’s most luxurious, the hotel has an incredible history, having once been the home of the Doge of Venice.
A loving and careful restoration has bought this hotel back to its former glory and care has been taken to keep many of the original fittings and keep everything in the Venetian style.
The river side location is unbeatable for a true taste of the city but exiting the back way it’s a short walk to the beautiful boutiques of Venice and bustling St Mark’s Square. The hotel is keen to offer indigenous experiences and there is Epicurean school as well as the opportunity to take a spin on the hotel’s own Riva Yacht.
Our trip to Florence for my best friends wedding was special in so many ways, enhanced by our wonderful stayed at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. The hotel is made up of two restored Renaissance buildings, a fifteenth century Palazzo and a sixteenth century convent.
As you walk through the property it’s like being in a museum with the original tiles on the floor, frescos on the ceiling, sculptures and artwork. The hotel even has its own chapel! The incredible botanical gardens, the largest in Florence, and the Michelin-starred restaurant Il Palagio are also highlights of a stay here.
4. A City Break
Visiting Japan had long been high up on my bucket-list and the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo made the perfect base for our time in the capital.
Often a city hotel choice isn’t as important as beach resort or country break as you’re not in the room as much but the Mandarin Oriental really brought Tokyo to life for me. Our room was modern but with a Japanese aesthetic and incredible view over the city. The hotel actually houses eight restaurants and on our first night in the city was tried Sushi Sora, it would be no exaggeration to say that this was life-changing meal and the best sushi I’ve ever experienced.
The absolutely meticulous service of the hotel meant we secured bookings at some of the top restaurants in the city and we were able navigate our way around easily.
In a sea of luxury branded hotels, The Upper House in Hong Kong stands out as a boutique jewel among the rest. The Upper House is one of my favourite all time city hotels for its beautiful design and stunning views.
We also absolutely loved the atmosphere and delicious cocktails served at Café Gray Bar on the 49th floor.
5. An English Country Retreat
After Mnemba Island, my second favourite hotel of the year was right here in the UK. Our stay at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire was simply magical, so amazing that I had tears in my eyes when we left. I loved our free-standing log cabin with a private terrace, wood fire and cosy furnishings but what really sets this hotel apart for me is the attention to detail.
Fresh bread in our room on arrival, milk delivered every morning, a mobile cocktail van to your room and a Bloody Mary trolley to fend off the hangover the next day. So much more than a hotel, I could have spent weeks at the resort that included three restaurants, a boating lake, an indoor / outdoor pool, a cinema, a cookery school, horse riding and more!
But for me one of the absolute highlights was the spa and the out-door hot tubs with a phone to call for your glass of champagne!
Once again we didn’t have to go too far from home for another incredible country stay. Honestly, waking up in the Lady Astor Suite at Cliveden House hotel was an absolute dream come true!
Another hotel with an incredible history, some of it deliciously scandalous, Cliveden has beautifully manicured grounds, a fine dining and a more casual restaurant. It’s quite simply the perfect quintessential English break.
6. A Unique Experience
There is no hotel quite like Giraffe Manor and I’ve never had such an incredible reaction to a hotel on social media. A place where giraffe’s roam the grounds and come to visit for breakfast and afternoon tea, seems like something out of work of fiction…but I assure you. It’s real.
At Giraffe Manor the towering creatures stick their head through the windows looking for a bite to eat.
You can feed them from your room.
They may even join you for a glass of wine! Overall an incredible hotel and a total bucket list experience.
Another place that was totally unique for us was a stay at Gora Kadan, Japan’s most luxurious ryokan.
Staying here meant a chance to experience a room lined with traditional tatami mats (admittedly as tired travellers we chose beds over futons), dress in traditional yukata and enjoy the total relaxation and peacefulness of staying the mountains.
Ryokans usually have public onsens but we were fortunate enough to have a private hot spring bath in our room which we could enjoy whilst sipping a glass of champagne. The highlight of our stay at Gora Kadan was a traditional Kaiseki dinner served to us in our room by our butler, as well as the following morning’s epic traditional Japanese breakfast.
7. Best Eco Chic Hotel
A trip to The Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall had been on my bucket list for a long time and we were incredibly impressed by the property. The hot tubs on the cliff top are the major selling point of this hotel but there is so much more to recommend it.
The hotel is as eco-friendly with biomass boilers, solars panels, low energy lighting plus all the water is recycled and reused, there’s even rainwater used in the pool. The staff are encouraged to have eco-friendly habits such as car sharing and the hotel also works with the local community and surrounding environment to uphold its eco missions.
With so much environmental care, a stay at The Scarlet is definitely guilt-free and totally and utterly relaxing.
8. Small is Beautiful
You know those kind of hotels where the staff are so friendly and welcoming and the public areas are so comfortable, you feel as if you’ve been welcomed into someone’s house? That’s one reason why I loved The Atlantic Hotel in Jersey. Everyone had a warm smile and a friendly word to say in the family-run hotel that’s part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group.
In addition to the warm welcome, the hotel has a gorgeous outdoor pool, picture perfect views and a Michelin-starred restaurant!
Another Small Luxury Hotel that won my heart was No.11 Cadogan Gardens, and absolutely gorgeous hidden gem in Chelsea.
The hotel has only 56 rooms and each one is different, giving this gorgeous boutique bolthole plenty of charm and character. I loved the princess four poster bed in my room and the equestrian theme!
9. Dreamy Design
Hemingways Nairobi completely captured the spirit of the Colonial era with its plantation-style design. In fact it was hard to believe that the hotel was actually built in 2013! Mr S and I spent one night in this beautiful property whilst on our Kenya trip.
We loved all the safari-chic design elements, right down to the fact that each suite is named after famous people and places all of whom are tied to Africa in some way. We stayed in the Meryl Streep room, named for the actress who starred in the Oscar-winning film, Out of Africa.
10. Parisian Perfection
Paris is one of my favourite cities and I was lucky enough to visit several times this year staying in three very different hotels.
Entering Le Meurice is really quite incredible, it’s like a gallery of modern art rather than a hotel. Acclaimed French designer Philippe Starck gave the hotel a new lease of life in 2007 and included unique surreal furnishing that hark back to former guest, Salvador Dali.
One of the absolute highlights of the hotel is the elegant beauty of the dining room at Le Meurice Alain Ducasse restaurant. Though I’m yet to try dinner at the two-Michelin starred restaurant, it was incredible just to admire the gorgeous chandeliers and antique mirrors during breakfast.
With a more contemporary interior, we absolutely loved our stay at Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal, especially as we stayed in the gorgeous Panoramic Suite with view over the Parisian rooftops.
Finally was my incredible stay at Mandarin Oriental Paris, with a more Asian aesthetic, the design here was completely different and I loved my lemongrass-inspired room.
Other highlights of our stay here were dinner at the hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Sur Mesure par Theirry Marx and a facial in the Guerlain spa!
It really has been an incredible year and I’m looking forward to some more incredible hotels next year!
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