Hoteliers are redefining the high life, melding divine destinations with extraordinary design – and this year, you’re spoilt for choice with new ways to spoil yourself.
Como Uma Canggu
THE EXPERIENCE: This hip, new beachside resort ups the luxe factor on the black volcanic sands of Canggu, a cool coastal village offering some of Bali's most coveted surf breaks.
Surrounded by rolling waves and rice paddies, the resort feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Legian and Seminyak, yet it's only a mere taxi ride from the boutique and hip shopping and dining options.
Bali's new five-star retreat melds both local and European influences with a fabulous beach club by Italian designer Paola Navone, a languid 115-metre lagoon pool and swish on-site spa. The phenomenal penthouses are but one of the star attractions. Offering 4000 square metres of sprawling luxury, they have 10-metre private rooftop pools and Indian Ocean vistas framed by striking arched roof-lines.
All 119 rooms offer king-size beds draped in white Egyptian cotton. Some have courtyards and outdoor showers, others direct access to the lagoon pool. Seven treatment rooms deliver Asian inspired therapies, along with twice-daily yoga and Pilates.
Both novice and veteran surfers are also well catered for, thanks to a new luxury surfing concept in partnership with Australian-based wave-riding experts Tropicsurf.
The resort's Como Beach Club offers swanky poolside reclining and dining next to the 25-metre pool. Tuck into freshly caught fish on the wood-fired grill, and healthy juices at the beach-style bar. Beyond, head to Old Man's for sundowners with the cool kids.
IDEAL FOR: Luxe-adventure travellers.
- SHERIDEN RHODES
LIKE THIS? Try Alila Purnama, which offers luxury sailing expeditions in the Indonesian archipelago on a 46-metre-long ship built in the style of a phinisi, a traditional two-masted sailing boat. Maximum 10 guests; alilahotels.com/purnama.
Get among the rainforest mist at Shinta Mani Wild. Photo: Supplied
Shinta Mani Wild
THE EXPERIENCE: American-born, Bangkok-based hotel designer Bill Bensley likes more than a touch of drama. The famously eccentric designer behind many of Asia's most memorable resorts is known for big statements with a sense of whimsy and fun. Now, he's creating his own collection of resorts.
First off the drawing board was Shinta Mani Angkor in north-western Cambodia, which opened in November. Later this year he'll open Shinta Mani Wild, in an off-the-beaten-track corner further south – an unprotected wildlife corridor connecting the country's Bokor and Kirirom national parks, set between rainforest and swiftly-flowing waters. It's a luxury tented camp that promises to deliver plenty of thrills: guests zip-line their way into the resort, dine at a restaurant beside a waterfall, and sleep in accommodation cantilevered over a swiftly-flowing river.
The resort, taking design inspiration from Jackie Kennedy's 1967 travels in Cambodia, also promises to be super stylish in signature fashion; however, conservation is at its core. Shinta Mani Wild aims to protect some of the country's most endangered wilderness, working with partners including Wildlife Alliance, Fauna & Flora International, the Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government.
Guest activities include exploring on luxury expedition boats to accompanying rangers and researchers in their daily rounds.
IDEAL FOR: Eco-conscious design lovers.
PRICE: All-inclusive rates are yet to be announced; shintamani.com/wild.php.
Shanghai’s Amanyangyun resort was designed by Australian architect Kerry Hill. Photo: Supplied
THE EXPERIENCE: The hugely successful Chinese entrepreneur Ma Dadong was distraught when, visiting his parents, he learnt that a planned dam in his home province of Jiangxi would submerge not just dozens of Ming- and Qing-era stone villas, but also the ancient camphor forest that surrounded them.
He set out on a mission to save both houses and forest: digging up thousands of the trees, meticulously surveying and documenting the villas before dismantling them brick by brick, and transporting the lot more than 700 kilometres to the outskirts of Shanghai. Here, the elements were reconfigured into a luxury resort, designed by the studio of Australian architect Kerry Hill.
Each villa includes a garden and a private pool; the smaller Ming Courtyard Suites aimed at couples are stylish but lack the villas' ambience.
Take part in traditional Chinese activities such as calligraphy and incense ceremonies at the resort's cultural centre, or spend some time in the resort's sprawling spa. Sign up for an oxygen facial, a private yoga lesson or a session in the Russian banya, or consult a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.
IDEAL FOR: Culture and wellness connoisseurs.
PRICE: From RMB6900 a night for a Ming Courtyard Suite and RMB69,000 for a four-bedroom antique villa; aman.com/resorts/amanyangyun.
LIKE THIS? Try Banyan Tree Ringha, Tibet, where guests sleep in traditional farmhouses (banyantree.com) or Six Senses Rajasthan, India, set in the 14th-century Fort Barwara, and opening in 2019; sixsenses.com.
Raffles, Singapore. Photo: Supplied
THE EXPERIENCE: Starting life as a beach shack in 1887, the 103-room, 4.5-star Raffles Singapore is not the most expensive hotel on the island, but it is the best known. Last year, it was decided that it was time to make-over the grand old dame and have her sparkle anew.
Management forecasts the reopening of Raffles, a designated national monument, in the second half of this year after a multimillion-dollar investment that should see the property's star rating rise, with the number of suites growing to 115.
The most modest new rooms are the studio suites overlooking the Palm Garden, while the Residence suites are aimed at longer stays. Finally, its two luxe Promenade suites – the Lady Mountbatten and Lady Sophia – face Beach Road and will aim for the top end of town, at 85 square metres apiece.
There's a new spa also in the offing, as well as 10 new wineand-dine options, although the peanut-strewn floors of the Long Bar are guaranteed to remain, thanks to the steady hands of hotel designer Alexandra Champalimaud, whose past clients include New York's Waldorf Astoria and the UK's Gainsborough Bath Spa Hotel.
IDEAL FOR: Lovers of colonial Asian style and white-glove service.
PRICE: Bookings are not yet open; raffles.com.
LIKE THIS? Need an emergency Singapore Sling while in town? Slink into the Manhattan cocktail bar in the Regent Singapore, recently voted Asia's top bar and number seven in the 50 World's Best Bars; regenthotels.com. Otherwise, pop into Raffles' pop-up Long Bar at 3 Seah Street.
Kokomo Private Island Resort. Photo: Supplied
KOKOMO ISLAND, FIJI
Kokomo Private Island Resort
THE EXPERIENCE: Fine dining is all well and good, but on holidays, sometimes you just want to eat pizza in your pyjamas. At Kokomo, they know the feeling, which is why you can have a fresh-fromthe-oven pizza delivered to your door any time you want.
Feel like eating out, but not sure what you want to eat? Then head for the beach-shack style Walker D'Plank, a restaurant that makes do without a menu. Your waiter will run through the day's best ingredients until you find something that hits the spot. This laid-back approach to luxury is only one of the things that lifts Kokomo above its competitors. The resort pulls off the difficult feat of catering for both families and couples, with half a dozen residences dedicated to family travellers, while the sprawling beach villas provide everything that a cocooning couple needs, such as private pools overlooking the ocean and oversized tubs made for two.
Nothing is too much trouble for staff, whether it's organising a romantic dinner in a secluded location, or an electric buggy to get you there. The dive team will take you snorkelling or diving on the Great Astrolabe Reef that encircles the island. And the reef lives up to its title, with magnificent canyons of plate corals patrolled by clownfish, parrot fish, wrasse, turtles and reef sharks.
IDEAL FOR: Barefoot-luxury lovers.
PRICE: The all-inclusive rate starts at $US2500 a night for a beachfront villa, $US7250 a night for a three-bedroom residence; kokomoislandfiji.com.
LIKE THIS? Try Likuliku Lagoon Resort's luxurious over-water bungalows; likulikulagoon.com.
Freycinet Lodge. Photo: Mel Ferris
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND
FREYCINET NATIONAL PARK, TASMANIA
THE EXPERIENCE: At Freycinet National Park on Tasmania's east coast, the pink granite peninsula landscape and jaw-dropping coastal outlooks have attracted hikers and other hardy types. The Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania's Freycinet Lodge has hitherto been a serviceable way to be fed and sheltered amid all that.
In recognition of the lodge's sensational location, nine new high-end Coastal Pavilions have opened, offering a more luxurious stay that makes the lodge a destination in itself. Minimal impact on local Aboriginal history and the delicate plants and animals of the area were at the forefront of plans, a collaboration led by Tasmanian tourism developer Brett Torossi and including Liminal Architecture and builders Cordwell Lane.
Largely built off-site, then fitted into the fragile site, the environmentally sensitive suites feature floor-to-ceiling curved glass, warm local timbers, artisan fabrics and outdoor baths on large decks. The main lodge building has been upgraded and will soon be adjoined by an accessibility suite and lift, plus another six new rooms with floor-to-ceiling views of The Hazards mountain range.
IDEAL FOR: Getting back to nature in style.
PRICE: From $799 for two, including breakfast; freycinetlodge.com.au.
LIKE THIS? Hobart's MACq 01, housed in an old wharf market on the waterfront, is causing waves of its own, with its unique "storytelling" concept that links to the area's lively history; macq01.com.au.
The Cape, Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Nick Hall
LOS CABOS, MEXICO
THE EXPERIENCE: Set into the rocky cliffside of secluded Monuments Beach on Mexico's Baja Peninsula, this boutique hotel offers the perfect escape.
Mexican architect Javier Sanchez wanted the sea rather than the hotel to be the focal point for guests, and every room has sweeping, unobstructed ocean views. From generous balconies, guests can recline in romantic swinging daybeds while looking out on the exotic rock formation known as the Arch of Cabo San Lucas, which rises defiantly from the water. There's also a pair of binoculars included in every room for a spot of whale watching. The interiors are beautifully decorated, with furnishings including copper-leaf bathtubs and regional artworks.
The hotel's expansive infinity pool sits on the edge of the beach, and has a sexy swim-up bar. For beach goers, there's plenty of waves and surfing lessons if you need them. A day of sailing can also be scheduled.
For cocktails, the Cape's rooftop bar is the perfect spot: here, you watch the glorious sunsets fade and twinkling lights of nearby resort city Cabo San Lucas emerge. This town has become a foodie hotspot.
IDEAL FOR: Romantic couples and sexy singles.
PRICE: From $1100 (double room) to $5674 (three-bedroom penthouse) a night; thompsonhotels.com/hotels/cabo-san-lucas/the-cape-loscabos.
LIKE THIS? Try Viceroy Los Cabos, a stunning hotel concept by leading architect Miguel Angel Aragonés. Opening mid-year; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/loscabos.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Photo: Supplied
THE VENICE SIMPLON-ORIENT-EXPRESS
THE JOURNEY: This luxury train travels from London to Venice via Paris, and once a year traces the classic route from Paris to Istanbul.
THE EXPERIENCE: The famed train features three new Grand Suites. Elaborate and ornate, the Paris suite is all Lalique crystal and high-gloss marquetry, while the Venice suite features antique tapestries and Murano glass chandeliers. The Istanbul theme is inspired by the riotous design of the Ottoman era and the city's Grand Bazaar and Topkapi palace. The private suites have double beds, bathrooms, free-flowing champagne and a dedicated cabin steward. Dine either in the suite or join other guests in the bar carriage "3674" for shots of Alverta Royal caviar and flutes of vintage champagne before spending the night watching western Europe roll past the windows of this art deco train.
IDEAL FOR: Those yearning for a return to the golden age of travel.
PRICE: £5500 a person in a Grand Suite from London to Venice. Standard fares start from £2129 a person, twin share; belmond.com.
LIKE THIS? Rival luxury train company Golden Eagle's new Grand Alpine Express route debuts in June, journeying from Budapest to Venice via the Austrian Tyrol and the Italian lake district, from $US9195 a person, 11 days; goldeneagleluxurytrains.com.
Kettner's Townhouse, Soho, London. Photo: Simon Brown
THE EXPERIENCE: Occupying a Georgian building in the heart of London's West End, Kettner's was one of the first restaurants to serve French food in the British capital. It was originally opened by Auguste Kettner – once chef to Emperor Napoleon III – and for 149 years attracted a host of aristocrats and creatives, including Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and Bing Crosby.
After a two-year closure and revamp, Kettner's is flaunting an eclectic makeover and now doubles up as a snazzy boutique hotel. An 18th-century spiral staircase leads up to 33 individually designed rooms, which blend restored period features, such as Georgian timber floorboards and fireplaces, with 1920s-style art deco flavours and contemporary fabrics. Artwork scattered across the property is inspired by Kettner's rumoured reputation for liaisons and affairs.
Downstairs, the bistro-like restaurant specialises in French cuisine using British ingredients (think: bouillabaisse of Cornish seafood, Yorkshire Swaledale côte de boeuf and roast salmon en croute). Hotel guests can also hang out in the snug cocktail bar enjoying live tunes from the pianist, or in the plush art nouveau-fashioned champagne bar. Alternatively, there's plenty of entertainment nearby, with buzzing pubs, theatres and Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club around the corner.
IDEAL FOR: Couples.
PRICE: Rooms from £140; kettnerstownhouse.com.
LIKE THIS? Try White City House, the latest from the Soho House group of posh properties, which is housed in the former BBC headquarters. Opening mid-2018; whitecityhouse.com.
One of the courtyards within The Hoxton Paris, a former 18th-century private townhouse. Photo: Supplied
THE EXPERIENCE: It might seem odd, with all the great hotels in Paris, to be opting for a quintessentially British brand, which opened its first hotel in London's Shoreditch in 2006. However, the Hoxton Paris, which opened last year, fits the bill for the difficult-to-please. If you don't have the dollars or the inclination for full-blown luxury, but have high expectations in terms of decor and overall cultural approach, then the Hoxton is perfect.
Located on Rue du Sentier in the 2nd arrondissement, the Hoxton was originally an 18th-century hôtel particulier (a grand, private townhouse). Restored over four years, there are now 172 rooms in four categories – Shoebox, Cosy, Roomy and Biggy – alongside two courtyards, a modern brasserie and the intimate Jacques' Bar accessed via an original staircase.
A local studio, Humbert & Poyet, designed the bedrooms in its signature style of French mid-century meets grown-up classicism. The public spaces were created by long-standing Hoxton partner Soho House, with Ennismore Creative Studio bringing it all together. These creative partnerships are what makes it work, with each playing to their strengths to produce a hotel that is as convivial in the shared spaces as it is thoughtful and beautiful in the private ones.
There is also a calendar of cultural events, which provides a place for local start-ups, retailers and creative businesses to showcase their offerings.
IDEAL FOR: Couples.
PRICE: From $252 for Shoebox; thehoxton.com.
LIKE THIS? Luxury food retailer Fauchon and hotel chain Esprit de France are collaborating on a five-star "gastronomic hotel" in the Place de la Madeleine, next door to the famous 1886 Fauchon store. Opening mid-2018; en.hotel-fauchon-paris.fr. Or try the Lutetia, where Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse have stayed. It reopens in May; www.hotellutetia.com/en.
Morpheus Hotel, Dubai. Photo: Bartosz Kolonko
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
THE EXPERIENCE: Architect Dame Zaha Hadid was known as the Queen of the Curve. Before her untimely 2016 death, the first woman to win architecture's Pritzker Prize designed every detail of The Opus. Located near the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, in downtown Dubai, the mixed-use cube is punctured with an eye-catching void, as voluptuous and serpentine as her London Aquatics Centre project. Design aficionados will soon be able to immerse themselves in Hadid's genius. ME Dubai, a boutique property with 93 rooms and suites plus 98 serviced apartments, will open within The Opus in late 2018.
Guests could easily spend their time exploring downtown Dubai, zipping up to the Burj's observation deck to check the city's ever-evolving skyline, ooh-aahing over The Dubai Fountain's aquatic choreography – the largest in the world – or roaming The Dubai Mall (another world's largest boast for the emirate). But they'll likely have a more interesting time exploring the cutting-edge galleries of Alserkal Avenue in the industrial Al Quoz district.
IDEAL FOR: Design-conscious singles and duos.
PRICE: Rates yet to be announced; mebymelia.com/hotels.
LIKE THIS? Another Hadid design, Macau's Morpheus hotel, is scheduled to open within the City of Dreams casino-resort complex in coming months. The world's first free-form exoskeleton high-rise features another strikingly fluid central void; cityofdreamsmacau.com/en/hotels/detail/morpheus.
Adam Schwab. Photo: Supplied
SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR…
ADAM SCHWAB co-founder and ceo, Luxury Escapes
Favourite holiday activity? I tend to either be skiing or at a beach resort, but I like to be connected. I've only ever been without tech for about three minutes, whatever the destination Fortunately, these days everywhere pretty much has Wi-Fi.
Preferred reading material? I'd usually load up the Kindle with three or four books but I also read The Australian Financial Review, The Age, Crikey and Daily Reckoning on my phone each day.
Cook in or dine out? As we have a couple of very young kids, an apartment with a kitchen is a great option, but we end up eating out most nights when we're away.
Favourite travel gadget? It's not really a gadget, but I love using TripIt to be able to easily access your full travel itinerary (especially flight times and terminals).
On the plane, do you drink or not? I'm not a big drinker generally, so I don't think I've ever drunk on a plane.
Your worst holiday? I went with my wife's family to a place in the UK called Butlin's, which is a chain of holiday parks. It sounded amazing. Sadly, it ended up more of a cross between Alcatraz and the theme park from National Lampoon's Vacation.
Favourite travel hack? I always try to travel with only carry-on luggage. I use Google Maps to find a local laundromat to wash my clothes (rather than cop the exorbitant pricing in some hotels). I also like to bring my own empty water bottle onto a plane and get the aircrew to fill it for me.