The definition of luxury was once so simple. A five-star hotel, a sumptuous buffet and flawless service were enough to elevate the travel experience from the everyday to the extraordinary.
But as the world has changed, with all of its extra demands, so too has the definition of luxury.
Modern luxury is less about having the deepest pockets – although that certainly helps – and more about experiencing the things we value the most, which reach far beyond the predictable: from restorative immersion in nature, to quality food and wine, experiences of unfamiliar cultures, and access to wild and remote parts of our planet.
Above all, modern luxury is about choice, which even in these pandemic-affected times is still possible, particularly in Australia and New Zealand.
From five-star digs to sleeping under the stars, there are luxury experiences aplenty to be found right here in our own bountiful backyard.
LUXURY IS… SLOW
Money might not be able to buy you more time on this beautiful planet, but it can certainly help attain a feeling of timelessness, and that in itself is a true luxury. To feel as if time doesn't matter anymore. To feel as if time doesn't exist. To take off your watch and turn off your phone and live entirely in the moment. There are hotels and retreats and resorts that offer this sense of timelessness, that have harnessed what it is that makes us feel relaxed and comfortable and present. That is an amazing thing.
Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree Rainforest, Queensland, will reopen in October after a refurbishment by Baillie Lodges.
Time ceases to exist at Silky Oaks Lodge, set deep in the Daintree Rainforest, where your neighbours are trees and birds, where the tinkle of water flowing through the river is your only soundtrack. Here you can explore the forest, visit Mossman Gorge, have a massage, read a book, or just relax in your treehouse. Silky Oaks was recently acquired by Baillie Lodges, and will reopen after a major refurbishment in October. See silkyoakslodge.com.au
LUXURY IS… SPACE
We live in cities, most of us. We live surrounded by other people, by other buildings, by other things. We live with the rumble of engines and the honk of horns, with the bustle of footpaths and the glare of lights. And so when it comes to a holiday, many of us want the opposite of all those things. We want space. We want horizons uninterrupted by glass or steel. We want dirt tracks instead of roads. We want the chirp of cicadas instead of the cacophony of rush hour.
Views from the dune pavilion bedroom at Longitude 131, Uluru, Northern Territory.
You get the classic version of luxury at Longitude 131, in Australia's Red Centre. You get one of 15 "luxury tents", beautifully appointed villas with modern conveniences and uninterrupted views of perhaps Australia's most iconic natural wonder, Uluru. You get good food and excellent service. But what you get, above all, is the feeling of space, as the desert unfolds before you, as Uluru looms, and the beauty of Australia just seems to go on and on forever. Nothing else matters. See longitude131.com.au
LUXURY IS… CLASSIC
This is luxury with all the trimmings. It's the luxury you picture when the very word is mentioned – the cliche, the ideal. Classic luxury is a five-star hotel with all the mod cons. It's privacy and seclusion, with facilities that are all yours. It's views to die for, beach or mountain or city skyline from huge windows or a deck. It's impeccable service, where everything just works. It's access to fine food. It's pampering and relaxation. It's the best of everything.
The Park Hyatt, Sydney.
The Park Hyatt Sydney is one of Australia's classic luxury hotels, a property that has the looks – just check out those views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge through floor-to-ceiling windows – it has the style, it has the pampering opportunities and it has the food and wine. Stunning. See hyatt.com
LUXURY IS… AFFORDABLE
Here's the great thing about modern luxury: it doesn't have to cost a lot. It doesn't have to be gold taps and marble floors, as nice as that is. You can stay in boutique accommodation that has been thoughtfully designed and lovingly cared for. You can spend time in often historic buildings, old pubs and country inns throughout regional Australia that have been elevated with a modern face-lift, with luxurious flourishes laid over their classic, hard-wearing chassis.
The new guest lounge at the Ship Inn, Stanley, Tasmania.
The Ship Inn in Stanley, Tasmania, oozes history. If its century-old walls could talk they would tell you tales of marauding English gentry, of shipwrecks, of seaborne adventure. More recently, they could tell you about all of the travellers flocking to this beautiful old property to enjoy boutique luxury with a historic, maritime touch. The latest additions to the inn include the guest lounge, Stanley's original billiards hall next door, and the Van Diemen's Apartment designed for two. See shipinnstanley.com.au
LUXURY IS… IMMERSIVE
Luxury doesn't end at the city limits. In fact some would say that's where it begins. Picture yourself isolated in nature, with only the flora and fauna as company, enjoying all of the mod cons in your accommodation while also taking yourself far from the outside world. This is the concept of immersive luxury, surrounding yourself with natural beauty, taking time to view wildlife, to appreciate the environment, while also enjoying the finer things in life.
This concept of immersive luxury is defined by Bamurru Plains, a safari-style lodge on the Mary River floodplains near Kakadu National Park. The natural attractions here are glorious and endless, 300 square kilometres of wilderness shared by just 20 guests, who can spot wallabies, dingoes, crocodiles, buffalo, and flocks of birds that fill the sky. And the bungalows are the best of "bush luxury". See bamurruplains.com
LUXURY IS… ACCESS
Now is not a time to follow the crowd. Now is a time to strike out on your own, to go places that few people can go, to enjoy exclusive access to private, perfect destinations. To have a wilderness area all to yourself, a part of the world no one else can touch. To have a beach or a river or an entire island that is yours to share with just a few other guests, or perhaps none at all. To see and experience and taste and feel things no one else can.
Minaret Station near Wanaka in New Zealand is accessible only by helicopter.
It's only the lucky few who get to experience the beauty of Minaret Station, a property high in the mountains above Wanaka in New Zealand's South Island. The only way to get here is by helicopter, soaring above Lake Wanaka and over the hills. There are just four chalets, each with stunning alpine views, and nothing else for miles and miles. The food is incredible, the service flawless. And up here there are no prying eyes. See minaretstation.com
LUXURY IS… EDUCATIONAL
Travel at its best can be transformative, it can leave its mark forever. And that's a form of luxury, to have your life changed, to have your horizons expanded, to change your way of thinking entirely. Even in Australia, a place we know well, there's much to learn. We can learn from the country's traditional owners, taking on knowledge and stories that have evolved over tens of thousands of years. We can discover more about the spirituality and beauty of Australia, about its fragility, through those who know it best.
Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Adventures in the Gutharraguda Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Photo: Tourism Australia
Education can be fun. If you ever doubted that, spend a day or two with Darren Capewell in Gutharraguda, otherwise known as Shark Bay in Western Australia. Here, "Capes" shares the knowledge of the Nhanda and Malgana people with immersive, interactive and educational tours of the local area, where red dirt and white sand meet the Indian Ocean. It's spectacular and oh so enjoyable. See wulagura.com.au
LUXURY IS… SENSUAL
There's no doubt modern luxury appeals to the senses – in particular, taste and smell. We're talking food, glorious food, as well as its classic liquid accoutrements. There's something so incredibly luxurious about sitting down to a perfect meal, to food that has been painstakingly sourced and lovingly prepared, to wine that is made with equal passion and attention to detail. Couple these things with a beautiful dining room and a stunning view, and you have luxury personified. With plenty of modern hotels putting effort into their dining options, and restaurants and wineries also offering accommodation, the choices here are plentiful.
One of Australia's best restaurants also happens to be one of its finest boutique hotels. In Birregurra, Victoria, Brae, the three-hatted regional powerhouse with chef Dan Hunter at the helm, has accommodation on-site, luxury suites available to book with a lunch or dinner reservation on the same day. Guests wake up to a house-made breakfast of wood-fired sourdough, pastries and coffee, plus time to explore the Brae farm. See braerestaurant.com
WHAT LUXURY MEANS TO ME
Five travel industry experts give us their take on modern luxury
JULIE MCINTOSH, DIRECTOR, CLASSIC SAFARI COMPANY
"To me luxury is the freedom of time, with the ultimate being time spent in the wild, in pristine environments free of urban stress and clutter. Then the ultimate in bush luxury is being accommodated in thoughtfully appointed safari camps with these key ingredients: their location, the smiling hosts and safari guides, the accessibility to wildlife, the mandatory ice-cold G&Ts and finally those crisp linen sheets to crawl into at the end of each day."
LIZ GLOVER, MARKETING DIRECTOR, SILVERSEA CRUISES
"Luxury is perception. It's individual. And therefore, the ultimate in luxury is personalisation and giving yourself the time to do what you want to do. Right now, the pinnacle of luxury is travel. In the past we took travel for granted, it was always there and always accessible; now, luxury is about a travel-filled future, exploring new destinations, discovering new cultures and also rediscovering an old favourite."
JAMES THORNTON, CEO, INTREPID TRAVEL
"During the pandemic, I've reassessed what luxury means. For me, it's about connection and community. Being together really has become the ultimate luxury. We've also seen that a world without travel is not a sustainable solution: we need better tourism, not no tourism. We need to create quality tourism that benefits host communities as much as travellers. Personally, I'm looking forward to experiencing an Intrepid Premium trip next year, hopefully in Morocco. This new range offers a higher end tour that is good for people and the planet."
LISA PAGOTTO, FOUNDER, CROOKED COMPASS
"Exploration and exclusive experiences define luxury to me. It's not about five-star, but five million stars, such as stargazing with your expert astrologer on Pitcairn Island. Rare wildlife encounters such as telemetry-tracking the endangered pangolin or being part of an archaeological dig at a remote site not accessible to the public. Deep cultural connections with isolated tribes and making a difference to fading cultures; experiences that are immersive, culturally sensitive and promote sustainable practices."
SIMON MCGRATH, CEO, ACCOR PACIFIC
"Modern luxury is a high-quality product strengthened by superb guest service. Services include personalising the guest journey with meticulous attention to detail, providing the best technology and finest in-room facilities, and offering the guest a breadth of desirable experiences and amenities. Our modern luxury five-star properties typically keep design focused on minimalism and clean lines, design is both thoughtful and considered, marked by great elegance, prestige and comfort."
FIVE OVERSEAS EXPERIENCES THAT DEFINE LUXURY
The destinations and properties we can't wait to return to...
OVERWATER BUNGALOW IN THE MALDIVES
Raffles Maldives Meradhoo. Photo: Jorg Sundermann
This is obvious, and yet it really is the pinnacle of the luxury ideal: an overwater bungalow in the Maldives, privacy and exclusivity and beauty all wrapped into one, the mod-cons beautifully laid on out ground level, and the flawless, warm waters of the Indian Ocean lapping below. See raffles.com
SAFARI IN BOTSWANA
Duba Explorers Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo: Classic Safari Company
This is luxury on so many levels. It's classic luxury, with beautiful, tastefully designed accommodation. It's the luxury of space and of access, as you often have vast swathes of country to yourself. It's the luxury of expertise, with the services of the best guides. It's the luxury of time, as the outside world fades away. See classicsafaricompany.com.au
FLYING FIRST CLASS, ANYWHERE
Who cares where you're going when you're flying first class – although, the further away the better. Make this thing last, as you recline in a huge flatbed seat with a big-screen TV and a privacy screen and beautiful food and great wine and personal service. Get the cheese platter. Ask for the bordeaux. Pat on some free cosmetics and slip into the PJs and enjoy. See emirates.com
LAKE COMO VILLA IN ITALY
Could there be anything better right now that retiring to your luxury villa on the shores of Lake Como, where you can spend days relaxing in the gardens or touring the lake in your wooden-hulled boat, where you will be treated to the finest Italian cuisine before making your way back to your outrageously decadent room for another deep sleep on the finest linen? Yeah, it sounds OK. See serenohotels.com
RYOKAN STAY IN JAPAN
To stay in a ryokan in Japan is to immerse yourself in luxury while also enjoying a cultural experience. Rooms in ryokans, or traditional inns, are always beautifully appointed, with tatami-mat floors and tasteful furnishings, and views of gardens or mountains, rivers or lakes. The food is always incredible, and the service traditional and personal. See hoshinoya.com