Over the years, we have traveled ceaselessly to discover the most seductive hotels and resorts in the world. Now, grounded by the coronavirus outbreak, we find ourselves dreaming of the hideaways that made an indelible impression, those to which we long to return. These are not just properties that we rated highly, but also the ones that had the greatest emotional impact, the places that changed our lives.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
This superlative new wellness retreat, set on ridge overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, redefines the notion of a modern hideaway. From a lounger beside the log fire on the porch of our Stone Cottage, we would gaze across a vast tract of forest to a ridge of distant blue hills. We loved our dinners in the Three Sisters restaurant, but it was our lunches at the Firetower, atop 2,800-foot Chilhowee Mountain, gazing into the neighboring state of Kentucky, which will linger longest in the memory. The resort’s spa with its year-round heated pool is world-class, and we have never encountered a program of activities remotely as comprehensive or well organized.
Seeking harmony: Creekside meditation sessions are complemented by yoga classes held on an outdoor elevated Yoga Loft surrounded by trees.
Culture club: The resort hosts regular cultural events with performers the caliber of Emmylou Harris.
Eat lean: Blackberry Farm is famous for its rich Southern cooking, but here the emphasis is on healthy contemporary food with an international range of flavors and ingredients.
Santa Barbara, California
This legendary resort outside Santa Barbara suffered heavy damage in a January 2018 mudslide. I’m thrilled to report that it took only about 15 months for it to reopen. Its extravagant gardens have been replanted with mature trees, and its 41 stylish and tranquil cottages have been restored, with freshened décor and updated baths. Amazingly, aside from the expansion of the wine cellar to hold 12,000-some bottles, returning guests are unlikely to notice substantial changes. I hope to have an excuse to return myself to a Creekside Cottage, retiring each evening with a fire blazing in a hearth of hand-carved stone.
Historic honeymoon: John and Jackie Kennedy spent part of their honeymoon in what is now called the Kennedy Cottage, with a private deck overlooking the Channel Islands.
Take a hike: Guests can work off indulgent meals along 17 miles of walking and hiking trails.
Over-the-top indulgence: In-room pet massages are available for $75 for 30 minutes.
After driving through a “Scottish” landscape of shimmering bogs and ancient ribs of rock, the first sight of this architecturally stunning hotel, seemingly perched at the end of the world, came as a considerable shock. But the property has a strong sense of place, with furnishings created by local craftspeople and gourmet meals prepared from ingredients sourced nearby. The 29 rooms make up for their lack of televisions with walls of windows facing the Atlantic. On the roof deck, we let the world melt away as we soaked in the oceanview hot tubs. And each night after dinner, we contemplated the blaze of stars in awed silence.
Meet the locals: The hotel can arrange for memorable island tours, in which friendly hosts introduce you to hospitable fishermen and craftspeople.
Get cozy: I would love to return in winter to experience the inn’s bonfires, ice skating, ice fishing and bracing hikes. Indeed, one staff member told us, “Winter is when we have the most fun.”
Cool cocktails: From June 1 to July 15, the sea off Fogo Island is known as “Iceberg Alley.” On whale-watching trips, drinks are served with iceberg ice.
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Whenever I am making the 20-minute crossing from Union Island to PSV, I have a sense of leaving all the cares of the world behind. The resort’s 22 cottages have neither television nor Wi-Fi, just space, seclusion and a soft trade wind breeze. It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the 115-acre island on the circular white-sand beach, but much longer if you stop to swim, or snorkel, or snooze in one of the hammocks slung from the palm trees along the way. There’s a Balinese spa and a 3,000-bottle wine cellar these days, but this is not a fancy resort. Its secret is refined simplicity, and in this there are few other places that compare.
Setting sail: The Grenadines are one of the world’s great sailing grounds, and a day charter is a highlight of any stay at PSV.
What a dive: Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary Jacques-Yves Cousteau, runs the island’s PADI-certified diving center.
Open house: At PSV, you can’t lose your room key because there aren’t any; there is nothing on the island other than the resort, and crime is unknown.
Centered on a 16th-century palace built on a site once occupied by the home of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac, Belmond Palacio Nazarenas extends from a cloistered courtyard into a maze of alleyways and passages. Surviving Inca water channels still irrigate the flower and herb gardens. History hangs heavy here. I relish the cool and calm of the supremely comfortable suites, which are furnished in a traditional Spanish style with leather chairs, heavy furniture and carved wooden doors. And at the end of a day’s sightseeing, I strongly recommend a private pisco tasting in the Senzo Bar.
Spa secret: The Hypnôze Spa has five treatment rooms, where glass-paneled floors reveal recently discovered Inca structures below.
Gourmet treats: Senzo Restaurant offers regional specialties that include confit of guinea pig with stuffed peppers, and grilled alpaca with sun-dried potatoes.
In the swim: This is the only luxury hotel in Cusco with an outdoor heated pool.
Chiloé Island, Chile
Tierra’s properties in the Atacama Desert and Patagonia get more attention, but I have a special fondness for this striking wooden lodge located midway between them. While the 24-room resort has mesmerizing views, delicious food and a gracious staff, it was the excursions that caught my heart. We hiked in a fragrant temperate rainforest and crossed steep pastures to reach surf-pounded sea cliffs. And I loved our day aboard the property’s elegant yacht, cruising archipelagoes dotted with palafitos (local stilt houses). Since our stay, Tierra Chiloé has added an infinity pool and an expanded spa. An incognito reinspection sounds like a very good idea indeed.
Cultural treasure: Sixteen wooden churches built on Chiloé and neighboring islands have been collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Horsing around: Each evening, we would relax by the fireplace with pisco sours and canapés, watching grazing chestnut horses gleam in the setting sun.
Craft shopping: The towns of Dalcahue and Castro both have markets on the waterfront with charming knitwear, yarn, baskets and wooden serving dishes.
Motoring up to the water gate of an ornate palazzo along Venice’s Grand Canal still ranks among the world’s most glamorous travel experiences, and only more so if that palace is home to a 24-room Aman hotel. The building has not been reconfigured; it still possesses its original 16th-century layout. I was incredulous that we could wander around a Venetian palazzo as though it were our own. Contemporary furnishings in Aman’s signature minimalist style added a low-key chic that improbably but successfully contrasted with the flamboyance of the baroque decoration. And outside is a blissful private garden, with the Grand Canal just over the fence.
Exclusive tours: Guests can gain after-hours access to major sites, including the Doge’s Palace and the gardens of various privately owned palazzi.
Architectural grandeur: Built in 1560, the Palazzo Papadopoli is one of only eight palazzi monumentali in Venice.
Best Suite: The Alcova Tiepolo Suite ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful hotel rooms.
The Dolomites, Italy
There are more famous hotels in Italy, in Tuscany or on the Amalfi Coast, but the Rosa Alpina still keeps bringing us back to the pretty little village of San Cassiano. For a start, it is equally wonderful in the winter ski season, or in summer, when we head off on hiking trails into the Dolomites. It has been a family hotel for generations: Engelbert Pizzinini opened a small hotel in the tiny village of San Cassiano in 1940, and in 1957 he built the valley’s first ski lift. There is a three-star restaurant and a grill, but after a day outdoors we invariably head for the Fondue Stube; it is a living definition of “gemütlich,” the wonderfully evocative German word for “cozy.”
Stellar cuisine: Chef Norbert Niederkofler opened the St. Hubertus restaurant in 1994. In 2000, it won a Michelin star, and 18 years later it became a Michelin three-star restaurant.
Get pampered: The hotel’s famous spa was founded by Daniela Steiner, the second wife of Paolo Pizzinini, who went on to become one of Europe’s leading spa entrepreneurs.
Mountain high: The hotel can arrange a breathtaking helicopter tour over the dramatic granite spires of the Dolomites.
The Alentejo, Portugal
Buried deep in the Portuguese countryside of the Alentejo, and surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, this centuries-old farming complex has been owned by the same family for over 200 years. Recently it was restored and augmented by a splendid hotel and spa. After our journey from Lisbon, we loved the stillness and simplicity of our room. Dinner that first evening was a perfect demonstration of refined rusticity: the essence of true farm-to-table cuisine. We will never forget sitting on our terrace in perfect tranquility gazing at the Alentejan hills. Few places that we have stayed have expressed such a profound and timeless sense of place.
Walk the walk: A network of trails covers the 1,900-acre property, and you can walk for hours without ever leaving the hotel grounds.
Tasty wines: The old vineyards were restored 10 years ago, and tastings are now offered that demonstrate the quality of the indigenous varieties and the estate’s unique terroir.
Equestrian excursion: It can be hard to leave the estate, but a horseback ride to the nearby medieval city of Monsaraz provides an excuse.
West Country, England
Constructed in a Tudor half-timbered style, and buried in dense woodland at the end of a narrow driveway lined by high stone walls, Gidleigh is not typical of English country house hotels. But for me, it is perhaps the most romantic of them all. For years, Gidleigh was best known for the Michelin two-star restaurant overseen by chef Michael Caines. Recently, it has fallen to Chris Eden, also a Michelin-starred chef, to uphold the property’s gastronomic reputation. At Gidleigh even rainy days are memorable when spent reading by the fire in the lovely wood-paneled lounge.
TV special: Nearby, the exquisite little town of Chagford is a surviving fragment of an England in which Miss Marple would have felt entirely at home.
Literary landscape: The mysterious atmosphere of Hound Tor, a granite outcrop looming above Dartmoor National Park, is said to have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Monastic seclusion: A 50-minute drive away at the edge of Dartmoor, Buckfast Abbey, founded in 1018, is the only English medieval monastery to have been fully restored.
Paris has more than its fair share of exquisite hideaways, but perhaps my favorite is this 40-room former mansion across the Champs-Elysées from the Grand Palais. The extravagant décor by Jacques Garcia feels at once dramatic and comfortable. Some higher-floor accommodations have balconies with views of the Elysées Gardens and Eiffel Tower. The hotel’s public spaces are also extraordinary, especially considering its small room count. Relaxing with a cognac in the lavish guests-only library is divine, as is going for a post-sightseeing swim in the spa’s cellar pool. And there’s a lustrous Michelin two-star restaurant, in case you feel like dining in.
Spoil the kids: La Réserve welcomes children, and it can arrange everything from personalized cookies to child-friendly furnishings.
Decadent desserts: I also love La Réserve’s second restaurant, La Pagode de Cos, not least for its wonderful silver dessert trolley.
Live like a local: La Réserve manages 10 plush, full-service apartments with one to four bedrooms in a building on Place du Trocadéro.
We have long recommended this charming 17-room hotel in the center of Saint-Émilion, the Bordeaux region’s prettiest town. The property has a uniquely privileged location on a bluff of rock, directly above an extraordinary 12th-century monolithic church. Sipping a glass of fine white Pessac-Léognan on the panoramic terrace, next to the church’s soaring bell tower, is an unadulterated joy. Some rooms in the main building have views over the town, and accommodations in the Village House open to a delightful garden. All the lodgings are stylish but warm, as is the hospitality. And the chic wood-paneled restaurant, with two Michelin stars, is one of the region’s best.
Hotel history: Now owned by the Perse family, the hotel once served as a convent, a post office and a dance hall.
Vineyard picnic: The Perse family also owns the acclaimed Château Pavie winery, and guests can arrange to have a picnic in its vineyards.
Stay at a winery: For the most privacy, book the Vineyard House, which has a Deluxe Room and Suite amid the vines of Château Pavie.
Even the most jaded travelers surely feel a frisson of excitement as they arrive by private plane, skimming over the limpid turquoise water surrounding this resort. A former retreat for Tahitian royalty and then home to actor Marlon Brando, this emerald atoll now has 35 lavish one- to three-bedroom beachfront villas with outdoor tubs, high-tech media rooms and decks with plunge pools. New Tetiaroa Residences, which come with a dedicated staff, have recently been completed. Considering the luxury of the accommodations and amenities, it’s hard to believe the resort has earned a LEED platinum certification. The Brando is proof that environmental friendliness does not necessarily require abstemiousness.
Striking spa: The Faru Manu spa suite resembles a plush cocoon in the treetops, enclosed in a nestlike thicket of sticks.
Gourmet Japanese: Recently, The Brando has opened the Nami teppanyaki restaurant, where chef Kaito Nakamura prepares dishes in front of guests on an iron griddle.
Making memories: One-of-a-kind activities include Polynesian dance lessons; music lessons with ukulele, pahu or toere; and pareu dyeing and tying.
The Seychelles is arguably the most beautiful tropical archipelago in the world. True, French Polynesia has its devotees, as does Raja Ampat in Indonesia. All three have lush islands with steep dramatic profiles, dazzling white-sand beaches, pristine coral reefs and clear water that still teems with marine life. The Seychelles has a number of private island resorts, three of which we currently recommend, but 462-acre North Island, located 20 minutes by helicopter from the international airport on Mahé, is perhaps our favorite. Our two-bedroom villa was a self-contained world with a butler, kitchen and library, plus access to a pristine stretch of sand. Thinking of it now brings a painful twinge of nostalgia.
Royal favor: North Island is where Prince William and Kate Middleton, who could presumably have gone anywhere, chose to spend their honeymoon.
Tortoise heaven: The island has a population of Aldabra giant tortoises — similar to their famous cousins in the Galápagos — which can grow to a weight of 500 pounds.
Nature reborn: Since 1997, the island has been undergoing a complex program of environmental rehabilitation to make it a sanctuary for endemic species.
Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand can boast a number of exceptional lodges, set in glorious natural surroundings, and frankly it is hard to choose between them. But we have a particular affection for the southern tip of the South Island, the area around Queenstown, the self-styled Adventure Capital of the World. There, Blanket Bay is set on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, against a majestic backdrop of rugged peaks. Sometimes just gazing at the scenery is pleasure enough, but an encyclopedic list of activities quickly lures us into the great outdoors. And when we feel like a less physically demanding pastime, tasting the region’s delicious Pinot Noirs always seems an appealing option.
Chopper in: Undoubtedly the most spectacular way to arrive at the resort is aboard the resort’s six-seat Squirrel B3 helicopter from Queenstown Airport.
Trout nirvana: Blanket Bay was built by American Tom Tusher, president and COO of Levi Strauss & Co., because of his love of fishing; some of the world’s finest trout fishing is minutes away by helicopter.
A walk in the park: The Routeburn Track, which straddles both Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks, is one of New Zealand’s nine “Great Walks.” The most scenic stretches can be accomplished in a single day.
I had high hopes for the Royal Mansour, but I certainly did not expect to award it a rating of 99. The king of Morocco used an almost unlimited budget to take full advantage of the country’s rich tradition of craftsmanship, employing some 1,200 artisans with specialties in geometric zellij tile work, plaster carving, woodwork, stone inlay and painting. Public spaces dazzle, but so do the 53 accommodations: immense private riads accessible to staff via a network of tunnels (no unsightly room-service carts here). Checking out was a dagger to the heart. The day that I can return to Morocco’s great pleasure palace can’t come soon enough.
Easy arrival: Hotel guests have access to fast-track entry, bypassing often-lengthy immigration lines at the airport, followed by a Bentley transfer to the property.
Haute hammam: The spa, a serene expanse of white marble, lattice screens and raw-silk curtains, offers sublimely indulgent traditional hammam treatments.
Divine dining: When we sat down to dinner at Yannick Alléno’s La Grande Table Marocaine, the staff first perfumed our hands with orange-flower water.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
From a distance, Bisate looks like a collection of gigantic weaverbird nests — cocoonlike structures made of shaggy thatch — stacked up a steep hillside, at an elevation of 8,100 feet. The astonishing imaginative design left me breathless with admiration. From our villa, a balcony afforded views of cloud-wreathed volcanoes rearing up through the forest that is home to around 400 mountain gorillas. At the end of a day spent observing the wildlife or visiting local villages, we would enjoy an unexpectedly delicious dinner, sometimes followed by a wine tasting in the spacious cellar. After all my years of travel, I have seldom been so sorry to leave anywhere.
Gorilla close-ups: The gorillas are almost entirely habituated and take no notice of their human visitors, even at a distance of 20 feet.
Homage to Fossey: Those who are fit and determined can hike up to Diane Fossey’s original research camp.
Back to nature: Wilderness Safaris purchased the site from more than 100 villagers and large parts of it are now being reforested with indigenous trees.
It’s not every day that you’re flying home and the movie on the plane is set in the very hotel you just checked out of. It makes for an even more disagreeable return trip as you reminisce — in this case about the urban paradise that is The Siam, Bangkok’s 39-room hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The property’s striking black-and-white art deco design certainly makes for a cinematic backdrop. The owner’s whimsical art collection fills public spaces, and the lush lobby courtyard, with its steel-and-glass atrium, is reminiscent of the Museé d’Orsay — if it featured a raised pool surrounded by palms. At every turn I was transported to Thailand circa 1920, an exotic world to which I would happily succumb again and again.
Immerse yourself: Spin records in the eclectic Vinyl Room, watch a film in the Screening Room, take a sunset cruise aboard a refurbished rice barge, or relax in the Opium Spa.
Mark the occasion: Immortalize your stay by getting a sacred Sak Yant tattoo in the hotel’s dedicated studio.
Rustic retreat: Guests can request accommodations in a century-old Thai teak house called Connie’s Cottage. Chosen by silk tycoon Jim Thompson for his friend Connie Mangskau, it’s a historic pool house for two.
Kanha National Park, India
There are close to a dozen upscale tiger camps in India these days, but this one remains my favorite, in part because it is adjacent to the 360 square miles of Kanha National Park, the magnificent tract of meadows and lakes, forests and streams, which inspired Kipling to write “The Jungle Book.” I will never forget hearing a tiger call, stopping the Jeep and then seeing the huge animal emerge from the undergrowth in broad daylight, less than 50 feet ahead of us. Or sitting on the terrace of our wonderfully comfortable tented suite, sipping tea, listening to the sounds of the jungle and watching the teeming birdlife through binoculars.
Tiger survival: There are thought to be nearly 3,000 tigers in India — 2,967 is the official figure — of which around 60 live in Kanha National Park, where sightings are relatively frequent.
Call of the wild: As well as tiger, Kanha has populations of leopard, wild dog and sloth bear, plus numerous varieties of deer and antelope, including the rare barasingha, and around 300 bird species.
Tribal life: Markets in colorful nearby villages offer the opportunity to purchase intricate Gond and Baiga tribal crafts and jewelry.
Sumba Island, Indonesia
Located on the southwestern coast of Sumba, an island 250 miles to the east of Bali, Nihi Sumba feels close to the end of the world. The property was the brainchild of New York-based investor J. Christopher Burch, who spent a reported $30 million to build 27 villas, all with private pools. We would rise at dawn and from the second floor of our villa watch grooms exercising horses on a mile of pristine tide-swept sand. During our stay, we embarked on jungle hikes to waterfalls and lagoons, went deep-sea fishing and snorkeling, rafted down local rivers, luxuriated in the clifftop spa and ate remarkably well. Leaving was agony.
Catching the wave: Just in front of the resort, Occy’s Left, a 300-yard-long curl of turquoise water, is regarded as one of the best left-hand breaks in the world.
Hold your horses: Guests are encouraged to ride the resort’s horses into the surf — bareback pads are provided — so they can cool off and swim.
Charitable works: The resort’s Sumba Foundation provides humanitarian aid, such as clinic and school construction and malaria eradication, through an extensive program of village-based projects.