Asia, Africa and the Middle East | 2015 Grand Awards
By Hideaway Report Editor
January 9, 2015
Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
The 35,000-acre Olare Motorogi Conservancy lies on the northern boundary of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and contains just four small camps, with game-viewing reserved exclusively for their occupants. Located on the tangled banks of the Ntiakatek River, Mara Plains Camp is accessed by a pedestrian bridge. Although screened by trees and virtually invisible from most angles, it nonetheless commands a spellbinding view of the plains. A leopard lives nearby, and cheetah sometimes chase gazelles to within a few dozen yards of the camp boundary. Part of the Great Plains organization, co-founded by wildlife filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Mara Plains reopened in June 2013 after a comprehensive redesign. The magnificent new property comprises just seven lavish tents and is similar to the group’s superb Zarafa Camp in Botswana.
Both the huge tented suites and the lavish public areas are set on a raised deck, which provides an element of security, as well as enhancing the view. A lounge contains a small library and is decorated with leather sofas, Oriental rugs and African artifacts. The atmospheric dining room is centered on a massive wooden table and is illuminated by oil lamps and a brass chandelier, with electric lighting provided by solar panels. The accommodations come with canopied canvas ceilings, king-size beds, wooden floors, brass accents, private verandas and spacious baths appointed with glamorous copper soaking tubs.
At Mara Plains, each day’s events are tailored to the preferences of the individual guests and to the wildlife-viewing opportunities. A location on a private conservancy means that the camp is exempt from reserve regulations, so, for example, night drives and bush walks are permitted. During my all-too-brief stay, the food was excellent, and the service, from the camp manager to my utterly delightful Maasai game scout, was outstanding.
Acre (or Akko, as it is known in modern Israel) has been a place of significance for 2,500 years. Without a guide, it might have been difficult to find The Efendi Hotel, the unassuming entrance to which is hidden on a narrow pedestrian alleyway in the old town. Housed within two Ottoman mansions, the property has been a labor of love for Uri Jeremias, one of Israel’s best-known chefs. (His seafood restaurant, Uri Buri, is a five-minute walk from the hotel.) The old houses were dilapidated, and their reconstruction took eight years. The final part of the project was a seven-month restoration of the exquisite painted walls and ceilings by a team of art graduates from Venice.
From the stone-floored reception area, guests ascend via an elevator to 12 rooms spread out on three levels. We were very comfortable in Room #2, which came with a marble floor, Turkish carpets, a chandelier suspended from a stenciled ceiling, a glass-fronted armoire and a modern bath with an effective glass-enclosed rainfall shower. Some Grand Deluxe Rooms, and both the Royal and the Presidential suites, have sea views and should be requested.
Although The Efendi has no restaurant, a lavish breakfast is served in a stone-walled room off the lobby. A short flight of steps leads into a cellar with sixth-century Byzantine columns. There, wine and cheese are offered each evening. Most guests stroll to Uri Buri for dinner, where the fish and seafood are the best that the Mediterranean can provide.
The chief pleasures of a stay at The Efendi are provided by the magnificent salons and terraces, which are idyllic places to relax with a book or just to sip a glass of wine while gazing at the sea. Overall, the atmosphere of the property is calm, civilized and aesthetically refined.
Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam
Amanoi is a tranquil and deeply relaxing place in which to hide away from reality.
Amanoi is located in wild Nui Chua National Park, a one-hour drive south of the airport at Cam Ranh. The setting is spectacularly beautiful: Rolling hills are thickly covered with bright-green vegetation, while craggy cliffs plunge into a cerulean sea. Designed by Malaysia-based Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who has worked on many other Aman properties, the hotel’s main pavilion is a high-ceilinged structure with open walls and a gabled roof inspired by the local architecture. Set on a hilltop, it is reached by a long flight of covered granite stairs and houses the resort’s restaurant, library and bar. An open-air terrace commands magnificent views over the serene waters of Vinh Hy Bay.
Our open-plan Pool Pavilion proved an ideal place to forget about the passage of time and the tribulations of the outside world. Built of teak, it was expansive and exquisitely decorated, with a cathedral ceiling, picture windows, granite and teak floors, and oak-framed furniture. The extremely spacious bath could be shut off from the main room by sliding panels and came with an oversize soaking tub and a stone-lined shower. A door led directly from the bath to the deck and a large private pool facing the sea.
Amanoi is not close to Vietnam’s major cultural sites. Given this splendid isolation, it is fortunate that the Belgian chef is so talented. We ate extremely well from both the Vietnamese and Western menus. The resort offers a private Beach Club, set beside an expanse of white sand. In the sumptuous spa, many of the treatments use traditional Vietnamese ingredients. Complimentary yoga classes are offered daily, and Pilates and other guided workouts are also available. Ultimately, Amanoi is a tranquil and deeply relaxing place in which to hide away from reality.