Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Favorite Hotels of the Year
By Hideaway Report Editor
January 7, 2019
One possible definition of a hideaway is a place in which to forget about the world and its cares. In 2018, Hideaway Report editors found an unusual number of exotic far-flung retreats, where the drumbeat of the daily news had receded to a distant murmur. Among them: a rainforest lodge in northern Argentina, a superb property on the cusp of a volcano in Rwanda and our Hideaway of the Year, a sublime resort tucked away on an island in the Indonesian archipelago. But we also found solace in urban areas, like at an onsen ryokan (hot-spring inn) in the heart of the Japanese capital, and in spots closer to home, like the wilds of New Mexico.
As different as each property is from the next, all of our Editors’ Choice hotel winners possess the core components of a hideaway: They are relatively small in size, have strong personalities and demonstrate a consistent devotion to personal service.
Sumba Island, Indonesia
The island of Sumba lies 250 miles east of Bali and for centuries was practically unknown. In the late 1980s, surf enthusiast Claude Graves discovered a wave on its southwestern coast, a 300-yard-long curl of turquoise water that is regarded by the cognoscenti as one of the best left-hand breaks in the world. Graves built a shack, which turned into a bohemian surfing resort. This subsequently found favor with wealthy people drawn to a refuge close to the end of the world. One such guest was the New York-based investor J. Christopher Burch. In 2012, he purchased the 550-acre property. Since then, Burch has invested a reported $30 million to build 27 villas with 38 rooms, all with private pools. Other innovations have included a spa complex and an equestrian center.
Nihi Sumba is connected by a network of paths and steps, laid out beneath a canopy of spreading trees with buttress roots and dangling creepers. Our duplex villa was accessible through a traditional gateway that opened into a private garden with a jade-green plunge pool. A teak deck led into a glass-sided lounge. Upstairs, we found an air-conditioned bedroom that opened onto a wide balcony with a freestanding brass tub and an astounding view along a mile and a half of tide-swept sand, edged by aquamarine sea and backed by forested hills.
Although there are few places that are more perfectly suited to complete indolence, Nihi Sumba provides an exhaustive list of activities, a significant proportion of which involve horses or surfboards. Other diversions include yoga and meditation, paddleboarding, jungle hikes to waterfalls and lagoons, and deep-sea sportfishing. The place will not appeal to everyone. It is hard to get to. And in general, it is best suited to people who are fit and active. But there is nowhere else quite like it. If ever a $2,000-a-night resort could be accurately described as “cool,” then this is it.
Alila Villas Uluwatu
All along the southern coast of Bali, the land falls abruptly into the sea. On arrival at Alila Villas Uluwatu, we relaxed on a sofa in the lobby and gazed across the resort’s magnificent 165-foot horizon pool, which, at the edge of a 300-plus-foot cliff, appeared to merge seamlessly with the Indian Ocean. The resort’s public areas comprise a series of graceful modern pavilions set around water gardens and reflection pools. Its 65 stylish villas are arrayed across a steep hillside, and all have a generous open-plan layout. In ours, a huge cushioned daybed overlooked a private garden, with a surprisingly large pool, a dining table and a relaxation sala on a raised platform. Overall, the villas provide tranquil private worlds, from which there is little incentive to leave. Those who do manage to tear themselves away can luxuriate in the exceptional spa or hike down to the resort’s beach at the base of the cliff. Restaurant options include The Warung for superb Indonesian cuisine. Alila Villas Uluwatu is a fine base camp from which to venture into the Indonesian archipelago.
Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
Surrounded by rainforest, Awasi Iguazú occupies a private 25-acre plot close to the spectacular Iguazú Falls. The resort comprises just 14 villas, with 75 employees catering to a maximum of 28 guests. Our villa turned out to be a masterpiece of understated design, with an unusually spacious bath and a private plunge pool. Meals can be taken on an expansive deck facing the forest, as well as in the main dining room, with menus featuring seasonal dishes inspired by local ingredients from the surrounding province of Misiones. Guests are allocated a dedicated guide and vehicle, so all excursions are personalized. Aside from exploring the falls, to which the resort has negotiated privileged early-morning access, we went for an exhilarating speedboat cruise. Afterward, we hiked for about two hours through the riverine forest to a viewpoint where wine and cheese had been set out on a table beneath a rustic canopy. A true hideaway, Awasi Iguazú has transformed the experience of a famous destination.
Adjacent to Volcanoes National Park, Ruhengeri, Rwanda
Located at the edge of Volcanoes National Park, home to around 400 mountain gorillas, Bisate Lodge comprises six “villas,” cocoonlike structures made of shaggy thatch, stacked up a steep hillside. Their extraordinary design is a tour de force of fluid lines, soaring ribbed ceilings and sinuous balconies. Expanses of woven rattan, massive blocks of local wood, leather sofas, fur throws and lava-block fireplaces all help to create a unique and powerful sense of place. Varied and imaginative meals are served by friendly and professional staff. The wine list is extensive, and private tastings can be arranged in the spacious cellar. A program of excursions includes escorted village walks and hikes of various degrees of difficulty (including challenging full-day trips to the Karisoke Research Center established by Dian Fossey), but the primary activity is, of course, trekking to see the mountain gorillas. This remarkable new property is at the summit of modern safari lodge design.
An ancient caravan stop in the Atlas Mountains, Skoura has a small, modern center surrounded by innumerable mud-walled kasbahs. One of these has been converted into a 14-suite hotel. On arrival at Dar Ahlam, the dark, twisting main entrance hallway was fragrant and candlelit and felt wonderfully mysterious. Our accommodations had smooth rammed-earth walls, weathered log beams, a woodburning fireplace and a Berber rug. A library divided the bedroom from the immense bath. Our favorite dinner took place in a private lounge warmed by bronze tripod braziers filled with glowing coals. There we dined on chicken-filled warqa (a phyllo-like dough) pockets, lamb couscous, and a salad of orange and carrot topped with cardamom ice cream. Two musicians accompanied our meal, playing the violin and the oud. One sensational guided excursion included visits to the ruins of several kasbahs in Skoura, caves used by nomadic herders in a rocky Martian desert and a sublime river gorge picnic.
Gran Hotel Inglés
Located in the charming Barrio de las Letras neighborhood, the 48-room Gran Hotel Inglés was built in 1853 and opened as a hotel in 1886. It has recently been completely renovated and now has stunning art deco-inspired interiors by New York’s Rockwell Group. The public spaces feel like those of a stylish private club and include a library with a woodburning fireplace and a restaurant, LOBO 8, where chef Willy Moya serves delicious contemporary Spanish dishes such as chilled almond ajo-blanco soup with prickly pear sorbet, and pork cheeks cooked in sherry. Our spacious, well-lit and thoughtfully designed Premium Room came with oak parquet floors, a pair of velvet-upholstered chairs at a white-marble pedestal table and a contemporary chandelier. Those willing to throw financial caution to the wind may opt for the top-floor suite, with its private terrace and Jacuzzi. A first-rate spa uses French Anne Semonin products. The Gran Hotel Inglés is an excellent choice for travelers who like small properties with a unique personality and a strong sense of place.
Santa Teresa de Cajón de Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica
Although it is managed by Auberge Resorts, Hacienda AltaGracia belongs to Alberto J. Esquivel, a Costa Rican horse enthusiast, who originally envisioned the 865-acre estate as a personal vacation retreat. It is now a 50-room hotel, but hidden on a remote mountainside, it still feels private and exclusive. Our Deluxe King Suite was spacious, with a mission-style bed, sisal area rugs and a wooden ceiling. During our stay, the resort’s restaurants mostly impressed. I particularly enjoyed perfectly cooked lamb loin with butter-braised leeks and house-made tortellini, served in the chic main restaurant, Ambar. Auberge is known for the quality of its spas, and Hacienda AltaGracia’s is true to the brand. The property isn’t an especially convenient base for sightseeing, but on-site we enjoyed a jungle hike, a horseback ride along scenic hillside gravel paths and an exhilarating trip in an open-air ultralight airplane. On our last morning, as we sat on Ambar’s terrace, clouds clustered in the valleys below, and for a while the resort seemed to be floating above the verdant, sun-soaked countryside.
Billed as the only true onsen ryokan (hot-spring inn) in central Tokyo, Hoshinoya Tokyo occupies a high-rise in the financial district. To maintain a feeling of intimacy in such a large building, the 84 guest rooms are split into groups of six on 14 floors, with each floor being effectively a self-contained ryokan with a common area. As in a traditional ryokan, we were asked to remove our shoes before entering. Our room was not particularly large, but shoji paper screens enhanced the space, the low Western-style king bed was just soft enough and the glass walls of the bath could frost over at the flick of a switch for privacy. Dressed in a yukata, the casual Japanese bathrobe traditionally worn at an onsen, I headed upstairs to the 17th floor. Past the locker room, I found a small rectangular pool flanked by showers and bathing stools. Sinking into the onsen, I swam through a passage until I came to a larger chamber, where dark walls towered two stories overhead and opened to a square of sky. As I sat soaking, cold rain began to fall on my face and I drifted into deep meditation.
Copenhagen has long lacked a distinguished boutique hotel, but this changed with the opening of the 54-room Hotel Sanders. Set within a row of townhouses on a quiet side street, it is within easy walking distance of Kongens Nytorv, the city’s largest square. On arrival, we passed through theatrical velvet drapes into the hotel’s extremely stylish living room, where people sit tapping at their laptops or reading in front of the log fire for hours at a time. In our Master Bedroom, the first thing that impressed us was the quality of the materials that had been employed in the heavy oak doors, the splendid wide-plank floors and the rattan-fronted cabinets. All gave the impression that convenience and deep comfort had been the designer’s priority and that no expense had been spared. There is no spa, gym or pool, but the property does boast an excellent casual restaurant, which extends into a serene garden courtyard. It is also possible to eat on the roof terrace. This is a peaceful and distinctive hideaway in an ideal location.
Hotel TwentySeven occupies an art nouveau structure that originally housed the Royal Industrial Club, a meeting place for Dutch manufacturers and entrepreneurs. After check-in we were shown the Restaurant Bougainville and the hotel’s bar, the latter a striking space with an onyx-faced counter and fine views over Dam Square. Our opulent, high-ceilinged suite came with a velvet-upholstered sofa, textured wallpaper, oak parquet floors and a contemporary starburst chandelier. The butler explained that almost everything — lowering the blinds, adjusting the temperature and selecting the lighting mood — could be controlled from a wall-mounted tablet. Amenities included a small wine fridge and an elaborate Italian coffee machine. The bar has quickly become popular with the stylish locals, who give it a sophisticated and vibrant atmosphere. The hotel also offers an array of bespoke services, including private tour guides, personal trainers, nannies and personal shoppers. But ultimately what we most liked about this property was its intimate character, despite a location in the very heart of Amsterdam.
The voluptuous new L’oscar hotel is situated in Holborn, an easy walk from the British Museum and Covent Garden. The hotel is housed within the former headquarters of the Baptist church in London, and the early-20th-century clergymen who gathered there would surely be startled by designer Jacques Garcia’s theatrical transformation of the space. The front desk clerk, who also proved to be an exceptionally efficient and knowledgeable concierge, took us up to our Junior Suite, whose bath occupied the former belfry of the church. There was no tub, but I loved the large red-marble shower, which doubled as a steam room. The main gourmet restaurant, The Baptist Grill, is located in a circular gallery beneath the cupola of the former chapel. We tried the more casual Café L’oscar, an all-day bar and restaurant, where we enjoyed a fine dinner of ricotta-filled ravioli with pesto, and flaky Cornish sea bass. L’oscar won’t appeal to traditionalists, but I enjoyed its sensuous décor, attentive service and dramatic flair.
Cagnano, Corsica, France
The 29-room Misincu hotel in Corsica, previously known as the Hôtel le Caribou, was a favorite address for film stars Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot in the 1970s. The property reopened in the summer of 2017 after a top-to-bottom transformation. Nowadays, the public areas are cool and sleek, from the reception with its floor of white Sardinian marble to the rattan lampshades, raw-wood furniture and vanilla-colored canvas upholstery found throughout the property. Our memorable Maquis Mascaracce Suite proved to be a cottage with a large lounge, a beamed ceiling, a plunge pool and a private terrace shaded by a plane tree. Both of the hotel’s restaurants are excellent. I had a barefoot lunch of vitello tonnato (cold veal with caperberries in creamy tuna sauce), and sautéed baby squid with red peppers at A Spartera, the beach restaurant, and a fine dinner at Tra di Noi, the hotel’s gastronomic restaurant, from which there are striking views to the island of Elba. The Misincu is an ideal property from which to explore northern Corsica, or a place to just put your feet up and do nothing at all.
Nekupe means “heaven” in an indigenous language, which sets expectations rather high, as does the stratospheric cost. I wondered how a resort in middle-of-nowhere Nicaragua could possibly justify its price tag. It did not take long to discover the answer. On its 1,580 acres, Nekupe has created an extraordinarily luxurious summer camp with unusually attentive service. Each accommodation comes with a private ATV and a “ranger,” who functions as a butler, guide and driver. Our high-ceilinged villa was a stylishly appointed retreat with sublime views of Mombacho Volcano. We rode well-behaved horses up to a panoramic viewpoint, improved our aim with a rifle and blasted along trails in a teak forest with our ATV. Our whirlwind of activity was punctuated by meals at the clubhouse. I especially liked the delicate zucchini carpaccio with olive oil and hazelnuts, perfectly cooked giant shrimp atop spicy quinoa, and traditional Nicaraguan-style buñuelos, delectable fried quenelles of yuca and cheese topped with a cinnamon-sugar syrup. We had a terrific time, and I can only imagine that it would be even more fun to gather a group and take over the entire eight-room resort.
The king of Morocco used an almost unlimited budget to create Royal Mansour, taking full advantage of the country’s rich tradition of craftsmanship and employing some 1,200 artisans. Reception was a room of semiprecious stone tile, carved plaster, intricately wrought screens and Murano-style glass, capped by a cupola with a star-inspired pattern gilded in silver. Before taking us to our riad — one of 53 — a staff member gave us a tour of the grounds, which are laced with little canals. The living room of our Premier Riad had a woodburning fireplace, walls covered with hand-painted wainscoting and embroidered silk, plaster moldings and a wood-beamed ceiling. Upstairs, a wall of carved plaster backed the king bed, while the sumptuous master bath came with carved marble walls. Up one more flight of stairs we found the roof terrace with a plunge pool, where we had mint tea while reclining on a shaded daybed. At dinner in the lavish Moroccan restaurant La Grande Table Marocaine (overseen by Michelin three-star chef Yannick Alléno), we relished every gorgeously presented dish of the eight-course tasting menu. After breakfast, the dismal reality of checkout was upon us.
In the past, many of Barcelona’s best hotels were found along La Rambla and the Passeig de Gràcias. Now there are distinctive small properties scattered across the city. These include the 28-room The Serras, which occupies a renovated stone building on a street overlooking Port Vell (Old Harbor). On arrival, we were shown the hotel’s rooftop terrace, with its sundeck, plunge pool and views over the waterfront. Our Junior Suite came with a pleasingly subdued décor and featured an oversize headboard covered by fabric inspired by the city’s Modernisme-style tile work, a blond parquet floor and a well-lit limestone-lined bath. That night, we had an excellent meal at Informal, the house restaurant, where chef Marc Gascons serves mostly modern Catalan cuisine. We tried a carpaccio of scallops with tomato, avocado and seaweed, followed by grilled shrimp from Palamós (a port northeast of Barcelona), which are a prized local delicacy. The wine list was excellent, with three white Priorats from different local producers. And after dinner, we enjoyed a brandy in Le Nine, which is open 24 hours a day and draws a colorful crowd.
Cape Town, South Africa
Located on the city’s thriving V&A Waterfront, The Silo is housed within a 187-foot former grain silo, a structure it shares with the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. In the sixth-floor lobby, 18-foot-high latticed windows flood the space with light, while the preserved industrial structure of iron pillars and girders is complemented by vibrantly colored modern furniture. Our Deluxe Superior Suite provided a 180-degree panorama that stretched from the lower slopes of Table Mountain to the distant smudge of Robben Island. Its exuberant and eclectic décor featured contemporary paintings next to colonial pieces and art deco furniture in close proximity to Persian carpets and Egyptian chandeliers. The bath came with a dramatic black-and-white-striped marble floor and a kingfisher-blue ottoman beside a huge soaking tub. On the roof we discovered a long, narrow swimming pool, plus a tempura and oyster bar. Elsewhere, The Granary Café offers a menu that showcases seasonal, local ingredients, while the adjoining Willaston Bar has become a focal point of the city’s social scene. The Silo is a brilliantly imaginative mixture of the traditional and the contemporary.
Vermejo Park Ranch
Raton, New Mexico, United States
Situated near the Colorado border and now owned by Ted Turner, Vermejo Park Ranch encompasses nearly 920 square miles. Casa Grande, a stone-faced mansion with seven bedrooms, was built between 1907 and 1909 and is resplendent after a four-year renovation. It is surrounded by a main lodge with a reception area and restaurant, the 12-bedroom Casa Minor and five guesthouses. The interior of Casa Grande is extremely imposing, from the entry with its Italian mosaic floor to the living room with its massive marble fireplace, double-height windows, marble columns and domed ceiling. Although our suite was less opulent than the public areas, it was supremely comfortable, with heavy Victorian furnishings brightened by abundant natural light. In the main lodge, the restaurant offers daily changing menus that highlight ingredients from the estate such as trout fillets and bison steaks. Historically, the ranch has been a fishing and hunting destination, but the recreational activities have evolved to cater to a broader audience. The property feels strangely like a national park without visitors.
Facing the forested island of Lokrum and the walled Old City, the 56-room Villa Dubrovnik opened in 1961 as a private retreat for the Yugoslav government but underwent major renovations from 2006 to 2010. Our spacious Standard Suite came with a hot tub, a private courtyard garden and a wide furnished balcony with sublime views of a rocky cove and the old center of Dubrovnik beyond. During the day we would lounge on the terrace outside the large indoor pool, while evenings brought us to the outdoor armchairs of the bar. The Restaurant Pjerin serves excellent Italian-inflected Mediterranean cuisine, and I loved my appetizer of šporki makaruli (dirty macaroni), as well as my moist and flaky wild sea bass fillet with fried leeks, lemon mayonnaise and chardlike mangold leaves. The property is a 25-minute walk from the city center, but in the high season, a shuttle boat ferries passengers to the old harbor, making it possible to relax during the day before exploring Dubrovnik in the late afternoon, when the cruise ship hordes have departed.
The new 37-room Villa Maïa is situated on the steep slopes of Fourvière hill overlooking the Saône valley. Externally, the hotel is an unassuming modern building, but inside, the sleek, contemporary décor is the work of noted designer Jacques Grange and renowned architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The lounge is appointed with burgundy velvet sofas and hand-blown glass lighting fixtures, while the sunny open-plan bar is decorated with green and chartreuse furniture and striking oil-and-wood paintings. Upstairs, our well-designed double room came with a spectacular view over the city. Aside from an appealing room-service menu, we appreciated details like the Murano-glass drinking goblets and the miniature chocolate bars from Lyon’s famous Bernachon chocolate store. The most spectacular facility is the spa, with its 65-foot-long heated indoor pool, overlooking the hotel’s gardens through floor-to-ceiling windows. Villa Maïa has no on-site restaurant, but the well-known Michelin one-star Têtedoie is located just across the street. Overall, this is a serene and exceedingly comfortable address that, in many ways, has redefined Lyon as a destination.
UXUA Casa Hotel
A complex of 11 traditional houses, some up to 500 years old, UXUA Casa Hotel is set amid flamboyant tropical gardens that open onto the Quadrado, an elongated rectangle of green space at the center of the languorous town of Trancoso. Our casa proved to be a 990-square-foot “utopian artist studio,” with a four-poster bed, a beamed ceiling, wide-plank hardwood floors and a private dining patio. Nearby, the resort’s spectacular swimming pool is lined with thousands of green stones of aventurine quartz. The main restaurant is housed within an old fisherman’s cottage, where menus feature the local cuisine of Bahia, with dishes such as frutos do mar with black rice, and moqueca baiana, a fish stew of African origin. Alternatively, you can head down to UXUA’s bar and casual restaurant on the beach, a 10-minute walk downhill. There guests perch on stools and sip caipirinhas or lounge on white sofas set on the sand. UXUA is a blissful refuge from the world and its cares.