Each year, our editors discover hotels and resorts that are notable in specific ways, properties that are defined by certain characteristics. Here are the highlights from 12 months of tireless travel.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Located in a fashionable southern suburb of Tel Aviv, The Jaffa hotel is centered on a 19th-century French hospital and monastery, to which modernist British architect John Pawson has added a stylish extension. The project was financed by real estate tycoon Aby Rosen, owner of the Seagram Building, Lever House and Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan. Despite its 120 rooms and suites, The Jaffa doesn’t feel like a big hotel, being surrounded by traditional houses constructed during the centuries of Ottoman rule. The lobby is a large open-plan area, with modern Japanese furniture, paintings by Damien Hirst and a stretch of a 13th-century wall, part of a Crusader bastion that was uncovered during the construction. Rooms are divided between historic and contemporary wings. Our Deluxe Sea View room was part of the Pawson extension and came with a balcony from which we could gaze over the rooftops to the Mediterranean. A courtyard has been created by the intersection of the old building and the new wing, a green and peaceful space with potted shrubs and beds of lavender, which is overlooked by Don Camillo, the hotel’s principal (Italian) restaurant. The old wing’s deconsecrated chapel, with stained-glass windows, arched ceilings and ornate plasterwork, now serves as a glamorous cocktail bar. Other amenities include a 4,500-square-foot L.Raphael Beauty Spa.
Located about a two-hour drive east of Lisbon, near the Spanish border, Barrocal had been a farming village for centuries, a self-sustaining community producing olive oil, wine and cereal grains and raising livestock. It is owned by José António Uva, a member of the family’s eighth generation. Determined to restore it, he hired the renowned Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, noted winemaker Susana Esteban and Austrian wellness expert Susanne Kaufmann to help revive the olive groves and vineyards and create a hotel and spa in their midst. Our room was set in the property’s whitewashed main building. Fronting a broad stone plaza, this long red-roofed structure once housed dozens of farmers and their families. Now, behind a low blue door, we found terra-cotta floors, high ceilings, shuttered windows and understated modern furnishings. Two sets of doors led out to a large shared terrace planted with vines; from there, we had a fine view of the Alentejan hills. There are 24 rooms in all, as well as 16 cottages with kitchens and living areas. The complex also contains a spa, stables, a shop, a winery and a restaurant. The farm-to-table food served there proved a highlight of our stay, with many ingredients grown on-site and prepared in a straightforward manner that amplified their quality. Numerous activities are offered, from hiking to horseback riding to wine tasting to stargazing. But the property’s greatest virtue is its extraordinary sense of history and place. What was once a self-contained community is still a world unto itself, with little reason to leave.
Aswan is an ancient and lovely city traditionally regarded as the southern gateway to Egypt, situated at the First Cataract, approximately 750 miles from the Mediterranean. It provides a base for travelers to visit the great temples of Philae and Abu Simbel. The city has no recommendable boutique hotels, so we stayed at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, the old wing of which was built in 1899. On arrival, we found that we had been upgraded to a suite (No. 1224) in the original Palace Wing. This proved to be one of the truly great hotel rooms of the world. Not only was it supremely comfortable, with a separate sitting room, an atmospheric bedroom and a huge marble bath, but it was set on a corner of the building, with a view across to Elephantine Island from a small private balcony, plus a second memorable view, this time down the Nile to the city of Aswan, from the windows of the bath. Over the years, we have stayed in a number of rooms where we felt inclined to take up permanent residence. And this was one of them. We spent long hours relaxing on the balcony, watching the supremely graceful feluccas (traditional wooden sailing boats with lateen sails) sliding across the glassy dark-blue water of the Nile. Additional sightseeing seemed entirely superfluous.
Located down a narrow lane just outside Tropea, one of the most beautiful towns in southern Italy, this 11-room hotel occupies a handsome villa that was created from a 16th-century convent at the end of the 19th century. It is an intimate, tranquil and refined place, set on a cliff overlooking the dazzling blue waters of the Mediterranean. Overall, the property has the aura of a private home belonging to a cultivated Italian family. The furnishings are a mix of antiques and contemporary pieces, while bookcases filled with titles in many languages invite guests to borrow a volume and spend a quiet afternoon on one of the many magnificent terraces in the tiered gardens. The small swimming pool has the same spectacular view, with a few widely spaced sun loungers that make it feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. Rooms come with parquet or tile floors, white cotton canvas-upholstered sofas and framed photographs and modern art. Many accommodations have private terraces that are perfect for watching the sunset while sharing a bottle of chilled Spumante.
Solvang, California, United States
Set in the Santa Ynez Valley, this hotel provides a convivial atmosphere for both young and old alike. Alisal is intended for multigenerational family vacations, and a wide array of activities is available for children of all ages, from guided horseback rides, tennis lessons, candle making and roping classes to tours of a barnyard housing rabbits, chicks and exotic ponies. An arts-and-crafts room staffed with babysitters allows parents to partake in spa treatments or tee times on the championship golf course. At the property’s spring-fed lake, we watched one of the staff members teach three young boys to fish. The teacher was just as excited as the kids when one of them began to reel in a medium-size bass. Here, children are actively welcome, not merely tolerated. The property is also minutes from downtown Solvang, a quaint town complete with a windmill, the Hans Christian Andersen Park and an ostrich farm.