At hotels and restaurants aiming to provide the highest level of hospitality, it is people who ultimately make the difference. Distinctive architecture, stylish interior design and lavish amenities are all worthy attributes, but no property receives a Hideaway Report recommendation without staff members who are warm, efficient and sincere. In 2019, our editors had the good fortune to encounter these exceptional individuals. Here are our Editors’ Choice Hospitality Award winners.
Somni, SLS Beverly Hills – Los Angeles, California, United States
José Andrés is the name associated with Michelin two-star Somni, but Aitor Zabala, the creative director of Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup, was actually working there the night we dined. The Catalan chef was easy to spot, since the restaurant’s 10 tall chairs face the kitchen, like seats in a tiny, glamorous theater. The many small courses packed big flavor punches. A super savory slice of “Pizza Margherita” had a crust of clarified tomato water meringue, and we relished the textures of tempura shiso leaf topped with dry-aged strip loin tartare and blue borage flowers. A simple but sublimely fresh peel-and-eat spot prawn took us right back to a memorable seafood meal we’d had along Barcelona’s waterfront. And bone-in Spanish turbot, paired with some aromatic turbot-bone tea, was great fun to eat in the manner of a chicken wing. Since the restaurant was so small, many of us ended up chatting with one another, giving the meal the feel of an extraordinary dinner party.
Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa – Champillon, France
On a recent visit to Le Royal, the gastronomic restaurant of the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa just outside Épernay, the five-course Signature Menu began with crabmeat dressed with makrut lime and garnished with caviar, and also included turbot with seaweed butter, artichokes and baby carrots, and veal sweetbreads with chorizo and a fricassee of girolles mushrooms. It seemed challenging to find a wine that could accompany this meal from start to finish, so we began a conversation with the friendly and highly knowledgeable Daniel Pires, who had previously worked at La Tour d’Argent and Laurent in Paris. He suggested we start with a flute of A.R. Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly Vintage 2008, followed by a bottle of white 2016 Domaine de Trévallon. When our sweetbreads were served, Pires reappeared, insisting he had another wine, a red, he wanted us to taste, a sumptuous 2014 Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie. At the end of the meal, he poured us some Portuguese aguardiente, a potent brandy from his private collection that was the ideal digestif. Not only were Pires’ wine and spirit choices brilliant and original, he animated our meal with memorable warmth and charm.
Arriving at this intimate hotel on a hot day after a long transfer from Isla Holbox, we were thirsty, hungry and tired. “Welcome! Where are you coming from?” said the friendly young man at the front desk. When we told him, his colleague stood up. “That’s a long trip. Would you like a coffee, or some cold water, or some iced tea? Please, leave your bags here and come with me.” He escorted us to a table in the pretty courtyard garden and returned a few minutes later with cold mineral water and two espressos. “We’ll put your bags in your room, and you can come to the front desk when you’re ready. There’s no hurry at all,” he said in perfect English. This warm and instinctive hospitality informed our entire stay at this lovely property, where the alert but never intrusive staff strove constantly to anticipate our needs. Thanks to these delightful front desk staff, we had an excellent lunch at Yerbabuena del Sisal, a short walk from the hotel, and then visited several of Valladolid’s most interesting sights following an itinerary they had created for us. Their dinner restaurant recommendation, Ix Cat Ik, was outstanding, too.
No safari company has been in the news recently as much as Natural Selection, and rightly so. Its co-founders, two of whom started acclaimed Wilderness Safaris in the 1980s, have created a range of lodges and camps that marry striking design with beautiful locations ideal for wildlife viewing. The property that perhaps most exemplifies Natural Selection’s success is Shipwreck Lodge, perched improbably on a remote dune along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast. Its remarkable architecture, memorable excursions and otherworldly setting have helped it rank highly in more than one travel magazine’s best-of lists. And Natural Selection keeps unveiling new and renovated properties that tempt us back to Africa. We’re especially excited to try Kwessi Dunes in Namibia’s NamibRand Nature Reserve, Lekkerwater Beach Lodge at De Hoop along South Africa’s Garden Route and the soon-to-be completely refurbished Jack’s Camp in the Makgadikgadi salt pans of Botswana.
Jewish Roma Walking Tours – Rome, Italy
Because the geography of Rome’s former Jewish ghetto has changed so much — and because the history of the city’s Jewish community dates back more than 2,000 years — it helps to visit the neighborhood with a guide. Native Roman Micaela Pavoncello led us on an engrossing personal tour of the ghetto. (One other couple accompanied us, but it is also possible to book private tours.) An expert on Roman Jewish history, she was as fluent describing the events of 400 years ago as history she has experienced herself, including the contrasting visits of popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the Great Synagogue. She also had fun stories about celebrities she had guided, including Rick Steves, Guy Ritchie and a certain first lady who was hours late because she was shopping. Pavoncello’s wry humor and depth of knowledge made for a wonderful and very moving tour.