Time was, sophisticated small hotels — or hideaways — existed chiefly in North America and Western Europe. But today, superior levels of comfort, stylish design, polished service and refined cuisine can be found on every continent. To that end, Hideaway Report editors circle the globe each year seeking out the best hotels and experiences the travel world has to offer. In 2019, our team flew more than 151,000 miles, visited 28 countries and stayed in 112 hotels, of which 54 were recommended.
For our Editors' Choice Awards each January, we have the pleasure of recalling these experiences over the previous 12 months and drawing attention to a number of particularly memorable hotels and resorts. To be considered for our annual Editors’ Choice Awards, properties must be relatively small in size, possess strong personalities and demonstrate a consistent devotion to personal service. Here are the 20 hideaways that stood out this year.
Walland, Tennessee, United States
Set on an elevated perch at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blackberry Mountain surveys a tract of densely forested land that rolls and dips before culminating in a distant ridge of hills. The new resort is the sibling of Blackberry Farm, a nearby gastronomic retreat owned by the Beall family, which has long been a favorite of Hideaway Report members. Its main lodge building has been constructed from rough-hewn blocks of honey-colored stone; inside, the high ceilings, huge windows and clean, modern design create a sense of space and an atmosphere of calm. The accommodations comprise 18 Stone Cottages, six Watchman Cabins and six multibedroom homes.
Within 15 minutes of our arrival, our cottage already felt like a refuge from the cares of the world. Blackberry Mountain offers two contrasting restaurants. At Three Sisters, the emphasis is on healthy food, with an international range of flavors and ingredients, while the Firetower, situated on the 2,800-foot summit of Chilhowee Mountain, serves an innovative casual menu. The quality of the food and the accommodations, as well as the beauty and tranquility of the setting, means that Blackberry Mountain will appeal to travelers of all stripes. But it is primarily a wellness retreat. Aside from the spa, the resort offers a huge array of activities. In addition to fitness studios, there is the Spin Lab and a climbing wall, while yoga classes are held on the outdoor elevated Yoga Loft. Rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking on the property’s 25 miles of private trails are organized by a team of Wellness Concierges. And for those who have burned enough calories for one day, there are classes in painting, basket weaving and pottery making. Despite having been open for only a few months at the time of our stay, our experience at Blackberry Mountain was virtually flawless. Every so often a resort comes along that seems to redefine the notion of a hideaway for a new generation. Blackberry Mountain is just such a place.
The &Beyond Vira Vira resort is set on a 55-acre estate, some 500 miles south of Santiago, close to the northern border of the spectacular Chilean Lake District. An intimate retreat, it comprises just six suites, a dozen villas and a five-bedroom hacienda. Despite their contemporary design, the public areas have a strong sense of place, thanks to indigenous Mapuche tapestries. Its main lodge is constructed from lenga wood, and the enormous windows allow light to flood in. Extensive grounds contain a massive vegetable and herb garden, fruit trees and a small cheese factory. Spacious suites come with picture windows that afford glorious views of the Liucura River and wooded mountains where clouds hang among the peaks. (Villas have woodburning fireplaces and hot tubs.) The principal activities are hiking and trout fishing. After an afternoon on the river, we returned to our suite to find that the staff had already drawn a bath and left a bottle of sparkling Chilean wine on ice.
Located 100 miles west of Valladolid, Casa Lecanda is a serene and intimate property created by the renovation of a colonial mansion. The original woodwork and tile floors have been restored, giving the hotel its beguiling atmosphere of a gracious private residence. Next to a patio with a fountain and palms, there are three rooms with 10-foot ceilings and original beams. Elsewhere, we discovered a plunge pool and a covered patio salon (where breakfast is served) and four more rooms with private terraces. Our ground-floor Garden Suite had a private terrace with a wrought-iron table and chairs. Inside, it was spacious and attractive, with colorful oil paintings by the well-known Mexican artist Malena Peón. A large stone soaking tub was located in a niche below a skylight, while the adjacent bath came with a rainfall shower and locally made organic products. The hotel has a pleasant bar that mixes excellent cocktails, and dinner is available by advance request. But since Mérida has become a great food city, it makes sense to dine out.
Chablé Resort is set on a 750-acre estate surrounded by jungle, a 45-minute drive southwest of Mérida. The hotel was created from the ruins of a 19th-century property where hennequin, the plant from which sisal is produced, was once cultivated. Today, the grounds are maintained by 30 full-time gardeners, and the main lodge has been lovingly renovated. The accommodations are provided by 38 casitas and two villas. Our spacious and airy cottage came with floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor waterfall shower and a plunge pool. Chablé styles itself a wellness resort, and it makes good on this promise with a superb spa that overlooks a natural cenote and treatments based on Mayan medicine and locally made herbal products. The resort features three restaurants, including Ixi’im, with a brilliant modern Mexican menu created by chef Jorge Vallejo. Chablé Resort is a great base from which to visit the historic haciendas of the Yucatán, as well as Mayan archaeological sites like Uxmal. The service is flawless and the setting magnificent.
Surfside, Florida, United States
Located between North Beach and Bal Harbour, the new 77-room Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club has become Miami’s chicest address. The hotel required a 12-story tower with glass curtain walls — designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier — to be integrated into the Mediterranean-style Surf Club. The original members’ club was inaugurated in 1930, having been the brainchild of mogul Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company. From our spacious Premier City View Room we could enjoy a sea view from the wraparound balcony during the day and contemplate the lights of Miami at nightfall. The property features Le Sirenuse Miami, an Italian restaurant that is an offshoot of the legendary hotel in Positano, and the Surf Club Restaurant. There, three-star chef Thomas Keller offers a menu that features a section of classic Continental selections. Other hotel amenities include private day-use cabanas and a spa. This is a perfect choice for those who would prefer to enjoy the energy and dazzle of South Beach at arm’s length.
Calistoga, California, United States
Previously, we have never found a recommendable hotel in downtown Calistoga, but an exceptional hideaway has now opened, set within a stately landmark building, surrounded by a gated compound, just two blocks from the main street. Built in 1886 as a family home for a prominent local merchant, the property is a surviving example of French Second Empire architecture in the Napa Valley. Over time, the building had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition. Then, in 2015, a local real estate broker, Richard Dwyer, and his wife, Dina, decided to purchase the historic building and restore it to its original splendor. Today, the interior contains a pleasing mix of contemporary and classic elements, plus carefully selected artwork. Our room featured a period writing desk and handsome brass accents. The Francis House has no restaurant, but a gourmet breakfast is served. Aside from a swimming pool, amenities include an infrared sauna, a salt room and a fire pit. The Dwyers are gracious hosts who go above and beyond to make guests feel at home.
Sesfontein Community Conservancy, Namibia
Solar-powered Hoanib Valley Camp is one of Namibia’s most impressive properties, with a dramatic setting, stylish design and wonderful staff. They set the tone when we arrived, singing a lively welcome song and bearing iced teas. These we sipped in the shade of the main communal tent, which, improbably, offered Wi-Fi fast enough to make phone calls. A terrace provided impressive views of the rugged ridge on the far side of the valley. The six guest tents were decorated with wooden furnishings by local Rundu carpenters, black metal light fixtures and soft dove-gray fabrics. Behind the bed was a full bath with an open wood-floored shower. On unforgettable safari drives, we spotted noisy families of elephants (including a newborn) and desert-adapted rhinos, among other animals. We also visited Himba and Herero villages. We loved the activities, but it was because of the exceptional staff that we left with real regret.
Among Rome’s new luxury hideaways, the most dazzling proved to be the 18-room Hotel Vilòn, which opened in 2018 on a quiet street between the Spanish Steps and the Piazza Navona, in a 16th-century mansion, a former annex to the neighboring Palazzo Borghese. Its transformation into a hotel has introduced a glamorous, almost decadent, décor. The art deco-inspired public spaces now feel sumptuous but comfortable, inviting relaxation. We indulged in aged Negronis in the plush bar, and our candlelit dinner in the jewel box of a restaurant, Adelaide, was delicious. Service there, as everywhere in the hotel, was unfailingly friendly and efficient. Our Charming Deluxe room came with a bath — a luxurious expanse of black, white and chrome — that occupied nearly half the accommodation. The high-ceilinged aqua-and-white bedroom itself had a walk-in closet and a deliciously comfortable bed topped by a pristine duvet. The Vilòn is a superb addition to the Rome hotel scene.
Isle of Islay, Scotland
The Machrie hotel and golf links first opened in the late 19th century on the Hebridean Isle of Islay. Scottish hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray, who has created acclaimed properties such as One Aldwych in London, has converted the broken-down structure into a stylish 47-room hotel with whitewashed walls and slate-shingled roofs. Inside, black-and-white photographs of iconic golfers share the walls with abstract paintings and framed Gucci and Hermès scarves with golfing themes. Our elegant contemporary Duplex Suite, named after the great Ben Hogan, came with a mesmerizing view of Laggan Bay. The restaurant, which serves superlative local lobster, crab, oysters and scallops, is a tall, airy space. A pro shop is located on the ground floor. The refreshed golf course itself was originally designed in 1891 by the fabled Scottish golfer Willie Campbell, routed along Laggan Bay and among the sand dunes. It must now be regarded as one of the very best courses in a nation full of great ones.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Located in the “White City,” a vibrant area of downtown Tel Aviv that contains more than 4,000 structures in the 1930s Bauhaus style, The Norman hotel comprises two buildings, one containing 30 rooms, the other housing 20 suites, connected by a garden planted with citrus trees. (The property is named for Norman Lourie, a filmmaker who achieved recognition with a documentary about life on an early kibbutz, “House in the Desert,” that won acclaim at the 1948 Venice Film Festival.) Deluxe Rooms can be quite claustrophobic, but Lofts (actually junior suites) come with high ceilings, tall windows, sofas and restful color schemes. The ground floor of the main hotel building is a constant whirl of social activity, thanks to the popularity of the principal restaurant, Alena, where chef Barak Aharoni’s Mediterranean cuisine is deservedly praised. On the roof, a pool deck with rows of white loungers affords glimpses of the Mediterranean. Overall, The Norman is a distinctive and stylish boutique hotel with an ideal location and a lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
French-owned Zannier Hotels took a chance on Asia in 2015 when it opened its first resort there, in Cambodia. Set on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Phum Baitang, which means “green village,” consists of 20 lush, manicured acres, complete with tall sugar palms, lemongrass fields and rice paddies gently worked by water buffalo that live on the property. The 45 stilted villas, with thatched roofs, wide-plank wood floors and slatted timber walls, contribute to the feel of a traditional Khmer village. Each spacious accommodation exudes a simple “less is more” elegance that makes the most of organic elements: stone, wood, linen and jute in soothing natural beiges. Guests can begin each day with a generous breakfast buffet at the open-air restaurant, Bay Phsar, situated next to the infinity pool, and continue their stay by relaxing at the Spa Temple, exploring the tranquil grounds by bicycle or watching the sun set from the 100-year-old farmhouse, which doubles as the Cigar & Cocktail Lounge.
Set on a hillside overlooking Épernay, the Royal Champagne Hotel & Spa was once a coaching inn where the kings of France would stay en route to their coronation in Reims. The breathtaking views over the vineyards were what convinced an American couple — the owners of the Leclerc Briant Champagne house — to acquire the 49-room property. Perhaps the hotel’s most distinctive amenity is its Champagne bar with more than 200 selections on offer. Chef Jean-Denis Rieubland, who formerly worked at Michelin two-star Le Chantecler in Nice, oversees the hotel’s two restaurants, which include Le Royal, a Michelin one-star gastronomic table, where we opted for the delicious five-course Signature Menu. Paris-based designer Sybille de Margerie’s look for the accommodations is contemporary but cozy, with lots of blond oak and a mostly taupe and Champagne color scheme punctuated by splashes of color. The excellent spa has a hammam, a sauna and a yoga studio. Throughout our stay the service was thoughtful, friendly and professional.
Located about a two-hour drive east of Lisbon, near the Spanish border, São Lourenço do Barrocal opened in 2016. Barrocal had been a farming village for centuries. Owner José António Uva hired the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, winemaker Susana Esteban and wellness expert Susanne Kaufmann to help revive the olive groves and vineyards and create a hotel and spa in their midst. Our Farm Room came with terra-cotta floors, high ceilings, understated modern furnishings and a large shared terrace with a view of the Alentejan hills. It exuded stillness and simplicity. There are 24 rooms in all, as well as 16 cottages with kitchens and living areas. The complex also contains a spa, stables, a retail shop, a kids’ facility, 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. Activities include horseback riding, wine tasting and stargazing. Few properties communicate such a strong sense of history and place.
Southern Cardamom National Park, Cambodia
Surrounded by a private nature sanctuary, 80 miles to the southwest of Phnom Penh, Shinta Mani Wild is the personal project of American Bill Bensley, the head of a Bangkok-based architecture firm that has become synonymous with exotic resorts in Asia. Public areas are situated at the edge of a ravine overlooking a waterfall. The camp comprises 15 opulent colonial-style tented accommodations, erected on stilts. Ours featured a huge deck appointed with a dining table, canvas chairs and an outdoor tub. It struck us as a romantic private world, in which it would be a pleasure to luxuriate and unwind. We suspect that most of the guests will stray from the seductive accommodations only as far as the dining room — which serves locally sourced Cambodian cuisine — the dramatic black lap pool and the small hilltop spa, which offers Khmer treatments. Bensley’s nostalgic design may hark back to a vanished age, but in many ways his camp is at the cutting edge of modern luxury travel.
Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
Wooden ribs cradle each of the buildings at Shipwreck Lodge, making it appear as if the 10-villa property had washed up on the low dune it occupies. The outward-leaning walls, clad in wood siding and punctured with porthole-like windows, enhance the architecture’s nautical effect. Inside, the oriented strand board paneling contrasts sharply with the luxe furnishings and décor of the main lounge and the accommodations. Our excellent guide packed our schedule with memorable activities. After some fishing, we indulged in a private beach barbecue, followed by quad biking in the sand sea. In between activities and meals, we relaxed in our villa, either on its terrace or the velvet daybed set beside tall windows and a woodburning fireplace. The spacious bath came with a teak-lined shower and a wood counter with hammered-brass sinks. We slept with the windows open, lulled by the whisper of the distant surf. Shipwreck Lodge offers a surprising level of luxury in an edge-of-the-world setting.
St. George’s, Grenada, Caribbean
This resort on the mostly unspoiled Caribbean island of Grenada has a chic, international, contemporary style. Just off the airy lobby, a 330-foot infinity pool extends to the sea, the longest pool in the Caribbean, apparently. When we tired of reclining by the pool or on the beach, we decamped to the tranquil spa, centerpieced by a heated lap pool surrounded by daybeds. Our Penthouse Level King lacked the bright colors we associate with Caribbean style, but we didn’t miss them. Vertical wood slats added height to the room. A sweep of glass doors led to a furnished seaview terrace. And the large bath afforded a similarly splendid outlook from its floor-to-ceiling window, against which was set an inviting soaking tub. The food at Silversands’ restaurants was mostly very good, and the service was excellent. Considering the short time that Silversands had been operational when we stayed, the friendly staff worked with impressive efficiency. If you prefer more-contemporary resorts, Silversands should be your choice in Grenada.
Almont, Colorado, United States
A high-end fishing camp set on an 8-acre estate, Taylor River Lodge is located a 35-minute drive from Crested Butte. Its six log cabins have neither phones nor TVs, but the internet connection is strong. Our accommodations possessed the feel of an old yet elegant trapper’s shack and came with a soundtrack of the rushing waters of the Taylor River below. The social center of the property is the main lodge, which is a convivial place with rough-hewn beams, a bearskin rug draped across an ottoman and a huge television screen showing live images from the “trout cam” that owner Chad Pike installed in the river. Hearty sandwiches kept hunger pangs at bay through our afternoons of fishing, while at dinner, entrées such as Colorado bison flank steak and roasted steelhead were invariably well-cooked and sustaining. The lightly fished Taylor River is considered among the top spots in the state for trophy rainbows, browns and cutthroats.
Futaleufú, Patagonia, Chile
Situated within sight of one of the more placid sections of Patagonia’s Futaleufú River — world-renowned for its whitewater rafting — Uman Lodge is set atop a cliff, on a 1,200-acre property once owned by the late Doug Tompkins, the American co-founder of the North Face and Esprit concerns. The property has 15 rooms, plus indoor and outdoor pools and a spa with a hammam. Our handsome quarters came with expanses of blond-wood paneling and huge picture windows that afforded views of mountains still dusted with summer snow. Meals at Uman can be taken on a panoramic deck off the dining room. (The delicious jam at breakfast was made of cherries from trees that Tompkins planted.) Fortunately, given the abundance of good food, there was no shortage of activities. Futaleufú, a town of around 2,000 inhabitants, has become one of the adventure capitals of Patagonia. Aside from rafting, we also spent time fly-fishing and horseback riding.
Kandahar Island, Zimbabwe
In search of somewhere distinctive near Victoria Falls, we headed to this delightful five-villa property on a private island on the Zambezi. (We went to the mainland River Lodge with which it’s affiliated only for spa treatments and to board a safari vehicle for a game drive.) Transfers to and from the island, as well as sundowner cruises, were aboard plush pontoon boats. The main lounge overlooked the river, shaded by a reed canopy and mature tropical trees. It was a sublime place to dine, all the more so because of the exceptional cuisine. Nearby, the elevated cocktail bar afforded panoramas of the island and river. Winding boardwalks led through the jungle to accommodations on stilts. The clean-lined, simple décor of our Island Treehouse let the view be the star. Its floor-to-ceiling windows could be pushed aside, accordion-style, to combine the terrace and bedroom into a free-flowing indoor-outdoor space. We loved having an espresso on our riverfront terrace each morning, listening to birdsong and grunting hippos.
Malahat, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Perched at 1,880 feet, Villa Eyrie offers glorious vistas of the Saanich Inlet, the Olympic Mountains and Mount Baker. Following a multimillion-dollar renovation, the hotel reopened in late 2017 and now features 38 rooms divided among three Mediterranean-style villas. A spa is set below the main house in a separate stand-alone villa. There, all treatments employ organic products that make use of local herbs. The most striking feature of our Olympic Suite in the Villa Aquila was its balcony, which overlooked the water and distant snowcapped mountains. The multitude of windows in the high-ceilinged living room created a bright, cheery space, while a large gas fireplace made it even more inviting. At the hotel’s Alpina Restaurant, the Pacific Northwest cuisine was exceptional, and our servers’ wine-pairing recommendations were spot on. Activities at the resort include whale watching and kayaking excursions, but the property is primarily intended as a culinary and relaxation retreat.
Tropea is a spectacular perched village that, according to legend, was founded by the Roman god Hercules. Today, medieval Tropea is one of the best-preserved settlements in southern Italy. Created originally from a 16th-century convent, the 11-room Villa Paola was remodeled at the end of the 19th century and is now set amid terraced gardens, overlooking the Marina di Tropea. Inside, a mix of antique and contemporary furniture, bookcases and stylish artwork gives the property the aura of a private home owned by a cultivated family. Our cozy suite featured parquet floors, a marble coffee table, a white cotton canvas-upholstered sofa and a private terrace overlooking the orchards and gardens that supply the villa’s dining room. Dinner is available by advance request, and the food is simple but well-prepared. One day, the hotel’s affable front desk staff arranged an unforgettable excursion aboard a private yacht along the azure Costa degli Dei.